The Life and Times of the Official Charts

To mark the introduction of streaming into the Official Singles Chart, we take a look at other milestones in the Official Chart’s 62-year history

To mark the introduction of streaming into the Official Singles Chart, we take a look at some of the big moments from the Official Chart’s 62-year history.

Next month sees the latest evolution of the Official Chart, with streaming set to be included in the Official Singles Chart for the very first time.

Before we mark this latest evolution in over 60 years of Official Chart history, let’s take a look at some of the big moments – and the biggest stars – in the Official Charts story so far.

1952 – The birth of the chart

In November 1952, the very first incarnation of the Official Chart made its debut, published in the New Musical Express (now better know as the NME) and compiled using the very technical – but pretty accurate – method of the NME’s Percy Dickins phoning round a handful of shops and asking what they’d been selling that week. Kicking off as a Top 12, the very first chart-topper was Al Martino’s Here In My Heart.

1955 – Pick Of The Pops

The BBC launched a very early version of a chart show, which had its own chart based on information compiled from charts published in Melody Maker, NME, Disc and Record Mirror. It was clear there was demand for a definitive chart, but it took a little longer than you might think…

1956 – Albums join the chart party

The very first album chart was a teeny-weeny Top 5, published in Record Mirror. The first Number 1 album was Frank Sinatra's Songs For Swingin' Lovers.

1957 – Long live the King!

1957 saw the first ever Number 1 for rock and roll legend Elvis Presley in 1957, with All Shook Up. He’d go on to have another 20, making him the act with the most Number 1s to date. But we’re sure Rihanna is working on it…

1964 – Top of The Pops

The first edition of the iconic BBC music show counted down a Top 20 that featured SIX records by The Beatles – they’d had their very first Number 1, From Me To You, the year before and Beatlemania was in full swing. John, Paul, George and Ringo had 17 Number 1s together, more than any other pop group.

1967 – Radio 1 rocks

In 1967, Radio 1 was launched, beginning a lifelong friendship with the Official Charts! Number 1 that week was Engelbert Humperdinck’s The Last Waltz.

1969 – The charts come together

As the influence of the chart grew, it became more important to have an accurate, recognised chart in place of the various charts that helped make up the BBC’s chart. The chart, compiled by BMRB, was produced with data from 250 record shops. The Top 40 singles chart came out on Tuesdays and the albums chart a day later.

1975 – Queen’s crowning glory

Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody topped the Official Singles Chart for the first time, as Christmas Number 1 for 1975. It remains the only song to be Christmas Number 1 twice with the same version. In 1991, Bohemian Rhapsody scored Christmas Number 1 again following the death of Queen frontman Freddie Mercury. The song has topped topped the chart in four different calendar years – 1975, 1976, 1991 and 1992. Queen's Greatest Hits album was the first album to sell six million copies in the UK

1976 – The full 12”

12” singles were launched, meaning we could all dance to our favourite tunes a little bit longer before we had to turn the record over (ask your mum).

1978 – The first double million seller

Ex-Beatle Paul McCartney scored the first song to sell over two million copies. His song with Wings, Mull Of Kintyre, is one of only four songs to sell over two million copies in the UK. The others (as of today) are Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas and Elton John’s Candle In The Wind ’97.

1979 – Singles mania

The pop-loving UK sure likes its singles, and we really, really loved them in 1979. It was the biggest year for singles sales in the pre-digital age, with a whopping 89 million singles sold! The biggest hits of the year included I Don’t Like Mondays, Another Brick In The Wall (Part II), Bright Eyes, YMCA, I Will Survive, Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick and Heart Of Glass –a super varied chart including punk, ska, disco, new wave, rock and good old-fashioned cheesy pop.

1979 – We got it taped!

The first ever cassette single (or cassingle, as almost nobody ever called them) was born! Hours of fun spent shoving a biro in it and trying to wind chewed tape back in.

1983 – The Official Chart goes electronic

As the thirst for a super-accurate chart increased, the age-old system of delivering data from shops by bicycle courier was retired and, in its place, the swish electronic data collection system Dataport, introduced by new chart compilers Gallup. It was a big turning point for the chart, and the first time Top 200 singles and albums charts were produced. And the first Number 1 from this swanky, ultra-modern chart? Um, it was Renee and Renato’s Save Your Love. Emotional times.

