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:

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Q Awards Winners 1990-2012 (Part One)

Having worked our way through the 1990s, it’s time to come straight up to speed with a look at all of the winners of the Q Awards. There are a lot of them, so I’ve split the list into two parts…

Best Single and Video Awards

After a decade or so of only caring about albums, Q Magazine finally took an interest in singles in 1998, with videos following a couple of years later. Unlike other award ceremonies, they still care.

Best Single / Best Track

  • 1998 – Catatonia – Road Rage
  • 1999 – Travis – Why Does it Always Rain on Me?
  • 2000 – David Gray – Babylon
  • 2001 – Ash – Burn Baby Burn
  • 2002 – Sugababes – Freak Like Me
  • 2003 – Christina Aguilera – Dirrty
  • 2004 – Jamelia – See it in a Boy’s Eyes
  • 2005 – KT Tunstall – Black Horse and the Cherry Tree
  • 2006 – Gnarls Barkley – Crazy
  • 2007 – Manic Street Preachers – Your Love Alone is Not Enough
  • 2008 – Keane – Spiralling
  • 2009 – Lily Allen – The Fear
  • 2010 – Florence + The Machine – You’ve Got the Love
  • 2011 – Adele – Rolling in the Deep
  • 2012 – Plan B – Ill Manors

Q Classic Song

  • 2005 – Ray Davies – Waterloo Sunset
  • 2006 – Culture Club – Karma Chameleon
  • 2007 – Stereophonics – Local Boy in the Photograph
  • 2008 – Meat Loaf – Bat Out of Hell
  • 2009 – Frankie Goes to Hollywood – Relax
  • 2011 – Snow Patrol – Chasing Cars
  • 2012 – Dionne Warwick – Walk on By

Best Video

  • 2000 – Kelis – Caught Out There
  • 2001 – Gorillaz – Clint Eastwood
  • 2002 – Pink – Get the Party Started
  • 2003 – Electric Six – Gay Bar
  • 2004 – Franz Ferdinand – Take Me Out
  • 2005 – Gorillaz – Feel Good Inc
  • 2006 – The Killers – When You Were Young
  • 2007 – Kaiser Chiefs – Ruby
  • 2008 – Vampire Weekend – A-Punk
  • 2009 – Lady Gaga – Just Dance
  • 2010 – Chase & Status – End Credits
  • 2011 – Jessie J – Do it Like a Dude
  • 2012 – Keane – Disconnected

Best Album Awards

The Best Album award is one of the few original awards, and seems to tend to go to the top indie album every year…

Best Album

  • 1990 – World Party – Goodbye Jumbo
  • 1991 – R.E.M. – Out of Time
  • 1992 – R.E.M. – Automatic for the People
  • 1993 – Sting – Ten Summoner’s Tales
  • 1994 – Blur – Parklife
  • 1995 – Blur – The Great Escape
  • 1996 – Manic Street Preachers – Everything Must Go
  • 1997 – Radiohead – OK Computer
  • 1998 – Massive Attack – Mezzanine
  • 1999 – The Chemical Brothers – Surrender
  • 2000 – Coldplay – Parachutes
  • 2001 – Travis – The Invisible Band
  • 2002 – Coldplay – A Rush of Blood to the Head
  • 2003 – Blur – Think Tank
  • 2004 – Keane – Hopes and Fears
  • 2005 – Oasis – Don’t Believe the Truth
  • 2006 – Arctic Monkeys – Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not
  • 2007 – Amy Winehouse – Back to Black
  • 2008 – Coldplay – Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends
  • 2009 – Kasabian – West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum
  • 2010 – The National – High Violet
  • 2011 – Bon Iver – Bon Iver
  • 2012 – Bobby Womack – The Bravest Man in the Universe

Best Reissue / Compilation

  • 1990 – Beach Boys – Pet Sounds
  • 1992 – Bob Marley – Songs of Freedom
  • 1993 – Beach Boys – Good Vibrations
  • 1994 – Various Artists – Tougher Than Tough
  • 1995 – Various Artists – Help
  • 1996 – The Beatles – Anthology
  • 1997 – Various Artists – The Songs of Jimmie Rodgers

classic album award

  • 2007 – The Verve – Urban Hymns
  • 2009 – U2 – The Unforgettable Fire
  • 2010 – Wings – Band on the Run
  • 2012 – Manic Street Preachers – Generation Terrorists

One-Off and Occasional Awards

Just in case there wasn’t a way to squeeze U2 into the standard award ceremony, Q have periodically added new ones especially for the Irish four-piece.

