Alan Smith is the first of many guest
writers whose work will appear in the exact form that they submitted it. He is,
arguably, the No.1 expert on the way that
charts were compiled in the 50s
and 60s. This article answers most of the questions that people have long
wondered about the charts from those early days, and I am sure you will find it
most interesting and definitely enlightening. UK
50'S & 60'S
UK CHARTS: A HISTORY by ALAN SMITH
History Of The 1950s - 1960s Charts.
This article will try to explain the way record charts in the 1950s, and 1960s, were compiled and their importance in the world of popular music. One particular misrepresentation over the years will be tackled in order to set the record straight over something that has been the most blatant falsehood in all of chart history.
This `falsehood` is that which has been fostered by the original compilers of Guinness Book Of Hit Singles; namely that for the period1960-1969 only the chart produced by trade paper Record Retailer should be referred to for all chart statistics of the period.
This has been a great distortion from the actual truth about which charts really mattered 1960 - 1969 and how artists and fans really saw which records topped the charts.
Hopefully all will become clear as the article will show.
History Of The 1950s - 1960s Charts.
Today the official Top 40 charts as used by the BBC for radio and Top of the Pops (until it ceased in 2006) are compiled electronically on computerised tills and relayed to compilers Millward Brown. From 2007 the downloading of songs has been allowed to count as part of the chart process.
These figures, from 4,700 retailers from a pool of 5,600, are processed into a full Top 75 chart used by publications such as Music Week magazine. The Top 40 of this chart is the most referred to and acknowledged as the 'Official Chart'.
However when record charts first began in Britain compiling methods were far slower and simpler and for many years there was no real official chart. So, how did charts begin? As with many musical innovations; the idea originated in the United States. The very first charts in the USA were compiled from sheet music sales which were paper sheets of the notated music which people could purchase in order to play at home on the piano and other instruments. The first chart of popularity of these songs was on the radio show Your Lucky Strike Hit Parade, which started on 20 April 1935. Following the lead of sheet music charts, eventually sales of 78 rpm shellac discs came into being, with the task of compilation undertaken by the US music trade paper Billboard published on 20 July 1940.
One important difference between the method of compilation of American disc charts and their British counterparts was that US charts also took note of the amount of radio airplay of songs which would be calculated in their tally. British charts never applied this format, they were sales based only.
The first British sheet music charts only appeared sporadically in the Jazz based music paper Melody Maker. This paper was established in January 1926 as a monthly publication catering mainly to jazz fans. It became a weekly within a year and the first sheet music list appeared under the title Top Tunes in 1935 as part of the Song Sheet page.
It was by no means a regular feature at that time; sometimes disappearing for a few weeks. The first regular weekly chart commenced on 27 July 1946. One surprising feature of many of the early sheet music charts before 1946 was that many of them were only alphabetical lists, not sales based.
The `N.M.E` chart debutes.
By the early 1950s, similar to 1940s America, sales of 78rpm shellac discs started to grow. Shellac was still in short supply limiting the number of releases; hence those early charts were only Top 10 and 12 sizes for a couple of years. The recently revived music newspaper New Musical Express, which evolved from Musical Express, now catering to popular music tastes of the time, came up with the idea of Britain's first sales based chart of popular
discs. The paper's management contacted a number of record stores and gathered a master list of 53 establishments willing to supply returns. The compiling of the chart was undertaken by advertisement manager Percy Dickins, who took time out from his main duties of gathering advertising for the paper to phone between 15 - 25 record stores for their sales data.
Dickins would vary the stores contacted week by week in order to use all of the 53 on his list over a period of time. The data gathered from the stores differed from today's charts in one vital area. Though all record stores kept precise internal sales figures, only a list of their Top 10 selling titles was relayed as a list 1 to 10. It was deemed too time consuming for Dickins to have to tally up precise lists of sales figures. Far more convenient and time saving was the totting up of points per chart placing. For example ten points for a number one, down to one point for tenth place. This set a precedent for all early charts.
