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: a lengthy comment thread then follows as readers give their own takes.
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 close to halfway through. I’m hoping to catch up by 2013, but we’ll see.
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. Former comments regular Marcello Carlin explains what happened here – this topic has been quite exhaustively discussed in the comments section! I have no plans to cover these unofficial number ones – regretfully in some cases.
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 YouTube in some capacity or other. Because they’re well known we don’t provide downloadable MP3s of them (and we have bandwidth to think about!)
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 “There’s No One Quite Like Grandma”, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
Where do you find the singles sleeves that illustrate the entries? The mighty Steve M does it.
It would be awesome if there were a club night that played only number one hits, inspired by this project! Indeed it would! Club Popular is indeed such a night, and we run one about once a year as part of the Poptimism club night.
Do you do any other writing? I write stuff on the rest of Freaky Trigger, I have a regular column at pitchforkmedia.com and write record reviews there sometimes too, and I moderate a pop community on LiveJournal called Poptimists. My day job is as a social media guru at a market research firm, and you can read my thoughts about that at Blackbeardblog.
I HAS ANOTHER QUESTION! Ask it in the comments box!
Tom in • 2,047 views