History of the UK Charts – The Lower Reaches

After a bit of a break, it’s time to return to our series of posts exploring the long and complex history of the UK charts. As you may remember from previous posts, after humble and understated beginnings, the singles chart started in 1952, with the albums chart following four years later, followed by a long period of arguing about which one was actually official.

In those early days, the size of the charts were very much dictated by the numbers of records sold within their sample set of stores, which of course was itself heavily influenced by the sample size. When NME launched their first chart, as few as 15 stores might have reported their sales, each providing a top ten list, and so it’s hardly surprising that the initial chart only had 12 positions.

Despite not being as widely available, there have long been unofficial chart positions running way down to pretty much infinite numbers – the UK press were excited to share Naomi Campbell‘s 1994 chart placing for her album Baby Woman as having peaked at number nine hundred and something (unfortunately those particular articles never seem to have made it online).

Singles

By the late 1970s, record sales were healthy enough that positions outside of the range of the official chart were shared within the music industry, but not published externally, and so while it was the Top 75 Singles that were official at this time, records of lower positions can occasionally be found.

This appears to have started with publication of the Bubbling Under list from 1981, an alphabetical listing of singles that were just outside of the main chart. From 1983, this was officially published in some publications as The Next 25, a “compressed” listing of near-misses from just outside the main chart. Special rules were used to “star out” any releases that were falling in popularity, leaving just new entries, re-entries, and climbers. Thanks to an intriguing piece of rewriting of history, these are now included as part of the Top 100 listings on the Official Charts Company website.

Also existent but not, apparently, available to the public at that time, are much longer charts, which make for intriguing reading. Thanks to this fascinating post, we can now all see the full chart for 29 January 1983, revealing that the number 200 single sold just 24 copies. Although things have changed a lot since then – crazy as it might sound, that would be enough to get you onto the top 10 in the Physical Singles chart nowadays.

The Next 25 continued to appear in certain publications until April 1991, but then the following month, a sister publication of Music Week, Charts Plus, started publishing the full, uncompressed Top 200 Singles. A second publication, also in the same family, called Hit Music, started in September 1992, and revived the compressed Next 25, continuing to publish it until Charts Plus closed in November 1994. The Top 200 moved to Hit Music, and continued to be published until its closure in May 2001.

The extended chart continued to be available within the music industry, but not formally published, until a private publication Charts+Plus (now called UKChartsPlus) picked it up in September 2001. Meanwhile, chart compilation had changed so that positions 76-200 were now all compressed, so rather than a Top 200, the chart was effectively a Top 75 and a Next 125.

This continued until April 2005, when the chart expanded to a Top 250, shrinking back down to a Top 200 in March 2006, and then dropping right down to a Top 100 in July 2017. As always, lower positions are apparently available within the industry, but not formally published any more.

At least we can finally all agree that it’s a Top 100 now.

Albums

As with the Single Chart, positions below number 100 had been made known within the music industry in the 1980s. Unlike the singles, those extra positions on the Album Chart were first published in a sister publication of Music Week, called Charts Plus, from May 1991 to November 1994, which included the Top 200 Albums. A separate publication in the same family, Hit Music, published the Top 150 Albums from September 1992 to November 1996, and then the Top 200 Albums until the magazine closed its doors in May 2001.

From February 1994 onwards, even though the album chart that was published in Music Week was only a Top 75, as with the singles, the Official Charts Company now displays the Top 100 as official. Whether we will ever see those missing 25 positions for the preceding five years remains to be seen.

Next time: the mystery of what lies between singles and albums.

This series of posts owes a lot to the following sources which weren’t directly credited above:

  • “King of Skiffle” and others, and their extensive chart collections on UK Mix

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