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:

The BRIT Awards 2007

Earls Court in London was the venue for the 2007 BRIT Awards, with Russell Brand hosting the first live broadcast since the disastrous 1989 ceremony. Voiceovers came from Tom Baker.

This post is part of a series about the history of the BRIT Awards. You can read about the 2006 ceremony here, and the 2008 ceremony next time.

MasterCard British Album

Presented by Sean Bean. Nominees:

  • Lily Allen – Alright, Still
  • Arctic Monkeys – Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not
  • Muse – Black Holes and Revelations
  • Snow Patrol – Eyes Open
  • Amy Winehouse – Back to Black

Winner: Arctic Monkeys

Best British Single

Presented by Alan Carr. Nominees:

  • Lily Allen – Smile
  • Corinne Bailey Rae – Put Your Records On
  • The Feeling – Fill My Little World
  • The Kooks – She Moves in Her Own Way
  • Leona Lewis – A Moment Like This
  • James Morrison – You Give Me Something
  • Razorlight – America
  • Snow Patrol – Chasing Cars
  • Take That – Patience
  • Sandi Thom – I Wish I Was a Punk Rocker
  • Will Young – All Time Love

Five nominees were decided by commercial radio hit40uk and The A List listeners, and the winner was then chosen by the radio and TV viewing audience live on the night. According to Wikipedia, Corinne Bailey RaeThe Kooks and Sandi Thom were eliminated in the first round, and Lily AllenLeona Lewis and James Morrison dropped out in the second, leaving the following nominees on the night:

  • The Feeling – Fill My Little World
  • Razorlight – America
  • Snow Patrol – Chasing Cars
  • Take That – Patience
  • Will Young – All Time Love

Winner: Take That

Best British Male

Presented by Joss Stone. Nominees:

  • Jarvis Cocker
  • Lemar
  • James Morrison
  • Paolo Nutini
  • Thom Yorke

Winner: James Morrison

Best British Female

Presented by Jo Whiley. Nominees:

  • Lily Allen
  • Corinne Bailey Rae
  • Jamelia
  • Nerina Pallot
  • Amy Winehouse

Winner: Amy Winehouse

Best British Group

Presented by Anthony Head. Nominees:

  • Arctic Monkeys
  • Kasabian
  • Muse
  • Razorlight
  • Snow Patrol

Winner: Arctic Monkeys

Best British Breakthrough Act

Voted for by listeners of BBC Radio 1, and presented by Jarvis Cocker. Nominees:

  • Lily Allen
  • Corinne Bailey Rae
  • The Fratellis
  • The Kooks
  • James Morrison

Winner: The Fratellis

Best British Live Act

The nominees were chosen by a panel of experts in association with The Live Music Forum, and the winner was chosen by BBC Radio 2 listeners. Presented by Keith Allen. Nominees:

  • Guillemots
  • Kasabian
  • George Michael
  • Muse
  • Robbie Williams

Winner: Muse

Best International Album

Presented by Nick Frost and Simon Pegg. Nominees:

  • Gnarls Barkley – St. Elsewhere
  • Bob Dylan – Modern Times
  • The Killers – Sam’s Town
  • Scissor Sisters – Ta-Dah
  • Justin Timberlake – FutureSex/LoveSounds

Winner: The Killers

Best International Male

Presented by Erin O’Connor and Roland Mouret. Nominees:

  • Beck
  • Bob Dylan
  • Jack Johnson
  • Damien Rice
  • Justin Timberlake

Winner: Justin Timberlake

Best International Female

Presented by Ricky Wilson. Nominees:

  • Christina Aguilera
  • Beyoncé
  • Nelly Furtado
  • Pink
  • Cat Power

Winner: Nelly Furtado

Best International Group

Presented by the obvious combination of Aerosmith‘s Steve Tyler and Sophie Ellis-Bextor. Nominees:

  • Gnarls Barkley
  • The Flaming Lips
  • The Killers
  • Red Hot Chili Peppers
  • Scissor Sisters

Winner: The Killers

Best International Breakthrough Act

Voted for by MTV Spanking New Music viewers, and presented by Toni Collette. Nominees:

  • Gnarls Barkley
  • Ray Lamontagne
  • Orson
  • The Raconteurs
  • Wolfmother

Winner: Orson

Outstanding Contribution to Music

Presented by Russell Brand.

Winner: Oasis

Performances

Further Reading / Viewing

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…

60 Years of the UK Chart

Happy birthday to the UK Singles Chart! Sixty years ago today, the hit parade was born. It started off, for some reason, as a Top 12, and this was the first number one:

I can only think of one way to celebrate. Here’s my Top 12 charts of all time:

  1. 19 Mar 1983. Blue Monday by New Order enters at number eight, going on to become the best selling 12″ single of all time and spending over a year on the chart
  2. 11 Jul 1981. Kraftwerk enter the chart at number 60 with a single called Computer Love / The Model. Six months later and with the a-sides flipped, it becomes The Most Important Number One Ever
  3. 27 Oct 1991. After four months at number one, Bryan Adams finally decides to leave the top spot, replaced by U2 with The Fly
  4. 11 Dec 1953. Two tracks share the top spot: two different versions of the same song – Answer Me by David Whitfield and Answer Me by Frankie Laine
  5. 2 Apr 2006. Gnarls Barkley gets to number one based solely on download sales with Crazy
  6. 13 Oct 1979. A new system for chart compilation results in two simultaneous charts being published
  7. 30 Jan 2005. Elvis Presley manages his 21st UK number one with It’s Now or Never, and his eightieth week at the top. Five of his chart toppers were posthumous, and he’s spent over a thousand weeks on the singles chart in total
  8. 24 Mar 2002. Gareth Gates takes Unchained Melody to number one, giving the bloody song its fourth visit to the top spot
  9. 9 Aug 1969. For some reason the UK Album Chart becomes a Top 52 for the week
  10. 26 Jun 2004. The charts enter the Internet Age, with the publication of the first ever UK Download Chart
  11. 21 Mar 1998. The Spice Girls decide to take a break from the top, only scraping a number two flop with Stop
  12. 31 Jan 1970. For nearly a whole year, the album chart inexplicably varies in size from a Top 47 to a Top 77