Music charts in the UK began 60 years ago, when the New Musical Express magazine gathered a pool of 52 stores willing to report sales figures.
The results were aggregated into a Top 12, with Al Martino’s Here in My Heart awarded the first number one spot. The chart was expanded into a Top 20 on 1 October 1954, and rival publications began compiling their own charts in 1955.
In 1969 Record Retailer and the BBC commissioned the British Market Research Bureau (BMRB) to compile an official UK chart based on sales taken up to the close of trade on Saturday in a sample of record shops. The sales diaries were translated into computer readable punch cards and a computer compiled the chart on Monday, ready for BBC broadcast on Tuesday.
Over the next 30 years the contract for compiling the official UK chart was awarded to various companies and is currently compiled by The Official Charts Company on behalf of the British record industry. To qualify for inclusion, a track must be available in an eligible format. This has grown over time to include cassettes, CDs, DVDs, and MiniDiscs as well as traditional vinyl records. From 2007, downloaded music became eligible to chart, effectively turning the singles chart into a ‘songs’ chart. Once downloads were included in the charts, Snow Patrol’s Chasing Cars reached 108 weeks on the UK chart, a record bettered by only one single in chart history, My Way, by Frank Sinatra, with 124 weeks.
Although illegal sharing of music online has certainly had an impact on music sales, the collapse in the sale of singles largely predates this: between 1997 and 2003, annual trade deliveries of singles fell by 57%, from 87m to 36m. Indeed, the internet has reinvigorated the market, and retail sales have since risen from 31m in 2003 to 178m in 2011. As late as 2004, CDs accounted for three-quarters of singles sales, but downloaded music has since come to dominate, and today accounts for more than 98% of purchases. Run by Leona Lewis (2007) became the first number one hit that was never released in a physical format.
On the other hand, the advent of digital music has failed to reverse the declining trend in album sales over the last decade. To what extent this is down to illegal sharing, or to consumers now being able to purchase songs online that would previously only have been available by buying a whole album, is unclear.
Broken record. The chart shows annual album sales by format since 1964.