It is one thing to write in detail about the biggest hits of a particular year, another thing altogether to play them. So here is my take on the best selling singles of 1988, all done in my best Mark Goodier.
In a perfect world, the British singles and album charts are compiled with a full set of sales and streaming data from all the registered sources they survey. When that happens it is such a deeply satisfying feeling that even the data sent to those of us in the media smugly points it out.
Sometimes things do go wrong, glitches in the matrix occur, and a chain of stores for whatever reason may not be able to report its sales information to the required schedule. This is all transparent and once again is flagged up for anyone who cares.
“Upweighted to compensate” refers to the process used to ensure the charts can be compiled even if there is a small part of the data missing. Just over a year ago Alan Jones explained the mathematics involved in his Music Week column:
The chart is compiled down to eight decimal points – or one hundred millionth of a sale. Obviously records only sell in whole numbers but the complex weighting matrix employed to take account of shops which are unable to report on any given week produces these fractions. For example, if an album sells 15 copies in seven shops in a weighting cell where there are two more shops whose sales were not collected for whatever reason, the upweighted sales for all nine would be 15 divided by seven, multiplied by nine, or 19.28571428.
Yes, that is so convoluted that unless you are the most dedicated of chart anorak it is enough to know that the system is there and it works. Sometimes it has worked a little too well, like in December 2010 when the zero sales registered by supermarket chains on Christmas Day were mistakenly flagged as missing figures and the upweighting algorithm used to account for sales that physically could not have happened at all. The entire set of charts had to be reissued a few days later when the error was discovered. More recently in Eurovision week 2014 iTunes suffered a data hiccup on the Saturday and could not produce their figures in time for chart compilation the following day. The upweighting algorithm had no way of knowing that many of the songs performed during the contest itself on Saturday night would have seen their sales rise and the usual impact of the airing of the Eurovision Song Contest was lost. These however are isolated incidents and on the odd occasion when the system is called into use it is to the satisfaction of all.
But here is the thing, since the start of the summer – the changeover to Global Release Day in fact – this upweighting system has been called into use every single week. Not one chart since July has been compiled using a complete set of data.
For the past nine weeks (at the time of writing) both Apple Music and Spotify have failed to deliver their Thursday data in time to be included in chart compilation with Apple’s losing run stretching three weeks further, right back to the very launch of the service in fact. Every week without fail the information from both giants arrives too late to be included in Millward Brown’s sales survey and the UK charts wind up being compiled with guesstimated streaming numbers for the end of each sales week. Now you could put this down to teething problems with the new Apple Music streaming service, although quite why a company that has been able to report music sales from iTunes with a reasonable level of consistency for well over ten years now should suddenly be struggling remains a mystery. It is also rather odd that Spotify are repeatedly failing to deliver too given that over the previous year they have finished the week with a complete set of figures more often than not.
I’ve heard conspiracy theories that this is a deliberate ploy on the part of the two streaming services which are aggressively competing for market share and are particularly interested to know just how large a chunk of the market their rivals have. Solid facts to back that up are a little harder to come by however.
One industry contact has indicated to me that in actual fact both services are taking longer to deliver data to chart compilers Millward Brown than they are supposed to on a daily basis, this delay only noticeable when Thursdays data misses the final deadline for the charts to be compiled. A source inside the Official Charts Company acknowledged to me last week that this is an issue with the sheer volume of data the two services are now generating and that for the moment they just cannot turn it around in time. That’s certainly plausible, as since the start of the year the streaming tracks market has grown at a phenomenal rate. To put this in some kind of context, this week digital streams accounted for 4,887,190 ‘sales’ on the singles chart. This week 12 months ago they totalled 2,350,366. The market has grown by almost exactly 100% in the space of a year. Which means double the data to process.
A systems engineer friend of mine noted: “There’s absolutely no chance that Apple & Spotify are finding it any harder just because sales have doubled. Unless the number of records AVAILABLE has doubled then the aggregates remain the same size in terms of data. Especially since they both have systems that extract and render how many times YOU have played something with no trouble at all”. This does however presume the retailers declare the data pre-aggregated. “50 copies of track number ABC123” is quicker to declare than “track number ABC123” 50 different times. But the latter is easier to audit and is the more likely method used.
