Kraftwerk Alternative Versions

Like most people, I’ve found myself listening to a lot of Kraftwerk in recent times. One of the most mysterious parts of their oeuvre is the four-album series that appeared before they were really famous – Tone Float, Kraftwerk, Kraftwerk 2, and Ralf und Florian, some of which contain some great material. But what they really represent in many ways is the sound of Ralf Hütter und Florian Schneider honing their… err… kraft.

Some purists saw the 2009 Der Katalog (The Catalogue) box sets as somewhat revisionist, as the artwork changed, Electric Cafe got retitled back to Techno Pop and the track listings were tweaked, but the reality is that Kraftwerk‘s special form of perfektionism has never been completely fixed. There have always been tantalising glimpses at unfinished and alternative tracks, and so here we explore those.

TrackDescription
Kohoutek-Kometenmelodie 1Early version of Kometenmelodie 1, released on the Kohoutek-
Kometenmelodie
7″ single in 1973.
Kohoutek-Kometenmelodie 2Early version of Kometenmelodie 2, released on the Kohoutek-
Kometenmelodie
7″ single in 1973.
Techno PopThe 1983 version which would have been the title track of what became Electric Cafe. Somehow a demo version escaped the Kling Klang kompound, and appears on several bootleg releases.
The Telephone CallDepending on which you feel the definitive album version of this is, there is either an over-long 8-minute version (on Electric Cafe) or a shorter 7″ version (on Techno Pop).
House PhoneOriginally the b-side to The Telephone Call, this second part of the main track made it onto the 2009 reissue of Techno Pop.
Sex ObjectAnother 1983 version that has somehow circulated over the years.
RobotnilkA continuation of The Robots, released on the 1991 single.
RobotronikAnother continuation of The Robots, released on the 1991 single. An edit version also exists.
Expo Jingle30-second jingle (and six four-second snippets) released on the Expo 2000 promo box set.
Expo 2000 (Kling Klang Mix 2002)Early version with different drums, released on initial German pressings of the Expo 2000 single.
Tour de France 03 (Long Distance Version 2)Extended version of Tour De France Étape 2, released on the Tour de France 03 CD single.
ChronoAlternative version, released on the KW3 promo version of Tour de France Soundtracks.
RégénerationLonger version, released on the KW3 promo version of Tour de France Soundtracks.

It’s difficult to see some of these ever getting released again, unfortunately, but it would be nice to see them collected together as supplementary listening for a fascinating career.

Kraftwerk often described their live concerts as being a little like jazz, with improvisational moments woven into the hits, although you would often be hard pressed to notice. However, there are some exclusive early versions of tracks available on bootlegs that are worth hearing. The most widely available is probably Concert Classics (also released as Autobahn Tour and Live), where the third track, although listed as Morgenspaziergang (Part 1), is actually an otherwise unreleased piece called Kling Klang (not to be confused with the track on Kraftwerk 2 of the same name).

The Radio Bremen session from 1971 is also worth hearing if you’re searching for unreleased material, featuring five tracks of which only Ruckzuck was ever released, but most of this is barely recognisable as Kraftwerk, so may not be of huge interest to many.

Perhaps most notable of all is this bootleg from a concert in Croydon in 1975, which in addition to a number of other unreleased tracks pairs Mitternacht with a very early version of Showroom Dummies, finally released two years later and in very different form.

Their 1997 comeback tour saw the outing of three new tracks, with titles that haven’t entirely become clear yet. Tribal, or Nummweltverschmutzung, was one, and the other two were Lichthof and ZKM Song, although there’s no suggestion that any of those were official titles. This is probably the most listenable of all the bootlegs. It’s tempting to wonder whether these were just jams, or were intended to appear on an album one day? Maybe we’ll find out, if they ever get around to releasing it.

Kraftwerk Remixed

When you consider the huge part that Kraftwerk played in the development of electronic music, it is perhaps surprising how few remixes they have to their name – just N of their tracks have been remixed by others. In a way, there’s something rather beautiful about the preservation of their artistic vision in this way, but it’s also something of a shame that we can’t hear a few more reinterpretations, especially given how good the ones we did get are.

