Naivety and the Charts

If you’ve been following me for a while or you just happen to glance at my home page you’ll find something called ‘THE UK NUMBER 1 CHALLENGE.’ So far I’ve listened up to 1985 (but only published to 1979… I like to spread things out so there’s a bit of variation in what’s published.)  My purpose in doing this is to demonstrate that the charts essentially mean nothing other than who sold the most records in one particular week. Just because a lot of people like a song it doesn’t necessarily mean it was a good one. It just sold more records than anybody else. That week could have been a slow week for sales or the selection on offer was just really bad. Not to mention, everybody has their own tastes and opinions on what makes good music. Take for instance a comment left on one of the pages. It was from a person who quite clearly disagreed with my opinions on one particular song which I really, really disliked… Which just goes to prove my point. There is probably a number 1 somewhere which I really like but that person hates. The music charts are basically worthless. All they are are a list of sales figures and a way of being able to mark your date of birth in terms of music, not how good a song is.

And then this week a couple of things came along that essentially shows that there are still people out there who believe otherwise…

First off was an advert for a CD Compilation entitled: NOW THAT’S WHAT I CALL A NUMBER 1! There have been hundreds and hundreds of these over the years, usually with some banal title claiming to be the best compilation of number 1s (like above… The advert says it’s: Classic Number 1’s to celebrate 60 years of the official singles charts). I’m not a big fan of compilation CD’s anyway… I’ll admit that in the depths of my own vast, vast CD collection I have a few select and incredibly specialised ones, they’re kind of useful for expanding your musical range when you’re working in radio. What I find is that they’re always a bit of a dud, no matter what they’re a compilation of. The reason for this is they always have the same kind of songs… Semi-known to awful tracks by mostly second rate artists with a few good ones thrown in for good measure. Now all the ones I have are a bit different… They have different songs on them to each other because i’m a bit of a freak when it comes to duplicated songs in my CD collection… (I should do a post on my CD collection actually!) But looking through the compilation CDs on the market you can see that a lot of them are just EXACTLY the same songs in a different order.

This isn’t something completely stupid… It’s actually blatantly obvious why they are mostly the same songs in a different order. It’s to do with licensing and record companies. You’ll rarely ever find the really big hitters like the Beatles or the Rolling Stones on these things… And why? Because the music licences are too expensive. The Beatles, for instance, have their entire back catalogue controlled by the Apple Label which is really strict about what goes on what CD (mainly NOT compilation CD’s… Even the ‘Best of the 60’s ones!). So what this means is that the makers of the CD go in for the second rate and the less expensive songs but with names that people will recognise. Add to this that it’s usually the big impenetrable record companies making these CD’s from their own back catalogue and it’s very little wonder why they’re all the same songs. My guess is that somewhere along the line it also enables those record companies to keep hold of the licences.

NOW don’t actually work like that. NOW are a combination of all the record companies working together so you can hardly complain that it’s for keeping the licences… And their compilations are mostly all recent hits. So what’s the problem? Well… NOW was first set up in 1983 as a way of recycling current ‘hits’ in order to generate extra revenue… Usually if you look at the lists they’re the songs that surfed around the top of the charts… You won’t find ‘Dodgy Mary from number 42 Hitchhiker’s Lane,’ who randomly released a single consisting entirely of cheese grater sounds which peaked at thirty six. Soon all the major record labels were in on the act.

And this brings me back to NOW THAT’S WHAT I CALL A NUMBER 1. Want to take a guess at how many songs on there are from the last ten years or so? Out of sixty?  Nineteen, with a few more that just missed out on that bracket, and about half of those were from the last few years (The likes of Katy Perry, Rhianna, Lady Gaga…) That’s a third of the entire album. And they call them ‘Classic’ number 1’s? Surely to be a classic the song has to have been around for a while?

Ok… But what about the rest of the Album? Well there are no Beatles and the only song fifties is Elvis and Jailhouse Rock (Note: None of his really bad love ballads that most people ignore are on there!) There’s no Bill Haley on the album or even the first number 1, Al Martino’s Here in My Heart.  In the meantime, there are six number 1’s from the sixties, six from the seventies, around nine from the eighties and seventeen from the nineties. Which leaves around two more floating around somewhere in the recent past.  But if you look at it, almost two thirds of the album is from the last twenty years. The rest, you will find, are all really well known ones- the likes of Procul Harem, Ian Dury and Culture Club. It’s hardly a fair representation of the charts. What’s wrong with selecting 10 songs from each decade?