Britain's first chart from the New Musical Express was published on 14 November 1952. It was titled Hit Parade for the first chart. These early charts, though a Top 12 in size, could sometimes be rather larger due to the unusual tied position system. Instead of, for example a joint number 2 then number 4, the paper would go to number 3. This certainly expanded the chart but was soon amended. The immediate success of this list of best selling records led to the papers competitors starting up their own charts.
Rival charts appear.
Within three years a second chart would appear. This came from another popular music paper Record Mirror, which later in the 1950s, became Record And Show Mirror then back to Record Mirror then New Record Mirror in 1961 then eventually back to Record Mirror.
On 22 January 1955 Record Mirror displayed a Top 10 chart. This was compiled from postal returns financed by the paper from record stores. Again, these were of Top 10 title listings. Record Mirror figures could be viewed as they published each stores list along with their address on its chart pages. This first chart was based on 24 stores returns. By 1956 Record Mirror was sampling over 60 record stores and as with New Musical Express they would rotate shops used from a larger pool. By 1956 sales of records were eclipsing sheet music, so record charts began to attain more prominence.
Hence the first appearance on 7 April 1956 of Melody Makers' first record charts, as part of its Song Sheet page along side the sheet music charts. The Melody Maker chart was a Top 20 and was based on 19 stores returns, these were gathered by phone. As with Record Mirror, Melody Maker would display a list of shops addresses, but it did not list individual Top 10s. Melody Maker was the first compiler to get returns from Northern Ireland making its sample a true UK sample. Interestingly, the official charts as used by the BBC only sampled Northern Ireland results when Gallup took over the franchise in 1984.
The various compilers did try to verify that their charts were based on true figures. To this end they would send blue forms to all shops on their list, which would be signed by the manager of each store when sending in returns to verify figures were accurate. The next chart to appear was in the pop paper Disc. This paper differed slightly in that in 1959 it instigated, under the auspices of editor Gerald Marks, the awarding of gold and silver discs for records attaining sales of 1 million and 250,000 units respectively. Disc appeared on 1 February 1958 with its first chart, a Top 20 based on 25 phoned returns.
The last major chart came from the trade magazine Record Retailer. The paper was produced in August 1959 by the pooled resources of the members of the Independent Record Retailers Association, a body of record stores not aligned to any record company. The paper was at first a monthly issue, but in March 1960 it changed to the weekly format with its first weekly issue dated 10 March 1960. From this date it displayed its first chart rundown. This chart differed from its predecessors in the popular papers in that it was a larger Top 50. Managing editor Roy Parker and Secretary Ann Smith undertook the task of phoning record shops for their lists of best sellers each Monday for Tuesday compilation, by staff member, Jeremy Wilder.
Though a Top 50, it was still only based on the ludicrously low figure of 30 phone calls from a pool of 50. Compiling a Top 50 on so few returns meant that tied positions would litter the chart. To abolish such incidents a
system of comparing the rate of sales change from the previous week was utilised. It was necessary for a large chart based on such an inadequately low number of returns.
The Record Retailer, published as a magazine only for the benefit of its members, was not on commercial sale to the general public at the time. It could be accessed via public libraries and those record shops which in supplying returns would display the chart on the wall of their stores. Many other record shops not supplying returns to any) compiler displayed this chart, while others displayed NME or Melody Maker rundowns. Charts would also be audited with the NME regulated by the paper's accountant Ted Hull.
In January 1963 Record Retailers chart was audited by the firm of Chantrey, Button & Co, its chief auditor Mr Nigel Mundy. These audits weren't infallible though as it turned out, due to organised attempts to `hype` records into the charts in the 1960s. Getting records unfairly into the charts was profitable if an artist could go on to bigger success. It probably started in the 1950s, and certainly was around in the 1960s. None of the 1950s, charts were taken too seriously by the music industry or the general media. They were looked on as fun guides to that section of the entertainment industry with both Record Mirror and Melody Maker printing addresses of their suppliers at that time. This is something that would have been unthinkable by the mid 1960s.
By 1957 the new 45rpm 7" single disc made from less brittle vinyl was succeeding the 12" shellac records, thus leading to higher production and sales figures by the early 1960s. Another barometer of sales that went hand in hand with the new 7" discs was jukebox plays now that the new format could be used on jukeboxes. Melody Maker published a Jukebox top twenty chart between 1957 and 1960 and a top 10 to September 8 1962. This chart (the top 20 one certainly!) was based on returns from 2,000 Jukeboxes across the country.
An interesting facet of record sales in the late 1950s to early 60s was shops owned by certain record companies only selling that companies wares and no others! The most common throughout the nation were HMV and PYE shops, closely followed by DECCA. These stores only sold records produced or distributed by their parent label. With the high sales boost in sales due to the Beatles / Merseybeat boom, such shops had to start selling records by other labels, else risk losing many sales. An example would be PYE shops having to sell Beatles and other EMI records by 1964; otherwise they would be committing commercial suicide.
The New Musical Express was seen as the premier chart of the 1950s, and by 1956 its compiling was handed over to a team from one of the opinion poll organisations and expanded to approximately 50 to 60 returns from a pool of about 80 and still completed by phone calling. The NME chart was taken up for publication in many regional newspapers; it was also used by Radio Luxembourg. Overseas, the NME chart was published in the important US trade magazine Billboard in the papers World Charts section. In the UK in the 1950s, the Record Mirror chart was taken up by many national newspapers. The paper claimed in 1958 that the majority of national and regional papers were displaying its charts. The Record Mirror postal returned sampling was as large as NMEs, phoning system; in fact it was probably larger in some weeks as it often ranged to more than 60 returns in the late 1950s.
Meanwhile, Melody Maker in the 1950s was still focusing primarily on jazz and regarded its pop chart service as a sideline and hence did not put many resources into this new innovation. Melody Makers size of sample ranged from as low as 17 in 1957 shop returns up to a more respectable 33 in 1959. Even by 1960 it barely got much above 40, but that was soon to change radically. Disc did not gather more than 40 returns at any point during the 1950s. The day that most compilers set aside for their chart compiling was a Monday. New Musical Express, Melody Maker and Disc would phone their list of shops each Monday and then start compiling their charts. Record Mirror, when running its own chart, also compiled it on Mondays. The Record Retailer, when it began its chart in March 1960 phoned for returns on a Monday but did not compile the chart until Tuesday. Most papers were published on either Thursday or Friday.
`Pick of the Pops` chart.
The country's national broadcaster the BBC recognised the commerciality of popular music and on 4 October 1955, on its Light Programme, began broadcasting Pick Of The Pops. At first this was a random choice of popular songs of the day; but soon a method of having a continuous Top 20 chart was conceived. From March 1958 the BBC would calculate a Top 20 by using NME, Melody Maker, Disc and Record Mirror charts. They would
give number 1 position 20 points; number 2 position 19 points and so on down to one point for number 20. This amalgamated chart would then be transmitted each week. This method produced some tied positions in the chart. Occasionally even a joint number one. However, this rundown did a lot to bring pop music and the concept of charts into focus for the general public. The BBC - Pick Of The Pops chart was often the final arbiter when confused fans were not sure what was the number 1 record due to the music and trade papers having differing chart toppers on some weeks.
The American trade paper Cash Box also used the combined method to produce a British chart alongside some sampling as well, to add to its figures.
The charts expand!
By the end of the 1950s, record sales were on the increase, passing the 55 million production figure (excluding Long Players) by 1960. To reflect this New Musical Express expanded its size of published chart. The NME Top 12 became a Top 20 on 2 October 1954. It expanded to a 25 listing to catch the Christmas sales on 31 December 1955 and reverted back to the 20 format the following week. It then expanded to a Top 30 on 14 April 1956 staying at this size up until 14 May 1983 when it enlarged to a Top 50. Record Mirror expanded from a Top 10 to Top 20 on 8 October 1955. Melody Maker and Disc stayed unchanged in published size in this period.
