65 Years of Pop Music Charts

This month marks the 65th Anniversary of the UK music charts. As teenagers, many of us would anxiously await the chart radio shows, hovering over the cassette recorder to capture our favourite songs. Today, the charts give a fascinating insight into the changes in the Music Industry since 1952, both in terms of musical styles and tastes, and in the way music is ‘consumed’.

The move from records -45s and albums- to cassette tapes and CDs through to downloads and streaming have impacted the way the charts are calculated. Over its history the UK Official Charts have developed and adapted to changing music demands. In fact, interest in the history of music production has brought many music fans full circle, with LPs and cassettes seeing a resurgence in popularity – a backlash against the culture of obsolescence and ‘mainstream’.

The ‘top of the pops’ charts all began with Percy Dickins, the publisher of the New Music Express (NME). Dickins wanted to find a way to persuade people to advertise in his magazine. He telephoned his contacts in music retail to find out what was the best selling record. The result of his basic survey was that Here In My Heart by Al Martino was the first No.1. Dickins’ first chart was published as a Top 12, even though it comprises 15 singles, because there were ties at Number 7, Number 8 and Number 11.

In 1954 the standard singles chart was extended to the Top Twenty with NME introducing a Top Thirty in April 1956. In response, Record Mirror launched the UK’s first Albums Chart with a Top 5 from on July 28 that year. The first Number 1 Album was Frank Sinatra’s Songs For Swingin’ Lovers.

1955 – Billy Haley & His Comets’ Rock Around the Clock becomes a hit for the first time, it enters the Top Twenty on five separate occasions – twice in 1955, plus in 1956, 1968 and 1974.

In 1957, the charts moved from print to broadcast as the BBC’s Light Programme host Alan Freeman started commenting on the Top Ten Charts published by the various music papers, Melody Maker, NME, Disc and Record Mirror. The following year an averaged Top Ten was introduced.

1957 – Elvis Presley scores his first Number 1 single with All Shook Up. He later sets the record for the most Number 1 singles – 22.

In 1960 the battle for pre-eminence for charts across the music print media was concluded with the UK trade magazine Record Retailer’s singles and album charts being recognised as the “official” charts. The Top Fifty singles and Top Twenty Albums were compiled by Record Retailer from a panel of 30 shops. In 1963, an independent auditor was brought in to compile the charts.

1963 – She Loves You becomes The Beatles’ first million-seller. To date, The Beatles have six titles in the all-time UK Million Sellers list- (She Loves You, I Want To Hold Your Hand, Can’t Buy Me Love, I Feel Fine, We Can Work It Out/Daytripper and Hey Jude.

In 1969 the BBC and Record Retailer commissioned the British Market Research Bureau (BMRB) to compile the UK charts on their behalf. These were the first industry-wide recognised charts, and were called the UK’s “official” charts for the first time. The charts were initially created from a panel of 250 record shops. The shops logged their sales by hand and submitted their totals by post. Over the years, the panel grew to 750 stores, with 250 used every week for the Tuesday singles chart and 450 for the Wednesday albums chart.

While the singles chart continued as a Top 50 rundown, the length of the albums moved a number of times, varying in length from 15 to 77, before stabilising as a Top 50 in January 1971. The lengths changed again in 1978, with the Official Singles Chart is extended from Top 50 to Top 75 in May and the Official Album Charts increasing from Top 60 to Top 75 in December.

1978 – Paul McCartney & Wings’ single Mull Of Kintyre became the first single to pass 2 million singles sales in the UK. It remains one of only four singles to sell 2 million copies – the others are Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas and Elton John’s Candle In The Wind ’97.

In 1983 Gallup took over the compilation of the Official Singles Chart and Official Albums Chart. This change led to the end of hand-written diaries, motorcycle courier collection and manually-checked charts, implementing a new computerised system which involved collection of data via telephone and digital monitoring of sales to minimise hyping. The new system introduced Top 200 singles and albums charts every week (only the Top 100 is available publically at that point via Music Week). Cassette sales were also incorporated into the albums charts, while separate cassette albums and 12-inch singles charts were produced.

1984 – Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas sets new sales records, selling 600,000 in its first week, another 810,000 in its second week and becoming the first single to Top 3 million sales. 1991 – Bryan Adams’ (Everything I Do) I Do It For You has 16 consecutive weeks at Number 1, breaking the 1955 record set by Slim Whitman’s 11-week chart-topper Rose Marie. Everything I do is also the biggest selling cassette single of all time.

