The Charts

Jul 13

Number Ones vs History

FT//17 comments • 1,767 views

Commenter Nixon, on another thread, asked this: “we’re now past the 40-year mark, long enough for trends to emerge… do you think that the list of UK number ones, taken as a weird at-a-glance sweep of British music history, very broadly accurately reflects that history?“. I gave a long reply, and writing it, it struck me that my answer was fairly central to the Popular project and that the question deserved more exposure than being Comment #44 on an Outhere Brothers thread was likely to give it. So here we are, slightly edited from its original form.

Number Ones? They mean nothing to me...

Number Ones? They mean nothing to me…

This is sort of the central question Popular wanted to answer – it reflects *a* history, but which one? I don’t think “accurately reflects that history” is meaningful though – there isn’t an accurate pop history to reflect, there’s a sense of ‘what happened’ and ‘what mattered’ which is a mix of personal memories, received wisdom, critical takes and commercial realities, which themselves may not be realities given the distortions of sales data methodologies.

When pop history is written – literally written, in books or articles or lists, the version of pop history that is PLAYED is different again – it’s usually written by the critical winners, not the commercial ones. So if the question is – how well do Number Ones map onto that? – the answer varies. If you look at it by genre, then for some things – Merseybeat, glam, new wave, the house music revolution, 00s R&B – it does very well. For others – metal, punk, Britpop, progressive rock, hip-hop up to a point – it seems to do quite poorly.


Jan 10

The Dark Matter Of Pop

FT/31 comments • 942 views

I have a new (fortnightly) column in the Guardian – the first instalment is here. I posted that link on Tumblr last night and The Lex left an interesting comment, which I’m going to excerpt:

“Illegal downloading is v much an elephant in the room here! Obviously there are no facts and figures but it’s so easy to find any given song for free – and almost all the time, way before it’s available to buy legally – that I really assume illegal downloads of singles vastly outstrip legal downloads. (And obviously there are plenty of demographic factors at play here too.) And that’s pretty much why I can’t take the charts seriously as a gauge of popularity.”

I know exactly what Lex means, but is he right to say “obviously there are no facts and figures”?