The first big change to the size and method of compiling a chart occurred on 30 July 1960. This took place at the Melody Maker. The paper changed from phoning its list of record stores, to combining with the phoned, significant number of postal returns. This was rather closer to the system that Record Mirror was using. A far larger pool of compliant stores was contacted and from these a rotated sample of about 110 stores returns was posted and phoned in each week. So, from a figure of 38 samples on 23 July 1960 the Melody Maker chart of 110 returns from the following week onward became, at that point, the largest sample in operation. The paper displayed the fact that it sampled over 100 shops above each weekly chart.
Into the 1960s.
The NME also kept enlarging its sample as the 1960s took hold. At this time, it reverted to using its own staff members for phone duties; this entailed four to five employees each phoning 20 to 25 shops for a sample of 80 to 100 retailers in the early part of this decade. Disc did not have the resources that NME enjoyed, so its sample rose to the lesser figure of approximately 50 who were phoned during this period; its main compiler was Fred Zebadee.
Record Mirror was still receiving up to 50 to 60 postal returns circa 1960-61 but it was badly hit by the increase in postal charges from April 1961. Melody Maker was able to absorb these costs with its higher circulation and the massive resources of its publisher IPC. Record Mirror however had to start cutting back on costs. From 18 March 1961 the paper no longer printed the lists or addresses from stores, (Melody Maker had ceased this practice on 30 July 1960). To add to Record Mirrors problems many national newspapers started to use the Melody Maker charts in the early 1960s. On 24 March 1962, Record Mirror finally abandoned compiling its own lists. Instead, from that date onward it began publishing the Record Retailer Top 50.
By 1963, Melody Maker received thorough sales data from 245 record shop managers (their charts being scrutinised by auditors from `Middlesex County Council`), New Musical Express were sampling over 100 stores with Disc sampling about 60 to 70. Only Record Retailer had kept to the same sized sample of 30 phoned. It was during 1963 that the rise of the Beatles sparked off a Mersey beat-led, sales boom. Pop music and the charts were very much in the public eye by the mid 1960s. that it
The advent of the pirate radio stations in early 1964 when Radio Caroline hit the air over the Easter 1964 holidays also helped to give pop music a high public profile. Some of these stations used `airplay` statistics for their charts. Radio Caroline from July 1964 used the Melody Maker Top 50 for its popular listings. Others such as Radio London would make up their charts from new releases, amount of airplay and even on many occasions, on the whim of the station managers choice of record placings.
Sadly, some pirate radio stations accepted bribes for extra airplay and high chart placing for certain records. No pirate radio station ever undertook sampling via shop returns hence the brevity of this chapter.
Larger samples, and expanding charts.
Melody Maker increased its sample to over 150 by 1964, with a team of staff who compiled the figures from sacks of mail using, in today's terms, an old fashioned calculating machine. Editorial staff, Jack Hutton and Ray Coleman also helped compile the charts. On Monday 30 November 1964 the Daily Mirror sent reporter Patrick Doncaster to the Melody Maker offices to report on the way their chart was compiled. Assistant editor Ray Coleman fetched the first sack of postal returns from GPO headquarters by St Pauls to work from (in those days there was Sunday post). Roy Burchill, Alf Martin, Mike Benson, Jeff Stars assisted by editor Jack Hutton and Ray Coleman would produce lists from each of the 147 postal returns of the best sellers allotting 40 points for number 1, 39 points for number 2 and so on. Another 40 shops that could not get their postal returns in on time were phoned for their list of best selling titles, giving a total of shops providing returns to the Melody Maker for that week of 187.
Secretaries Linda Leighton and Sandra Coleman would use two mechanical calculators to collate the final Melody Maker Top 50 singles chart for that week. Also witnessing their work was guest Ringo Starr who was told the good news that the Beatles new release 'I Feel Fine' was straight in at number 1 on the Melody Maker chart.
