History of the UK Charts – Singles (Part 2)

As will become clear from this series of posts, the UK’s Official Charts Company has a slightly strange code around what is and isn’t considered an official chart. From 1969 onwards, despite some slightly confusing recent attempts at revisionism, we can pretty much all agree on what is and isn’t official. But the first seventeen years of the chart are rather more complex, and have tended to cause a degree of controversy among chart watchers.

Much of the blame for this can be given to The Guinness Book of British Hit Singles, compiled by Paul Gambaccini, Mike Read, Tim Rice and Jo Rice, and published to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the first chart in July 1977.

We can all agree that the NME Top 12 was the first published chart, starting in November 1952, which had grown to a Top 30 by the end of the 1950s, but for British Hit Singles, the decision was made to stop using that chart in March 1960, and switch to Record Retailer’s Top 50.

This has disadvantaged certain releases, perhaps most famously The Beatles‘ Please Please Me, which hit the top spot on the NME chart in March 1963, but only got to number two on the now-canonical Record Retailer chart. But the crux of the controversy appears to twofold: NME had a much higher circulation, so was better known by the public; and the size of the sample it used to compile charts was much larger – NME was sampling around 100 retailers, whereas Record Retailer was only sampling around 30.

The counter-argument, which doesn’t appear to be given often, is that of course Record Retailer (later renamed Music Week) was a trade magazine, established by record labels and dealers in August 1959, and so while its distribution was naturally smaller, its reputation should have been more solid. Their chart also seems to have been audited by slightly more reliable (and external) sources than other publications. Also, by March 1962, Record Mirror was also carrying these charts, surely increasing their reputation further still?

But neither the NME nor Record Retailer chart was, of course, really official at the time, the most recognised charts were really the ones in the publications that sold the most. But once British Hit Singles had decided what was official, that decision stuck, and now even the Official Charts Company follows that standard too.

Record Retailer

Record Retailer was launched as the trade magazine for independent record retailers, from August 1959, and when it switched the following year from being a monthly to weekly publication, it also started its own chart. Although published using returns from a small number of retailers (around 30), they produced the largest chart yet, a Top 50, and it was technically superior – it used postal returns, and whereas their competitors allowed tied positions, the Record Retailer chart compared the rate of change in sales to declare an absolute leader.

Crucially, Record Retailer’s chart was also independently audited, meaning that at least within the music business, it could be considered to have a degree of authority. This didn’t mean it was immune to abuse, though, as numerous accounts exist of record companies employing people to bulk-buy records.

Niche Charts and Reconciliation

It should come as little surprise that by the early 1960s, pretty much everybody had their own charts. The pirate radio stations were making charts up for themselves, and Merseybeat each launched one of their own in 1962. Within five years, one had merged into another publication, and the other had ceased to exist. 1962 also saw Record Mirror give up on its own chart, and start carrying the Record Retailer chart. Disc & Music Echo continued until 1967 before winding down its chart.

Modern-day chart watchers make laboured but persuasive arguments for regarding the NME chart as more official than the Record Retailer one during this period. The Official Charts Company rightly accepted the decision of the Guinness Book of British Hit Singles to use the Record Retailer ones, but at the same time, NME’s was very popular, Melody Maker’s was also widely used, and the Pick of the Pops chart was very well known.

This came to a head in August 1968, when the BBC’s points-based system led to a three-way tie at number one, between The Bee GeesThe Beach Boys, and Herb Alpert. They started working with Record Retailer to develop a new, official chart.

The Official Chart

From February 1969 onwards, there is no argument about which one the “official” chart is, as the British Market Research Bureau (BMRB) took over compilation of the charts, which were used by Record Retailer, Record Mirror, and BBC Radio 1. NME and Melody Maker were invited to take part, but the high costs of collecting a reliable chart appear to have prevented them from joining.

It had its teething problems – notably, the early BMRB charts contained multiple tied positions. It was initially compiled as a Top 50, although during a newspaper strike from February to March 1971, only a Top 40 was published (and a Top 20 broadcast on BBC Radio 1), and a postal strike in early 1973 led to only a Top 30 being published. This led to BMRB using motorcycle couriers to collect sales data, and by the mid-1970s it was well accepted as the official UK chart.