Major changes in how people accessed music led to changes in 2004 with the launch of the UK’s Official Download Chart following the launch of iTunes 3 months previously. In July 2005 downloads are counted toward the Official Singles Chart for the first time, initially only the week before the physical release is available. The Charts further adapt to the digital revolution in 2007 in January, when the chart rules were changed to fully embrace downloads, which meant artists could chart for the first time without requiring a physical release. In 2008 MTV began broadcasting the Official Singles Chart every week for the first time, as part of a new partnership that made it the TV home of the Official Charts. The Official UK Top 40 is broadcast several times a week, following a first broadcast on Monday afternoon.

2002 – Following success on TV’s Pop Idol, Will Young’s Anything Is Possible/Evergreen scores the biggest first day (403,000 copies) and first week (1.1m copies) sales for a non-charity record.

Changes to charts again took place in 2012, when in May, the UK’s first Official Streaming Chart was launched. This reflected the change to music consumption from owning music to accessing music and included from services including Spotify, Napster and We7. Further changes were made the following year when streaming was added to the Singles Chart. This was calculated as 100 streams being equal to 1 single/download sale. Contributors to this data included Spotify, Deezer, Napster, O2 Tracks and many others. In 2015, streamed albums were counted towards the Official Album Charts.

2013 – Daft Punk’s Get Lucky sells a million copies in just 69 days, and the first track to be streamed one million times in a single week.


If you would like to know more about our interactive, bespoke music workshops, contact the Music Workshop Company today:

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It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

As Christmas approaches, there’s always a race for the number-one spot in the charts. This year the Music Workshop Company team have been discussing their favourite seasonal music and have come up with their own top songs. Here’s a little bit about each of the team and their Christmas choices.

Maria Thomas is the Artistic Director and Founder of The Music Workshop Company. She specialises in Early Years, Creativity workshops and World Percussion workshops.

“My favourite is the 1961 song Christmas Time in London Town (words by Frederik Van Pallandt, music by David Flatau).

It was a favourite at my Mum’s school and I love the imagery in the words. It reminds me of trips to London as a child to choose a present in Hamley’s!

I also love the Calypso Carol/O Now Carry Me to Bethlehem, which is another favourite from childhood. I love the Calypso rhythm.”

Matthew Forbes is a cellist who also plays piano, mouth organ, kazoo, djembe, guitar, and mandolin…. And is a composer! Matthew leads workshops on Composition, Song Writing, Indian Music, African Drumming and Ceilidh.

“Easy. It’s Fairytale of New York by Kirsty MacColl and The Pogues. It has everything; sad, funny, ironic, moving, energetic, sentimental and festive. Perfect”

Colin McCann is a percussionist who specialises in Samba workshops but also loves leading Junk Percussion workshops.

“My favourite is In The Bleak Midwinter (words based on a poem by Christina Rossetti and music by Gustav Holst). I love the words; they are so emotive.”

Chris Woodham is a professional percussionist who specialises in World Percussion workshops but also loves leading Composition workshops.

“My favourite Christmas Song is When a Child is Born, by Boney M, (written by Zacar with lyrics by Fred Jay) which was released in 1981, the year of my birth.

It’s from the Christmas Album by Boney M that used to be a firm favourite in the Woodham household.  I’ve always been drawn to reggae, and the album includes lots of lovely ‘reggaefied’ classic songs.  I really like When a Child is born because it uses humming then a full choir and the London Philharmonic Orchestra, also has some spoken word and a key change. What’s not to like! It was recorded at Abbey Road and Air studios both of which I have been lucky enough to work at in the past.”

Sarah Ford is an actor, director and singer, and leads many of our theatrical workshops such as Play in a Day.

“My favourites are Angels from The Realms of Glory (words by James Montgomery to the tune of “Regent Square” UK) and Hark the Herald Angels Sing (music by Felix Mendelssohn, words by Charles Wesley, amended by George Whitefield and Martin Madan).

The first one is because it’s a grand, full-out sing and the second because I love singing the descant.”

Johanna McWeeney is a violinist and journalist who writes and edits the Music Workshop Company blog and newsletters.

“My favourite Christmas piece is Leroy Anderson’s Sleigh Ride, an orchestral piece that dates back to 1948. The lyrics weren’t written until 1950. I just love the melodies, the witty use of percussion and the fun textures from the brass, particularly the horse at the end. It really conjures up Christmas for me and it’s great fun to play.”

Alison Murray is the Project Manager for the Music Workshop Company and liaises with clients to help them find their perfect project.

“Once In Royal David’s City, music composed by Henry John Gauntlet (1805-1876), words written by Cecil Francis Alexander (1818-1895), originally written as a poem.

Why?  The words of the song are so beautifully written, simple yet so meaningful, and of course when you hear the solo at the beginning, the sound is so pure and spine tingling. I have sung this song myself so often, since primary school days (a very long time ago now!) and we always sing it our church crib service, with everyone around the crib holding candles, it’s just magical.”

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