1984 – Band Aid breaks records

Released in December, Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas broke all chart records at that time, becoming the fastest-selling single with over 600,000 copies sold in the first week, and 810,000 copies in the second. Before the end of the month, it had sold over 2 million copies. This record would eventually be broken in 1997 by Elton John. Another record breaker that week was Wham’s Last Christmas, which scored the biggest one-week sales without ever reaching Number 1 – selling 500,000 copies but losing out to Band Aid.

1985 – All hail Madonna, holy mother of pop

Summer 1985 saw US superstar Madonna score her first UK Number 1 with Into The Groove, from the movie Desperately Seeking Susan. Still her bestselling single in the UK, it would be followed by 12 more chart-toppers, giving her more UK Number 1s than any other female artist.

1987 – Sundays changed for ever

Thanks to new technical wizardry, the UK Official Singles Chart became the fastest, most accurate chart ever, with the Number 1 announced less than 24 hours after the chart sales period had ended. The new Official Chart Show on Radio 1 meant Sunday nights were never the same again for a new generation – it almost made the prospect of going to school the next day worth it. Almost.

1990 – Big year for video

Dirty Dancing became the first video to sell a million copies in the UK, while in December 1990, Disney’s Lady And The Tramp became the first video to sell 1.5 million copies.

1991 – Bryan Adams’ summer of, er, ‘91

Thanks to the success of the Kevin Costner movie Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves, the theme song by Canadian rocker Bryan Adams, (Everything I Do) I Do It For You became a new record-breaker, staying at the summit of the Official Singles Chart for a whopping 16 weeks – that’s about four months to you and me. If you weren’t a fan of emotional rock ballads, it was a loooong summer.

Oh, and somewhere in Germany, some scientific boffins were wondering whehter to carry on with a little project they had going which would, in years to come, invent the MP3. We think you can guess how this one ends, right?

1992 – Whitney will always love being Number 1

Whitney Houston’s Bodyguard theme song I Will Always Love You – a cover of a Dolly Parton track – spends 10 weeks at the top and is 1992’s Christmas Number 1.

1994 – A triple-wet summer

The era of Gallup drew to a close, with new market research company Millward Brown taking over compilation for the first time on February 1. Within six months, Wet Wet Wet took over at the top of the Official Singles Chart with Love Is All Around, staying at the summit for 15 weeks until the band decided to stop manufacturing copies of the single and give us a break. It does mean they stopped short of equalling Bryan Adams’ record of 16 weeks from 1991 – we appreciate their humanitarian act.

1994 – A first for Whigfield

Whigfield broke a new record with her first ever UK single. Saturday Night (“dee dee na na na”) went straight in at Number 1, the first debut single to enter at the top of the Official Singles Chart.

1995 – Britpop battles

One of the most-hyped races for Number 1 of all time, Britpop rivals Blur and Oasis battled it out for the top spot with brand new singles. It was Blur who won this round, their track Country House scored the big one, leaving the Manchester bad boys settling for second place with Roll With It.

1996 – Spicemania

In 1996, the world met Scary, Sporty, Ginger, Baby and Posh for the first time, when Wannabe spent 7 weeks at Number 1. The girls would have six consecutive Number 1s, nine altogether, and three of those would be Christmas Number 1s!

1997 – Elton smashes records

At the funeral of Diana, Princess Of Wales, Elton John performed a new 1997 version of his ‘70s hit Candle In The Wind. Released with Something About The Way You Look Tonight, the song sold over 650,000 copies in its first week on sale, and over 1.5 million the following week, with a further million copies flying off the shelves the week after. Within five weeks, the song had sold over 4 million copies – it’s still the biggest selling British single of all time.

1998 – Hello us!

Music Industry Chart Services was born, taking over the organisation of the Official Charts. Three years later, we got our hair did, treated ourselves to a new wardrobe and, to celebrate our new look, changed our name to the Official Charts Company – and we’ve been keeping our eye on what you’ve been watching and listening to ever since.

1998 – Cher returns

You should never underestimate Cher – the popstar chameleon who’s had more reinventions than most of us have had Cornish pasties and a career stretching back to the ‘60s. In 1998, she was the comeback kid, and her single Believe exceeded even her expectations, spending seven weeks at Number 1 and shifting over 1.5 million copies. Despite being released in November, it finished as bestselling single of 1998. Not only that, it’s still the bestselling single by a female artist of all time in the UK.

1999 – A Number 1 for the new millennium

Westlife claimed another chart-topper with I Have A Dream/Seasons In The Sun which gets the honour of being the last Number 1 of the 20th century and the first of the 21st! Altogether the boys scored 14 Number 1s on the Official Singles Chart.