Apart from those blips, the chart remained a Top 50 until May 1978, when it grew to a Top 75 while BBC Radio 1 started taking interest in the Top 40. The chart remained a Top 75 until the 2012 relaunch of the Official Charts Company website, when they started listing the Top 100 Singles as official.

The compilers have changed, and the rules have changed many times, but for the last fifty years, the official UK chart has remained the most widely recognised source of information about musical successes in the UK.

On the Radio

Radio Luxembourg had been broadcasting charts for several years by this stage, starting with sheet music charts, then switching to the NME Top 20 until July 1965, when they worked with NME to use their Friday chart. In spring 1967, Paul Burnett replaced this with an airplay chart, but they were losing ground to the BBC. From 1970, they tried to predict the next week’s charts instead, and saw varying degrees of success.

The BBC Light Programme’s Pick of the Pops show had been broadcasting various charts from September 1957 onwards. In March 1958, David Jacobs started using a points-based system to combine the charts, counting them down live. Alan Freeman took over, still using the same system and overseeing the show’s move to Sunday nights and then later to BBC Radio 1 in October 1967. The show started using the new official BMRB chart at some point after it launched in February 1969.

Pick of the Pops was replaced by Tom Browne‘s Solid Gold Sixty in October 1972, featuring highlights and the full Top 20. Simon Bates took over in April 1978, who saw the show extended to a two hour show playing the full Top 40, before passing on the baton to Tony Blackburn the following year.

Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, Tommy VanceRichard SkinnerBruno Brookes, and Mark Goodier took the helm, as the show grew to two-and-a-half and then three hours. This, the iconic format remained, fronted by Wes ButtersJK and JoelFearne CottonReggie YatesJameela Jamil, and Clara Amfo until it finally left the Sunday slot.

The Chart Show moved to Friday afternoons in July 2015, with Greg James taking over as presenter, and then Scott Mills jumped into the role more recently.

Next time: the birth of the UK Album Chart.

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

NME Poll Winners 1952-1992 (Part One)

If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll know that we’ve spent the last few weeks working through the history of the NME Polls, from 1952 to 1992. It’s a long and complicated history, and one that pretty much encapsulates the first forty years of modern popular music in the UK. So as a side-step, it’s worth taking a couple of posts to look at them, award by award.

With such a complex history, it’s hard to trace the winners of a particular category through time, so I’ve taken a few liberties here. Essentially anything that seems to be roughly the same category has been treated as the same thing. Also, for the year ranges, there are a few missing years here and there, so for instance 1967-1970 could mean anything between 2 and 3 wins, but it definitely isn’t 4, as we have no information for the poll results from 1969, or even any meaningful confirmation that the poll took place.

Best and Worst Single, Video and Album Categories

Here are all the winners for specific singles, videos, and albums, including the wonderful “Best Dressed Album” (later “Best Dressed Sleeve”) award.

Best British Disc / Single

  • 1959 – Cliff Richard – Living Doll
  • 1960 – The Shadows – Apache
  • 1961 – John Leyton – Johnny Remember Me
  • 1962 – Frank Ifield – I Remember You
  • 1963 – The Beatles – She Loves You
  • 1964 – The Animals – The House of the Rising Sun
  • 1965 – The Rolling Stones – (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction
  • 1966 – The Beatles – Eleanor Rigby
  • 1968 – The Beatles – Hey Jude
  • 1971 – Mungo Jerry – In the Summertime
  • 1972 – George Harrison – My Sweet Lord
  • 1973 – Golden Earring – Radar Love (World) & The Who – 5.15 (British)
  • 1975 – Bad Company – Can’t Get Enough
  • 1976 – Thin Lizzy – The Boys are Back in Town
  • 1977 – Sex Pistols – God Save the Queen
  • 1978 – The Clash – (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais
  • 1979 – The Specials – Gangsters
  • 1980 – The Jam – Going Underground
  • 1981 – The Specials – Ghost Town
  • 1982 – The Jam – Town Called Malice
  • 1983 – New Order – Blue Monday
  • 1984 – Frankie Goes to Hollywood – Relax
  • 1985 – The Jesus and Mary Chain – Never Understand
  • 1986 – The Smiths – Panic
  • 1987 – Prince – Sign O The Times
  • 1988 – The House of Love – Destroy the Heart
  • 1989 – The Stone Roses – Fool’s Gold
  • 1990 – The Charlatans – The Only One I Know
  • 1991 – Nirvana – Smells Like Teen Spirit
  • 1992 – Suede – The Drowners

