Chart for stowaways – April 2020

April was the month when the lockdown really started to hit, and when the chart consequently slowed right down to a crawl. There really weren’t too many changes from March, apart from some fun re-entries from the likes of Moby and New Order. With so few changes, it’s probably worth just focusing on the albums this time, which on 11th April looked like this:

  1. Pet Shop Boys – Hotspot
  2. The Beloved – Where it Is
  3. Sparks – Past Tense – The Best Of
  4. Nightmares On Wax – Smokers Delight
  5. The Orb – Abolition Of The Royal Familia
  6. Caribou – Suddenly
  7. Sparks – Gratuitous Sax & Senseless Violins
  8. Moby – 18
  9. Pet Shop Boys – Battleship Potemkin (OST)
  10. David Bowie – Is It Any Wonder

Chart for stowaways – Singles 2019

Here are the top singles for 2019:

  1. Pet Shop Boys – Agenda EP
  2. Frances Barber & Pet Shop Boys – Musik (Original Cast Recording) – EP
  3. Hot Chip – Hungry Child
  4. Pet Shop Boys feat. Years & Years – Dreamland
  5. Ladytron – Horrorscope
  6. The Beloved – For Your Love
  7. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – Almost
  8. Marshmello Ft Chvrches – Here With Me
  9. Jean-Michel Jarre – Flying Totems
  10. The Future Sound of London – Yage
  11. Tiësto / Jonas Blue / Rita Ora – Ritual
  12. Ladytron – The Animals
  13. Sparks – Let’s Go Surfing
  14. The Beloved – Your Love Takes Me Higher (Evil Mix) / Awoke
  15. Mark Ronson Ft Lykke Li – Late Night Feelings
  16. The Radiophonic Workshop – Arrival Home
  17. New Order – Ceremony
  18. Gesaffelstein Ft Weeknd – Lost In The Fire
  19. Tiësto & Mabel – God Is A Dancer
  20. The Beloved – It’s Alright Now

History of the UK Charts – Format-Specific Charts

The UK has, as we discussed previously, a proud history of delivering a confusing range of genre-specific charts, but perhaps more intriguing are the format-specific ones. They’re nothing new, either – there are numerous today, but there were also several back in the 1980s.

Vinyl-Only Charts

The earliest UK charts, back in the 1950s, were, of course, format-specific, as there really was only one back then – 78s ruled until 7″ 45s took over. Although DJs had been cutting their own 10″ and 12″ acetates as early as the 1950s, the first commercial 12″ single appears to have been Buddy Fite‘s For Once in My Life, in 1970, and five years later, Donna Summer‘s Love to Love You Baby kick started an explosion of Jamaican 12″ releases, spreading back to the US and UK over subsequent years.

But the 12″ single was, of course, of special interest to disco and dance music fans, and so it seems logical that it would have had its own chart. Sure enough, from September 1985 to February 1991, early chart innovators Record Mirror carried the UK Twelve Inch Top 20, which in many ways remains one of the more interesting charts of the period. Apart from the obvious domination by New Order‘s Blue Monday, it sees some incursions by obscure releases that didn’t make as much of an impact on the main chart. Unfortunately, as with many of Record Mirror’s 1980s charts, there isn’t an official archive online now, but there are plenty of scans at the links below.

In the years after the death of Record Mirror in 1991, vinyl fell out of favour, with sales falling to practically zero by the late 1980s, and many major artists ceasing regular releases, so while the gap in the vinyl chart archive from 1991 to 2015 is a shame, we aren’t really missing a lot.

But with the revival of vinyl sales, there was a need for something similar again, and hence the launch in April 2015 of the official UK Vinyl Singles chart – followed, a year later, by the Vinyl Albums chart. Obviously the focus has changed again, with 12″ singles being joined by 7″s, 10″s, and all the other obscure shapes and sizes of vinyl. These are, of course, niche charts, dominated by reissues and collector’s editions, and the best illustration of this is the month or so every year after Record Store Day, when both charts get seriously clogged with random collector’s releases. But the Vinyl charts are a nice addition to the list of official UK charts, nonetheless.

