May 05

Nourishing Mother

It is generally only Americans who are obsessed with the idea of continually paying homage to the educational establishments which shaped you. Their culture and literature is replete with references to the alma mater and how one is forever deined by where you went to school or college and what you did there.

It isn’t always the most advisable thing to revisit the past, but this bank holiday weekend I did just that, travelling back to Lancaster and in particular Lancaster University where I was a student from 1991 to 1994, all to speak at a conference for students aspiring to a career in the media. And it will probably turn out to be one of the best things I do all year.

This wasn’t the first time I’d been back to the compact little city on the banks of the River Lune since graduation, but the previous ones were either too soon afterwards or far too fleeting, be it the “class reunion” of friends who assembled to celebrate the birthday of the campus radio station in February 2001 or taking my future wife on a flying visit to the campus en route to the Lake District a year or so before we were married. No, this time it was for both a more extended visit but most crucially one which wasn’t just confined to the university campus. And this time I was going there as some kind of success story. To tell people that if I did what I wanted to do, then so could they with ease.

So it was that on Friday afternoon I stumbled off an inevitably delayed train to check into the Travelodge, noting with some regret that it stood on the site where the local cinema used to stand and that I was wheeling my case along the same pavement that I’d queued along to see Wayne’s World and The Naked Gun 33 1/3. Indeed both during Friday night carousing with similarly returning friends and during a nostalgic hangover clearing walk around the city centre the following morning this would become a common theme. I’d lived there for just three years, but of course they just happened to be some of the most formative three years of my life. At the time I was never a great one for pub crawls and yet it seemed that every hostelry we visited brought back a memory of a particular conversation. a specific late night incident or nostalgia for the people I used to consider my companions.

Some things had changed and others were still the same. The pizza restaurant where I frequently took the girls I was failing to seduce, the branch of William Hill where I developed a reputation as the man with the extensive computer printouts that told him how to bet. the Chinese takeaway where I bought the meal to celebrate finally finishing the “extended essay” I wrote on the office of the Prime Minister for a major part of my history course, the radio station studios where I first presented for a full time professional radio station, the car park where I sat contemplaing the rest of my life the week after graduation, the McDonald’s where I’d stood and ate a cheeseburger in front of the animal rights protesters who howled at me in impotent fury and even the hairdressers where I had my early 90s student tresses tamed into something approaching manageable once a month. They were all there as I remembered. More sorely missed were the other memories, the electronics shop where I bought the ghetto blaster I’d worked the whole summer of ’92 to afford, the local independent record shop which was the destination of choice for concert tickets and new releases, the Tardis-like caverns of the Blue Anchor pub (now a tapas bar) and strange though it may sound the Kwik-fit garage where I’d limped with my ancient Talbot Alpine after its exhaust fell off almost 21 years ago this week. But I still remembered where they (and I) once stood and had the memories flood back.

Then it was onto the campus itself where parts of it had changed beyond all recognition since my time, all thanks to some extensive investment in revelopment by the university. My old college residences had been subsumed by another neighbouring body and had subsequently relocated to another part of the campus altogether. New buildings had sprung up and it was at times hard to work out what was the old part and what was new. My intense studying of a map led one passer by to enquire if I needed assistance. I just assured them I was orienting myself.

Campus Map

Spotting that the campus bars were in the places I remembered them was reassuring. Furness bar had always been called Trevor for some reason and indeed still was. More curious was the a-board outside proclaiming “HAVE YOU TRIED OUR RANGE OF 11 WINES” which made me wonder if I had stepped into another dimension. In my day you chose between brown ale and bitter and that was that. Our host for the day, the student union campaigns president Ronnie Rowlands later told me that it was worse than that, as that bar in particular had a nice line in milkshakes which often led to frustration when you were getting a round in and waiting for the dweeb in front of you to choose which sprinkles they wanted on their banana float.

Tower Selfie

That’s Ron there by the way, assisting with my Bowland Tower selfie that I took to mark a celebrated return to what used to Alexandra Square -what used be the centre of campus and the focal point for many a noisy lunchtime protest but which is apparently now just a little-regarded throroughfare and which was actually closed for two years whilst it was refurbished.

Then it was on to the real meat of the day, the afternoon conference which saw five of us, most former graduates of the University, give a series of seminars on our lives and careers and imparted advice for those seeking to follow in our footsteps. In truth this was the biggest thrill of all. I know when I was a student and dreaming madly of a career as a hotshot celebrity presenter it would have been a dream to have someone turn up and explain what to do, how to do it and above all encourage and enthuse about the possibilities their career had and the opportunities that could come my way. So that is precisely what I tried to do for the small crowd who elected to follow my to Lecture Theatre 2. I played them clips and packages, talked of triumphs and disasters and above all how I ended up there and where it could go. Whilst at the same time noting that my sector of the business, commercial speech radio, had a voracious appetite for staff and that most people who really wanted to work there could easily end up doing so.

Perhaps better still were the drinks in the bar afterwards (noting as well that this college bar also served snacks and food, unheard of in my day). I told people living near London to come and find me online to spend the summer working and advised one aspiring radio playwright from Huddersfield (who may well have listened to me on the radio as a child) how to track down the production companies who needed the material with which to pitch for slots in the BBC schedule. I gave help and advice and encouragement of the kind I’d have thrilled to receive as a callow youth. I just hope it serves them all well. Oh yes, and of course there was a chance to visit the relocated studios of the campus radio station, say hello to the curent crop of hopefuls and note that although much slimmed down from my day, the old record library still contained singles in paper sleeves that were adorned with catalogue numbers in my handwriting.

With that it was time to head for home after a 48 hour whirlwind of beer, pasta, vomit (someone else’s), memories, speeches, Wibbly Wobbly Burgers, the Graduate College bar and its famous pork pies, rain (this was Lancaster after all) and a late night curry restaurant with the slowest service in the North West. As the train pulled slowly away one thought dominated. I knew in an instant that one day I’d be back again.


Apr 25

The Perfect Anniversary

The start of May means that in 1988 terms it is the anniversary of one of the most memorable Number One hits of its era. Perfect by Fairground Attraction, a curious blend of skiffle and rockabilly which had the inbuilt advantage of sounding like nothing else in the charts at the time. The irresistible track made short work of a journey to Number One and it was only its misfortune to coincide with the release of an all-conquering charity record which meant it did not stay there for longer.