2002- Back to reality

Thanks to ITV’s Saturday night talent show Pop Idol, Will Young and Gareth Gates both score Number 1s and million-sellers, ushering in the era of reality TV pop? Winner Will Young’s Anything Is Possible/Evergreen scored the biggest first day (403,000 copies) and first week (1.1m copies) sales for a non-charity record. As for Gareth Gates, who was the initial Pop Idol favourite but had to settle for runner-up position) followed up with Unchained Melody, which had four weeks at Number 1, selling 850,000 in its first week. Oh, and in 2002 a little gadget called the iPod was launched. You might have heard of it.

2004 – Clickety-click! The Official Download Singles Chart is born!

Downloading services like iTunes opened for business and when people are buying music, it needs to be charted! The first Number 1 of the very first Official Download Singles Chart in November 2004 was a live version of Westlife’s Flying Without Wings.

2005 – Downloads get busy in the Singles Chart

For the first time, in July 2005, downloads started counting toward the Official Singles Chart. At first, downloads only counted the week before the physical release (the CD, basically) hit the shops. This changed in January 2007, when all downloads, regardless of release date, were eligible.

2006 – Gnarls Barkley score a first

Gnarls Barkley not only saw their debut single go straight in at the top in April, it was also the first song to hit Number 1 based on downloads alone. The song would go on to spend nine weeks at the top.

2007 – Rihanna got her brolly out

Yes, 2007 saw Rihanna nab her first ever Number 1 single with Umbrella, thanks in part to the UK suffering a miserably wet summer. The track spent 10 weeks at Number 1 while we all sang along in the pouring rain. She’s had eight chart-toppers in the UK, and Rihanna is also the only female artist in the history of the Official Charts to have featured on seven Number 1 singles in seven consecutive years (2007's Umbrella, 2008's Take A Bow, 2009's Run This Town, 2010's Only Girl In The World, 2011's We Found Love, 2012’s Diamonds and 2013’s The Monster). Basically, Rihanna is addicted to being in the charts and shows no sign of slowing up.

2008 – Stream come true

Music consumption evolved even further as streaming services started to become popular. In 2008, Spotify launched in beta.

2010 – Midweek sneak peek

Industry bods had always had access to the ‘midweeks’ – latest sales updates from the Official Charts’ super-sophisticated system that told insiders just who was selling what. Now, for the first time, we could all see just what was happening at the halfway stage in the Official Singles Chart and the Official Albums Chart race, through the Official Chart Update – a snapshot of the week’s sales up until midnight Tuesday, announced on Radio 1 on Wednesday afternoons. Would your favourite act stay at the top come the final whistle Sunday?

2011 – Maroon 5’s Jagger moves weren’t quite slick enough…

Despite huge sales, Maroon 5’s collaboration with Christina Aguilera was destined to be a runner-up. The track spent 7 weeks at Number 2, beaten to the top by songs by Example, Rihanna FT Calvin Harris, Sak Noel, Pixie Lott, One Direction and Dappy! Although it never made it to Number 1, it still sold over a million copies in its first year of release and was the second biggest selling single of 2011 – just behind Adele’s Someone Like You. On one occasion, Moves Like Jagger missed out on the Number 1 spot by only 260 copies! Always the bridesmaid, that’s Moves Like Jagger – but such a pretty one, so that’s something, eh?

2012 – Streaming chart says hello

In May 2012, the Official Streaming Chart was launched – for the first time details of the most streamed tracks from a variety of services were published. The very first Number 1 was Carly Rae Jepsen’s Call Me Maybe. The most streamed act of 2012 was Ed Sheeran.

2013 – Daft Punk domination

Not only did Daft Punk’s Get Lucky sell a million copies in just 69 days, it was the first track to be streamed a MILLION times.

2013 – 1,000 Number 1 albums

Robbie Williams’ Christmas album Swings Both Ways was the 1,000th Number 1 album in November 2013. It was a fitting winner – the very first Number 1 album back in July 1956 was Frank Sinatra’s Songs For SwinginLovers.

2014 – Streaming gets a welcome to the Official Singles Chart

And now to the latest chapter of the Official Charts story. For the first time, from July 6, streaming will be counted in the Official Singles Chart, in recognition of the large contribution streaming makes to the singles market. As music buying changes, so must the charts. We’ve been constantly evolving for over 60 years to remain the most up-to-date, accurate chart, truly reflective of music consumption, in the UK. We can’t wait to see what the next 60 years will bring!

What’s been your biggest chart moment? What is your favourite moment of chart history? Tell it like it is on Facebook and Twitter.

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