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:

Advertisements

History of the UK Charts – Between Singles and Albums

As we saw earlier in this series of posts, the modern definition of an album is relatively straightforward – there are a number of sneaky clauses, but the main decider is simply what the dealer price is. Singles are more complex, and have evolved over time. If you have a bit of spare time, you can try to digest the rules here, but here’s a high-level summary.

Permitted formats (using my own terminology to try to simplify it):

  • Single: digital or CD, with one track, and a maximum playing time of 15 minutes
  • Maxi: vinyl, digital, CD, or USB, with up to four songs (three tracks on a 7″ single), and a maximum playing time of 25 minutes
  • Remix: vinyl, digital, CD, or USB, with one song, and a maximum playing time of 40 minutes

This is probably less of a deal nowadays, but of these, you can have up to 3 physical formats, from:

  • Any combination of Single CD, 7″, or 12″ vinyl
  • Two Maxi or Remix CD, DVD, or USB formats
  • Plus up to 3 digital bundle formats, and any number of digital single-track versions of the lead song

This might seem confusing if you haven’t seen it before, but, apart from the odd tweak here or there, this is pretty much how the UK chart has worked since the late 1980s – the digital formats are a more recent addition, of course. But other than that, five formats were reduced to four in the early 1990s; and four became three in 1998. Singles were reduced to three tracks and twenty minutes for a while, but then sense prevailed, and it was decided to try to rip music fans off a little less by expanding the rules again.

But once you step past all those rules, there are, of course, a couple of gaps. Something that costs the same as a single, but runs past the 25-minute limit might be an EP, or a mini-album. Or if it’s a bit longer, maybe it’s a full album that just retails at a lower cost. There’s no hard and fast rule, but by original definition, an EP, or “Extended Play” release, would have normally been a 7″ single playing at 33 1⁄3 rpm, running at maybe 15 minutes in terms of total playing time.

So where do those releases fall? The answer has evolved over time – in the 1960s, EPs had their own chart, and since then, Budget Albums have been a thing – albeit a thing that nobody really talks about much.

The UK EP Chart

As the Single and Album charts came to be established as two separate things, it was inevitable that EPs would get their own place in history, but it was somewhat short-lived.

Melody Maker may have been second to launch an Album Chart in the UK, but they led the charge with the EP Chart, kicking it off in November 1959 with a Top 10, and running until May 1963. Record Retailer also published an EP chart from March 1960 to December 1967, which slowly worked its way up from a Top 10 to a Top 15, and finally a Top 20. Finally, Music Echo and Pop Weekly also published short-lived EP charts in around 1965-1966. And after the Record Retailer chart ended the following year, there has never since been an EP chart in the UK.

Of course, that’s fairly appropriate – EPs were hugely successful in the 1960s, often acting like cut-price albums, but they fell out of favour over time, to a point where the term is often used these days for something that is really just a single.

The UK Budget Album Chart

For a while after the disappearance of the EP charts, EPs were either incorporated into other charts, or were lost for good. Then, by the late 1960s, Budget Albums started to appear on the market, often as cover albums by anonymous artists, but they appear to have been initially excluded from the main charts.

In 1969, Record Retailer published the first Budget Album Chart, although confusingly, it appears to have actually been a Mid-Price Album Chart, due to the actual prices involved. Then, in early 1970, an actual Budget Album Chart appeared, as did a Mid-Price Album Chart. NME, meanwhile, allowed all lower-price albums on their album chart.

From August 1971 to January 1972, Budget Albums were allowed onto the now-official UK Album Chart, and there was a sudden but short-lived influx of low-cost albums on the chart, many of them anonymous cover albums, and some of them entering right at the top spot. After that, they were removed for good.

The Record Retailer Budget Album chart lasted until June 1975, when it was retired. It’s not clear to me whether Budget Album charts then disappeared altogether for a couple of decades, or was published somewhere all along – a lot of people seem not to care particularly. But from 1997, the Budget Album chart has become available again, albeit with a bit of searching.

It’s a funny old chart – you can see one on UKChartsPlus’s sample edition here. In that particular week, it appears to be primarily made up of cut-price multi-artist compilations, discounted “greatest hits” collections by established artists. EPs make it on, occasionally, but it’s fairly rare – this only appears to have happened twice in 2010, for example.

Browsing through the hits, you see some interesting entries – for instance, The Human League had multiple hits with their cut-price best of The Best Of (#10 in 2000), Best Of (#7 in 2001), and The Best Of (A’s, B’s & Rarities) (#32 in 2005), but also studio album Dare peaked at #16 on a reissue in 2006. Depeche Mode had a number 1 with their Goodnight Lovers EP in 2002, and then had multiple hits with reissues in 2004. Plenty of other artists have never had a single hit on there.

If all this makes the Budget Album chart sound like some kind of purgatory, where badly behaved singles and albums are sent to live out the rest of their days – well, that’s because it is, pretty much.

Next time: midweek charts and artist charts.

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

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

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/

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/