So to mark the occasion, here is the full text of the entry for Fairground Attraction, as taken from my lastest book: The Top 40 Annual 1988.


Sadenia “Eddi” Reader had studied at Glasgow Art School before becoming a busker, touring Europe with a circus before finally settling in London. She had started earning a living as a backing singer, appearing on recordings by Alison Moyet and Eurythmics before meeting guitarist Mark Nevin and forming Fairground Attraction. Combining folk, jazz and country elements in their music, the four piece group were a refreshing antidote to the sophisticated soul-pop on offer from just about every other group with Scottish roots at the time. It is doubtful whether they were necessarily viewed as a mainstream commercial prospect, only for their debut single to charm the socks off the entire country anyway.

First charted: 16/4/1988 – Chart peak: 1 – Peak reached: 14/5/1988

Noting that their live set was full of some rather intense, angst-ridden tracks, Mark Nevin wrote a short ditty to serve as a more upbeat show-closer. It was as much a surprise to him as it was the rest of the group that it turned out to be a life-changing and career-defining release. One of those classic singles which sounded instantly and comfortingly familiar, even when hearing it for the first time, Perfect was as close to three minutes of magic as the charts would see in 1988. A jaunty track that meshed jazz and rockabilly elements with ease, the simple love song was all at once delightfully retro and utterly timeless, a piece of music that stopped you in your tracks when it came on the radio and was enough to prompt mass singalongs of its infectious chorus when played in shops and bars. Three minutes of magic that it would be hard to engineer from scratch but which fell into the lap of Fairground Attraction and turned them into stars almost overnight. After a slow start the single bounded up the charts as if its destiny was all but assured, grabbing a week at Number One in early May and becoming one of the most ubiquitous popular soundtracks of the spring. Perfect would go on to have a life far beyond its initial success, worming its way into popular culture a decade later when used for TV commercials for Asda supermarkets although several re-issues failed to return the single to the charts and this original 1988 run remains its one and only singles chart appearance. Fairground Attraction’s album First Of A Million Kisses was naturally much in demand following the success of its lead single and made the Top 10 with ease when released at the end of May.

First charted: 30/7/1988 – Chart peak: 7 – Peak reached: 20/8/1988

It would have been all too easy for Fairground Attraction to have wound up as novelty one hit wonders thanks to the quirky nature of their first hit single, but they pleasingly landed a second Top 10 hit single during the summer with its follow-up. Find My Love was a slower and more reflective track but its gentle bossa-nova charms and the band’s existing momentum were enough to give it the legs to reach Number 7 for a fortnight during August. Alas follow-up singles from First Of A Million Kisses fared less well although Clare was unlucky to just miss a place on the Top 40 in January 1989, just prior to Fairground Attraction becoming double Brit Award winners, picking up gongs for best single and best album during the now notorious awards ceremony. Sessions for a planned second album saw the band fall apart acrimoniously the following year leaving Eddi Reader to strike out on her own instead in a search for solo success.

Enjoyed that and want to read more? Then why not buy The Top 40 Annual 1988, available in paperback and Kindle versions and in all major E-book stores. 

Apr 13

Annually Retentive

Does anyone pay attention to blog categories any more? Well, if you are one of those people then you may possibly have noticed a theme developing here over the past year or so. A collection of posts under the 1988 category have been steadily teasing the work I’ve been doing researching the hits and stories of that year. Now the fruits of those labours have er, ripened so to speak. Because my new book is now available:


Using the same format as my previous e-books for the years of 2012 and 2013, the Top 40 Annual 1988 is a comprehensive guide to the hit singles of that year. Every artist and every record to make the Top 40 charts during the course of the year is documented in what I hope is loving and accurate detail.


The book is, as you can see, available in paperback (priced £15.99 although Amazon do keep discounting it) and there is still a Kindle version as well as E-book editions in all the usual online stores. For full details as where as the links to buy the various editions, head on over to the BOOKS page on this site, or just click on the rotating adverts at the very top of this page.

One question I have been asked though is why I chose 1988 in particular for this first truly historical account. Well as well as being the first year in pop music that I truly lived and breathed from beginning to end and so am familiar first hand with the stories of many of the hits, it seems to me as well that this is essentially the starting point of modern day popular music history. Think about it. You had in this year the first ever home-produced house music hits as British producers added their own twist to what had until now been a distinctly American sound. The year saw the rise of the bedroom DJ, the producers who made their own records on a limited budget and landed themselves huge smashes. The whole concept of producer as performer sprang from here. In artistic terms we of course had the first ever hit singles from Kylie Minogue as the Stock-Aitken-Waterman sound headed towards its commercial peak. Early 90s mainstays such as The Wonder Stuff and Deacon Blue had their breakthrough hits, as did the KLF (at least after a fashion) and thanks to Iron Maiden we saw the first examples of what would one day become the industry’s standard marketing practice – leveraging the power of the dedicated fan base to pop a strong first week sale. Plus William Orbit produced his first hit single, even if it was a comedy record featuring Harry Enfield.

So 1988 was seminal in so many ways. And if you are going to write the definitive history of modern day popular music, it seemed a perfectly natural place to start. Hope you enjoy the book, however you choose to consume it. Be assured there are plenty more volumes to come. Although I’d better start cracking on the 1989 tag.


Mar 23

Gotta Get Down On Friday

Back in my formative years the only way to hear the brand new singles chart ‘live’ was to break the rules. Smuggling a Walkman or transistor radio into school to catch the moment at 1pm each Tuesday when the brand new singles chart was unveiled on Radio One. Yes, there was always the more detailed recap by Peter Powell or Bruno Brookes later that evening, but you already knew who was at the top of the charts. It was a recap, not a reveal.

All that changed in October 1987 when the march of technology finally meant that the weekly sales tabulations could actually be produced within 24 hours of the last shop closing. The Sunday afternoon chart show on Radio One was all of a sudden transformed from the laid-back recounting of a Top 40 list that was already five days old and which had featured on Top Of The Pops three days earlier into a dramatic, vibrant broadcast of record. As the hype breathlessly explained, both the public and the stars themselves were about to find out live just where their favourite records were. That very first “live” chart show was a significant and exciting moment in my own upbringing, and you can read my memories of that particular broadcast here.

