What is Popular? It’s a music writing project reviewing all the UK Number One hit singles, in order, from Al Martino’s “Here In My Heart” (1952) onwards. For each single I write a short review and give it a mark out of 10: readers then give their own takes in the comments and hearty discussion ensues (not always about the Number One).
When will it be finished? Good question! It won’t finish so much as “catch up”. It started in August 2003, and I’m now three-fifths through. It’s possible that something so major might happen in the composition of the charts that I think “That’s it, I’m stopping there” – not yet, though.
Where’s “Please Please Me”? Aren’t you missing some Number Ones? The source I’m using for my list of #1 singles is the canonical list provided by the Official Charts Company – the exact version I use is at Everyhit. In the 50s and throughout the 60s, though, there were several rival charts published and the official list selects sources from these. The side effect is that 30 or so records reached Number One on credible other charts – sometimes several credible other charts – but not the ‘official’ one. “Please Please Me” and “Stranger On The Shore” are probably the most notorious examples. Comments regular Marcello Carlin explains what happened here – this topic has been quite exhaustively discussed in the comments section! Should I turn Popular into a book project, I will fill in these gaps (and a few others).
How about “God Save The Queen” – you covered that! What about controversial ‘missing’ number ones? Wait and see! My rule of thumb with these is that I’ll write about them if I think it’ll make the blog more interesting (as was the case with GSTQ). In general, though, I’m sticking to the official list – flawed though it might be. You’ll notice that the Pistols didn’t get an official mark, though :)
Where can I hear these songs? How come I can’t download them from you? A lot of the songs are very well known. Almost all are on Spotify or YouTube in some capacity or other.
How does the marking system work? I write the review, then give it a mark based on how I feel about the track at that instant in time. The marking system is a fun little add-on – the reviews and comments are the main point. Broadly speaking though, I try to keep the marks on a kind of “bell curve” – so a lot more 9s than 10s are given, and a lot more 8s than 9s, and so on with the most common score being 5 or 6. I am not trying to be “objective” in my marking – this is just what I think of the song at the moment I’m writing about it.
Will anything ever get 0 out of 10? No. The scale is 1 to 10. The worst record I’ve written about so far is “The Stonk”, which I gave 1 to.
Do the marks ever change? No. Pretty much the only rules I’ve given myself on Popular are that I never give a mark until I’ve finished the review, and I never change the marks. This means I sometimes regret marks almost immediately, but oh well. I do change the review sometimes to correct mistakes or gibberish. If I ever do it as a book, I will revise the early reviews considerably, and some of the marks.
I don’t know much about the songs and I wasn’t around at the time: can I still comment? Yes! A lot of the people commenting on Popular are experts – or have good strong memories – but anyone can join in and I’m interested in what people who’ve never heard the songs have to say, as much as people who grew up on them. Now we’re in the 1990s, the same goes for people who had given up on pop before these records topped the chart – if you have something to say, say it!
What is the “Readers Top 100” on the Populist page? Any registered user can put in their OWN mark out of 10 on any given song – the Readers’ Top 100 is an aggregated list of the highest-scoring ones, which updates a couple of times a day. If you want to see the average mark given to an invididual song you need to log in and vote on it. We don’t let unregistered users do it in order to avoid vote-floods from angry Peter Andre (or whoever) fans.
Do you ever delete or censor comments? I try not to – on the other hand it’s more important to me that the site remains a friendly one with a lot of different viewpoints than that a particular individual gets the last word in a flamewar. Generally I want to encourage arguments and discourage personal attacks and I moderate the site accordingly. Sometimes if an argument is getting circular and is likely to come up again anyway I will step in, too.
I was drunk last night and posted Des O’Connor fanfic on the “I Pretend” thread!! Can you delete it? If you regret comments, I will usually delete them if you ask. A possible exception would be if they’ve already spawned a huge discussion and the thread will become incomprehensible without them. In that case you’re better off retracting your post in another comment.
What do “spoilers” mean on Popular? The list of Number One singles is in the public domain, so anyone can see what’s coming up in the future on Popular. But direct discussion of upcoming number ones is discouraged until they actually get their own entry – this is what we mean by “spoilers”.
What’s all this about a bunny? What does “bunnied” mean? At some point a commenter – possibly Waldo AKA Jimmy The Swede – made spoilers incarnate in the form of the mysterious and terrifying “Spoiler Bunny”, a Candyman-type figure who would turn up and wreak lagomorphic horror if the spoiler rule (see above) was breached. This became a comments box in-joke. So “bunnied” basically means “embargoed from discussion because it’s a future No.1”
How come there are so many more comments on the entries from 1966 on? Popular took a while to build an audience, but it had a healthy comments box culture from about the time of the 1960 entries. Unfortunately, the comments system we used – Haloscan – at that time didn’t preserve comments past a certain point, and so the 1960-1965 entries saw a lot of their comments wiped out. Since we moved to WordPress this hasn’t been an issue.
Can I comment on an older entry? Yes! Please do! It might spark up the conversation again. On the front page of Freaky Trigger, on the right, there’s a sidebar with all recent comments, so we do see the ones on old entries, and so do some of our readers.
I commented and it didn’t show up! It may have been eaten by our spam filter. We don’t like moderated comments or CAPTCHAs so we have an open comments system, but the price of freedom is an occasionally over-eager filter. Within a day or so we can retrieve anything you post though, so if you just mention on the thread that a comment vanished we can go and find it. And if you register the spam filter is less ravenous.
Who does the awesome circular header pictures? The mighty Steve M.
It would be awesome if there were a club night that played only number one hits, inspired by this project! Indeed it would! We occasionally did such a night as part of our late Poptimism club night, and the format might be revived from time to time.
Do you do any other writing? I write stuff on the rest of Freaky Trigger. I used to write regular columns for Pitchforkmedia (called “Poptimist”) and The Guardian (called “Tom Ewing On Music”) and have contributed occasional reviews for those sites. I have an over-busy Tumblr. My day job is in market research, and I have a blog devoted to that, too.
Are you ever going to publish Popular as a book? If a publisher wanted it, I would – one problem is it’s rather long, so it would be quite a different beast in book form. I am also tempted to self-publish it, in which case I would revise a lot of the entries, possibly tweak the marks, add a bunch of material and potentially go the Kickstarter route. The main issue with all these is time: when it’s advancing at a decent clip Popular takes up a lot of time as it is, let alone the time needed for revisions.
Is there one of these for Number One Albums? There is. Then Play Long by Marcello Carlin.
Is there one of these for Number Two Singles? There is. Music Sounds Better With Two by Lena Friesen.
Is there one of these for US Number Ones? There is. No Hard Chords by Sally O’Rourke.
Is there one of these for Number Ones on the Billboard Latin Chart? There is. Bilbo’s Laptop by Jonathan Bogart.
I HAS ANOTHER QUESTION! Ask it in the comments box!