But the sad thing is that people will actually go out and buy this CD because of its claims. They’ll see a few songs they like or get taken in by the promise of ‘classic’ numbers 1 and they’ll get it home and they’ll be disappointed and one of the albums 3 disks will go to hell because they don’t like the music on that one. Even if they only buy it for the modern music they’ve still got a third of the album they don’t want. Some people won’t even look at the track listing and see the term number 1 and immediately assume it must be good. You can guarantee that some old dear in a HMV somewhere will buy it using the last of her meagre pension thinking that it’ll be full of Winifred Atwell and Doris Day and Frank Sinatra… And she’ll get it home and she’ll suddenly be blasted by Rhianna ‘singing’ about her Umbrella… And then she won’t be able to return it because they’ve shut her HMV down.  What NOW are doing is essentially using people’s perception of the charts as a ‘bastion of good music’ IE: The ‘if it’s a number 1 it must be good argument,’ to make money. Someone, somewhere, is essentially profiteering from the general public’s naivety, and they know it.

And then along comes ITV with it’s own ‘celebration of sixty years of the charts’ in the form of: The nations favourite number 1… for a start… If you were celebrating sixty years of the charts why concentrate just on the top tier? Why not rummage around in the bargain bin for songs that peaked at number 2?

(Yeah… that really peaked at 2!)

In fact why celebrate the charts at all? Like I said earlier, they are essentially worthless at proving what the best music is. It’s all a matter of opinion. Take, for instance my own iTunes top 25 most played. I would presume it’s radically different to yours because everybody has different tastes. For instance, currently sharing the top spot on my top 25 are these two beauties:

Neither of those have EVER been in the UK charts. EVER… (Although the second one did reach 69 on the Canadian singles chart!) Now I happen to like both of these songs… I wouldn’t call them my favourite but if I were ranking them both out of ten they’d each get full marks. In fact, if asked to choose my favourite song I’d find it really difficult…

I would go so far as to say that this programme claiming to chart the nations’ ‘favourite’ number 1 is a bit of a joke… For a start it was presented by Fearne Cotton, she who was bigging up ‘royal sick bags’ with Paloma Faith during the jubilee who was possibly  only there because she once presented Radio 1’s chart show (Sorry… remind me again… What would she be doing now if she hadn’t won a two-bit talent contest for a kids TV presenter? Nowhere near radio 1 or ITV I’m sure.). I decided to have a watch because I was bored and completely expecting all the songs to be either modern or well known. My computer got about 15 minutes into the programme before it decided to try and kill itself… But it was enough to get a taste of what it was likely to be. All the ones I saw were either modern or really well known. Slade’s Merry Xmas Everyone was fairly near to the top of the programme, for instance, and they had a Dizzee Rascal track in there as well… says a lot.

To actually rank a bunch of songs that sold the most number of records in a given week and call them ‘the nations favourite’ is a bit sycophantic if you ask me. There are so many number 1’s now that you can’t pick one and say its the nations favourite as everybody has different tastes. And do you want to know what I found out whilst researching this post boys and girls? THEY selected the songs on the list to begin with, and then asked people to vote. There’s even a ‘top 10’ vote going on… Want to know what they are? Britney Spears is on there with Hit Me Baby One More Time, John Lennon with Imagine Whitney Houston with I Will Always Love You… You get the picture. They’re all really well known songs… It’s a fix. It’s not finding ‘the nations favourite number 1’ at all

Basically, the majority of the British public haven’t a clue as to what most of the number 1 singles are… They only know either the recent ones or a few well known ones like John Lennon’s Imagine. I bet most of them couldn’t tell you it was preceded at number 1 by Just Like Starting Over.  Most of them are so naive that they think that the charts are an indication of good music… And this programme and album unfortunately reinforces them in their views by showcasing well known hits and currently successful ones that people haven’t forgotten about yet and ignoring the ones they don’t remember/ have never heard.

The simple fact of the matter is, however, that music means different things to different people. I keep saying this but it’s true. I’ve proven already with the UK Number 1 challenge that not every song is a good one… Even those bigged up as being ‘classics.’  Essentially… The charts are worthless at doing what these people say they do… which is pointing out good music.

And to point out… Nicki Minaj has not been out of the top 20 for 5 months… yup… Says a lot about the people who are actually buying this stuff.


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