70 Years of the UK Charts

A new book subscription series

In 1952 Percy Dickins, who died in 2002, launched the first chart specifically looking at music sales in the United Kingdom.  1952, 70 years ago, was the start of a new Elizabethan era and a feeling of newness as the dark days of the War (both of them), still fresh in people’s minds, began to fade as life returned to normal.

That first chart, published on 14 November 1952, was calculated by phoning about 25 record shops in the London area – so not entirely a national chart – but it was the first chart in the UK to try and calculate record sales.  By the end of the decade though, it was a national chart, with returns being provided from all over the country and it had competition from Record Mirror, Melody Maker, and, in March 1960, the fledgling Record Retailer and their tiny 30 shop sample size. 

During the 1960’s the war of the chart papers meant that each had their own chart (three with Record Mirror opting to print the Record Retailer chart from 1962) for the public to peruse, and each had, in some cases, their own number 1. During this period shops would supply a list of records and the compiler would award points (10 for a 1, 9 for a 2, etc) and add them up to arrive at the chart. This, coupled with the multiple number ones, led the BBC, who since the 1950’s had averaged the main chart papers chart’s to create their own composite chart, to join with Record Retailer, Billboard and the music industry to create the British Market Research Bureau chart.  This chart would gather data from record shops using diaries where actual sales would be added up and used to arrive at a chart.  

The BMRB chart began in February 1969 and ushered in a new era, one that would last until the mid 1980’s-1990’s as diaries filled in at the desk by the sales clerk at the time they sold the record would be used to compile the chart.  Data was posted Saturday night, arrived Monday morning, was calculated Monday and the new chart announced on the BBC at lunchtime Tuesday, before being printed in Music Week, as Record Retailer was renamed, on the Thursday. In essence this is still how the charts are compiled, although technology has advanced the process.

In 1983 Gallup took over chart compilation and began to introduce EPOS (Electronic Point Of Sale) machines to accurately track the barcodes, thus trying to eliminate hyping of record, one way of getting a record into the chart so it would be played on the then all important Top Of The Pops.  The chart also increased to a Top 100 (although positions 76-100 where only records with sales increases or new entries).

In 1994 Millwood Brown took over chart compilation, a position they still hold. New technology meant that all shops would now get EPOS machines and more shops would be added to the panel.  By the end of the decade the chart return shops accounted for about 95% of the market, possibly as high as 98% (Sources vary).

Steve Jobs revolutionised technology with his Apple products and these, from 2004, changed the charts as a download chart was started and, from 2007, digital tracks began to line up against the physical releases.  Streaming in the 2010’s was also changed how the charts work and, like or loath streaming, the chart is reflecting the newer technology people are using to access and consume music.  In 1945 the 45rpm was created and this replaced, in the 1950’s, the 78RPM.  In the 1990’s CD replaced vinyl, and in the 2000’s Downloads replaced physical sales, before even that was replaced by streaming a decade later.  

Today’s singles chart reflects the changing technology, and after 70 years and almost 60,000 charting records (in the full Top 200 where appropriate) this year’s anniversary is a point I am not going to miss.

In December 2018 I began to rebuild my database with precisely this anniversary in mind and now, three years later, the database is ready to launch the book series ’70 Years Of UK Charts’.  Each book in the series will focus on a single chart year and be issued one a week from February 2022 through to June 2023 when the 2022 issue will be produced.

Each issue will include a full chart history for that year, but will also include a wealth of other information derived from the database. Each book includes some brand new information, never before calculated in this level of detail.

  • Chart History
    • As appropriate, chart rule changes are highlighted.  It’s not always easy to know what was and was not allowed and sometimes odd records appear and then vanish, so this section will bring together as much information as possible about how the charts were compiled at the time.
  • Milestones
    • These are a listing of the important chart changes, such as frozen weeks, chart size changes, etc.
  • Chart Age
    • A new metric, looking at the average age of each week’s chart.  This is found by adding up the weeks on chart column and dividing by how many records are present.  This has been calculated to answer the question ‘What is the age of this week’s chart?’ and ‘Is this the youngest/oldest chart?’  Only the Top 130 and Bottom 130 chart weeks are shown as we have about 3650 chart weeks from 1952 to 2022 .
  • Number 1’s
    • Number 1 lists are always shown in books about the UK charts, but this listing is different as it will showcase an image of the record cover for the first time.
  • The Top 500 Artists
    • One of the things I enjoyed twenty years ago was buying the new Guinness Book Of British Hit Singles and looking at where my favourite artists had moved to in the list of Top artists. Each issue will present a list of the artists and their ranking to date, with where the artist was on the previous years’ listing.  Equally, from 1960 decade listings will be presented showing where the artists line up per decade. 
  • Full Chart History
    • As usual, the full chart history will be presented in alphabetical order by artist showing entry date, weeks on chart, peak position, title, composers, b-side, label, catalogue number and duration.  From 1973 the BPI awards will also be shown.  Full listings showcase all re-entries, even if the record only dropped off the chart for one week. 
  • The Annual
    • This is a listing of the records by peak position within the year, and shows all records that charted during the calendar year. This listing type has been created for the USA, but not for the UK.
  • Weekly Charts
    • The full weekly charts are presented here, so that readers can see in full the accurate and complete charts for each week.
  • The Hit Log
    • This is also something never before published – a listing of all records to chart but in the order in which they first entered the charts, together with a picture of the entry.
  • BPI Awards (from 1973)
    • The BPI began listing awards for records from 1973 and these are now listed alongside the chart entries and weekly charts, showing the highest award granted to that point.  A listing is also presented of the awards by award date here, using the best available information to assign full details to the records. 

More information and how to purchase a subscription – or individual issues – is available on the ’70 Years UK Charts’ page.

I’m really excited to launch this series and I hope you will come with me though the data.  It will be fascinating to track it all! 

2 replies on “70 Years of the UK Charts”

  1. The seventy years of the UK charts book series looks amazing. Immediate subscription, can’t wait

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