Compact Disc and Cassette Charts

For pretty much the same period as the Twelve Inch Top 20 (1985-1991), Record Mirror also ran a Compact Disc Top 20, an album chart highlighting the best sellers in the new format. As with the Twelve Inch chart, it is appropriate that it was put to bed when it was, as a CD-only chart after 1991 would have showed very little unique when compared against the main chart. While it lasted, it was interesting – dominated in its early years by reissues and Dire StraitsBrothers in Arms, it subsequently came to echo the main album chart but with important differences – for instance in 1986, when Pet Shop Boys‘ debut Please was released only on LP and cassette, before climbing back up the main chart thanks primarily to its CD sales, several months later.

More intriguing, in a way, is the short-lived Cassette Top 20, which appears to have been published by Record Mirror for a matter of weeks in 1983 (here’s the page showing the chart from 29th January 1983, in which Men at Work can be seen climbing impressively to the top spot). While cassettes had been commercially available since 1963, and albums had been released directly on them for almost as long, it’s possible that they may not have made the chart until the 1980s. Perhaps this shows us a brief glimpse of cassette sales before they actually got added to the main chart – or perhaps it was only ever intended as an indicator of sales for a new-ish format? History doesn’t really give much information on this, unfortunately, so we can only guess now.

Airplay Charts

The US charts had always attempted to model what people were listening to, rather than what they were buying, and so had long incorporated airplay, but this was resisted in the UK, with claims that it would be too easy to manipulate the charts (as though somehow it was difficult to manipulate the sales-based charts). This is fair, but in the modern age, where streaming makes up most of the chart, it seems absurd (to me, anyway) to try to argue that airplay shouldn’t be included.

Either way, the ERA, and subsequently RadioMonitor, have been compiling a UK Radio Airplay Chart since at least 1993, supplemented by a TV Airplay Chart from 2010 onwards. These also have their own niche interest charts, with the Commercial Radio Airplay Chart also being compiled and carried today. It was also these charts that formed the basis of the often-confusing Hit 40 UK chart, the competitor to BBC Radio 1’s UK Top 40 countdown that was broadcast on Sunday afternoons throughout the 1990s. Hit 40 UK was carried by all the major commercial stations, and boasted a larger listenership, but also had the mind-boggling novelty of carrying the official Top 10 Singles, merged with the remaining 30 places of a combined airplay and sales chart.

Going Digital

We will cover downloads, streaming, and the niche charts of the digital age in a separate post next time, so for now,, vinyl sales are combined in the modern Vinyl Singles and Vinyl Albums charts, and CD sales can be inferred by comparing that with the modern Physical Singles and Physical Albums charts. And as we’ll explore, sales are jaw-droppingly low. But for now, this concludes our exploration of the format-specific charts.

Next time: the digital age

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

Chart for stowaways – 12 October 2019

Here are the top singles for October:

  1. Pet Shop Boys feat. Years & Years – Dreamland
  2. The Beloved – For Your Love
  3. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – Almost
  4. Frances Barber & Pet Shop Boys – Musik (Original Cast Recording) – EP
  5. Hot Chip – Hungry Child
  6. Tiësto & Mabel – God Is A Dancer
  7. The Future Sound of London – Floating into Focus and then Moving Away
  8. Hot Chip – Positive
  9. New Order feat. Elly Jackson (La Roux) – Tutti Frutti
  10. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – Electricity

Electronic – Getting Away with It

When they first appeared, three decades ago this week, Electronic must have been a bit of a revelation. True, New Order had been steadily evolving from rock to pop over the preceding decade, but a collaboration between Bernard Sumner and Johnny Marr, the extraordinary guitarist from The Smiths, must have conjured up ideas of something guitar-heavy. It wasn’t – Getting Away with It was, in a way, both Sumner and Marr’s first experiment with true pop.

The single version is, as I’m sure you know by now, exceptional. It’s a pop song, with synth strings and sweet acoustic guitar work. There’s something a little quirky with it, of course, but it still holds together beautifully. On vocals, Bernard Sumner and Neil Tennant – neither of them particularly accomplished vocalists, but both great in their own way – harmonise perfectly, bringing a delightfully humanist quality to the song. It’s definitely nothing like New Order or The Smiths, and although it is a lot like Pet Shop Boys, the pop lyric doesn’t feel like something that Neil Tennant would have come up with on his own.

The definitive track listing appears to be the digital reissue, pulling all the different tracks together in one place, and that takes us next to the lead track on the 12″, the Extended Mix. This is an extended version very much in the 1980s style – take the first verse and strip it back a bit, add an extra instrumental verse, and mix original elements in, one by one. It’s a worthy version, but to a modern ear, there’s surprisingly little new here until the long breakdown section in the middle, which could honestly be dispensed with.

By 1989, artists were already sending tracks off for a multitude of weird and wonderful remixes, but Electronic seem not to have been especially aware of this, so the various singles of Getting Away with It are largely peppered with alternative versions. The extended Instrumental is lovely, and unusually for an instrumental version, it stands well alone. This includes the longer orchestral ending that would appear on later versions of the single mix.

There is a b-side, though – and this is perhaps a surprise, given that it seems to have since flown completely under the radar. Maybe this was intentional, as it was omitted altogether from the CD release. Lucky Bag is a beatsy, early house instrumental that provides occasional echoes of Bobby Orlando‘s huge bass lines. It’s hard to know exactly what Electronic would have been thinking with this, to tell the truth – it’s nice, but also instantly forgettable. Maybe it’s an extended experiment, or maybe it was always intended to be a b-side. Either way, it’s a nice diversion.

There are remixes here, but there’s nothing particularly great. For whatever reason, the common trend at the time with remixes was to cut the original back, add beats, add a few cheesy synth lines, and a bit of a calypso arpeggio, and call it done. So it is with Graeme Park and Mike Pickering‘s remixes. The Nude Mix is an uninspired dub version with weird down-tempo, almost rave-inspired synth lines dropping in all over the place. The Vocal Remix is, I would assume, their attempt to add the vocal back in for a more radio-friendly version, and while there’s plenty to enjoy here, both mixes really seem to fail on most levels. They’re nice, but just not quite good enough, and while the final fade on the second mix comes a little suddenly, it really can’t come too soon.

It’s nice to get another version of Lucky Bag to close the release, but the Miami Edit is a curious version – slightly more beat-driven than the one on the 7″, but far from different enough to really be noteworthy. On the UK release, this was hidden away on the second 12″, which seems appropriate – it’s a nice treat, but nothing particularly special.

So Getting Away with It is a bit of a mixed bag – a great track, but not, perhaps, such a great single. Electronic, for the time being, showed all the signs of being a one-off experiment, but perhaps inevitably, given the success of this release, they got back together for the 1991 Electronic album, which then inexplicably went on to skip Getting Away with It from its original track listing altogether. But with Getting Away with It, they assured us that there was something special about this collaboration.

We reviewed the US CD single. The five versions of the original track from here can be found on this digital release.

Chart for stowaways – 20 July 2019

This is our album chart for July:

  1. Hot Chip – A Bath Full Of Ecstasy
  2. The Future Sound of London – Yage 2019
  3. Kylie Minogue – Step Back In Time – The Definitive
  4. Erasure – Wild!
  5. Lighthouse Family – Blue Sky In Your Head
  6. New Order – (no12klg17mif) New Order & Liam Gillick
  7. Madonna – Madame X
  8. Divine Comedy – Office Politics
  9. Tycho – Weather
  10. Sigur Ros – Agaetis Byrjun – A New Beginning

Chart for stowaways – 13 April 2019

Time now for a much-belated check-in on the chart for stowaways! Here are the singles from mid-April:

  1. Pet Shop Boys – Agenda EP
  2. Ladytron – Horrorscope
  3. The Beloved – Sweet Harmony
  4. Marshmello feat. Chvrches – Here With Me
  5. Ladytron – The Animals
  6. The Beloved – It’s Alright Now
  7. Chemical Brothers – Free Yourself
  8. Jean-Michel Jarre – Flying Totems
  9. New Order – Ceremony
  10. The Beloved – Celebrate Your Life

The xx – xx

Of the many artists who have entirely passed me by, The xx are probably the best known. Somehow I totally missed their initial successes, failed to notice their huge cult explosion, and entirely avoided their moments in the limelight. That wouldn’t be so unusual now, but ten years ago, when this album first came out, that was a bit strange. But it’s no reason to avoid them now.

Their debut xx opens with Intro, a meandering guitar piece which strolls gradually along, with ethereal male vocals and a strummed bass line. Then comes VCR, a number 132 single in 2010. Meandering is the key – there’s a somewhat jaunty glockenspiel line, but otherwise this is a slow, almost plodding track with a vocal about watching old videos.

Their debut single was Crystalised, which just missed out on the Top 100 in early 2009. It gradually builds into a sort of lo-fi, less electronic version of New Order, maybe with a bit of a bluesy feel thrown into the mix. It’s good, and easy to nod along to, but it’s also difficult to reconcile with The xx‘s huge acclaim. This was a Mercury Prize-winning album, and they were winning awards left, right, and centre. Why?

Perhaps the answer lies in Islands, their biggest hit – to date, actually – having hit number 34 and reaching silver certification in late 2009. Not particularly, unfortunately. If you wanted to be unkind, you would pick up on another gently strummed guitar line and the self same instrumentation as the last few tracks. That’s not really fair, as the vocal delivery is interesting, and there are some nice electronic drums, but can you honestly repeat any of the lyrics? Seems unlikely.

These are short tracks, though, and already we’re nearly half way through with Heart Skipped a Beat. The ethereal feel that we had at the start is back here, with some softer, higher sounds. This might be my favourite track so far, actually.

Some of the songs would make for interesting film soundtrack moments – Fantasy is a bit vague still, but there’s a lovely gentle feel to it, and the sort of bass part that makes you want to check your heart is still functioning as it should.

But something still doesn’t quite seem right – I wonder if it is the lyrics, after all. Shelter contains the couplet “Could I be, was I there? / It felt so crystal in the air.” What on earth is that supposed to mean? It’s atmospheric, yes, but surely that’s pretty lazy lyric writing, isn’t it? Or maybe The xx‘s lyrics aren’t intended to be scrutinised quite that closely – maybe the mood is the thing here after all?

But if that’s true, it would be nice to have some variety – this is a nice album, but it is pretty samey so far. Well, until Basic Space, anyway – the electronic backing is muted, but it’s beautifully glitchy. It’s even got a nice, catchy chorus too. This came along just in time, didn’t it?

Infinity keeps it going as well – it’s got some wonderful percussion, punctuating the vocals, and the sauntering guitar work is well placed too. These last couple of tracks almost make that Mercury Prize win worthwhile! Or maybe I’m just starting to get used to it, finally.

You do get the impression that The xx might be best enjoyed live, in a dark club, probably with some plant-based narcotics on hand. Listening to the album feels a bit like fundamentally missing the point. Night Time is a bit of a mess of beats and Peter Hook-like strumming, but it’s a nice mess, nonetheless. Closing track Stars is spacious and pleasant, although still perhaps seems a little forgettable for a closing track.

So xx is either a mixed bag, or takes a bit of getting used to, but it does end up in a nice place. Ten years on, it still has its indie charm, even if it does feel a bit wrong not to see them perform any of this live. One day, maybe.

You can still find xx at all major retailers, although possibly only as an import.

Preview – New Order + Liam Gillick

New Order have come up with some interesting projects in recent times, but this might be one of the oddest. It seems to all be available to watch online, if you search for it, and it’s worth giving it at least a quick look. It’s a live album, performed with an array of synth players embedded in the wall behind them. Here’s a performance of Vanishing Point, as a taster: