Spotify vs. Rdio, Part 2: The Billboard Charts

Streaming music services like Spotify and Rdio are transforming the way we listen to music, but spotting differences in their catalogs is nearly impossible for the casual listener. The licensing landscape is constantly shifting, with songs appearing and disappearing as labels try to make up their minds.

To help you decide which service is right for you, I’m using the developer APIs provided by each service to go crate-digging into each catalog to see which service comes out on top.

Last time, we looked at 5,000 critically loved albums on both services, with Rdio barely edging ahead of Spotify. That’s great for music geeks who can’t live without “Marquee Moon,” “Bitches Brew” and “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea.” But it leaves more mainstream, single-oriented music fans out in the cold.

If you love pop music, this is your week. We’re digging into 56 years of Billboard charts, searching Spotify and Rdio for every year’s top 100 from 1955 to 2011 — from Elvis Presley and Dean Martin to Rick Ross and Waka Flocka Flame.

How It Works

The Billboard chart data comes from the Whitburn Project, a group of obsessive music collectors who have been quietly compiling historical chart data on Usenet since 1998. Originally intended to help complete their MP3 collections, they used multiple sources to create a spreadsheet of over over 38,500 songs dating back to 1890, with 112 columns of raw data, including each song’s duration, beats per minute, songwriters, label, and week-by-week chart position.

Here’s a sample of the most recent Whitburn spreadsheet from November 11, 2011, so you can see the fields they entered.

With the spreadsheet, I selected the top 100 songs that stayed at the top of the charts the longest each year starting in 1955, and pulled it into a database for easy manipulation.

With these 5,700 songs, I then wrote a script to search the Rdio and Spotify APIs for each track. To standardize artist and song names, I used the Echo Nest’s API. As before, I’m only checking U.S. availability, since Rdio is limited to the United States and Canada only.

Disclaimer: Variations in artist and song names can lead to some missed results, and false positives can crop up due to karaoke versions and tribute bands. I’ve tried to weed out most of the bad results, but didn’t check all 5,700 results by hand. That said, it doesn’t seem like any error favors Spotify or Rdio, so the results should be fair, if imperfect.


Of the 5,700 songs in the top 100, 5,026 (88 percent) were available on both Spotify and Rdio. An additional 81 (1.4 percent) were only on Spotify, and 100 (1.7 percent) only available on Rdio. If we limit it to only the 570 top-10 singles, 518 songs (over 90 percent) were available on both Spotify and Rdio.

The chart below shows the percentage of the top 100 available per year on Spotify and Rdio. At a glance, you can see how deep both of their catalogs are. It’s very rare for either service to have less than 80 percent of the top 100 in a given year. (Note that the Beatles singlehandedly lower their coverage in the mid- to late-1960s.)

Here’s the average percentage by decade:

Let’s start by looking at the holdouts, the top-charting artists that aren’t available for streaming on either service. As in the album analysis, The Beatles top the list with 35 missing hits, but the rest of the list is very different. All 11 of the Eagles’ top hits are unavailable, Bob Seger fans will be bummed to hear his 10 (!) charting singles are missing, and most of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ post-1991 hits are unavailable for streaming. The Dave Clark Five’s eight hits from the mid-1960s are all missing, and Aaliyah’s estate is apparently protective of her work, blocking access to her eight big singles.

Other surprising holdouts: Hootie and the Blowfish, Joan Jett, and Roberta Flack. A handful of one-hit wonders are missing entirely, depriving the world of songs like Another Bad Creation’s 1990 debut “Iesha” and Rick Dees’ “Disco Duck” from 1976.

The Exclusives

Both services stream virtually every song every to appear on the Billboard charts, but they don’t overlap perfectly. Each have secured different licenses with record labels, giving each exclusive access to some songs and artists.

If you want to hear the 14 singles released by Paul McCartney, solo and with Wings, you can only hear them on Rdio. Same for LeAnn Rimes, Monica, and Fergie. Spotify, on the other hand, didn’t have exclusive access for any artist with more than two charting singles in the yearly top 100 charts.

Below, I’ve listed the top 20 tracks exclusive to each service, ordered by their overall yearly ranking.

Only on RdioOnly on Spotify
Paul McCartney — My Love (#3, 1973)
Paul McCartney — Say Say Say (#4, 1983)
Monica — The First Night (#4, 1998)
Christina Aguilera — Lady Marmalade (#6, 2001)
Kyu Sakamoto — Sukiyaki (#7, 1963)
Monica — Angel Of Mine (#7, 1999)
Fergie — London Bridge (#7, 2006)
*NSYNC — It’s Gonna Be Me (#11, 2000)
Paul McCartney — Coming Up (Live At Glasgow) (#12, 1980)
LeAnn Rimes — How Do I Live (#12, 1997)
Fergie — Big Girls Don’t Cry (#12, 2007)
Wings — With A Little Luck (#13, 1978)
Divine — Lately (#13, 1998)
Red Hot Chili Peppers — Under The Bridge (#20, 1992)
LL Cool J — Loungin’ (#20, 1996)
Monica — For You I Will (#20, 1997)
Enrique Iglesias — Hero (#21, 2001)
Paul McCartney — Band On The Run (#22, 1974)
Merril Bainbridge — Mouth (#23, 1996)
Wings — Listen To What The Man Said (#24, 1975)
Mariah Carey — Don’t Forget About Us (#7, 2005)
Steve Miller Band, The — Abracadabra (#9, 1982)
Patti Austin — Baby, Come To Me (#10, 1983)
Dr. Dre — Nuthin’ But A G Thang (#14, 1993)
Shocking Blue, The — Venus (#20, 1970)
Mike & The Mechanics — The Living Years (#24, 1989)
Salt ‘N Pepa — Shoop (#29, 1993)
Ashlee Simpson — Pieces Of Me (#33, 2004)
String-A-Longs, The — Wheels (#36, 1961)
Irene Cara — Fame (#38, 1980)
Climax Blues Band — Couldn’t Get It Right (#42, 1977)
Yael Naim — New Soul (#43, 2008)
Madonna — Don’t Cry For Me Argentina (#48, 1997)
Dr. Dre — Dre Day (#49, 1993)
Technotronic — Move This (#50, 1992)
Erykah Badu — Love Of My Life (An Ode To Hip Hop) (#54, 2003)
Paperboy — Ditty (#55, 1993)
Johnny Thunder — Loop De Loop (#57, 1963)
Tee Set, The — Ma Belle Amie (#59, 1970)
Gerry and the Pacemakers — Ferry Across the Mersey (#61, 1965)


Both services do an extraordinary job at including music history’s most popular songs. Virtually every song was available on Spotify and Rdio, a huge change from the previous album-oriented analysis. Again, much to my surprise, Rdio comes out slightly on top. Spotify’s international catalog fills most of these gaps, so expect things to heat up rapidly over the next year as they secure more of those licenses for the United States.

Have any questions about this analysis, or anything missing you’d like to see? Leave a comment and let me know.

(Note: This was originally published for my column at Wired.)

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