New Musical Express, by this time, had reached around 150 phoned, now with a staff of six, led by its chief chart compiler Fiona Foulgar. Sometimes extra staff members were available to help with phoning duties which meant on some weeks the NME could sample up to 200 stores.
Disc managed to get up to 80 to 100 returns by phone. Record Retailer, realising that its phoned sample of 30 was far too low for the period, contacted both EMI and Decca's distribution chains for a list of stores. Working from a master list of 100, the Retailer changed to postal returns commencing at the start of 1964 with 75 to 85 returns, rotated in the list. Staff member Jeremy Wilder spent all of Tuesday each week compiling the Top 50 from these returns. This increase still left the Record Retailer in fourth place for sample size of major charts and woefully short, still for compiling a Top 50 chart.
Both Melody Maker and Disc increased the sizes of their published charts when record sales vastly increased in the early 60s. Melody Maker expanded from Top 20 to 30 on 14 April 1962 and soon followed this on 15 September 1962 by increasing again to a Top 50. Disc increased from a Top 20 to 30 on 6 October 1962 and increased to a Top 50 on 23 April 1966 when incorporating the failing pop magazine Music Echo into its title, becoming Disc And Music Echo. From this date (23 April 1966) Disc acquired its first LP chart. The B.B.C Pick Of The Pops chart increased to a Top 30 in April 1962.
`Pop Weekly` and `Merseybeat/Music Echo`
The big beat boom sparked off lots of short lived pop papers. Many, like Midland Beat from Birmingham, were regional. Two of the more prominent papers, which ran along with the premier magazines, were Mersey Beat (later titled Music Echo) and Pop Weekly. Mersey Beat started in Liverpool in July 1961 as a bi-weekly publication primarily concerned with reporting on the regional music scene and popular local artists.
By 1963 it became nationally distributed, buoyed by the tremendous boom generated by the regions biggest sensation, the Beatles. The paper had started publishing a Top 20 in 1962, though also bi-weekly, it is impossible to correlate it to other charts of the time. Only from 24 April 1964 did Merseybeat become a weekly chart. Significantly, by 3 December of that year, Mersey Beat began publishing the nation's first Top 100. It certainly did not have the resources of either NME or Melody Maker so it is unlikely that this chart was based on more than 50 to 80 returns at best.
By 6 March 1965, with signs of a slowdown in Beat music, the paper changed its title to Music Echo in order to carry a wider spectrum of music, but still carried on with its Top 100 chart, plus the countries first Top 50 LP rundown from May 1965. In 1966 sales were slipping badly and the singles chart returned to a Top 50. Music
Echo ceased publication on 16 April 1966 and on the following week it was absorbed into Disc becoming Disc And Music Echo.
Pop Weekly, formerly Top 10 Monthly, became a weekly issue from 1 September 1962. It was smaller in its dimensions than the other magazines, at about A5 size. It was edited by Albert Hand who ran the Elvis Presley fan club. The paper ran a Top 30 chart as well as 'write in' polls for artists. Pop Weekly's chart was compiled by averaging out the charts of New Musical Express, Melody Maker, Disc and Record Retailer in similar mode to the BBC method. However Pop Weekly also received advance sales figures from record companies and sampled around 20 to 30 stores to get its chart. The Pop Weekly chart ran to 6 November 1965 when it reduced to a Top 10. Finally on 27 November the last sales chart appeared and until the paper's demise on 12 February 1966 a Popularity Top 20 of reader's favourite songs was displayed. Affected by the slowdown in the market on 12 February 1966 Pop Weekly published its last issue. It was then merged with sister paper Pop Shop becoming Pop Shop Monthly.
