History of the UK Charts – Midweeks and Artists

Right from the earliest days of the UK charts, it was clear that one chart wasn’t enough. Sure, there was always one that held more sway than the others, as sheet music gave way to singles, and so-on. But there was always a place for an odd niche chart, and also somehow, just one update a week wasn’t quite enough.

So enter the midweek charts, an early indication of how the Sunday chart might play out – but with huge differences, where fanbase-driven artists might plummet tens of places down the chart in just a few days, as all their fans rushed out to buy their latest box set in the first couple of days of release.

The Midweek Chart

For a large part of history, the UK midweek charts were shrouded in bizarre mystery. They seem to have existed primarily just to give record companies a hint at how they might want to promote new releases as the week progressed. But for the public, a radio presenter or tabloid newspaper would boldly claim that something looked as though it might hit the top of the charts this week, but their source was never fully revealed. Online whispers would hint at multiple full midweek charts, but would never reveal much. It was all very strange, but somehow rather exciting at the same time.

They had been around for a long time – I found mentions online of Radiohead‘s Creep entering at number 7 (it did) way back in 1993, The Beatles‘ Free as a Bird entering at number 1 in 1995, and George Michael topping the album chart in 1998. But it wasn’t until the early 2000s that the midweek charts really became widely known about, and being shared online through unofficial forums and newsgroups.

So then in a bizarre twist, around 2003, the Official Charts Company started telling people not to share them, citing “legal issues”. You have to wonder now quite why they were so worried about keeping them secret, but it didn’t last forever. The Guardian explains what happened next, at number 28 on their chart facts rundown:

Until the internet came along and ruined everything, the midweek chart – an early tally of the forthcoming chart’s movers and shakers – was a top-secret document seen only by those in the industry. In 2010, with midweeks having circulated each week via email and messageboard for more than a decade, the OCC admitted defeat and launched the Official Chart Update on Radio 1, which ran on Wednesday afternoons. When the proper weekly chart rundown moved to Fridays, the midweek rundown moved to Mondays.

The Guardian, 29 June 2017

The Chart Update

Stranger in some ways is how open the Official Charts Company has now become. Seemingly the weekly chart grew so popular that publicly available midweek charts were needed as well. Or perhaps it was a step to halt the decline of the charts?

Either way, in March 2010, BBC Radio 1 started a half-hour segment highlighting the Singles Chart Update, and when the Official Charts Company redesigned their website in early 2012, they also found a place for the Single and Album Chart Updates, now including sales and streams from Friday to Sunday.

They still make for interesting charts, as you watch fanbase-heavy acts enter high on the Update and plummet fast before the final chart, but otherwise a degree of magic seems to have disappeared with the mystery of the midweek chart.

On the Radio

Midweek broadcasts had actually begun way back in the 1960s. Just as Billboard stopped running the Friday NME Chart as their main UK chart, Radio Luxembourg started using it as the source for their chart, and continued to present this early midweek show for another two years.

BBC Radio 1 was much later to the game, starting broadcasting the Chart Update on Wednesdays in 2010, featuring highlights from the Top 40, and presented, successively, by Greg JamesScott MillsGreg James again, Dev and Alice Levine, and most recently, Nick Grimshaw.

It’s strange to think now, in an age where the official chart show is now just another weekday programme, that there’s any degree of interest at all in a radio show about the midweek chart, but amazingly it still appears as part of Nick Grimshaw‘s show, now on Mondays. Potentially essential listening, if you still care.

The Artist Chart

Another of the odder chapters in the history of the UK charts which is worth a brief side-step is the Artist Chart. Combining sales from all of an artist’s releases, whether singles, albums, or possibly anything else, makes for an intriguing list to compare against the others. There’s a good chance you won’t have heard of this one, as it only seems to have existed in weekly form for about a year, it was never published, and there doesn’t appear to be any record of it left on the internet.

There had been precursors – Record Mirror had included a UK Artists Singles Chart way back in the 1950s, and then Hit Music published an early oddity from 1992, with two separate charts – the Singles Acts Year-to-Date and Albums Acts Year-to-Date, which would detail the most successful singles and albums artists for the year, but as far as I can make out, the only combined UK Artist Chart was broadcast on BBC Radio 1 in the late 1990s.

Broadcast as part of Lisa I’Anson‘s show on Fridays from January 1995, there’s little record of the chart online now, except some minor annoyance from the industry around its launch. It seems to have lasted at least until August 1995, and possibly until I’Anson’s weekday show ended at the end of 1996.

This series of posts is taking a break again now, but it will return, to explore genre and format-specific charts, and some of the twists and turns of the digital age.

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

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