Now for the first time in almost 28 years the publication date of the British charts is set to change once more. As a direct consequence of the decision by the music industry to move towards a global release date for music and most importantly for that date to be a Friday rather than a Sunday or a Monday, the scope of the chart week and thus the publication date has to move with it.

So it is now official. As of this summer it will be farewell to the long-standing tradition of a Sunday afternoon chart show on the radio. Instead the new countdown will be compiled based on sales stretching from Friday through to Thursday with the new countdown unveiled by Radio One between 4pm and 6pm every Friday evening as part of what is currently Greg James’ show. Instead of beginning the week with a new singles and albums chart, we start the weekend with a brand new countdown.

Now inevitably there will be the cries of “shame” from those stuck in a mental rut, reluctant to embrace change and wedded to the idea that things should always remain the way they remember them no matter what. This is however something very exciting for a number of reasons:

  • The Radio One chart show is now moved from what had increasingly become a graveyard slot into a high profile prime time place on the schedule. Five million people listen to Radio One in the afternoons, that’s almost three times the audience the “old” Top 40 show was pulling in. Suddenly the brand chart becomes part of the entertainment for people travelling home from school and from work. That’s a massive, profile-lifting boost.
  • The chart show is also freed from the head to head battle it has been locked in for the past 30 years, moved out of the way of commercial radio’s Big Top 40 show against which it has increasingly proved to be wilting. Whilst there does exist the possibility that the radio groups could move their chart show to match, it seems unlikely at least in the short term. Sunday evening suits them nicely for a syndicated show, with most stations in weekend networking at that time already. Friday afternoons are still one of the few times radio stations have local live programming and they will be very reluctant (not to mention in many cases prohibited by Ofcom) to scale those back in favour of yet more syndicated network broadcasts.
  • High profile music slots on big ticket entertainment shows suddenly become even more important than before. Whilst an appearance on Graham Norton or Strictly or X Factor was always a guarantee of a sales boost, there was a delay in this registering on the published charts. Whilst we’ll still have to wait a week to see just how much of a sales boost a single received from a TV slot, it will show up on the very next chart to be published – rather than the next but one as happens at present.

There will be other consequences too, not least for publications like Music Week which currently hit the streets and inboxes on Thursday. We’ll almost certainly see the music industry’s publication of record shift back to a Monday street date, given that it will be pointless the magazine printing a music chart the moment it is set to go out of date. Or maybe they will abandon charts in the print version altogether now that the Official Charts Company’s own site appears to have taken on the mantle of being the source of record for the data.

Either way this is the latest step in what over the past few years has been a dramatic transformation to the way the music industry calculates, produces and presents its favourite self-fulfilling marketing tool. For the second summer running the British music charts are about to get a whole new look and feel.

Full details can be found on the Official Charts Company website.

Mar 14

Viva La Difference

Anyone who is even the tiniest bit interested in the British charts cannot fail to have noticed the dramatic transformation that the Official Charts Company website has undergone of late. Having listened carefully to what chart fans truly wanted they have undertaken a dramatic transformation not only of their corporate presence but also their entire approach to their archive. Finally we have, officially, a near complete set of singles and albums charts, dating right the way back to the 1950s and all online for browsing. Complete chart histories for each song are just a click away, a comprehensive entry for each artist can be pulled up (except for those with non-alphanumeric characters in their name, a bug which has been flagged but remains uncorrected) and it is possible to jump to any chart in history just by typing in a date. I’ve a groaning shelf of printed books that has been instantly rendered obsolete.

Behind the scenes they have been careful to make sure things are as accurate as possible. Those of us who beta tested the site prior to launch were asked among other things to double check that particular chart listings were correct, and I made a special point of browsing those countdowns which for one reason or another were tweaked and corrected in between broadcast and publication. However it is this very desire for completeness which has had one extraordinary and possibly unforeseen consequence. A hitherto unpublished chart which has for 16 years lain unnoticed in the database is now live for the record – and in the process has rewritten some small parts of singles chart history.

Specifically it is the chart for the week ending July 10th 1999, first broadcast by Radio One on July 4th and which, as this BBC news story from the time recounts, was based on incomplete data.


As the story goes on to note, missing the data for an entire chain for the whole week was unprecedented and to re-calculate the chart would cause a huge problem, allowing business rivals to compare the two figures side by side and work out the market share of Virgin and Our Price, the protection of which was enshrined in the confidentiality clauses of the agreements that led to sales data being supplied to them in the first place.

Several weeks later the clamour to correct the error became too great. As I noted in my own column of August 7th that year:

It seems like the done thing to demand chart re-runs at the moment. Both the music and the mainstream press gave much coverage to the row that erupted a few weeks ago when it emerged that a chart published earlier in the month was lacking data from some of the larger record chains, resulting in the data for some singles being badly skewed. Both Blur and Semisonic felt aggrieved by this as both Coffee + TV and Secret Smile were expected to land inside the Top 10 but instead were listed as falling some way short. After much behind the scenes muttering their pleas were heard and the relevant chart (the one for the first week of July) is to be recalculated with the missing data the benefit of the record books (and indeed overseas marketing).

Except that as usual I was only partially correct. The 10/7 chart was indeed recompiled with the missing shop data added and the results added to the master chart database. But it remained hidden and unpublished, with the result that every reference book ever since has remained true to the broadcast version and which was printed in Music Week that week. As a consequence several tracks went down in history with what should now be noted as the “wrong” chart peak.

The most high profile single to be affected was Viva La Radio by Lolly. Here is the relevant section of the singles chart that week as published in Music Week:


Here is the relevant section of the chart, as taken from the Virgin Book of Top 40 charts:


And here is Lolly’s entry from the third edition of the Complete Book Of The British Charts:


The record has until now gone down in history as a Number 6 hit, having entered the chart that week, diving down to Number 12 seven days later. But not so according the data now to be found on the Official Charts company website. As of now Viva La Radio goes down in history as a Number 7 hit:


In actual fact there are no less than 10 singles on that week’s Top 40 which have their chart peaks revised up or down. For example: Word Up by Melanie G is now a Number 13 hit, not Number 14; No Pigeons by Sporty Thievz is a Number 16 hit rather than Number 21; and The Animal Song by Savage Garden is demoted from Number 16 to Number 18.

The ultimate irony however has to be the fate of the two singles whose labels originally kicked up such a fuss and who forced the hand of both Millward Brown and CIN (as they were back then) in re-compiling to hopefully give both the Top 10 berths they appeared to be heading for as of midweek. Coffee + TV by Blur does not move on the revised countdown and remains a Number 11 hit. Secret Smile by Semisonic did indeed benefit, but only to the tune of one place, revised upwards from Number 13 to Number 12.

However perhaps the most significant change is much lower down and which concerns one single whose sales appeared to be entirely concentrated in branches of either Virgin or Our Price who were clearly the only chains who had chosen to stock it in any numbers. Five years ago I told the story of Australian hit Buses And Trains by Bachelor Girl and how it had been released and promoted here thanks to the urging of the managers of one particular group of radio stations. The original chart of July 10th 1999 had listed the track as a Number 84 hit, thus killing off any prospects of the single becoming a UK hit. Maybe that would never have been the case anyway, but as the revised chart now shows the single was slightly more popular than anyone has ever realised.


Feb 22

Way Too Fast

Now if you want to be picky about these things then technically Coventry indie-pop band The Primitives are not one hit wonders. They can boast a grand total of four Top 40 hits and a chart history that extended into the 1990s, although if their September 1989 near miss Secrets is a core part of the soundtrack of your life, you can at least relax in the knowledge that it is a moment that doesn’t belong to too many others.

No, their destiny is to be forever defined by one single in particular. A single which peaked at Number 5 in March 1988 and which has resonated with surprising consistency across the generations since. It is also rather surprisingly hard to track down on YouTube, with no video available (if indeed it ever had one to begin with – I confess I cannot actually recall) so instead you’ll have to make do with this needledrop by a helpful fan:

Just what is it that makes the barely two and a half minute Crash so utterly memorable and a joy still to hear? My own theory is that it has three distinctive musical hooks which make it the ultimate earworm. To get all onomatopoeic for a moment the single has a guitar melody which goes jangle-jangle, a rhythm track which goes chugga-chugga and a chorus vocal which goes na-na-na. This is essentially a record which grasps spectacularly at every base musical instinct a human being has. And it is glorious.

Even in 1988 though Crash was just another hit single, mentioned in dispatches as one of the moments of the year but little regarded thereafter. Its place in popular culture was largely only cemented almost seven years later when the producers of hit film “Dumb and Dumber” chose it for use on the film’s soundtrack. Yet here lay the problem. The Farelly brothers liked the song but felt it lacked just a little something and requested the track be reworked to better fit the scene they intended it for. By then the Primitives had split up and crucially had lost control of their catalogue of recordings. There was therefore little they could do about the transformation of their song into the version heard on the film soundtrack. The new “remix” overdubbed extra guitars, organs and even new backing vocals, extended the song to include an instrumental break and arguably in the process shattered completely the elegant simplicity of the original production. It should be noted that none of the original members of the band participated in the re-recording. Crash ’95 was a Primitives track in name only.

Yet such was the profile of the film that the ’95 arrangement has unwittingly become the default rendering of the song. Many cover versions since have been based on the re-recording rather than the song as originally published – most notably the one performed by Matt Willis for another film soundtrack (“Mr Bean’s Holiday”) in 2007 and which reached Number 31 in the British charts when released as a single that year.

There is just one place you can be sure of hearing the Primitives’ version of Crash with regularity on the airwaves, and that is if you listen to Absolute Radio. Yet gratingly and jarringly and to my own obsessive annoyance they have until recently insisted on spinning is the ’95 remake rather than the original. I was always baffled as to why. This was after all never released as a single. Not one person who took time out to buy a copy of Crash will have paid money for the remake – one which we must remember featured none of the group themselves and which was made without their consent. For a radio station which is more or less unique amongst commercial operators in Britain in selling itself on the respect it has for the music and the variety of its playlist it always seemed a strange oversight that it had one classic single in rotation in what was effectively the ‘wrong’ version.

Various attempts to point this out on social media and through industry contacts met with no response, so eventually I sent an email directly to James Curran their head of music querying the use of the song. As it turned out they were indeed aware of the issue and he explained the background why:

I think it was effectively a hereditary issue in that was always the version that had been played on Absolute and on Virgin Radio before it ( from which we inherited the database!) . We did get the very odd complaint about playing the 90s version but it was hardly a flood and it was clear it was no great issue for the vast majority of listeners . To be honest unless you know your music inside out , as you obviously do James , I really don’t think most listeners knew the difference between the two versions or were even aware that two versions existed – daft as that may seem most people have a different relationship with music from the one that ‘musos’ like you and I have ! But then you and I love the detail ! In a way the 90s version , perhaps because of those overdubs, has a slightly fuller radio sound but on reflection we came to the decision to revert to the original because this was the original hit version after all.

You can actually understand why in the dim and distant past someone did make the decision to go with the wrong version. The overdubbed version of the song is indeed a better “radio” track in the sense it is beefier, has a proper guitar break and perhaps most crucially of all runs around three and a half miniutes rather than the two and a half of the original. A radio clock hour that presumes 12 tracks averaging four minutes can indeed be thrown out of whack by two many tracks much shorter. Proof if ever you needed it that the choice of what to play on the radio is based far too often on what “works” rather than what sounds correct.

But fair play to them, they considered it and switched to the original. Does one have to be a “muso”, as James puts it, to understand why the two versions are different, or just someone who understands what made the song so good in the first place?

Feb 12

Crossed The (Album) Stream



On Thursday, August 21st 1997 Oasis released their third album Be Here Now. As befitted their status as easily the biggest rock band in the world at that time, it was a record which saw a phenomenal level of demand. Just how phenomenal is reflected in its documented sales – 356,000 copies on its first day and 696,000 copies by the weekend. The highest single week sale achieved by any album in chart history ever. And all in just three days rather than six (or seven). This was the all-time peak of the CD album, a genuine high water mark in consumer demand.

This week the Number One album is a collection of songs from the 1930s and 1940s sung by a 73 year old man whose career began back in the 1960s. Bob Dylan’s Shadows In The Night sold just 22,031 copies to beat the rest of the market to the top of the charts this week. Meanwhile lower down the eighth biggest selling album of the week is a 30 year old release by a long-defunct rock band. 8,890 people bought Brothers In Arms by Dire Straits last week, most because Google Play was essentially giving away downloads at 99p a time.

