Checking on this week’s chart surprised me, even though I was aware that these days an artist might have several songs in the charts at once. Fifteen of the top 40 singles all featured Drake or Harry Styles including four in the top ten.
This is not the charts as most of us remember and I doubt younger folk remember anything about the charts at all. There was a time when any chart placing could be important. For indie bands who had signed to a major record company just having a top forty hit was a success and would help with the promotion of the album.
Other more established artists would measure success by being top twenty or top ten. A small artist without major label backing would be seen to have had great success making the top seventy-five or even top hundred.
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An artist’s career would often depend on album chart placings with again a newly signed band being set a target of top twenty or top fifty depending on their status. While Adele or Ed Sheeran may have several albums in the chart at once generally the album charts are more recognisable of old but that hides the fact that the sales involved are dramatically lower.
Even worse is when other charts are quoted as a sign of success and to take an extreme example normally sales of 15 or more will secure a Scottish album chart placing. This week 27 is enough to be in the top hundred, 49 to be top 50 and 68 gets you top 30. Even top ten is regularly very low hundreds.
Kate Bush has reached the top of the charts for the last two weeks by registering just under 80,000 each week, which bears no comparison with the old chart sales.
Clearly the publicity generated over Running Up That Hill has done Kate Bush’s career no harm at all but it is an exception and has more to do with the popularity of Stranger Things than any interest in the charts.
Despite the fact customers now pay scant attention record companies, labels and artists still go to great lengths to boost chart placings which with the low numbers is now far easier to do.
Along with Top of the Pops, the singles chart was an essential part of growing up for many and while there are now other ways of accessing popular music they have not become replacements.
The charts are now only really important internally within the music industry and beyond giving an artist the chance to claim success on social media have little other purpose.
Whether the powers that be recognise the charts are no longer fit for purpose and have a drastic rethink despite the deep-rooted vested interests involved only time will tell but stranger things have happened!