Best Dance Record

  • 1982 – Wham! – Young Guns (Go for It)
  • 1986 – Cameo – Word Up
  • 1987 – M/A/R/R/S – Pump Up the Volume
  • 1989 – Happy Mondays – WFL

Worst Record

  • 1991 – Bryan Adams – Everything I Do (I Do It for You)
  • 1992 – The Shamen – Ebeneezer Goode

Best Music Video

  • 1982 – Madness – House of Fun
  • 1983 – Michael Jackson – Thriller
  • 1984 – Frankie Goes to Hollywood – Two Tribes
  • 1985 – Talking Heads – Road to Nowhere

Best Long Player / Album

  • 1971 – The Beatles – Let it Be
  • 1972 – T. Rex – Electric Warrior & John Lennon – Imagine (tie)
  • 1973 – Pink Floyd – The Dark Side of the Moon
  • 1975 – Rod Stewart – Smiler
  • 1976 – Led Zeppelin – The Song Remains the Same
  • 1977 – Sex Pistols – Never Mind the Bollocks
  • 1978 – The Jam – All Mod Cons
  • 1979 – The Jam – Setting Sons
  • 1980 – The Jam – Sound Affects
  • 1981 – Echo and the Bunnymen – Heaven Up Here
  • 1982 – The Jam – The Gift
  • 1983 – Elvis Costello – Punch the Clock
  • 1984 – Cocteau Twins – Treasure
  • 1985 – The Smiths – Meat is Murder
  • 1986 – The Smiths – The Queen is Dead
  • 1987 – The Smiths – Strangeways Here We Come
  • 1988 – R.E.M. – Green
  • 1989 – The Stone Roses – The Stone Roses
  • 1990 – Happy Mondays – Pills ‘n’ Thrills and Bellyaches
  • 1991 – Primal Scream – Screamadelica
  • 1992 – R.E.M. – Automatic for the People

Best Dressed Album / Sleeve

  • 1973 – Yes – Yessongs
  • 1975 – Yes – Relayer
  • 1976 – Led Zeppelin – The Song Remains the Same
  • 1978 – The Rolling Stones – Some Girls
  • 1980 – The Jam – Sound Affects
  • 1981 – Echo and the Bunnymen – Heaven Up Here
  • 1982 – Siouxsie and the Banshees – A Kiss in the Dreamhouse
  • 1983 – New Order – Power, Corruption and Lies
  • 1984 – Frankie Goes to Hollywood – Welcome to the Pleasuredome
  • 1985 – The Pogues – Rum, Sodomy and the Lash

Media Categories

The group of media awards, for radio, TV, films, and venues, are particularly fascinating, since other award ceremonies rarely have anything like this.

Best Disc Jockey

  • 1955-1957 – Jack Jackson
  • 1958-1959 – Pete Murray
  • 1960-1963 – David Jacobs
  • 1965-1972 – Jimmy Savile
  • 1973 – John Peel
  • 1975 – Noel Edmonds
  • 1976-1980 – John Peel

Best Music Radio Show

  • 1975-1976 – Alan Freeman
  • 1977-1992 – John Peel

Best TV Show

  • 1965-1972 – Top of the Pops
  • 1973-1977 – The Old Grey Whistle Test
  • 1978 – Revolver
  • 1979 – Fawlty Towers
  • 1980 – Not the Nine O’Clock News
  • 1981 – Coronation Street
  • 1982 – The Young Ones
  • 1983-1984 – The Tube
  • 1985 – The Old Grey Whistle Test
  • 1986 – The Singing Detective
  • 1987-1988 – Brookside
  • 1989 – Blackadder
  • 1990-1991 – Vic Reeves’ Big Night Out
  • 1992 – Have I Got News for You