So here’s the full list:

YearTrackRemixerVersion(s)
1983Tour de FranceFrançois KevorkianKevorkian Remix (German)
Kevorkian Remix (English)
Kevorkian Remix (various edit versions)
1986Musique Non StopFrançois Kevorkian12″ Version
1986Der Telefon Anruf / The Telephone CallFrançois Kevorkian & Ron St. GermainRemix (German)
Remix (English)
1991Radioactivität / RadioactivityFrançois KevorkianFrançois Kevorkian 7″ Remix (German)
François Kevorkian 7″ Remix (English)
François Kevorkian 12″ Remix (English)
1991Radioactivität / RadioactivityWilliam OrbitWilliam Orbit 7″ Remix (German)
William Orbit 12″ Remix (German)
William Orbit 7″ Remix (English)
William Orbit 12″ Remix (English)
William Orbit Hardcore Mix (English)
2000Expo 2000OrbitalOrbital Mix
2000Expo 2000François Kevorkian & Rob RivesFrançois K + Rob Rives Mix
2000Expo 2000DJ RolandoDJ Rolando Mix
2000Expo 2000Underground ResistanceUnderground Resistance Mix
UR Infiltrated Mix
UR Thought 3 Mix
2004AerodynamikAlex Gopher & Étienne De CrécyAlex Gopher / Étienne De Crécy Dynamik Mix
2004AerodynamikFrançois KevorkianFrançois K Aero Mix
François K Aero Mix Instrumental
2007AerodynamikHot ChipIntelligent Design Mix
2007La FormeHot ChipKing of the Mountains Mix

There you have it – just eighteen remixes plus a handful of variations, of seven tracks, by eleven other artists. Some of the early ones don’t even stray far from the originals. But they’re pretty much uniformly fantastic, and do form a key part of Kraftwerk‘s wonderful discography – so I hope that one day we can see them all collected together. The Remix, anyone?

Kraftwerk in Translation

For me and I suspect many others, the right way to listen to Kraftwerk is in German. I don’t think I learned about the German versions until fairly late on, but they are definitely much more rewarding. It probably helps if you speak German, but the “Sekt / Korrrrrrrekt” line in Das Modell is definitely unparalleled by anything in the English version. But then I came across this hilarious performance the other day. Apart from seeing Karl Bartos corpsing and the late great Florian Schneider giving the hosts bunny rabbit ears at the very end, it also features a version of Pocket Calculator in Italian, which I had never come across before:

That got me thinking – which tracks actually got translated, and into which languages? So here’s a handy cut-out and keep guide!

GermanEnglishOther Languages
RadioaktivitätRadioactivity [1]放射能 / Houshanou (Japanese) [2]
Europa EndlosEurope Endless
SpiegelsaalThe Hall of Mirrors
SchaufensterpuppenShowroom DummiesManeken (Croatian) [2]
Les Mannequins
(French)
Manichini (Italian) [2]
Os Manequins (Portuguese) [2]
Manechine (Romanian) [2]
Trans Europa ExpressTrans Europe Express
Die RoboterThe Robots
Das Modell [3]The Model
NeonlichtNeon Lights
Die Mensch MaschineThe Man Machine
Computerwelt [3]Computer World
TaschenrechnerPocket CalculatorMini Calculateur (French)
Mini Calcolatore (Italian) [4]
Dentaku (Japanese)
Minikalkulator (Polish) [2]
Калькулятор (Russian) [2]
Computer LiebeComputer Love
HeimcomputerHome Computer
Tour de France (German)Tour de France (French)
Techno PopTechno Pop
Musique Non StopMusique Non Stop
Der Telefon AnrufThe Telephone Call
Techno Pop (German)Techno Pop (English)Techno Pop (Spanish)
Sex ObjektSex Object (English)Sex Object (Spanish) [5]

Footnotes:

  1. Original album version was bilingual (in both German and English), but single versions and the version on The Mix were separate.
  2. These are not available as studio recordings, but have been played live according to this site, and some appear on bootlegs.
  3. The Model and Computer World have significant differences in vocal delivery between the English and German versions.
  4. Sadly, it appears the Italian version of Pocket Calculator was never officially released, although the version used for the television performance above appears to be a studio recording. This site lists some live versions as Piccolo Calcolatore instead.
  5. This seems to sometimes be listed as Objecto Sexual, but the original sleeve shows Sex Object.

Unless I’ve missed a few, hopefully everything that isn’t listed there is bilingual, an instrumental, or just generally the same in all languages.

If you haven’t come across these before, I hope you might find this list an interesting diversion – if you have only ever experienced Kraftwerk in English, you have a lot still to learn!

Thanks to the websites linked above for their help with my research!