All I know is that if I sell a copy of one of my books I am notified instantly that it has taken place, even if it does take Amazon up to seven weeks to actually pay me the royalties for it. It is hard to believe that Apple Music don’t know at midnight each day exactly how many plays a track has had in the last 24 hours. Theoretically this would then point to the transfer to Millward Brown being the bottleneck, the transfer or receipt of the data simply not proceeding in a timely enough fashion. The charts director for the market researchers assures me that everything is being processed in time:
Our connections and servers are all capable of processing any retailer data if received by the agreed deadlines. And, to clarify, we can, and often do wait for late data received from retailers. In virtually every case where data arrives late, it doesn’t actually arrive until after that day’s charts or Sales Flashes are published.
The pertinent point here is “if received by the agreed deadlines”. Which clearly in this case are being repeatedly missed on Thursdays. The precise reason for this remains a mystery, at least for the moment. I’m assured the problem is known about and a solution is being worked towards. What this does mean though is that for now the UK charts are actually working from an imperfect data set. A statistical averaging which was designed to accommodate isolated system issues is being called into use week in week out as a patch for an ongoing data snafu. That cannot be to anyone’s satisfaction long term.
August 2015 was naturally enough not the first time I wrote extensively about the fabled Battle Of Britpop. August 1995 just happened to coincide with the first two months of operation of the fabled dotmusic.com website for which I was lucky enough to write chart commentaries for the whole of its existence. So for one final burst of nostalgia it seemed an interesting exercise to reproduce that very column, although my modern day self may have to interject on occasions. He just cannot help himself.
Here then is a genuine dip into the archives, the chart column as it appeared on Monday lunchtime, August 21st 1995.
HEAVY NOTICE: These charts are offered on the Internet as a service to music fans. However, they remain the copyright of CIN Ltd and any reproduction of this information in television or radio broadcasts or in printed or electronic publications without CIN’s formal approval is a breach of copyright. For details of licencing arrangements for the charts, contact CIN@dotmusic.com
[2015 James notes: yep, back in the hinterland of the commercial internet and where the copyright of material posted on it could not be presumed and had to be stated in quite strict terms.]
There has never really been hype like it. The release on the same day of new singles by both Blur and Oasis prompted a media circus beyond any other in recent memory. The release of the two singles has, over the past week, been hyped up by the media into a true ‘battle of the bands’ with insults flying back and forth between both the musicians and fans alike and has resulted almost daily updates on the radio as to the sales progress of both singles. Not for a long time has there been quite so much speculation and interest in the potential chart positions of two records. As thee week progressed it became clear that one would end up the winner and become and instant Number One. Oasis with the larger dedicated fan base started out strongest with sales of their single outstripping Blur easily at the start of the week. Gradually though, the difference was clawed back as the more commercial Blur single picked up sales from the more casual record buyers at the end of the week and by the end of Saturday the result was in no doubt at all. So it is then that one of the most popular groups in the country land their first ever Number One hit. ‘Country House’ is really a continuation of the style that characterised last year’s ‘Parklife’ album and which transformed them into something quite special. Wearing their influences on their sleeves, from the Kinks to the Small Faces yet at the same time producing a style of music that is indescribably Blur. It is no surprise at all that they should get a Number One single, following a string of hits since 1990 and the global attention that focused on them following the release of ‘Parklife’. The single also continues the remarkable string of records this year to hit Number One on their very first week. ‘Country House’ is the tenth record to top the charts since January and the sixth to do so first week out, thus equaling the record set in 1991. All that is left to do now is to wonder how the losers will view this situation after a week of both sides postulating that whoever won the battle would be confirmed as the bigger band…
So what of the ‘losers’? Oasis, despite their large following around the country and despite the fact that their last single was an instant No.1, eventually had to give way to the larger commercial audience for the Blur single. Having said that, the achievements of this single should not be overlooked. It gives Oasis a fifth Top 10 hit in a row and a hat trick of Top 3 hits. It also marks only the third occasion in chart history that the Top 2 records have both been new entries. Curiously enough both of the previous occasions were in weeks when media attention focused on the singles chart. The first was in December 1984 when Wham!’s ‘Last Christmas/Everything She Wants’ landed at No.2 behind the very first Band Aid single at Number One. The second occasion was in June 1989 when Jason Donovan’s ‘Sealed With A Kiss’ hit Number One to deny Cliff Richard a place at the top with his 100th single release ‘The Best Of Me’. After the hype though comes the reality and I suspect as the media interest fades away, so will the Oasis single leaving Blur high and dry at the top. Whilst many people I suspect watched on in bemusement as the release of two pop records made news items on TV and Radio it is worth at least reflecting on the fact that, if only for one week, the release of a single became a genuine event, worthy of attention and interest at the highest level. It brought people into record shops who would normally only visit at Christmas time and brought to the attention of millions the two bands currently leading the field in this golden age of British pop. Amen to that.