Best Film

  • 1978 – Close Encounters of the Third Kind
  • 1979 – Quadrophenia
  • 1980 – The Elephant Man
  • 1981 – Gregory’s Girl
  • 1982 – E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial
  • 1983 – Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence
  • 1984 – Nineteen Eighty-Four
  • 1985 – Letter to Brezhnev
  • 1986 – Mona Lisa
  • 1987 – Angel Heart
  • 1988 – A Fish Called Wanda
  • 1989 – Dead Poets’ Society
  • 1990 – Wild at Heart
  • 1991 – The Silence of the Lambs
  • 1992 – Wayne’s World

Best Club / Venue

  • 1986 – Town and Country Club
  • 1989 – The Haçienda
  • 1990-1992 – Town and Country Club

Best Fashion Item

  • 1989 – Flares
  • 1990-1992 – Dr. Marten Boots

People Categories

In later years, the poll included some odd nominations for people, often outside of the world of music, which provide an interesting window on the past.

Most Wonderful Human Being

  • 1976-1977 – Johnny Rotten
  • 1978 – Sid Vicious
  • 1979 – John Peel
  • 1980-1983 – Paul Weller
  • 1984 – Arthur Scargill
  • 1985 – Bob Geldof
  • 1986-1988 – Morrissey

Klutz/Prat/Creep/Bastard of the Year

  • 1975 – Steve Harley
  • 1977 – Freddie Mercury
  • 1978 – John Travolta
  • 1979 – Gary Numan
  • 1980 – Margaret Thatcher
  • 1981 – Adam Ant
  • 1982-1989 – Margaret Thatcher
  • 1990-1991 – Saddam Hussein
  • 1992 – John Major

Best Dressed Male

  • 1979 – Gary Numan
  • 1980 – Adam Ant
  • 1981 – Michael Foot
  • 1982 – Paul Weller
  • 1983 – David Bowie
  • 1984 – Paul Weller
  • 1985 – Morrissey

Best Dressed Female

  • 1982-1983 – Siouxsie Sioux

Worst Dressed Person

  • 1985 – Bob Geldof

Most missed Dead Person

  • 1976 – Jimi Hendrix
  • 1981 – John Lennon

Political and Real World Categories

These are some of the oddest categories – I’m honestly not sure what the “Hype of the Year” category was all about, but it is interesting to see just what was catching people’s eyes at the time.

Event of the Year

  • 1977 – Death of Elvis Presley
  • 1980 – Death of John Lennon
  • 1982 – The Jam Split
  • 1986 – 1986 FIFA World Cup
  • 1987 – Nuclear Agreement
  • 1988 – Nelson Mandela’s Birthday Bash
  • 1989 – Revolution in Eastern Europe
  • 1990 – Margaret Thatcher’s Resignation
  • 1991 – The release of the hostages
  • 1992 – Bill Clinton winning the US election

Pin-Up/Sex SYmbol/Object of Desire

  • 1978 – Debbie Harry
  • 1986 – Joanne Whalley
  • 1988-1989 – Wendy James
  • 1990 – Betty Boo
  • 1991-1992 – Toni Halliday

Bad News of the Year

  • 1987 – Another Conservative Victory at the General Election
  • 1988 – US Election Result

Hype of the Year

  • 1985 – The Jesus and Mary Chain
  • 1989 – Batman
  • 1990 – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
  • 1992 – Madonna – Sex

That concludes part one of the summary of NME Poll Winners. Next week, we’ll look at the artist categories.

NME Poll Winners – The 1970s

In 1972, NME celebrated its twentieth birthday, with the same anniversary of its poll winners awards ceremony the following year. Their readership seems to have been fascinatingly obsessed with Cliff Richard and Elvis Presley during the first half of the decade, and then in 1976 seem to have been very dismissive of the early Sex Pistols, before falling very deeply in love with them the following year.