Pet Shop Boys – Stuart Price Trilogy

When Pet Shop Boys reappeared with Electric in 2013, it was the shortest gap between albums in their career. Despite that, it seemed like a new beginning – leaving their former career-long label Parlophone and starting afresh with their own label, their comeback took place just nine months after its predecessor. Even the artwork seemed fresher, younger, and more modern.

There is, as many people have said before me, nothing new under the sun. With Elysium (2012), there had been a clear attempt to revitalise the lush beauty of Behaviour (1990), and so one way of looking at Electric would be that it was ostensibly an attempt to revisit Introspective (1988). Finding new form by revisiting the past isn’t anything new either.

Maybe part of the reason for the freshness in their new sound was the collaboration with Stuart Price, the electro-dance genius behind Les Rythmes Digitales, and so it was welcome news shortly after Electric appeared that this would be a trilogy. Trilogies are not, of course, something that Pet Shop Boys do. They never even really worked with the same producer more than once or twice, until now.

Either way, Electric was great – maybe you don’t agree that it was flawless, but at least it sounded fresh and different. The tracks were long, and breaking the mould of the last couple of decades, there weren’t twelve of them on the album – there were only nine. There was Thursday, a beautifully epic weekend piece with Example as a guest vocalist, and there was even a cover of a Bruce Springsteen track.

Three years would pass before the follow-up, and what’s interesting listening to Super (2016) is just how good it is. I think I realised that when it first came out, but fell out of love with it for a while. Somehow it felt like a pale imitation of Electric, but that’s not fair – if the first album was the underground dance entry in the trilogy, then this is the synthpop one, but that doesn’t mean it’s vacuous. In retrospect, our expectations were probably just a bit raised after Electric. The pop kids is a fabulous lead single, and Twenty-something typically incisive.

Creativity takes time sometimes, and so the third entry in the series, Hotspot, took another four years to appear, finally turning up in early 2020. I haven’t reviewed it yet here, mainly because I don’t think I’ve really digested it yet. It has many of the signature sounds of the previous pair, but it’s really the odd one out in many ways – this is the concept album in the series. For the most part, it’s Pet Shop Boys‘ ode to Berlin, and as I’ll probably explain when I do get around to reviewing it, that makes it very special to me. But then you suddenly get Burning the heather, a song that seems much more at home at Neil Tennant‘s rural home in the north of England. It’s funny – I feel as though I understand this album pretty well, and I would defend it to the hilt, but it also seems a bit of a mess in places.

What strikes me is that the end of this trilogy puts us at a natural endpoint for Pet Shop Boys. I hope that’s not true – I hope this is just the closing of another chapter, but it feels as though they’ve given us some classic, revitalised Pet Shop Boys over the course of this trilogy, and now they’re working with young retro remixers, recording unreleased songs from before they were famous, and giving us an album where the only clear statement seems to be “this is our life right now”. Of course, in a sense, that’s all any album ever is, and so whatever the next chapter holds, it could be very interesting indeed.

Please take a moment to look back at my reviews of Elysium and Electric. It looks as though I haven’t quite got around to Super yet, and I’ll try to get onto Hotspot as soon as I feel I’m ready.

You won’t believe these 5 amazing things that I just made up!

Did that title grab your attention? I’ve had it on a list of things to post for years, but then never quite get round to thinking of 5 amazing things to go under it. Well, here goes…

Björk Has Horns

Well, she does in this video to Wanderlust, anyway. Fog horns, to be exact.

Röyksopp Prefer Seafood

Look! Here they are freediving for crabs and scallops, so it must be true.

The Human League Like Car Boot Sales

I didn’t even make this one up – watch right to the end!

Kraftwerk Are Comedians in Their Spare Time

They made a pilot for a sitcom. Look, here it is!

There is No #5

I’ll leave it to Feist to explain why not.

That’s right! What I discovered is that you can just make things up and search YouTube, and something interesting is pretty much guaranteed to turn up.

History of the UK Charts – What Next?

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.

Independent Charts

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.

Regional Charts

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.

What Next?

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:

History of the UK Charts – The Digital Age

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.

Downloads

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.

Streaming

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:

History of the UK Charts – Format-Specific Charts

The UK has, as we discussed previously, a proud history of delivering a confusing range of genre-specific charts, but perhaps more intriguing are the format-specific ones. They’re nothing new, either – there are numerous today, but there were also several back in the 1980s.

Vinyl-Only Charts

The earliest UK charts, back in the 1950s, were, of course, format-specific, as there really was only one back then – 78s ruled until 7″ 45s took over. Although DJs had been cutting their own 10″ and 12″ acetates as early as the 1950s, the first commercial 12″ single appears to have been Buddy Fite‘s For Once in My Life, in 1970, and five years later, Donna Summer‘s Love to Love You Baby kick started an explosion of Jamaican 12″ releases, spreading back to the US and UK over subsequent years.

But the 12″ single was, of course, of special interest to disco and dance music fans, and so it seems logical that it would have had its own chart. Sure enough, from September 1985 to February 1991, early chart innovators Record Mirror carried the UK Twelve Inch Top 20, which in many ways remains one of the more interesting charts of the period. Apart from the obvious domination by New Order‘s Blue Monday, it sees some incursions by obscure releases that didn’t make as much of an impact on the main chart. Unfortunately, as with many of Record Mirror’s 1980s charts, there isn’t an official archive online now, but there are plenty of scans at the links below.

In the years after the death of Record Mirror in 1991, vinyl fell out of favour, with sales falling to practically zero by the late 1980s, and many major artists ceasing regular releases, so while the gap in the vinyl chart archive from 1991 to 2015 is a shame, we aren’t really missing a lot.

But with the revival of vinyl sales, there was a need for something similar again, and hence the launch in April 2015 of the official UK Vinyl Singles chart – followed, a year later, by the Vinyl Albums chart. Obviously the focus has changed again, with 12″ singles being joined by 7″s, 10″s, and all the other obscure shapes and sizes of vinyl. These are, of course, niche charts, dominated by reissues and collector’s editions, and the best illustration of this is the month or so every year after Record Store Day, when both charts get seriously clogged with random collector’s releases. But the Vinyl charts are a nice addition to the list of official UK charts, nonetheless.

Compact Disc and Cassette Charts

For pretty much the same period as the Twelve Inch Top 20 (1985-1991), Record Mirror also ran a Compact Disc Top 20, an album chart highlighting the best sellers in the new format. As with the Twelve Inch chart, it is appropriate that it was put to bed when it was, as a CD-only chart after 1991 would have showed very little unique when compared against the main chart. While it lasted, it was interesting – dominated in its early years by reissues and Dire StraitsBrothers in Arms, it subsequently came to echo the main album chart but with important differences – for instance in 1986, when Pet Shop Boys‘ debut Please was released only on LP and cassette, before climbing back up the main chart thanks primarily to its CD sales, several months later.

More intriguing, in a way, is the short-lived Cassette Top 20, which appears to have been published by Record Mirror for a matter of weeks in 1983 (here’s the page showing the chart from 29th January 1983, in which Men at Work can be seen climbing impressively to the top spot). While cassettes had been commercially available since 1963, and albums had been released directly on them for almost as long, it’s possible that they may not have made the chart until the 1980s. Perhaps this shows us a brief glimpse of cassette sales before they actually got added to the main chart – or perhaps it was only ever intended as an indicator of sales for a new-ish format? History doesn’t really give much information on this, unfortunately, so we can only guess now.

Airplay Charts

The US charts had always attempted to model what people were listening to, rather than what they were buying, and so had long incorporated airplay, but this was resisted in the UK, with claims that it would be too easy to manipulate the charts (as though somehow it was difficult to manipulate the sales-based charts). This is fair, but in the modern age, where streaming makes up most of the chart, it seems absurd (to me, anyway) to try to argue that airplay shouldn’t be included.

Either way, the ERA, and subsequently RadioMonitor, have been compiling a UK Radio Airplay Chart since at least 1993, supplemented by a TV Airplay Chart from 2010 onwards. These also have their own niche interest charts, with the Commercial Radio Airplay Chart also being compiled and carried today. It was also these charts that formed the basis of the often-confusing Hit 40 UK chart, the competitor to BBC Radio 1’s UK Top 40 countdown that was broadcast on Sunday afternoons throughout the 1990s. Hit 40 UK was carried by all the major commercial stations, and boasted a larger listenership, but also had the mind-boggling novelty of carrying the official Top 10 Singles, merged with the remaining 30 places of a combined airplay and sales chart.

Going Digital

We will cover downloads, streaming, and the niche charts of the digital age in a separate post next time, so for now,, vinyl sales are combined in the modern Vinyl Singles and Vinyl Albums charts, and CD sales can be inferred by comparing that with the modern Physical Singles and Physical Albums charts. And as we’ll explore, sales are jaw-droppingly low. But for now, this concludes our exploration of the format-specific charts.

Next time: the digital age

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

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:

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: