Something’s gone wrong with the UK official singles chart!
Whatever became of the days when you could go to Woolworths, buy a 7inch copy of ‘Is There Something I Should Know’ for about £1.25, play its arse off on your turntable when you get home till you know all the words, then hopefully see it featured on Top of the Pops on Thursday evening?
I mention this 1983 single by Duran Duran particularly as I bought it, and it was the first record I was aware of that charted straight at no. 1 – which for me at least, was a first.
Charts back then were varied, and there were a lot of different artists, similar to today, perhaps less so as in the 80’s and earlier there wasn’t as much of the ordinary folk suddenly winning a talent show and being catapulted to brief megastardom. Or so I thought. Below is the UK Top Ten from this week. It struck me as more than a little peculiar.
10. What do I know – Ed Sheeran
9. Supermarket Flowers – Ed Sheeran
8. Dive – Ed Sheeran
7. Something Just Like This – Chainsmokers and Coldplay
6. Happier – Ed Sheeran
5. New Man – Ed Sheeran
4. Perfect – Ed Sheeran
3. Castle on the Hill- -Ed Sheeran
2. Galway Girl – Ed Sheeran
And finally at number one, Shape of You by…ah yes… Ed Sheeran
Now although I’m not a particular Ed Sheeran fan, I have nothing against the lad. He is a legitimate artist and a credible musician, one of that breed who do write their own stuff. However, just a glance at this list made me wonder if the way chart data is recorded needs to be reviewed. Are downloads killing the music industry? As usual I reckon it’s all down to money.
Back in the day, a song’s popularity was measured by sales of its sheet music. Billboard Magazine in America first collated a Top Ten best-selling list in 1940. This wasn’t followed up across the pond until 1952 when New Musical Express (NME) published their own chart, which ‘Here in my Heart’ by Al Martino became the first official UK number 1.
In the early days, many charts competed. The BBC compiled theirs from averaged figures based on what the music magazines were publishing, which in turn were compiled from what was selling in record shops. As accurate recording of data became more sophisticated, so too did methods of listening to music. Old ’78s had been replaced by 7 and 12 inch singles and cassette singles, then towards the late 80’s came the development of revolutionary compact disc technology. But as technology advances, has it proved detrimental to the way popular music statistics are now being recorded?
New rules have emerged regarding the whole single v download ethos, and I don’t pretend to understand any of it, it’s so confusing.
The Black-Eyed Peas song ‘Pump It’ was the first to make it into the Top 40 on downloads alone, before its hard copy release. Three weeks later Gnarls Barclay’s ‘Crazy’ reached number 1 in 2006. Even more bizarrely (in my opinion) ‘Run’ by Leona Lewis made it to number 1 without an actual single released in the UK!
Christmas No. 1 Kerfuffle
Another controversy was sparked in 2009 when a section of music-loving public decided they’d had enough of bland, forgettable, written-for-X-Factor-winners singles aimed at the Christmas number 1 slot. This had happened for four Christmasses running, and was becoming boring and predictable, and preventing established artists from having a fair shot at goal.
After a campaign to mass-download a song entitled ‘Killing in the Name’, formerly a mid-table single from 1992 by ‘Rage Against The Machine’, successfully, and weirdly, this became the Christmas number one in the UK for 2009. I personally didn’t like the song, and played no part in the downloading, but it made a change to hear something different as I’m no fan of bland, manufactured pop.
The last 60 years
Remembering my own Sundays sitting on my bed listening to my little radio, while writing down the charts and my thoughts of each song, fired off inevitable sparks of nostalgia. You bought your records and their sales went off to Gallup, thence to the BBC, and my bedroom. I recorded them sometimes and had to have a pen handy to wind back the cassette spools if they went a bit dodgy. Ok, I know I wasn’t helping the music industry by recording my favourites, but in my defence it was for my personal use and never worked very well anyway.
So what were charts like way back when? I have looked at what was Top Ten for this same week in March since 1957, and here’s my two-pennerth.
At no.1 Young Love – Tab Hunter (I thought he was an actor), 2. Don’t Forbid me – Pat Boone 3. Knee Deep in the Blues – Guy Mitchell 4. Long Tall Sally – Little Richard 5. Don’t You Rock Me Daddy-o – Lonnie Donegan 6. Banana Boat Song – Harry Belafonte 7. Singing the Blues – Guy Mitchell 8. True Love – Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly 9. Banana Boat Song – Shirley Bassey 10. The Garden of Eden – Frankie Vaughan
It all pre-dates me by a lot of years but I know most of this. What is notable is that Guy Mitchell has two entries, and (having checked) the Banana Boat Song was in the Top Twenty three times by three different artists. I’ve noticed a bit of that in earlier years which became less common. I think True Love was from the musical High Society.