Whilst releases by the biggest names of the moment can still move product, both Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith sold over one million albums each during the course of 2014 after all, nobody is immune to the winds of change. When Take That stormed to Number One with III last December its first week sale of 144,358 was impressive. But in contrast to the 518,601 sold by its predecessor Progress when it was first released just over four years earlier it was a negligible figure. Their fans hadn’t gone away, the recent Number One single the group landed had proved that. They had just moved on to other ways to appreciate their idols’ brand new music,

Last week in the UK, the total size of the album market was 1,204,723. This week five years ago there were 2,034,416 purchases. That’s almost half the market that has evaporated and vanished in the blink of an eye. If you know someone who used to run a record shop you may now also understand why they don’t do it any more.

Put simply, everything we used to know is wrong. Whilst the idea of a physically packaged CD album will never totally die (just as vinyl sales stull chug along to a hardcore of aficionados) a generation is growing up that will never ‘own’ the music they consume. If I want to buy a chart CD I either have to order online or travel miles out of my way to one of the last remaining HMV outlets (where I am confronted with a display showing me what is “trending”).

Yet there is one section of the market for music consumption that is booming. And it hardly needs a nice graphic supplied by the Official Charts Company to explain what that is.

Nice graphic supplied by Official Charts Company

As I’ve written before, the new digital age has further diluted the whole picture of what precisely makes “an album”. A collection of songs by a single artist under a common title, fine. Yet for many acts this collection of songs is something that can be tweaked, remixed, added to and repackaged in an ever-growing array of Deluxe, Special, Version 2.0, Single, Double and Bonus editions meaning that in many cases the album you bought on the day of release may only bear a passing resemblance to the one you buy for a relative a few months down the line at Christmas. The album as a work of art is also dying medium. It is all about the collection of songs and exactly which ones people are consuming at any one time.

Hence the announcement today that the Official UK Album chart is to encompass streaming data in a similar manner to its bigger brother the singles chart did last summer. Whilst streams of individual songs will continue to register for the singles chart, collected streams of tracks from the same album will now be totalled up and combined with downloaded and physical purchases, albeit in a slightly more convoluted manner than we are used to.

This is mainly to avoid a problem that befell the Billboard 200, the chart of album sales in America which introduced streaming at the end of last year and by common assent got it wrong. The problem is that many albums are defined by one or two super-hits, the core tracks that have become big hit singles and which people return to again and again. This is an unrepresentative skew and uncorrected will end up with an album chart that starts to mirror the singles chart – as they are essentially both tracking the same thing.

Hence the brand new look album chart will log streams according to a specific set of criteria. Only the 12 most popular tracks from “the standard version of the album” will count. Streams of the two largest (presumed to be the hit singles) will be down-weighted in line with the average of the rest with the new totals then combined with sales data on a 1:1000 ratio. In other words, an album will have to receive 1000 weighted streams of any combination of its tracks to register the equivalent of one purchased sale.

The fact that there is now a formula to take into account will have a few people scratching their heads, brought up as we have been on a modern chart era where all sales are tracked and all count equally. What is not widely appreciated is that this is a fairly recent innovation. Prior to the 1990s the chart survey represented a smaller subset of the market and sales were logged in terms of weighted “panel sales” according to where they had been made and in what shop. All that has now changed is that the Official Charts Company are being transparent and open about the methodology used to calculate sales in this brand new market.

Another nice graphic

Last summer taught us that the effect of this new data on the chart listings is actually quite limited. The stuff that streams well is the stuff that also sells well which should hardly come as a huge surprise. This is a process of evolution rather than revolution and is simply a case of the methods of chart compilation being ahead of the curve and anticipating what is sure to be a growing trend.

Those who still sit coveting their extensive CD and LP collections will doubtless once more see it as the end of days and a further nail in the coffin of whatever traditions they believe the music industry should cling to. But technology marches on. The way people consume music is changing and thus the way we track what is popular must change as well. My four year old daughter enjoys me selecting a CD to listen to from the large cupboard in the living room. But I know for a fact she is unlikely ever to purchase one for herself. If future music historians are to want a record of what her generation enjoyed listening to, they will need a music chart which properly reflects the way they listen. The new album chart is a crucial step along that road.

If you want to take away one positive, consider this: it will now be in the interest of everyone, artist and label, for all tracks from an album to be streamed and listened to as much as possible. Perhaps more than ever the idea of “all killer, no filler” will start to penetrate the thinking of the industry. No more padding out an album with half-finished material that is there to bolster the running order. Every single track has to count – because put bluntly every single track now really does count. And that can only be a good thing surely.

Streams of album tracks will be incorporated as from February 23rd 2015, the first such chart published on March 1st. Number One will be Ed bloody Sheeran again won’t it? I just know it.

ADDENDUM: Just to demonstrate that there are always unasked questions, talk of logging the “12 most popular tracks” from an album prompted one reader to wonder how that effects catalogue albums that have less than 12 tracks on them. Chart fan and my personal fact checker Ben Cook wrote to the Official Charts Company to raise that very point. They told him:

Where an album has fewer than 12 tracks the two with the most streams are levelled to the average of all remaining tracks, and the sum of all tracks divided by 1000 equals the albums streaming figure

The actual analysis for albums with fewer tracks is quite extensive and complicated – we tested this with a large sample of albums and as an example;

· The last Foo Fighters album was only 8 tracks long
· The average across the 8 tracks is higher than that (on average) across a 12 track album, which means the top two get levelled “less”, therefore the sum of the 8 is not dissimilar to that of a 12+ track album

Feb 04

Take Your Time Son

After a January bereft of anything approaching interesting stories the UK singles chart exploded into action this week. A flurry of new releases (including new singles from Fergie and the Kanye/Rihanna/McCartney collaboration made for a great deal of interest. That’s before we even got to Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars spending a sixth straight and seventh total week at Number One to make Uptown Funk the longest running chart-topper since Bleeding Love way back in those crazy heady days of 2007.

Yet there was one other story near the top of the charts that caught my eye sufficiently to mention in the column last weekend. Take Me To Church by Hozier climbed a place to reach a brand new peak of Number 2. Nothing too significant about that you may think – but for the fact that the single has done so it what is now its 22nd week on the Top 75. It was September 13th last year that the track first appeared on the charts, entering at Number 49. It remained there for a fortnight before making the Top 40 for the very first time, and since then it has never left. As I’ve documented in previous columns this is a single which appeared to have peaked on three or four different occasions, falling back only to regroup and emerge more popular than ever.