[2015 James notes: And there you have it, proof that even at the time those of us close to the situation were quite aware that this was something rather historic and that we might possibly be on the verge of something rather special. 1995 saw record sales and singles sales in particular start to emerge from their start of the decade nadir and what helped no end was an event that once more reminded everyone that the singles chart had the potential to really, really matter.]
Underneath all the Blur/Oasis hype was sensation of another kind as the shops were flooded with a rash of new releases by major acts, all of which ended up tussling for the lower chart places. It makes for a very busy chart indeed with no less than 15 new entries inside the Top 40. The highest of the ‘also-rans’ were Clock, notching up their third Top 10 hit in a row following chart successes earlier this year with covers of ‘Axel F’ and ‘Whoomph! (There It Is)’. The new single fits snugly in the mould carved out by the previous two, a lively electronic dance record which is commercial enough to find appeal on the radio as well as the more mainstream dance floors. Part of the appeal of Clock is the way they are not just a bunch of faceless producers but an act with a consistent team of faces performing the singles and a brilliant line in dance routines. I remember commenting on this after they performed ‘Axel F’ on television earlier this year only to receive a frustrated email from their management complaining that no TV shows seemed to want to book them. Hopefully that now is changing.
There was a time when a new Madonna release would be an event in itself. This week she was relegated almost to a footnote in the list of new releases but that did not stop her landing another instant Top 10 hit to further affirm her place as one of the most successful female artists in chart history. The failure at Christmas for ‘Take A Bow’ to progress any further than No.16 brought her record of consecutive Top 10 hits to a screaming halt but she has bounced back since, first of all with ‘Bedtime Story’ making No.4 back in February and now with ‘Human Nature’ giving her her 35th Top 10 hit, more than any other artist ever save for the usual leaders of lists such as this – Elvis Presley and Cliff Richard with 55 and 63 to their names respectively. The success of this single still does not detract from the fact, however, that she is falling deeper and deeper into the rut that seems to affect all superstars at some stage in their career – releasing records that sell simply because of the name behind them rather than their quality as pop records. Even the most hardened Madonna fan would not argue that ‘Human Nature’ is vastly inferior to many of the classics she has produced in the past and if she heads down this road she may find her commercial stock declining very quickly, especially now at 37 and over ten years into her career she is no longer the idol for millions of teenagers she once was. This kind of rut is by no means inescapable as the recent chart rehabilitation of artists like Diana Ross have proven – something which must give Stevie Wonder cause for hope.
[2015 James notes: OK, now that was quite funny to read – the fact that my main concern over Madonna at the time was “is it possible she is getting all a bit too old for this”. 20 years later she is not quite the force she once was, but a new release of hers still manages to be something of an event. Never mind the fact that even at the time she was on the very of her late 90s renaissance thanks to her “work with the hottest producer of the moment” phase.]
It seems to be a week for British groups. Whilst Blur celebrate the peak of their career so far, some of their contemporaries from almost five years ago find themselves with their biggest hit for a long time. When Blur first had a smash hit in 1991 they were building on the success of bands such as the Charlatans who had proved there was life after the baggy Manchester sound of the Stone Roses and Happy Mondays and who were arguably one of the original 90s guitar bands. Their biggest commercial success came in 1990 when their debut chart hit ‘The Only One I Know’ reached No.9. Despite the odd hit single they have in effect drifted into the background until now. Suddenly the music press have woken up the fact that the Charlatans are actually quite good and following minor hits earlier this year with ‘Crashin’ In’ and ‘Just Lookin’ (what do they have against the letter ‘G’?) the band explode into the Top 20 with a single that matches the peak of ‘Then’ in 1990 to become their second biggest hit ever. As the band prepare to release their fifth album it appears they are about to experience a second coming. After all, it took REM five albums to hit big and ‘Parklife’ was Blur’s third long player…
A rush of hype and a rush of new entries also has an effect on the records already on the chart. Just one or two climbers in a week is by no means uncommon but this week, possibly as a direct result of all the attention paid to the week’s new releases, sees a unique chart situation. For the first time ever there are no climbers at all inside the Top 40. Not one. Aside from the new entries, the only records to even maintain their positions from last week are Deuce at No.13 and Alanis Morrissette at No.22.