At no 1. Please Release Me – Englebert Humperdinck 2. Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields Forever – The Beatles 3. Edelweiss – Vince Hill 4. This is my Song – Petula Clark 5. On a Carousel – The Hollies 6. Georgy Girl – The New Seekers 7. There’s a Kind of Hush – Heman’s Hermits 8. Here Comes My Baby – The Tremeloes 9. Detroit City – Tom Jones 10. Snoopy versus The Red Baron
Ooh how very typically 60’s. I think my mum had some of these. There’s everything here, two big-hitting vocalists, love songs, pop songs, a novelty song, bands, and of course The Beatles!
At no 1. Chanson D’Amour – Manhattan Transfer 2. Knowing Me, Knowing You – Abba 3. Boogie Nights – Heatwave 4. Sound and Vision – David Bowie 5. When I need You – Leo Sayer 6. Romeo – Mr Big 7. Torn Between Two Lovers – Mary McGregor 8. When – Showaddywaddy 9. Baby I Know – The Rubettes 10. Rockaria – ELO
Ahh the 70’s, when there was a heatwave. I loved Boogie Nights and the disco stuff. What I don’t know here is Romeo, nor the song. Nice to see the contrast between the soppy no. 1 with a decent bit of Bowie, some disco, teenage heart-throbs (though not mine, I was just a little girl) and even some retro rockabilly.
At no.1 Everything I Own – Boy George 2. Stand By Me – Ben E. King 3. I Get the Sweetest Feeling – Jackie Wilson 4. Respectable – Mel and Kim 5. The Great Pretender – Freddie Mercury 6. Live It Up – Mental As Anything 7. Male Stripper – Man 2 Man with Man Parrish 8. When A Man Loves A Woman – Percy Sledge 9. Crush On You – The Jets 10. Theme from Moonlighting – Al Jarreau
Well, looking it this, what a load of crap! Just my opinion of course, but what a difference. There’s a lot of older sounding songs here, not that that’s what formed my opinion. Not perhaps the best week of music to represent this decade. I did quite like Respectable though, Mel and Kim were typical of the era.
At no. 1 Mama/Who Do You Think You Are? – Spice Girls 2. Don’t Speak – No Doubt 3. Encore En Fois – Sash! 4. Rumble In The Jungle – Fugees 5. Isn’t It A Wonder – Boyzone 6. Alone – Bee Gees 7. Hush – Kula Shaker 8. Where Do You Go – No Mercy 9. If I Never See You Again – Wet wet wet 10. Don’t You Love Me – Eternal
Again, not keen on any of this, a lot is plastic disposable pop, but it’s nice to see the Bee Gees still up there, and Kula Shaker covering a really cool old Deep Purple song and not entirely trashing it.
At no. 1 Shine – Take That 2. Sweet Escape – Gwen Stefani featuring Akon 3. Ruby – Kaiser Chiefs 4. How To Save A Life – The Fray 5. Grace Kelly – Mika 6. What Goes Around Comes Around – Justin Timberlake 7. L’il Star – Kelis featuring Cee’lo 8. Walk This Way – Sugababes featuring Girls Aloud 9. Standing In The Way Of Control – The Gossip 10. The Creeps – Camille Jones Vs Fedde Le Grande
A lot of these songs and artists are still around today. In fact Gwen Stefani was no 2 again (She fronted No Doubt 10 yrs previous). Notice the more modern trend for acts to feature someone else, or versus someone who produced/remixed the song or brought it out originally. A lot of these sales would have been partially generated by digital downloads
So to get back to my point after my enthusiastic ramble down memory Lane: Here are some quick stats – There were approx. 78 million CD singles sales in the UK in 1999. Just ten years later this had significantly decreased to less than 1.6 million as opposed to download figures of around 115.4 million.
Times change and things move on, but do they improve? In several years computers will not be as they are now. Digital downloads and streaming may not be as easily stored, retrieved and moved about from system to system like the old hardware used to be. Vinyl is making a comeback. That, at least, is a tangible thing which you can handle, read the blurb, credits and info, and enjoy the cover artwork.
I went into HMV in Huddersfield today, which has just reopened, and went to see if there was any chart information of any kind, like you used to get in any record shop. There wasn’t. I was going to take a photo, I couldn’t. Point possibly proved.
Back to the Man of the Moment. I do not, for an instant, begrudge Ed Sheeran his enormous success. Good luck to him. But the undeniable fact that the charts could be dominated in the future so much by any single artist seems a bit alarming. Is the digital age killing music? Is it actually a good thing? What do you think? Let me know.