To take 22 weeks to reach what appears to be your chart peak is an extremely long time. But it is believe it or not a little way short of the all time record. And this is where it gets complicated.

The all-comers record for slowest chart climb has technically stood for 30 years now. Seminal rap classic White Lines by Grandmaster Melle Mel and the Furious Five is the record in question. It was February 11th 1984 when the single began its epic chart run, sneaking in at Number 74 (in what was technically a climb from 84 the previous week but in an era when positions below 75 were unofficial and unpublished we can overlook this). Over the next five and a half months the single would move 74-59-52-53-52-49-57-55-56-58-55-52-56-52-48-51-52-46-36-21-12-10-9-8-7, this final peak only arriving on the chart dated July 28th, an epic climb of 25 weeks. To put it another way, the Hozier single will have to wait another four weeks before making an unlikely further climb to Number One in order to beat this particular chart benchmark.

However what I did note on is that White Lines‘ Top 75 climb actually totals 28 weeks if one takes into account the brief chart run the single had at the very end of 1983, during which time it peaked at Number 60. Yet if one is to take total Top 75 weeks into account the single is a long way from being the record holder.

Step forward instead A Thousand Years by Christina Perri which began its chart career in November 2011, this first chart run lasting just five weeks during which time it peaked at Number 32. Since then however the single has made sporadic chart returns, charting twice in 2012 following the release of the second part of Twilight: Breaking Dawn on whose soundtrack it prominently featured – first in cinemas and then on DVD. During the second chart run at the end of 2012 the single reached a new peak of Number 13. Then in 2013 it was back again, hard on the heels of its use as an audition song on X Factor by hopeful Nicholas MacDonald. As readers of The Top 40 Annual 2013 will be only too aware. the single finally reached its chart peak on September 28th 2013 when it reached Number 11.

Yet all these chart runs add up. Taken together it should be noted that A Thousand Years reached its highest chart placing during its 39th week in total as a Top 75 single – 11 more than even White Lines can boast.

So it seemed important to clarify that point. Part of the problem with chart records is that there is no definitive set of rules for them, we can play around with qualifying criteria as much as we want to highlight benchmarks. So take it whichever way you want. The record for the slowest climb to a chart peak is held either by White Lines or A Thousand Years depending on whether chart weeks are taken consecutively or in total. But so far Take Me To Church has not beaten either.

Jan 28

Don’t Want No B-Boys

The home of acts such as Princess and Mel & Kim, Supreme Records had hit something of a groove making music with cool, soulful female artists – many with production duties handled by the hot production trio of Stock, Aitken and Waterman. Their latest signing in 1987 was a 16 year old from Newcastle called Louise Nicholson, styled simply as Lou, and who was put on the fast track to stardom.

She was teamed with Phil Harding and Ian Curnow, essentially the PWL b-team, although both were well regarded songwriters and producers in their own right, Harding’s work having included work with Phil Fearon and Matt Bianco’s most recent albums to name but two. The song the trio came up with was Rookie’s Revenge, a record very much of its time thanks to copious references to the London culture of B-Boys and Rookies. You’ve probably never heard of Lou or even her record before. Yet to many it will still sound oddly familiar.

Here’s what happened. Although the single was promoed in the summer of 1987 its planned release was shelved. Quite why isn’t immediately clear, although the suggestion was that the label became nervous about Lou’s age and wanted instead to wait until she was slightly older. Thus Rookies Revenge languished on the shelf.

There it might have remained, but for Phil Harding who had also been invited to apply some remix magic to a flop single by another act whose potential had yet to be realised. Handed the master tapes of the gentle ballad Rise To The Occasion by Climie Fisher he spotted that the vocals would dovetail nicely to an existing bassline and backing track he’d created earlier in the year but which appeared to be stuck in development hell. Thus was born the “hip-hop mix” of the Climie Fisher track, possibly one of the earliest ever examples of the mash-up – one song to the tune of another. The new mix was released at the end of 1987 and was swept into the charts in the new year, the single and act having very little to do with the house music boom of the time but carried along on its wave thanks to the most perfectly timed remix of the era.

Lou herself was more than a little disgruntled that “her” single had been co-opted in such a manner and made pointed comments in the press to this effect. Seeking to capitalise on the success of the Climie Fisher track, Supreme Records at last authorised the release of Rookies Revenge by the now 17 year old Lou in March 1988 but it was clear the moment had gone. The single crawled to a mere Number 93 and sank without trace.

Climie Fisher went on to land a string of further hits, including the monster follow-up Love Changes Everything. Lou on the other hand was destined to remain hitless, a second single was apparently released later in 1988 but there is very little trace of its existence. Rookies Revenge may well be the most familiar flop record of its era without anyone being fully aware of why.

Text adapted from The Top 40 Annual 1988 – coming soon.

Jan 05

(Still) Loco in 1988 – Part Four

So here it is then, the ten biggest selling singles for Christmas 1988 and amongst them a number which won’t actually feature in the forthcoming book thanks to the chap below and his presence preventing many from reaching their eventual chart peaks until the first weeks of 1988. Or does this kind of spoil the big reveal?

10: Phil Collins – Two Hearts

It seems almost quaint looking back, but the release of the film ‘Buster’ in the autumn of 1988 was mired in controversy. The reason for the furore was the movie’s alleged glamorisation of the Great Train Robbery and the glossing over of the fact that the driver was so badly beaten he never worked again and died a few years later. In fairness all of this was to overlook the fact that the film itself was a morality tale at heart with the ill-gotten gains causing Buster Edwards nothing but unhappiness and resulting in his returning home to face the music. Nonetheless the fuss led to Prince Charles being officially uninvited to the planned royal premiere, lest he become embroiled in the row.

The soundtrack of the film was by contrast praised to the hilt and was responsible for two singles on the Christmas chart. The first of these was Phil Collins’ own Motown-flavoured romp, the follow up to his cover of A Groovy Kind Of Love which had topped the chart back in September. Still fondly remembered as one of his best singles, Two Hearts is also notable for the innovative video that saw Phil playing all four members of a 60s-era beat combo on a fictional TV show. Little seen but useful to set the scene is the introduction from a cameoing Tony Blackburn who asks “Phil” why the group are the Four Pound Notes. “Well,” he said, “there used to be five of us”.

9: Four Tops – Loco In Acapulco

Beating out Phil however is a genuine set of sixties superstars. The Four Tops had already seen chart action in 1988, a remix of Reach Out I’ll Be There having climbed to Number 11 in the summer. Taken from their well-received comeback album Indestructible as well as the ‘Buster’ soundtrack, Loco In Acapulco was written by both Phil Collins and original Motown songwriter Lamont Dozier. A smash hit worldwide (except oddly in the US), the track wound up as the Four Tops’ first Top 10 single here since When She Was My Girl six years earlier. Less well known is the fact that this was very nearly a posthumous chart placing, and all thanks to a late night recording session in London earlier in the week which meant all four members of the group missed their flight back to the USA. But for a failed alarm call, the most famous vocal group of their era might have all perished on Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie.

8: Bros – Cat Among The Pigeons/Silent Night

Before X Factor came along it was an almost universal truth that the bookies’ initial favourite for Christmas Number One never made it. Case in point: the Bros Christmas single for 1988 which came at the end of a year when they had swept all before them to become the most screamed at (if not necessarily the most universally loved) pop act of their day. An utterly shameless attempt to capture the seasonal crown, the single combined intense ballad Cat Among The Pigeons (a thinly veiled reference to the Goss parents marital problems) with a brand new recording featuring Matt Goss letting his best choirboy tones loose on the old hymn Silent Night and which thus ensured that the Christmas Top 10 would feature two spiritually themed singles. An instant Number 2 when first released, the single simply could not sustain its initial momentum and so by the seasonal chart itself had faded to this Number 8 placing.

7: Neneh Cherry – Buffalo Stance

“Wot’s ‘e like anyway?”. The debut hit single for Don Cherry’s daughter, famous at the time for the fact she was heavily pregnant with her daughter Tyson at the time, proudly cavorting on Top Of The Pops with her bump, presumably making her unborn child the shows youngest ever performer to that date. Buffalo Stance was produced in bubbly good humour by Tim Simenon of Bomb The Bass and introduced the public at large to many contemporary elements of South London street slang. The phrase “Buffalo Stance” I’m told refers to the style of fashion photography popularised by Jamie J Morgan during the late 80s. The track began life as Looking Good (Diving With The Wild Bunch) a b-side by Morgan-McVey, a short-lived group featuring Morgan and Cherry’s future husband (and father of the bump) Cameron McVey. 1988 was possibly one of the most exciting periods ever to be a dance music fan in the UK, the House explosion on both sides of the Atlantic spawning new talent who would go on to become big names in music and its influences creeping into the mainstream at every turn. Buffalo Stance was a glorious example of House being wrapped around a good old fashioned pop record, an all-time enduring classic being the result. Its ultimate destiny was to be a Top 3 placing in the new year, the single still on its way up the charts at Christmas.

6: Inner City – Good Life

Keeping up the Stateside end of clubland was this equally famous single, the second Inner City hit (following Big Fun) and once again featuring the distinctive tones of Paris Grey on lead vocals. The all but forgotten hero of the piece is British DJ Neil Rushton whose work scouting tracks for a compilation album he was curating led him directly to Inner City producer Kevin Saunderson and a track which he and Grey had created a year earlier only to see languish in obscurity. Once Big Fun had become the huge Europe-wide hit it was destined to be, Inner City were well and truly off and running. Good Life was once more a track still on its way up here, eventually to peak at Number 4 the week after Christmas.

5: Status Quo – Burning Bridges (On And Off And On Again)

Even as late as 1988 Status Quo could still bring the magic. Riding high after the success of 1986 album In The Army Now, The Quo returned just over a year later with their 18th album Ain’t Complaining. They had kicked off their account in 1988 with the fun romp of the title track but later singles had stalled and it had taken a charity-sponsored reworking of Rockin’ All Over The World (re-entitled Running All Over The World for Sport Relief purposes) to bring them back to respectable chart positions. Their crowning moment was however to be this single, one which proudly took its place as one of their most famous hit singles. The track’s origins as a heartfelt tale of divorce and failing relationships is all but lost these days, partly thanks to its rewriting (and subsequent chart-topping fate) as a Manchester United anthem in 1994 but there are few tracks more likely to provoke a bout of enthusiastic drunken dancing at a party than Burning Bridges. Little-remarked upon at the time was that the song was based in its entirety around an old English folk melody, the track’s central riff essentially a reworking of Darby Kelly, beloved of folk revivalists the nation over.

4: Angry Anderson – Suddenly

So go on then. Where were you on that night in November 1988 when British audiences finally saw the most iconic Neighbours moment of all – the much anticipated wedding of Scott and Charlene? There is no doubt that to the millions of people hooked on the Aussie soap during its imperial late 80s might the wedding of the teenage couple was the TV event of the year. Accompanying the nuptials was a tender love song recorded by the most unlikely of acts, and one that was inevitably released as a tie-in and lodged itself near the summit of the UK charts. Angry Anderson was best known to rock fans as the shaven-headed frontman of Australian rock band Rose Tattoo. Suddenly was written as a tribute to his wife and although originally intended as a Rose Tattoo track it wound up launching his solo career at home and became his one and only chart single in this country. Smash Hits asked him at the time of its charting whether he’d cried at the wedding scenes. “Yes,” he replied, “my song was playing on the telly”. Sadly for him it ain’t playing on Spotify and yes, this isn’t THE video for the track. But it really is the only one that matters. *blub*

3: Erasure – Crackers International EP

Far and away the best album the duo ever recorded, Erasure’s The Innocents album represented their absolute commercial peak was crammed from start to finish with potential hit singles. After smashes with Ship Of Fools, Chains Of Love and A Little Respect they had an embarrassment of riches to choose from when selecting a fourth single with anything from Phantom Bride to Yahoo or even their epic cover of River Deep Mountain High having Top 10 status written all over them. However the duo were on such a creative roll that they rounded the year off with a special present of their own – a four track EP of totally brand new material which when released at the end 1988 became one of their biggest selling singles to that date. Lead track on Crackers International was the infectious Stop which sounded like it was written as a textbook example of how to write an electropop smash but which for all that was as fresh and exciting as anything they had recorded before or since. All but forgotten it appears are the other three tracks, so for the record they were: The Hardest Part – a typical Erasure mellow track that serves as a counterpoint to the frantic nature of Stop, Knocking On Your Door – a Hi-NRG disco track with more than a handful of Acid House influences and She Won’t be Home – a melancholic Christmas song, the only seasonally themed song on the EP. Locked in place here at Number 3 for Christmas the single would eventually peak at Number 2 in the new year, equalling for now their highest charting single ever.

2: Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan – Especially For You

So let’s figure this out. Their respective characters of Scott and Charlene had just married in one of the highest rated television nuptials of the year, they had both Jason “Scott” Donovan and Kylie “Charlene” Minogue on their label roster, and yet it still didn’t occur to Mike Stock, Matt Aitken and in particular Pete Waterman to combine the two on a duet until it became clear that public demand was all but forcing them to make it happen. I think Pete Waterman’s view was that as Jason Donovan had only released one single at that point there was the potential to derail his career by teaming him up with the already stellar Kylie Minogue but history records it was probably the best move they ever made. Like many SAW songs, it was written on the back of a napkin in ten minutes and indeed was recorded in such a hurry that Matt Aitken travelled to Melbourne where Neighbours was being shot to record the vocals of the pair in a single afternoon, armed with little more than a piano melody and a click track. Every single note of Especially For You was constructed after the fact in the studio but it sounds for all the world like a lovingly crafted masterpiece, the love song now something of a karaoke classic and a reference point for just about every teenager of the time.

From a sales perspective it was nothing short of phenomenal. Released in the last week of November, the single straight shot to Number 2 on its first week, stuck behind a certain Mr C Richard and then refused to budge. The two singles would spend the next month locked in place in an epic stalemate. In an age when midweek leaks of the chart were practically unknown, the tension each week was all but unbearable. Surely it was Kylie and Jason’s destiny to advance to Number One in time for Christmas, but every week they were denied. Even in the minutes approaching the big reveal of the Christmas Number One, plenty were ready to believe that the crown was theirs to take at the death. The single was indeed to make Number One, but not until the week after Christmas when incredibly despite having spent a month in the Top 3 already it lodged itself at Number One for an impressive three weeks and was a hit single well into the first months of 1989. In an age when it was all but assumed that the days of the million selling single were gone forever, ‘Especially For You’ came incredibly close, selling a reported 982,000 copies, its final 18,000 eventually topped up in the 21st century during the download era with the result that the single was finally certified a million seller in mid-2014.

1: Cliff Richard – Mistletoe And Wine

The concept of “Cliff’s Christmas single” did not really exist in 1988, despite his occasional forays into seasonal releases – most notably 1982 Number 11 hit Little Town which was essentially the festive hymn O Little Town Of Bethlehem set to a brand new melody. Yet the single which was released to promote a new Greatest Hits album Private Collection turned out to be one of the defining moments of the latter half of his career and firmly established the idea of an end of year release as a significant part of his promotional arsenal. The song Mistletoe And Wine had been written over a decade earlier as a component part of a stage musical “Scraps”, intended as a re-telling of the seasonal story of The Little Match Girl. A TV adaptation of the musical had been screened at Christmas 1986, the song performed by Twiggy in her role as a whore and with the lyrics intended to drip with irony. Extraordinarily the entire drama is up on YouTube at the time of writing and the song and melody can be seen in their original context.

Having spent years attempting to find a mainstream star to record Mistletoe And Wine which he was convinced had hit single potential, composer Keith Strachan sent a demo of the track to Cliff Richard who responded enthusiastically, his only wish was that for the lyrics to be adjusted to bring out a stronger Christian message.

Recorded during the summer of 1988, the new version of Mistletoe And Wine was the very definition of a seasonal epic with a lavish orchestral backing, the singer himself multi-tracked to provide his own backing choir and with the added touch of choirboy James Rainbird singing a soprano refrain at the end. In comparison to some of the nailed on pop records he had been releasing over the course of the previous few years this was possibly the geekiest and uncoolest Cliff Richard single for some time, the most unabashedly religious single he had released for years. Yet it turned out to be utterly irresistible. Released in late November, the single landed on the singles chart at Number 7 in its first week on release. One week later it was Number One, his second chart-topper of the 1980s following his 1986 comedy remake of Living Doll and his first ‘proper’ single to do so since We Don’t Talk Anymore a full nine years earlier.

The only question now was whether the single could hang on for an entire month and become the 1988 Christmas Number One. It seemed a lot to ask, especially given the seemingly unstoppable presence of the Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan duet Especially For You which had entered the chart at Number 2 the same week that Mistletoe And Wine had climbed to Number One. Yet this was to reckon without the sheer level of demand for the Cliff Richard single which as Christmas drew nearer began to sell in quantities no other record had managed all year. Attempting to nail down exact sales figures for singles of this era is fraught with danger, but it is clear that Mistletoe And Wine was selling upwards of 120,000 copies per week, figures that even the biggest Number One hits of the year had only managed at the very peak of their popularity. In Christmas week itself the single smashed through the 200,000 barrier to become Christmas Number One in some style and perhaps most significantly the biggest seller of 1988 overall, edging past Yazz’s The Only Way Its Up which had topped out at just over half a million copies and until Cliff came along seemed set to end up with the crown of the year’s overall Number One.

Mistletoe And Wine helped to haul its parent album Private Collection 1979-1988 to the top of the album chart as well, ensuring that Cliff Richard would spend Christmas celebrating a sensational chart double. Perhaps just as importantly it established the idea of a Christmastime Cliff Richard release as a viable promotional tactic, one he would use to varying levels of success over the course of the following decade. The track isn’t his biggest selling single ever, that honour remaining with We Don’t Talk Anymore, but it is justifiably one of his most famous. Cliff’s biggest and most iconic release of the decade and in a recording career which has now lasted his entire lifetime easily one of its defining moments.

That indeed brings us to the end of this wander through the Christmas chart of 1988. It would be remiss to end without congratulating Paul Ranklin of Bishop Auckland, County Durham who was the winner of the Top 3 prediction game on the Top 40 show that week, his reward for guessing that it would be exactly the same as the previous week being a copy of every single one of the Top 40 records of the week. If you read this at any point Paul, please let us know if you still have the collection. If that frantic run through these 40 singles has whetted your appetite, watch out for the complete story of the year coming to a bookshelf near you in the next few months. In the meantime I’ll leave you with the pack shot of the original cassettes of this show and for those watching in a non-rubbish browser the complete Spotify playlist of as many of these featured hits as possible.