Dance music’s summer of rememberance continues as for the third week running a past hit is resurrected and given new life with a new set of remixes. ‘Son Of A Gun. and ‘Don’t You Want Me’ are joined in the Top 40 by this record from Xpansions. one which has had quite a chequered history. Back in 1991 it actually benefitted in the same way as many records today, Ritchie Malone’s track first being released in October 1990 when it only reached No.49. After retitling the track after its hookline he tried again in February 1991 and was rewarded with a No.7 hit. Now, four years later the track is resurrected to crash straight back into the charts and entertain a new generation of clubbers. Where will it end? The trick now I suppose is not to despair for the future of dance music but to speculate which 90s dance hit is next for a revival. My money is on Cola Boy’s ‘7 Ways To Love’, all other suggestions are gratefully received.
[2015 James notes: yeah, that last bit never happened.]
Michelle Gayle is possibly unique. Many former soap stars have released records in the past but Michelle Gayle is virtually the only one to have shaken off the ‘actress’ tag completely and transformed herself into a credible singing talent. Part of that is due to the quality of the songs she is given to sing. ‘Sweetness’ was arguably the first, the Narada Michael Walden track which made No.4 in September 1994 and this has been followed by two more: ‘I’ll Find You’ and ‘Freedom’. Now comes her biggest and best hit since ‘Sweetness’, another slickly produced pop/dance track in the Eternal mould, complete with a rap at the start. I’m sorry if this throws credibility to the wind, but I like this enough to resist the temptation to make a cheeky comment about its use of an old Chic bassline. So I won’t.
The Real McCoy are a curious act, having managed to supplant most of the current rules and traditions and gone off and had hits in America as well as all over Europe. Their fourth hit is this one, a track currently climbing the US Hot 100 in the same manner as their previous hits. It is typical Euro dance, an uptempo beat, a high powered rap and a catchy female vocal, this time one which is too similar to Cyndi Lauper’s ‘(Hey Now) Girls Just Wanna Have Fun) to be accidental but that is not to detract from the success of the track. It gives the German act four Top 20 hits in a row.
[2015 James notes: yep, walking musical encyclopaedia and avid student of pop music history that I was, I’d never heard of Redbone’s Come And Get Your Love at that point and had no inkling of where the Real McCoy track had come from. To think I was paid for this rubbish.]
Bjork singles are usually quite a hit and miss affair, the sheer diversity of the music she puts on her albums means that no two releases are ever alike. One Little Indian records have quite sensibly waited for all the initial fuss surrounding the ‘Post’ album to die down before releasing a second single to follow ‘Army Of Me’ which made No.10 back in May. ‘Isobel’ finds the Icelandic pixie in an ethereal mood with one of those strange meandering songs which shows off her voice to brilliant effect yet hardly makes for a commercial pop single. Never mind, as any Bjork fan will tell you there is one track from the album which received all the attention when it was first released and which is due for single release some time this autumn and which is almost certain to become one of her biggest hits ever. I won’t spoil the surprise for those of you still in the dark…
[2015 James notes: summer ’95 and all anyone cared about was when It’s Oh So Quiet was getting its single release. Nothing else Bjork did mattered at that point. And anyway, when was the “Icelandic pixie” not in ethereal mood?]
Ali Campbell’s first solo single ‘That Look In Your Eye’ was released with little ceremony or fanfare yet quickly established itself as a radio favourite and had a creditable 8 week stay in the Top 40. His second single uses a trick he has used with UB40 on many occasions, resurrecting a long lost reggae classic and turning it into a commercial hit. ‘Let Your Yeah Be Yeah’ was first a hit for the Pioneers back in 1971 when it reached No.5.
One of the more popular dance hits of the moment, the Happy Clappers chart slightly lower than was expected in many quarters. It is their second hit this year, following on from ‘I Believe’ which made No.21 back in June
Summer it is, as if you hadn’t noticed, and there is always a market for a single crafted especially for the occasion. In the spirit of the age, the summer records this year have been based largely around past classics. Shaggy’s remake of ‘In The Summertime’ was the first and here comes another, Eusebe creating a new track around Marvin Gaye’s 1982 classic ‘Sexual Healing’. A small hit I suspect, lacking as much chart potential as it does originality.
OK deep breath, are you ready for this? For most of this year continental dance floors have been filled as a result of a very strange joke. It began in Holland when a DJ there ‘rediscovered’ the old Smokie classic ‘Living Next Door To Alice’ (which first made No.5 here in 1976). Somewhere along the way the joke was created of pausing the song every time ‘Alice’ was mentioned so the crowd could shout “Alice? Who the f*** is Alice?” A record was duly made and Gompie’s ‘Alice (Who The X Is Alice)’ promptly raced up the charts all over Europe. Back in May the concept was exported over here along with the record and the track made a brief appearance in the Top 40 and reached No.34. Call it the British sense of humour if you will, but clearly not enough people got the joke. Around the same time the original artists attempted to cash in on the craze and recorded their own bowlderisation of the song that has kept them on the radio for the past 20 years, teaming up with foul-mouthed comedian Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown to add the obscenities. This version made a brief appearance back in May at the lower end of the charts but ultimately lost out to Gompie’s ‘original’ remake. Meanwhile the craze lingered on in Europe, long enough for the usual hordes of British holidaymakers to hear it and create a demand for it back home. This has now prompted the re-release of both versions of the song only for Smokie’s version to curiously emerge the winner at this stage. Quite what will happen now is anyone’s guess. Radio of course will avoid the record like the plague whilst the rest of us will sit and wonder just why shouting ‘Who The F*** is Alice?” should be so funny in the first place.
[2015 James notes: lighten up younger self, and learn to recognise something juvenile and piss funny when you see it.]
‘Nuff respect to Cyndi Lauper. Never one to fit into a traditional mould, virtually every single she releases has something to set it apart from all the others, even if this doesn’t always translate into massive commercial success. Not that she is without smash hits though, her last success being her inspired remake of ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’ which soared to No.4 ten years after her own original version reached No.2. Since then she has fallen back into her usual pattern of having minor hit singles, ‘Come On Home’ follows on from ‘I’m Gonna Be Strong’ which reached No.37 earlier this year. It’s a shame really as even her smaller hits are fabulous records, the cod-reggae of ‘Come On Home’ proving the point exactly.
Wow, is this going to be fun. The late 1980s saw the phenomenon of the teen idol switch into overdrive. The demise of Wham! in 1986 had left a huge gap in the market for a band of pretty boys making pop music to sell to 13 year old girls. There seemed to be virtually one every year, from A-Ha to Curiosity Killed the Cat until we reached 1988 and Bros exploded onto the scene. They seemed to be a perfect idea, two pretty, blonde, identical twin boys along with a third not-so pretty unrelated member who was offloaded a year later. Matt and Luke Goss became the biggest pair of pin ups Britain had seen in years and scored a string of hit singles which included a Number One in June 1988 in the shape of ‘I Owe You Nothing’. There was, however, one crucial problem. Nobody liked them. You can have all the screaming girls you want buying your records and attending your concerts but if the massed ranks of the music press plus most other record buyers think you are a pair of berks then you are doomed to failure. This is what happened to the Goss twins, no matter what the quality of the music they put out, the industry spent a great deal of time sniggering up its sleeves at the group, noting down every platitude they uttered in interviews and watching, waiting for them to fall. ‘Record Mirror’ in the days when it was a weekly music magazine in its own right even ran a ‘deface the Bros picture’ competition. The end ultimately came, slowly and painfully in 1991 when their third album flopped and their last single ‘Try’ (ironically one of the best things they ever did) only reached No.27. The brothers broke up, reportedly fell out with each other and set out to figure out why the record company had apparantly made more money from the whole affair than they did. Inevitably the music business had not seen the last of the Goss twins. Luke Goss was the first to break cover, forming his own band ‘Like Goss and the Band Of Thieves’ in 1993. He released two singles which deserved better than to just miss the Top 50 and proved himself to be a pretty competent rock vocalist as well as a drummer. Now it is the turn of Matt, Bros’ singer to attempt to launch a solo career. ‘The Key’ is virtually indistinguishable from some Bros album tracks, a funky track that tries desperately to be credible yet spoiled by Matt Goss’ insistence on screeching the vocals. To be fair it is really the choice of song that is wrong, many Bros ballads proved that the lad does have a decent voice but he will need better material than this if he is to end up in the upper reaches of the charts once more.
My only regret? That the internet archive didn’t stumble across dotmusic until 1997 so there was no chance of seeing this piece in its original habitat so to speak. The earliest archived column is one from the spring of 1997.
As far as the Battle Of Britpop is concerned, I guess that has to be the final word. Or at least until I come to write the Top 40 Annual 1995, some time in the next five years or so (at present rate of attrition).