Verifying Data – Collecting The True Account

It’s always hard to work out exactly what is the true account, particularly after so many years have elapsed – and thats a statement that is true largely regardless of the field being researched. It’s more true with charts as it is almost always impossible to locate the original data sources. Let me explain…

How the chart are compiled

Charts are compiled by gathering sales data from retailers. They are compiled following various rules and then a verified list of the records, from 1 downwards, is created. This forms the lisiting that all publishers use when re-producing the chart in print form.

That explanation of chart compilation is as true today as it was in 1940 (when Billboard began) or in 1960 when Record Retailer began their chart or 1969 when the British Market Research Bureau began the first official chart in the UK. Whilst detail is lacking as to how each company compiled the chart, that explanation covers the points needed for this blog.

The compilers produced a listing of the records which is then sent to the magazines that publish the chart.

Creeping Errrors

This is the start of errors in printing as now the compiled listing (which is assumed to be correct although that in itself can be a source of errors as we have witnessed over the years) is typeset by the various publications into their own format. Sometimes this results in weeks when a chart was compiled but not printed as, say, Record Retailer had a week off but Record Mirror did not. We are not concerned with that here. We are concerned with other types of errors, because the typos in a title can have quite profound consequences. Suppose an artist has two albums – identically titled but different catalogue numbers? R.E.M. did this in 2003 with a special and a deluxe package, for example. A typo in the catalogue number could mean both are logged as the same entry at different positions. As the public don’t see the original listing, they wont know which is which.

Many of these are corrected the following week or before publication. But sometimes the error can be quite serious

Melody Maker 1973

Recently I’ve been adding the Melody Maker album charts to my database, a chart not previously researched and seemingly lacking research from other sources. The chart for 17 March 1973 presented a large problem when trying to work out which record should really be listed at joint 29. Deep Purple and Made In Japan (see below) is clear enough, but what do you make of the other entry?

These Top Of The Pops albums by Hallmark where all cover versions by unknown (unlisted) artists. Discogs lists 122 running from Volume 1 (1968) through to Volume 92 in 1985. They where a very cheap way to get possible versions of hit records and clearly sold in sufficient quantities to justify repeated issues (Rather like the Now! albums of the last 30 years).

So my question is this – which particular Top Of The Pops volume is this?

Guesswork Helps

Guesswork needs to be done to work out what the album really is. Release dates help a lot here, as they rule out various volumes and entries, but those release dates may be in error as well. This is where we turn to other chart sources, as Melody Maker was not the only chart compiler in the UK at this time – we have NME and the Official chart to look at.

Scans of the NME album charts are hard to come by, but fortunately they issued an Album book in 1995 (see below for an ebay search listing the book).

Turning to the week of 17 March 1973 I find the book is of no help – Top Of The Pops never charted that entire month!

Turning to the UK charts you wont find the Top Of The Pops albums listed (at least not in 1973) as they where definitely Mid Price selling albums and so where relighted to the Mid Price chart. I’ve recently been compiling this as well, but turning to the relevant week I find again nothing! The album simply did not chart in Mid Price on Record Retailer/Music Week.

This is now a problem… The album can’t be identified exactly so I really do have to guess here.

Volume 29

I ended up going for Volume 29 because Volume 28 had charted in February and Volume 30 charted in May. Equally, the track listing covers hits from Jan-Feb 1973 meaning that this seems about right.

Happy Ending?

Hopefully this ending is the right one, but it shows the type of issues faced with interpreting (in this case) 45 year old chart printouts. And thats assuming you actually have the scans to begin with. But thats another story…