I haven’t particularly been following Ben Watt‘s career post-Everything But The Girl, which is clearly foolish, as this is great. From the new album Storm Damage, which is coming soon, this is Sunlight Follows the Night:
Sorry – I meant to do this a few days ago, but Depeche Mode are back with a big box set containing everything. All the fans own most of it already, and the non-fans neither want nor afford it, but apparently it’s a great idea anyway – this is MODE:
These are the top albums for stowaways for last year:
- Hot Chip – A Bath Full Of Ecstasy
- Jean-Michel Jarre – Equinoxe Infinity
- Ladytron – Ladytron
- Jean-Michel Jarre – Planet Jarre
- Sparks – Past Tense – The Best Of
- The Future Sound of London – My Kingdom (Re-Imagined)
- Sparks – Gratuitous Sax & Senseless Violins
- Kylie Minogue – Step Back In Time – The Definitive
- The Future Sound of London – Yage 2019
- Dido – Still On My Mind
- Erasure – Wild!
- Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Ghosteen
- The Chemical Brothers – No Geography
- The Radiophonic Workshop – Possum (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
- Madonna – Madame X
- Divine Comedy – Office Politics
- Rammstein – Rammstein
- The Prodigy – No Tourists
- Pet Shop Boys – Inner Sanctum
- Lighthouse Family – Blue Sky In Your Head
Throughout this series of posts, we have explored the myriad odd, obscure, and intriguing official (or sometimes semi-official) UK charts. On the way past, we did skip a few, so let’s take a quick look at them before we go any further.
The history of the Independent, or “indie” chart is well chronicled. By the end of the 1970s, numerous small independent record labels had grown up, with independent shops to support them, and they had started to build a healthy following. Because most of them were fairly small, with tight budgets, their chart performance tended to be limited, and so on 19 January 1980, the first Independent Singles chart was published.
Today, the 1980s are celebrated as the heyday of the independent charts, with books dedicated to the era, and while the 1990s saw the explosion of “indie” music (generally meaning grubby guitar-based music), many of the truly independent labels started to get gobbled up by the majors, who in turn spun up their own, partially-owned “independent” offshoots, in order to get a piece of this particular pie.
Finally, in 2009, this practice was made more difficult thanks to chart rule changes, and the indie charts live again – with a Top 50 Singles and Albums chart published weekly. The same week, 29 June 2009, saw the lauch of the Independent Singles Breakers and Independent Albums Breakers charts, a slightly odd pair of charts which are only open to artists who have never hit the main UK Top 20 previously.
My favourite chart of recent times is probably the Record Store Chart, a Top 40 albums chart, which was added just in time for Record Store Day 2012. Like the Independent Singles and Albums charts, it uses sales data from a sample of Independent retailers – unlike them, there are no restrictions on what can chart – it’s just a sales-based chart compiled from the best selling albums in independent record stores.
Back in the 1950s, the UK charts had started in London, and had only spread slowly out of the capital, and so the regions and nations of the UK were often underrepresented. Northern Ireland, in particular, did not manage to contribute to the main UK Singles and Albums charts until the 1980s.
This lack of representation, and also the inevitable differing of tastes across the UK, led to a push for a Scottish chart in the 1970s, when Radio & Record News and Record Business started compiling charts. Gallup launched the first official Scottish chart on 17 March 1991, when it was broadcast on BBC Radio Scotland and BBC1 Scotland. Current archives on the Official Charts Company website go back to 1994, which is when MRIB took over compiling the Scottish charts. It’s not clear now whether this was the start of the Scottish album chart, or whether that goes back further as well.
The Scottish charts had, as you might expect, always been kinder to genres of music that were better known in Scotland, so punk, rock, and new wave have always tended to perform better, and the 1990s saw an amusing wave of so-called Tartan Techno. Homegrown acts, too, performed better – often to the detriment of the chart, as Wet Wet Wet‘s infernal hit from summer 1995 Love is All Around, which dominated the UK chart for a mere 15 weeks, sat at the top in Scotland for an astonishing 20 weeks.
Another curiosity of the Scottish charts is just how far they lag behind the full UK ones in terms of keeping up with the latest listening trends. Whereas the UK charts added downloads into the mix from April 2005, they weren’t included in the Scottish charts until late 2009, meaning that a lot of fanbase-driven artists were able to score some exceptional hits, such as Pet Shop Boys hitting number 3 and 2 with Love etc and Did You See Me Coming? respectively, which only peaked at 14 and 21 respectively on the UK charts. Even now, five years after streaming was added to the UK-wide charts, it still hasn’t been added in Scotland, and so artists such as Pet Shop Boys continue to score hits north of the border.
The Welsh Singles and Albums Charts appear to have started around the same time as the Scottish charts, but curiously never seem to have built up the following. It was broadcast for a while by BBC Radio Wales from 2000 to 2007, and was available online during the same period. These have fallen offline now, but selected examples can be found, if you search hard enough – and the completist chart publication UKChartsPlus still carries them.
Modern Welsh chart watchers, perhaps understandably, seem more interested in the performance of Welsh acts on the full UK chart. You see occasional discussion of the Welsh chart from time to time, but it’s limited.
Saddest, and also most surprising, in a way, is Northern Ireland’s chart, which definitely existed at some point – I found references of chart show on the radio in 1989 – but there’s very little mention online nowadays. And, of course, because of the common confusion between England and the UK, it’s unfortunately impossible to know just from online searches whether England or any of its regions have ever had their own chart.
So where does this leave us? In 55 years, we have gone from having no UK charts, to sheet music, to a small, tentative record of the best-selling singles, to albums, downloads, streaming, and now pretty much zero sales. The official UK chart has come to be one of the most painstakingly compiled datasets in the world – and yet, partly due to its own diversification, and partly due to changes in the world around it, it seems to have also become almost entirely irrelevant.
What’s nice now is that the Official Charts Company give us a full archive of the last couple of decades of charts on their website. While it would be nice if some of the niche charts were more complete, and it would be fantastic if they were fully searchable, it’s at least nice to have them all in one place.
The one trend that you can comfortably see is an increasing diversification of charts – no longer is there just one chart that everyone tunes in to hear on a Sunday afternoon. It’s almost as though we’ve returned to the late 1950s and early 1960s, where everyone has their own chart that they trust, and nobody really cares about the official one.
If there’s a trend to identify here, it’s that this shows absolutely no sign of slowing – this decade alone has seen the launch of the Asian Music Chart, Vinyl Albums, the MTV Urban Chart, Streaming Singles and Albums, the Record Store Chart, Classical Singles, Christian & Gospel Albums, Progressive Albums, Americana Albums, and the Scala Singles Chart. Next, we can probably expect a weekly Ed Sheeran chart and the K-Pop/Children’s Novelty Crossover Top 42.
But more likely, in a way, is that someone will come up with something new to take the place of the Independent Singles and Albums charts – something edgy, that all the cool people will buy into for a while, until it gets bought out and compiled by the Official Charts Company too, and everyone loses interest again. Time will tell.
This article owes a lot to the following sources:
Here are the top singles for 2019:
- Pet Shop Boys – Agenda EP
- Frances Barber & Pet Shop Boys – Musik (Original Cast Recording) – EP
- Hot Chip – Hungry Child
- Pet Shop Boys feat. Years & Years – Dreamland
- Ladytron – Horrorscope
- The Beloved – For Your Love
- Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – Almost
- Marshmello Ft Chvrches – Here With Me
- Jean-Michel Jarre – Flying Totems
- The Future Sound of London – Yage
- Tiësto / Jonas Blue / Rita Ora – Ritual
- Ladytron – The Animals
- Sparks – Let’s Go Surfing
- The Beloved – Your Love Takes Me Higher (Evil Mix) / Awoke
- Mark Ronson Ft Lykke Li – Late Night Feelings
- The Radiophonic Workshop – Arrival Home
- New Order – Ceremony
- Gesaffelstein Ft Weeknd – Lost In The Fire
- Tiësto & Mabel – God Is A Dancer
- The Beloved – It’s Alright Now
Pet Shop Boys are back, better late than never. The new album Hotspot turns up in just a couple of weeks – in the meantime, here’s Burning the heather:
Younger readers may not fully realise the pain that the global music industry went through at the turn of the millennium. The physical format – for singles, at least – died within a couple of years, and after some initial misguided action, legalising the now-ubiquitous download was essential. By 2004, physical sales were already outstripped by downloads, and so the chart needed to reflect this.
