Where It All Began

After relaunching the website a few weeks ago I’ve been concentrating on updating the database that creates the ChartBookWeekly and the associated books and that’s what I want to talk about now. 

When I began to collect the UK charts (and it was the UK as I didn’t know about Billboard back then) it was on 28 August 1999. Geri Halliwell was number 1 (new at the top of course as almost all of them where at that point) but that wasn’t the reason I listened to the chart. I listened because I was bored. 

I was 14. School holidays. Sunday afternoons dragged. I don’t play sports (sorry to those for whom it is but football isn’t my thing at all) and  there was nothing to do. I was playing with dads old typewriter (I love Star Wars and for the special edition in 1997 they released script books of the films. I was a school librarian, convinced them to get the books and then borrowed them for the summer break to learn it all – read copy on dads old typewriter – I can still recite almost all the dialogue from each of the original three films). I got fed up typing Star Wars (on page 2…) and put Radio 1 on. 

I heard Mark Goodier. I heard Groove Armada “At The River” (down five places to number 40) and was hooked. S Club 7. Steps. Shania Twain. ATB. Travis. Five. Ricky Martin. Texas. I loved the songs. Still do. But then you never forget your first time you get hooked on something. 

And I typed it all down. 

At first the collection was hand written. Then it became hand written in massive notebooks a page for each week. And then I got my own desktop computer. I discovered Excel. Then in about 2001 I discovered Access databases. I haven’t looked back since. 

I am self taught on Access, largely because we did not have internet until 2003 at home (when I started University). I copied charts from the internet (some amazing posters on forums helped a lot in sharing) and trips to London followed to look at the original paper copies as printed in the British Library. 

The British Library is amazing. A copy of everything printed and all free to access. I devoured the issues of Music Week, NME, Disc, Billboard. All went in the database. I wanted timings, producers, composers, b-sides, all to make the most of the database. Then for albums I wanted tracks. Nobody was doing a book with album tracks. Guinness stopped the Hit Singles / Hit Albums books (the internet almost killing factual books of that sort) and I wanted to replace and do it better. 

Now you can argue the merits of each book and some like one and some like the other but look at Joel Whitburn. His books for the US charts are the gold standard. Why doesn’t the UK have something equally as good?

I was explaining to my wife why I collect charts and she listened and then asked why I didn’t make books like Whitburn if I could. I thought. I wrote some code. I wrote some tables. I made a book. And that’s the first of the Decade Series if books. But after 18 months the database wasn’t up to it. So I needed a new one and that’s largely why no new books for a long time. 

The new database was built with export in mind so that I can create the books here and also other things to share the collection. Over the years I’ve sunk a lot of money into the charts. Mostly to get full chart scans of each week so I can verify that the data is correct. It’s amazing how many errors creep in when data is copied from other books or positions are transposed. Either way mine are the most accurate (which is my goal) so hopefully that’s the case. 

But it all began on a lazy Sunday afternoon. (Queue the Kinks) 

2 replies on “Where It All Began”

  1. Hi Lonnie,
    everything you wrote reminds me of my own “history”. But 33 years earlier and starting with German radio charts. It was the time when the Kinks, Dave Dee, Hermans Hemits and all those bands were very popular here in Germany. And of course the Beatles and Stones. I could listen at the end of the seventies to BFBS (British Forces Broadcasting Services) which play the Top 20 every week. I notice all the positions in a little book with lots of wrong titles.
    With 16 (=1972) I had an subsription for NME, so I could find the correct spelling. I also got the first books by Joel Whitburn which I still own. Since then I bought nearly all the books from him and also from the British Charts. For German charts it was and still is very difficult because the copyright-holders forbid every kind of chart-books. Since then I collected all the Geman, British and US-Charts and put it in a database. That was possible because I worked as an IT-manager and could use the big computers.
    In the nineties I started to import all the data in an Access-Database, which I use still today. I have about 2 Millions positions in it and can create all kind of info. I think there is hardly any statistic which deals with these charts (Singles and albums, from the 3 main chart-countries)) in one sheet. I have connected the infos with mp3-files and videos. I had many contacts with the greate late Hanboo who was fascinated by my program when I visited me in Germany. My chart-history-videos and sites are very popular in the different facbook fan-groups. I got a lot of feedback from everywhere.
    Keep on doing your great work. BTW – I was born one day after Lonnie Donegan entered the Brititish charts for the first time.

    1. Thanks for your lovely comments. I will keep dong this as long as I can because I enjoy it and you should (my opinion) always keep doing what you enjoy as long as you can. I know of books that produce the UK and USA charts but not for the German ones. I’ll have to look into that eventually.

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