Written by Music

The Singles Charts

It may seem unlikely that I’m writing about the UK singles charts, on the basis that I’m not sure that I could name a single song released this year that may have troubled the chart compilers.

Except that it turns out I’m wrong. I know quite a lot of the songs in the current chart.

Today comes news that the compilers of the charts are adjusting their formulas for mixing sales with streams. The reality is that today people stream to a much larger degree than they buy. Sure, some diehards buy downloads, or even physical discs. But it’s a streaming world. And a consumption model is driving the charts.

Previously one download was equivalent to 100 streams, but this is being upped to 150, to weight charts a little further away from streamers. The problem is that people stream popular stuff all the time, and the charts become stale. Seemingly one Drake track was number one for 15 weeks this year, despite only being the best selling track for three of those weeks. All those streams – and teenagers have a tendency to listen to their favourite music a lot – kept others off the top.

This is fantasically illustrated if you have a look at the UK singles chart right now.

It’s full of Christmas music.

Not in and of itself a bad thing. Artists have always released Christmas songs.

But here’s a select list of some of the artists currently clogging up the singles chart. There are some very familiar names:

  • All I Want For Christmas Is You – Mariah Carey (1994) at #6
  • Fairytale of New York – Pogues ft Kirsty MacColl (1988) at #18
  • Last Christmas – Wham (1986) at #20
  • Merry Christmas Everyone – Shakin’ Stevens (1985) at #29
  • I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday – Wizzard (1973) at #36
  • It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year – Andy Williams (1963) at #50
  • Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree – Brenda Lee (1958) at #51
  • Merry Xmas Everybody – Slade (1973) at #53
  • Step Into Christmas – Elton John (1974) at #62
  • Wonderful Christmastime – Paul McCartney (1979) at #69
  • Mary’s Boy Child/Oh My Lord – Boney M (1981) at #77
  • Happy Xmas (War Is Over) – John & Yoko/Plastic Ono Band (1972) at #83
  • White Christmas – Bing Crosby (1945) at #92
  • Stop The Cavalry – Jona Lewie (1982) at #95

There are others too. I’ve skipped some of the more recent ones.

Essentially, streaming Christmas playlists on Spotify is enough to get these songs back into the charts, sometimes into quite high positions. I’m not aware that any of these were formally “re-released.” But in a streaming world, everything is “on release” all the time.

Obviously this doesn’t matter in the sense that the charts are ephemeral, and these will all drop away come Boxing Day. But I’m not sure that any of this is healthy for new artists or the industry in general. And it’s clear that the algorithm we’re currently using for the charts is not fit for purpose, reflecting consumption but leaving the charts with the potential to be stale. Somehow it needs to differentiate between new material and old favourites.

The charts probably are still useful as a concept – people like to know what’s popular. But it’s got to be a bad thing that so many old tracks clog up the charts.