The NME website (and consequently Wikipedia, which definitely doesn’t include material copied from other websites) includes the 1971 results here by mistake, so I’ve tried to transcribe what I can read on the article scan. Apologies for the omissions:

  • British Male Singer: Tom Jones
  • World Vocal Group: The Beatles
  • British Vocal Group: The Beatles
  • World Musical Personality: Elvis Presley
  • World Female Singer: Dusty Springfield
  • British Female Singer: Lulu
  • Best TV/Radio Show: Top of the Pops, followed in second place by Top Gear
  • Top Disc Jockey: Jimmy Savile
  • Best Instrumental Unit: [illegible]
  • British Vocal Personality: Cliff Richard
  • Best New Group: Jethro Tull
  • World Male Singer: Elvis Presley
  • New Disc Singer: [illegible]
  • British Blues Group: Fleetwood Mac

Due to the public’s obsession with Elvis and Cliff not entirely matching the contents of the magazine, this was the last of the live shows until 1994.


There was no ceremony show from 1971 onwards, but there was still a poll, with the following winners:

  • World Male Singer: Elvis Presley
  • World Female Singer: Diana Ross
  • World Musical Personality: Elvis Presley
  • World Vocal Group: Creedence Clearwater Revival
  • British Male Singer: Cliff Richard
  • British Female Singer: Cilla Black
  • Best British Single: Mungo Jerry, for In the Summertime
  • Best TV/Radio Show: Top of the Pops
  • British Vocal Personality: Cliff Richard
  • New Disc Singer: Elton John
  • Best New Group: McGuinness Flint
  • Top British Group: The Beatles
  • British Instrumental Unit: The Shadows
  • Top Disc Jockey: Jimmy Savile
  • Best British LP: The Beatles, for Let It Be


  • World Male Singer: Elvis Presley
  • World Female Singer: Diana Ross
  • World Musical Personality: Elvis Presley
  • World Vocal Group: T. Rex
  • British Male Singer: Cliff Richard
  • British Female Singer: Cilla Black
  • British Vocal Group: T. Rex
  • British Vocal Personality: Cliff Richard
  • British New Group: New Seekers
  • British Instrumental Unit: Collective Consciousness Society
  • TV or Radio Show: Top of the Pops
  • Disc Jockey: Jimmy Savile
  • New Disc Singer: Rod Stewart
  • Best 1971 Single Disc: George Harrison, for My Sweet Lord
  • Best 1971 Album: tied between T. Rex, for Electric Warrior and John Lennon, for Imagine


  • British Male Singer: David Bowie
  • British Female Singer: Maggie Bell
  • British Group: Yes
  • British Stage Band: Genesis
  • Most Promising New Name (British): Leo Sayer
  • Disc Jockey: John Peel
  • TV Show: Old Grey Whistle Test
  • British Single: The Who, for 5.15
  • British Album: Pink Floyd, for The Dark Side of the Moon
  • Best Guitarist: Eric Clapton
  • Best Keyboardist: Rick Wakeman
  • Best Bass Guitarist: Paul McCartney
  • Best Drummer: Carl Palmer
  • Best Producer: David Bowie
  • Best Instrumentalist: Roy Wood
  • Best Songwriters: Elton John / Bernie Taupin
  • Best Soul Act: Stevie Wonder
  • Best Dressed Album: Yes, for Yessongs
  • World Singer: David Bowie
  • World Female Singer: Diana Ross
  • World Group: Yes
  • World Stage Band: Alice Cooper
  • World Album: Pink Floyd, for The Dark Side of the Moon
  • World Single: Golden Earring, for Radar Love
  • World’s Most Promising New Name: Golden Earring


Again, the NME website and Wikipedia have repeated the 1973 results here by mistake, but this time unfortunately there is no alternative source for the results.


  • British Male Singer: Paul Rodgers
  • British Female Singer: Kiki Dee
  • British Group: Roxy Music
  • British Stage Band: Genesis
  • British Disc Jockey: Noel Edmonds
  • British Music TV Show: The Old Grey Whistle Test
  • Most Promising New Name: Bad Company
  • Music Radio Show: Alan Freeman Show
  • World Male Singer: Robert Plant
  • World Female Singer: Joni Mitchell
  • Drummer: Carl Palmer
  • Misc. Instrument: Mike Oldfield
  • Producer: Eddie Offord
  • Album: Rod Stewart, for Smiler
  • Single: Bad Company, for Can’t Get Enough
  • Best Dressed LP: Yes, for Relayer
  • Soul Act: Stevie Wonder
  • Klutz of the Year: Steve Harley


  • Best Group: Led Zeppelin
  • Best Female Singer: Linda Ronstadt
  • Turkey of the Year: Sex Pistols, with Johnny Rotten in second place, and “punk rock” in third
  • Best Male Singer: Robert Plant
  • Most Promising Emergent Act: Eddie and the Hot Rods
  • Best Keyboardist: Rick Wakeman
  • Best Drummer: John Bonham
  • Best Songwriter/Composer: Bob Dylan
  • Best Television Show: The Old Grey Whistle Test
  • Best Disc Jockey: John Peel
  • Most Missed Dead Act: Jimi Hendrix
  • Best Guitarist: Jimmy Page
  • Best Single: Thin Lizzy, for The Boys Are Back In Town
  • Best Album: Led Zeppelin, for The Song Remains The Same
  • Most Wonderful Human Being: Johnny Rotten
  • Best Miscellaneous Instrumentalist: Mike Oldfield
  • Best Radio Show: Alan Freeman‘s Saturday Show
  • Best Dressed Sleeve: Led Zeppelin, for The Song Remains The Same
  • Best Bassist: Paul McCartney


  • Best Group: Sex Pistols
  • Best New Group/Act: Tom Robinson
  • Male Singer: David Bowie
  • Female Singer: Julie Covington
  • Best Album: Sex Pistols, for Never Mind the Bollocks
  • Best Single: Sex Pistols, for God Save the Queen
  • Keyboards: Rick Wakeman
  • Drummer: Paul Cook
  • Misc. Instrument: Mike Oldfield
  • Disc Jockey: John Peel
  • Radio Show: John Peel Show
  • TV Show: The Old Grey Whistle Test
  • Event of the Year: Elvis dying
  • Most Wonderful Human Being: Johnny Rotten
  • Prat of the Year: Freddie Mercury


  • Best Male Singer: David Bowie
  • Best Female Singer: Debbie Harry
  • Best Album: The Jam, for All Mod Cons
  • Best Single: The Clash, for (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais
  • Best Songwriter: Elvis Costello
  • Best Dressed Sleeve: The Rolling Stones, for Some Girls
  • Best Group: The Clash
  • Best New Group: Public Image Ltd.
  • Best Guitarist: Mick Jones
  • Best Bassist: Jean Jacques Burnel
  • Best Keyboardist: Dave Greenfield
  • Best Drummer: Keith Moon
  • Best DJ: John Peel
  • Best Radio Show: John Peel Show
  • Best TV Show: Revolver
  • Most Wonderful Human Being: Sid Vicious
  • Pin-Up of the Year: Debbie Harry
  • Film: Close Encounters of the Third Kind
  • Creep of the Year: John Travolta


  • Male Singer: Sting
  • Songwriter: Paul Weller
  • Best Group: The Jam
  • Guitarist: Paul Weller
  • Bassist: Bruce Foxton
  • Keyboards: Dave Greenfield
  • Drums: Rick Buckler
  • Female Singer: Kate Bush
  • Best New Act: The Specials
  • Most Wonderful Human Being: John Peel
  • Image of the Year: Gary Numan
  • Creep of the Year: Gary Numan
  • Single: The Specials, for Gangsters
  • Album: The Jam, for Setting Sons
  • TV Programme: Fawlty Towers
  • Best Dressed Sleeve: Public Image Ltd., for Metal Box
  • Disc Jockey: John Peel
  • Radio Show: John Peel Show
  • Face of the Decade: Johnny Rotten
  • Farce of the Decade: Mod Revival
  • Film of the Year: Quadrophenia

See also