Special Award / Q Special Award

  • 1997 – Phil Spector
  • 2001 – Brian Eno
  • 2003 – Scott Walker
  • 2005 – John Lennon

Q People’s Choice Award

  • 2001 – U2
  • 2005 – Oasis
  • 2006 – Arctic Monkeys

Q Unwanted

  • 2002 – Simon Cowell

Q Birthday Honour

  • 2005 – Michael Eavis

Q Outstanding Performance Award

  • 2006 – Faithless

Q Award of Awards

  • 2006 – U2

Q Groundbreaker Award

  • 2006 – Primal Scream

Q Charity of the Year

  • 2006 – War on Want

Q HERO

  • 2007 – Anthony H. Wilson
  • 2010 – The Chemical Brothers
  • 2012 – Johnny Marr

Q’s Greatest Act of the Last 25 Years

  • 2011 – U2

Q Spirit of Independence

  • 2012 – The Cribs

More next week…

Q Awards 1990-1993

The first couple of years of the Q Awards seem to have been largely forgotten by the internet, falling into that early 90s gap before everything was reported and recorded. With this in mind, here’s everything I could find out about the first few years of the awards…

1990

The inaugural Q Awards were held in October 1990. This much is beyond dispute. Apart from that, though, it isn’t easy to find information about what actually happened.

Best Album

Winner: World Party for Goodbye Jumbo

Best Reissue / Compilation

Winner: Beach Boys for Pet Sounds

Best Live Act

Winner: Rolling Stones

Best Act in the World Today

Winner: U2

Best New Act

Winner: They Might Be Giants

Best Producer

Winner: Paul Oakenfold / Steve Osborne

Songwriter Award

Winner: Prince

Merit Award

Winner: Paul McCartney

1991

October 1991 saw the second ceremony, with the following winners:

Best album

Winner: R.E.M. for Out of Time

Best live act

Winner: Simple Minds

Best Act in the world today

Winner: R.E.M. / U2

Best new act

Winner: Seal

Best producer

Winner: Trevor Horn

Songwriter award

Winner: Richard Thompson

Merit award

Winner: Lou Reed

1992

In October 1992 the third awards ceremony took place. Here’s a picture of Brett Anderson out of Suede at the awards.

BEST ALBUM

Winner: R.E.M. for Automatic for the People

Best reissue / compilation

Winner: Bob Marley for Songs of Freedom

BEST LIVE ACT

Winner: Crowded House

BEST ACT IN THE WORLD TODAY

Winner: U2

BEST NEW ACT

Winner: Tori Amos

BEST PRODUCER

Winner: Daniel Lanois / Peter Gabriel / The Orb

SONGWRITER AWARD

Winner: Neil Finn

Q Inspiration award

Winner: B.B. King

MERIT AWARD

Winner: Led Zeppelin

1993

In October 1993 the fourth awards ceremony took place. Here’s a picture of Brett Anderson again, this time with Morrissey.

BEST ALBUM

Winner: Sting for Ten Summoner’s Tales

BEST REISSUE / COMPILATION

Winner: Beach Boys for Good Vibrations

BEST LIVE ACT

Winner: Neil Young

BEST ACT IN THE WORLD TODAY

Winner: U2

BEST NEW ACT

Winner: Suede

BEST PRODUCER

Winner: Flood / Brian Eno / The Edge

SONGWRITER AWARD

Winner: Neil Finn

Q INSPIRATION AWARD

Winner: Donald Fagen

MERIT AWARD

Winner: Elton John

Epilogue

It would probably help if I had a copy of Q Magazine to hand, so I could tell you a little more about what happened, but unfortunately all my back issues are stored away somewhere half way round the world. I’ll report back, some day in the future…

FURTHER INFORMATION