History of the UK Charts – Specialist Charts

These days, there are no shortage of official UK charts. As long as you aren’t trying to do anything too obscure or mainstream, and you can fit your work into a particular bucket, there is probably a specialist, or genre-specific chart for you – from R&B to rock, classical, dance, and even Americana.

Soul, Northern Soul, R&B, and Urban Music

For all the obscure modern genre-specific charts that we’ll meet later in this post, the concept is, surprisingly, nothing new – they were already well established as far back as the 1970s. It fell to our old friend Record Mirror, which had been publishing a singles chart since 1955, and had adopted the new official chart on its launch in 1969.

This is not a well documented history, but its first specialist chart seems to have been the Body ‘n’ Soul Record Mirror Chart, which looks as though it was an occasional guest chart compiled with help from another magazine. More established at this time was a chart dedicated to Northern Soul music, named after the legendary Wigan Casino All-Nighter which ran from 1973 to 1981. The Wigan Casino All-Nighter Top 20 was a regularly published piece in mid-1975, which we can only assume was an opinion-based chart, was supplemented by the UK Soul Chart from September 1975.

The first official UK R&B Singles chart launched in October 1994, followed in 2003 by the R&B Albums chart. Related, but not quite the same, the UK’s Official Charts Company also started compiling the MTV Urban Chart in early 2011.

Disco, Dance, Hi-NRG, and… Futurism?

In June 1975, Record Mirror had launched what appears to be the UK’s first chart dedicated to disco music. Starting as a top 20, the UK Disco Chart gradually grow to become a top 90, and ran all the way through the 1980s until it was finally replaced by the Black Dance Top 100, which gave way the following year to The Club Chart, which continues to this day.

In December 1980, they launched one of their most fun charts, the Futurist chart, which lasted a couple of years and allowed early new wave and the likes of David Bowie and Kraftwerk to dominate for a little while.

From 1982, they launched the Pop-Oriented Dance Top 75. This evolved, confusingly, into the Nightclub chart, which lasted until 1985, but shouldn’t be confused with the more recent Club Chart. Alongside it, the Gay chart, which evolved into the Boys Town Disco chart, then the Boys Town / Hi-NRG chart, the Hi-NRG Disco chart, and eventually the Eurobeat chart. This survived until 1989, after changing its name several times.

By 1988, there was also a Pop Dance chart, which, as with some of Record Mirror’s more obscure chart offerings was retired in 1989. Some of the others ran right up until Record Mirror’s untimely (and apparently unexpected) demise in 1991.

The UK’s official Dance Singles and Dance Albums charts launched in January 2003, but inclusion criteria appear to be a bit of a mystery. Accurate as ever, Wikipedia’s entry on the subject talks about “sales of songs in the dance music genre (e.g. house, trance, drum and bass, garage, synthpop),” but synthpop act Pet Shop Boys are an interesting case study, having had exactly four hits since 1994: Yesterday, When I Was Mad (#16), Paninaro 95 (#29), A Red Letter Day (#5), and Miracles (#1). Their hit albums are similarly confusing: Fundamental (#1), Disco 4 (#3), and the recent reissue of Introspective (#10).

Rock ‘n’ Roll and Heavy Metal

Record Mirror carried a Heavy Metal chart from December 1980 onwards, with a separate Rock ‘n’ Roll chart following five years later. Meanwhile, Kerrang launched their own charts, which continue to this day. Then, like the R&B Charts, the Rock & Metal Singles chart also started in 1994, and the Rock & Metal Albums chart followed in 2003. Inclusion criteria are similarly confusing and enigmatic.

Classical

Classic FM had broadcast its own chart since its launch in 1992, which subsequently and perhaps somewhat unpredictably boasted Mark Goodier as its presenter. As a competitor, not one but two official classical charts launched in October 1999, the Classical Artist Albums chart, and the Classical Compilation Albums chart.

If there’s a theme emerging here, it’s that inclusion criteria for the specialist charts tend to be arbitrary at best. Back in 2000, William Orbit famously caused something of a furore with his album of updated, electronic covers of classical music Pieces in a Modern Style. Exactly what they were talking about with this talk of a “ban,” I don’t know, as its chart run was still going strong months later, but

The Specialist Classical Albums chart followed in 2010. I don’t honestly understand the criteria for what makes them so special, but suffice to say, William Orbit would not be welcome here.

Finally, the Classical Singles chart was added in May 2012, but only lasted three years before being ignominiously retired. Four years later, the Official Charts Company started carrying another classical singles chart, the Scala Singles Chart, although its remit is rather broader, talking in the description about “classically inspired music,” and including Thom Yorke, among others.

Asian Music

For the benefit of non-UK readers, the UK is home to a substantial population of people of Indian, Pakistani, Baangladeshi, and Sri Lankan origin, with a strong culture and vibrant music scene. In recognition of this, the Asian Download chart launched in early 2010, later renaming itself the Asian Music Chart. This has a strong following, broadcast weekly on the BBC Asian Network digital radio station.

Other Specialist Charts

Record Mirror carried two other regular charts that I could find, plus a whole load of one-off personal charts. The Reggae chart launched in December 1980, but was sadly retired by 1987.

The Official Charts Company website now carries official Country Artists Albums, Country Compilations, and Jazz & Blues Albums charts going right back to January 1994. They then took things in new directions with Soundtrack Albums chart, which launched in early 2002, and then the official UK Christian & Gospel Album Chart kicked off in March 2013.

Perhaps the oddest is the official Progressive Albums chart, which launched in October 2015, an oddity for the Official Charts Company because it was only published once a month. This led to them forgetting to publish it a lot of the time, and it hasn’t now been updated since the start of 2017.

The most recent addition to the UK’s ever-growing list of official charts was the Americana Albums chart, launched in January 2016

So, all in all, there is a long list of historic and current UK specialist genre-specific charts, and, perhaps inevitably, just one thing is common to all of them – all rely on somewhat spurious rules to decide whether a release does or doesn’t fit. Sometimes, if a release underperforms on a regular chart, they can be a handy way to find out how it is performing. At other times, they can be confusing and more than a little disappointing.

Next time: format-specific charts

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

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