An initial test download chart was finally compiled in July 2004, combining legal sales of downloads from various online stores. This was first published as an official chart on 1st September 2004, with Westlife stealing the top spot with a rush-released live version of Flying Without Wings.
A few months later, on April 2005, downloads were incorporated into the main singles chart, although they had to also be available physically in order to make the charts. From March 2006, they were allowed to chart the week before their physical release, famously enabling Gnarls Barkley‘s Crazy to hit the top spot based on downloads alone. Similar rules caused the same track and also Nelly Furtado‘s Maneater to hang around the lower reaches of the chart for months, clocking up nearly a year on the charts between them.
Finally from January 2007, the physical requirement was removed altogether, enabling both tracks to re-enter the chart. Various unexpected reissues followed over the coming months, including live appearance, adverts, and online campaigns such as Rage Against the Machine‘s 2009 victory over TV series The X Factor, which saw Killing in the Name become Christmas number one, with more than half a million tracks sold.
Adding downloads to the album chart took a little longer, with the Official Album Downloads chart launching and downloads counting to the main chart simultaneously on 15th April 2006. For a few years, legal downloads ruled the roost on the official UK charts.
But this period was short-lived – UK download sales peaked in 2013 at 32 million, dropping to a fraction of that number within just a few years. In its place instead came something much simpler, and more lightweight, bringing with it significantly reduced revenues for artists.
The Official Charts Company’s first experiments with charting streaming started with the Subscription Plays Chart, launched in September 2008, which was joined by the Streaming Chart – later replaced by the Audio Streaming Chart – in July 2014.
The same week in 2014 saw the introduction of streaming on the main singles chart, and things changed forever. A hugely successful artist could suddenly dominate the entire chart with the release of one album, as Ed Sheeran demonstrated in March 2017 when he claimed nine of the top ten singles (and sixteen of the top twenty) the week that his third album Divide was released. Rules were subsequently added to limit the number of tracks by a single artist to three.
Streams were added to the album chart in March 2015, with some slightly confusing rules to prevent albums from suddenly jumping up the charts based solely on the plays from one or two popular tracks. The impact of streaming on the album chart seems to have been less noticeable than the singles so far, which can perhaps be attributed to the additional rules.
Most recently, June 2018 saw a separation of paid streaming and free streaming, whereby subscribers of streaming services count as six times as many plays as free users. As part of this change, the UK charts also added plays from streaming video services such as YouTube, in recognition that many listeners are now getting their music from other places.
The Scottish Digital Age
Curiously, downloads were added much later to the Scottish charts, and at the time of writing, streaming still hasn’t made it on, so the Scottish charts are much more similar to the UK Sales charts than they are to the main UK charts. Downloads finally joined physical sales on the charts north of the border in October 2009, not long after The Stone Roses had managed a string of top three hits with reissued physical early singles.
For the UK as a whole, the Physical Singles and Physical Albums charts remain, with shockingly low sales figures. Lewis Capaldi hit the top spot on the singles in February this year with Grace, despite selling fewer than 200 copies. Two weeks later, Westlife got to number ten with just 19 copies sold. Some weeks, just 10 copies can get you a Top 40 placing. The Singles Sales and Albums Sales charts also continue, largely mirroring the Scottish charts.
Ultimately, whether or not you see the inclusion of streaming on the charts as a good thing is really up to you – it does enable you to see what the most popular songs are at any given time, but there does seem to be a schism between music buyers and music streamers, and you have to wonder whether the former might be more representative of music lovers than the latter?
Either way, the charts move slowly these days, and various draconian rules have been added to try to speed them up – which is ironic, given how quickly the charts have had to adapt to keep up in the last couple of decades.
Next time: in the final post in this series, we’ll sweep up all the remaining pieces, and speculate on what might happen next.
This post owes a lot to the following sources which weren’t directly credited above: