Record Companies – Mute Records

Closing this mini-series out is a quick look at Daniel Miller‘s Mute Records, which, since its launch in 1978, has become one of the most cult, collectible labels. Initially devised as an engine to release Miller’s own electronic act The Normal, it has grown to house a huge roster of artists from a broad range of genres.

Key artists include Depeche Mode, Yazoo, Erasure, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Moby, Goldfrapp, and more recently, New Order, but it has also housed some hugely influential underground artists, including Fad Gadget, Nitzer Ebb, and Laibach. The list could be endless. Many of those artists were lost when Mute was sold to EMI in 2002, and didn’t follow back when it regained its independence at the end of the decade, but the list of artists is still very strong.

Perhaps most notable in recent times is the now-legendary box set MUTE433, a compilation of different artists performing John Cage‘s 4’33”. Which is clearly brilliant, even if I don’t really want a copy (thanks all the same). By the time you read this, it might already be in the shops.

You can find out more about Mute by going to
http://mute.com/

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Record Companies – ZTT

Few record labels hold the allure that ZTT do. Zang Tumb Tuum (or one of the other variations on the name that they have used from time to time) were formed in 1983 by Trevor Horn, his wife Jill Sinclair, and Paul Morley. Apart from an impressive range of artists, they came to be known for their videos and artwork, and remain influential to this day.

Created to release ABC‘s The Lexicon of Love, the label has gone on to house numerous huge names, including Art of Noise, 808 State, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Roy Orbison, Propaganda, Adamski, Shane MacGowan and Kirsty MacColl, Seal, and Lisa Stansfield.

ZTT is part of the BMG group, so their minimal website is here:
https://www.bmg.com/de/artist/ztt-records

Record Companies – The Tapeworm

For me, there are few record companies more intriguing than The Tapeworm. Established in June 2009, this brilliantly named cassette-only label has spent the last decade releasing small-batch avant garde cassettes by musicians and artists, some better known than others.

Most releases are limited to 100-300 copies, and some of the better-known artists to have unleashed their work through The Tapeworm include Fennesz, Simon Scott, Cristian Vogel, and Simon Fisher Turner. The latter released 250 copies of De Dentro Hacia Afuera in 2009, featuring a recording of the 2002 procession of the Virgen del Carmen, recorded at Carboneras in Almería, Spain. You can certainly find things that are more artsy than that elsewhere, but this is a pretty fine example.

To my shame, I’ve never got around to purchasing anything from The Tapeworm, but I regularly visit to browse the oddities that they have in stock, and if nothing else, I’m very glad that they exist. If you’re interested, you can visit The Tapeworm athttp://www.tapeworm.org.uk/.

Record Companies – Virgin Records

All of the major labels are big enough that they have, at times at least, been able to boast an impressive range of artists, but few are as interesting as Virgin Records. Formed in 1972 by Richard Branson, Simon Draper, Nik Powell, and Tom Newman, they went on to become one of the most influential labels in the music business.

Famously, Mike Oldfield‘s Tubular Bells was the label’s first release, and in the early 1970s, they became well known for their prog rock releases, also becoming an early home to Tangerine Dream, but then in 1977, hit the mainstream by signing the Sex Pistols. Major releases from Culture Club, The Human League, Simple Minds, XTC, and others followed, making the label a household name throughout the 1980s.

That was essentially it – in 1992, Richard Branson sold Virgin to EMI, and while the list of signed artists continued to grow, including such huge names as The Future Sound of London, the Spice Girls, and Meat Loaf, its heyday as an influential brand really seems to have passed by this time.

You can read more about Virgin Records here:
https://www.virginrecords.com/

Record Companies – Just Music

I first heard about Just Music thanks to Honeyroot, the short-lived but brilliant chillout spin-off from Heaven 17. Just Music turns out to have a small but impressive selection of ambient, leftfield, electronic, and off-beat artists to its name.

Apart from Honeyroot, their most famous acts include the now-legendary Jon Hopkins, Marconi Union, and Leo Abrahams. Hopkins, of course, has hit the higher reaches of the charts globally, although he seems to have also wandered onto bigger record labels in the process.

But small family record companies are really well worth celebrating. Just Music can be found here:
http://www.justmusic.co.uk/

Coming soon – Record Companies

There are, of course, certain record companies that illicit the response of a highly collectible artist. There’s something about the consistency of their roster of musicians, or perhaps they’re just a little more daring than all the major labels.

So in this new series, we will celebrate a selection of the world’s finest, most intriguing, and oddest record companies. Stay tuned!

History of the UK Charts – Albums

How do you define an album? Nowadays, it’s surprisingly straightforward – it’s essentially anything with a dealer price of over £3.75, but until the long-player first appeared in 1948, it would have been much more difficult to define, and so nobody really made the distinction. The earliest music sales charts were, therefore, not broken into singles, EPs, and albums, and in fact, in the 1950s, between 1956 and 1959, five long-players appear to have turned up on the singles charts that we now consider official. But in fact, by 1956, there was actually already a dedicated chart for albums.

Record Mirror

Whereas NME had launched the UK Single chart four years earlier, it was Record Mirror who gave us the first Album chart in July 1956. Their singles chart had launched the preceding year, and had already grown from a Top 10 to a Top 20 when they launched their first Top 5 Album chart.

This was the only album chart for two and a half years, always a Top 5. After that, there appears to be little record online, but it seems likely that it ran for six years in total, retiring in March 1962, when Record Mirror chose to switch to the Record Retailer charts instead.

As discussed previously in this series of posts, the compilers of the Guinness Book of British Hit Singles made a couple of decisions that might be considered questionable, but for me, none is odder than their decision to ignore the first two years of album charts. Somehow I suspect it may have just slipped their attention, but they count the Melody Maker chart as the first official chart. The Official Charts Company has now remedied this oversight, and includes the early Record Mirror charts as canonical – here’s that first ever UK Album Chart.

Melody Maker

Melody Maker had been UK chart pioneers a decade earlier, when they launched their Top Songs chart for sheet music, and in November 1958, they launched the Top 10 Albums chart. South Pacific was number one pretty much forever.

Oddly, NME never seems to have published an album chart, and few people seem to really care about the Melody Maker chart, and so unlike the early days of the UK Single Chart, the albums are largely free of controversy.

Record Retailer, and The Official Chart

From March 1960 onwards, everyone seems to agree that the canonically official Album Chart is the one published in Record Retailer, which steadily grew from a Top 10 to a Top 40 by the end of the decade. Then, in 1969, the British Market Research Bureau (BMRB) took over compilation. Budget albums (nowadays defined as albums with a dealer price between £0.50 and £3.75) were intermittently allowed to enter the chart.

Also confusing is the size of the chart – Record Retailer launched their Top 10 in March 1960, quickly increasing to a Top 20, then growing to a Top 30 in April 1966, and a Top 40 later that same year. Then BMRB launched their chart in February 1969 as a Top 15, growing to a Top 30 a couple of weeks later, and then fluctuating wildly between a Top 15 and a Top 77 for the next couple of years. Both Record Mirror and Record Retailer were republishing these charts, leading to a different-sized chart every week at one point.

Finally, in January 1971, the chart appeared to have settled down to a regular Top 50, but then a newspaper strike between February and March led to no album chart for six weeks. Budget Albums then rejoined the main chart for a while in 1971.

From 1975, the chart size started to settle down somewhat, with a regular Top 50, sometimes with a few extra places published, which grew to a Top 75 in December 1978. In 1981, this grew again, to a Top 100, where it stayed until January 1989, when Compilation Albums were removed to a separate chart, and the main chart shrunk to a Top 75.

On the Radio

The album charts have a complex broadcasting history. Back in the 1970s, BBC Radio 1 was counting down highlights on Thursdays from 12.45pm, switching in the 1980s to Wednesday evenings, when Peter Powell and Bruno Brookes would take over. In October 1987, Gary Davies started counting them down on Monday lunchtimes, and then for a brief six-month stint in mid-1993, Lynn Parsons presented the Album Chart Show, an hour-long show containing highlights from top albums, which followed the main chart show.

From October 1993, this was incorporated into the official chart show at 5.30pm every week, when the top 30 albums were counted down, and a track from the highest new entry would be played.

From October 2001 to April 2007, Simon Mayo presented a new album chart show on BBC Radio 2, but this eventually dropped out too, and the chart fell off air for a number of years. Today, it’s again included as part of the official chart show, in its diminutive Friday afternoon slot.

Next time: this series is going to take a bit of a break while I research the next few, before returning to explore the lower reaches of the charts.

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