The Official Charts “have been a central part of British popular culture for 60 years” and it seems that there are no plans for this to stop. The Official Charts has been a constant impact for music since its inception in 1952, where Al Martino’s “Here In My Heart” gained the first ever top spot. Over the years, it has changed the music industry and has shaped it to what it is today. But how does it really work? InterMusic is here to take you through the history of the Official Charts.
The very first charts were assembled by the New Music Express (NME) on 14th November 1952. In doing this, there was a different process to what occurs today. The NME would “pick up the phone, call a few retailers and note down their sales to create the first sales charts in UK history”. This was a Top 12 Singles Chart. It was not until 1st October 1954 that the Official Singles Chart became a Top 20 Singles Chart. On 13th April 1956, it became a Top 30 Singles Chart. However, NME rival Record Mirror rose the competition by collating the first UK Albums Chart on 28th July 1956. This was a Top 5 Albums Chart.
With competitors striking from various music papers, the year 1960 saw Record Retailer’s singles and album charts become prominent as the “official” charts for majority of the UK record industry. The Record Retailer’s charts comprised of a Top 50 and a Top 20. It was not until 1966 that Record Retailer’s Album Chart increased from a Top 20 to a Top 40. With BBC Radio 1 first airing in 1967, it was not until 1969 that the BBC and Record Retailer came together to air the chart process. In doing this, the British Market Research Bureau (BMRB) was created to compile the charts on their behalf. This certified this as the first industry-recognised charts and the UK’s “official” charts.
The 1970s – The 1990s
It was not until 1978 that the Official Singles Chart was expanded from the Top 50 to the Top 75, while the Official Album Chart also increased to the Top 75.
In 1983, Gallup ended BMRB’s time as the contractor of the charts, thus taking over the Official Charts. Gallup’s new system introduced a Top 200 singles and albums charts but only publishing the Top 100. In 1987, the weekly chart announcements were moved from Tuesday lunchtime to Sunday afternoon.
In 1990, chart rules limited the number of formats that could contribute to any Official Singles Chart position to a total of five. The limit changed from five to four in the following year. Kantar Millward Brown took over the chart compilation contract from Gallup in 1994. However, in 1998, the BPI and ERA set up a new joint venture to take over ownership of the UK’s Official Charts.
The 21st Century
In 2004, legitimate downloads reached the United Kingdom for the first time; seeing the launch of iTunes in the UK and the Official Download Chart. With the Official Download Chart commencing, 2005 saw singles downloads outselling CD singles. The following July saw downloads counting toward the Official Singles Chart.
As we entered 2010, the Official Charts launched the Official Chart Update; comprising of the sales from Sunday, Monday and Tuesday and announced on Wednesday afternoon. While the Official Charts Company have been collecting information about streaming since 2008, it was not until 2014 that streaming became an integral part of the Official Charts.
The rule is that 100 audio streams (from services like Spotify) are equivalent to a single purchase of a single. The addition of streams has brought a huge change in the history of the Official Charts. Since music is distributed in different ways and has advanced over the course of the years, the Official Charts has developed to meet the requirements of music distribution across the country.
The Official Charts: Today
Today, the music sector of the Official Charts operates a Friday to Thursday chart week, in which sales are counted from 00:01am on Friday to 00:00am on the following Friday. Just after midnight on every morning from Saturday to Thurday, Kantar Millward Brown receive feeds of data from over 15000 chart-reporting retailers. These feeds of data represent approximately 99% of the singles market and 98% of the albums market. As the week progresses, all of the sales are matched against databases of products held by Kantar Millward Brown and verified each day. By Friday lunchtime, the final data has been collated and industry clients receive their first look at the totals for the week. Multiple breakdowns of each title’s weekly performance are provided. This includes daily breakdowns and looks at region, format and retailer type.
The Official Charts have been described, not only as an “authority on what is popular in Britain“, but as being British pop culture. The Official Charts recognises the distribution of music by showing what is popular every week and trends of music consumers. With streaming being integral to the Official Charts, it shows a new era for the evolution of music distribution. The Official Charts shapes itself to follow the trends of music distribution from its inception 1952 to 2019.