Enter `Guinness Hit Singles`
The variety of charts in the mid 1960s did cause confusion as to what records were number 1 when the charts differed. By and large, people accepted that this was the way things were, usually going by what was top of the BBC Pick Of The Pops charts. There has been much controversy over the years as to what was the 'best' chart for this purpose. When the Guinness Book Of British Hit Singles was first published in 1977 it made what is deemed by many chart fans a catastrophic decision in selecting the Record Retailer chart for the purposes of recording 1960s chart statistics.
The new book's authors, Tim Rice, Jonathan Rice, Paul Gambaccini and Mike Read started logically by choosing the New Musical Express chart from 14 November 1952 up to 10 March 1960. However, in a decision that would be questioned by many pop `pundits` over the intervening years they then changed to the debuting Record Retailer chart and retrospectively gave it a vastly inflated prominence it now enjoys. This decision was largely down to the longevity of Record Retailer's run as a Top 50. It was the biggest outside of the Merseybeat / Music Echo Top 100, and longest running rundown of the decade. It was also due to the Record Retailer abandoning its own sampling (which was seen as inadequate) and coming on board the proposed set up for a new `official` chart.
The Record Retailer chart had never come close to being accepted as the 'most prominent chart' throughout the 1960s for the following reasons.
Shortcomings Of The Record Retailer Chart.
When considering the size of chart sample Record Retailer fares very badly indeed in comparison with its major competitors. From March 1960 to December 1963 the extraordinarily low figure of just 30 stores were phoned for sales figures. In that period both NME and Melody Maker were sampling over 100, and Disc was certainly over 50. By 1964 Record Retailer was getting regular postal returns from approximately 75 to 85 dealers, which left it a little way short of Discs, size of sample. It still trailed a long way behind NMEs, 150 to 200, and Melody Makers, 200 plus around 1964 -66.
The Record Retailer chart suffered many volatile chart movements due to its paucity of sample. Quite often records would shoot up from the 40s to the edge of the Top 10, only to collapse back down again the following week. Many charts between 1960 and 1963 were littered with very strange chart movements that were not reflected in other papers, charts. In July 1967, due to the change in publication at the start of the month from Thursday to a Wednesday, hardly any returns got in on time precipitating hurried phone calls to dealers. This disruption very much affected the Top 50 until things settled down by the end of July when all dealers were familiar with the change of day.
Record Retailers chart; unlike Record Mirror's 1950s lists, was never used by national or regional newspapers. It was only included for the BBC Pick Of The Pops compiled chart from 31 March 1962 when it was utilised by Record Mirror from 24 March 1962. Even then it was not on a regular basis due to late arrival at the BBC on some weeks and Derek Chinnery's decision to omit it on the first week of chart entry for Beatles singles. By 1966
the Retailer chart was more established within the trade and sections of the industry (Due to the takeover by US trade paper Billboard who pumped finance into the paper). The chart also supplanted that of the New Musical Express from October 1966 in the US Billboard trade paper, but it never succeeded in becoming the full UK record industry chart. Record Retailer was set up by independent record shops, not aligned to the record companies and had no funding from the record companies, only from surplus subscription funds to the Record Retailer itself. The paper was a very small affair in its early years with nowhere near the vast resources of the NME or Melody Maker.
It is a sad testament to chart history that what was by every criterion easily the least accurate and least authoritative of the major charts compiled in the 1960s, should have had the `honour` to be chosen for the Guinness Hit Singles books. This calamitous state of affairs has warped chart history and contradicted the true recollections of artists and fans of who was number 1 at certain dates and why no Beatles singles entered at number one until the Record Retailer chart was abandoned in February 1969. (Get Back entered at number 1 in the new BRMB `Official` chart ).
The Case of `Please Please Me`, and `19th Nervous Breakdown`.
No two better examples of the way chart history has been altered by Record Retailers choice by the Guinness Book Of Hit Singles, are `Please Please Me`, by the Beatles, and the Rolling Stones `19th Nervous Breakdown`.
In late February 1963 the Beatles were performing before their faithful Liverpool fans at the Cavern. Local DJ Bob Wooler interrupted between songs with a telegram from Brian Epstein who had just been told by the New Musical Express that the group's `Please Please Me` single had hit number 1 on the NME chart. It was joint top with Frank Ifield's `The Wayward Wind` on the week ending 23rd February 1963. It was sole number 1 the following week of 2 March 1963. There were some celebrations of the groups first chart topper by those fans happy for the group to be accepted nationwide, though other fans realised they would be losing their idols to national fame.
Not only was the record top of the NME chart, but it had also hit top spot on the Disc charts. The week of March 2 1963 saw `Please Please Me` heading the NME, Disc, Pop Weekly and Melody Maker charts. It was two weeks top on all. It also headed the BBCs, compilation Pick Of The Pops chart for three weeks, the final week joint top with Cliff Richard's `Summer Holiday`. Only on the Record Retailer chart did `Please Please Me` fail to reach top position. But no one was worried, the Retailer chart was of such little merit to artists and fans then it hardly mattered at all the record only making second position on the RR listing. It was the NME, Melody Maker and Pick Of The Pops charts that counted back then. For the group and George Martin (their record producer) to have this achievement taken away by compilers of a book over a decade later is an injustice that cries out for redress.
Similarly, the Rolling Stones `19th Nervous Breakdown` suffered this `re writing` of music history. `19th Nervous Breakdown` hit number 1 for the last two weeks of February and the first week of March 1966 on the NME, Melody Maker and Disc charts. It topped the Music Echo chart for one week too. More important was the record not only topping the Pick Of The Pops charts for those three weeks, but being played as the nation's number 1 record on the BBC Top Of The Pops music programme which had commenced on BBC1 on 1st January 1964.
Again, this achievement is supposed to have never happened because the Record Retailer chart dictates that it is only a number 2 hit. As with `Please Please Me' a true number 1 record that the major charts and the BBC fully accepted as chart toppers has to be denied for the sake of Guinness Hit Singles adherence to the one chart (Record Retailer) that was so out of step with every other listing.
The `New Musical Express` Chart.
Inside the entertainment industry, particularly for artists and management, it was the New Musical Express charts that were scanned to see if their songs had made the chart. In many ways the NME chart was the most highly regarded of the 1960s. It was already in use by Radio Luxembourg plus some print coverage in the Daily Mail, Evening Standard, Evening News and regional papers in Wolverhampton, Sheffield, Glasgow, and Birmingham. In terms of music paper sales, more people than all the other music papers combined read NME charts. At its peak
for two years from 1964 to 1966 its circulation was at just under 300,000. Only the Melody Maker chart was seen as a competitor for influence in this arena.
The New Musical Express chart did have some aspects that set it apart from most of its competitors. Firstly, for many years, the paper's charts would list `B` sides to some popular records by well known artists such as Elvis Presley or Cliff Richard. This would be due to the title being asked for in shops returning to NME. Particularly affected were Double `A` sides where sales could be split quite evenly per title, thus sometimes affecting peak positions in NMEs, chart. The most notable instance was Elvis Presley's `Rocka, Hula Baby / Can't Help Falling in Love`. This was a number 1 in all other charts for at least a month but in NME due to the split sales when both titles entered the chart, neither made the top, only making number 2 and number 3, respectively. Because fans asked for "The New Beatles Record" when the singles were released none of the Beatles double 'A 'sides were split by the paper, but many others were, the last known examples being the Rolling Stones `Let's Spend the Night Together / Ruby Tuesday` in February 1967 and Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood with `You Only Live Twice-Jackson` in July 1967.
What was not unique to the NME chart, one that it shared with both Disc, Pop Weekly, Music Echo and the BBC Pick Of The Pops charts was the inclusion of LPs in the singles charts. Disc And Music Echo ceased this practice when commencing running LP charts, but the NME singles chart continued including LPs even when it started an LP chart on 1 June 1962. The NME carried on up to late 1968, with the Beatles eponymous titled double album entering the singles lists in December 1968. It is not known exactly when the NME ended the practice, but obviously with the boom in LP sales by the early 1970s it had to cease; otherwise more LPs than singles would have been in the chart.
The `Melody Maker` Chart.
The Melody Maker had, by the mid-1960s, a chart based on more returns from dealers (close to 250) than any of its competitors. By then it had gained publication in many national newspapers, such as the Daily Mirror, Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail, Daily Herald (later to become the `Sun`) Daily Sketch, News Of The World, the Sunday Mirror and The People. Some regional newspapers, though not as many as the `New Musical Express` also ran the Melody Maker charts. Their chart service was also used extensively in overseas newspapers, particularly those in the United States of America. The copyright from these publications enabled Melody Maker to put a lot of finance into its chart processing. Along with NME it was extremely influential in the 1960s and the focus for chart hyping. The Melody Maker record charts received as much, if not more, media coverage than main competitor New Musical Express throughout the middle and late 1960s. The Record Retailer chart may not have been so targeted, (though it is arguable that attempts were made at getting unfairly in its listings) but only because the Retailer chart was of very minimum importance to chart `hypers` in comparison to getting a `hit` in the NME or Melody Maker charts.
`Hyping` The Charts.
`Hype` was the word preferred by chart commentators and those indulging in it, to describe the various methods of cheating regarding getting records into the charts by unfair means. Now that pop music was seen to be big business, a lot of chart hyping began in earnest. It wasn't purely a feature of the 1960s; the process had affected some records in 1950s, charts. One ex-Pye records employee Dave McAleer was pretty certain that Josh McRae's `Talkin' Army Blues had been unfairly assisted into some charts, in one of the earliest suspected cases of `chart hyping`.
Three main methods were employed with the ablest architects of hype being pop managers Andrew Oldham and Don Arden. They would hire teams of young girls to visit by taxi as many `chart shops` as possible, buying as many copies of the particular record desired to enter the charts. Teams of shoppers were hired to buy a particular record at what were deemed to be chart return stores. This systematic process is well documented in Johnny Rogan's extremely well researched book Starmakers And Svengalis and also explained in detail in Simon Napier-Bell's Black Vinyl, White Powder.
A second method employed by Tony Calder, an associate of Oldham's, was to bribe a member of staff of one of the chart shops to list a record with false sales. This method once actually listed a record in the charts before the actual record had been pressed!
A third `ploy` was to get a friendly member of one of the music paper chart compiling team to give false points to a particular title. The worst alleged example of this was when a member of the New Musical Express staff was allegedly involved in the manipulations affecting their chart. Even though the NME chart was still a Top 30, the lower placements were still affected on a couple of occasions.
How chart shops were discovered by those wishing to hype records is not known for certain, but it was obviously not that difficult. What did not help one music paper chart was the Melody Maker inadvertently disclosing details of what were certainly some of its chart shops on three occasions.
Firstly, on 21st November 1964 the paper replied to media confusion over the Rolling Stones record "Little Red Rooster" which had leaped in at No 1 on the New Musical Express chart, but was only in at No 21 on Melody Makers. The MM stated that its charts were based only on `sales across the counter` and not `advance order` figures as in the case of the NME chart. In explaining this, the paper disclosed details on record shop sales in various parts of the country. Just over a year later on 11th December 1965 the Melody Maker headline was the Beatles `Day Tripper` / `We Can Work It Out` new release only entering the paper's Top 50 chart at number 3. A livid Brian Epstein complained about this. The paper then again produced sales quotes from shop managers at locations across the country. The exact addresses were not disclosed, but certainly enough location details were given that any determined chart hyper could use to deduce what were likely Melody Maker chart return shops.
If this were not bad enough Melody Maker yet again later repeated such disclosures on 15th October 1966 when reporting the lower than expected sales on the Rolling Stones, `Have You Seen Your Mother Baby: Standing In The Shadows`. Many more shop locations were disclosed compounding the earlier errors.
So rife was the problem that an `expose` of record chart fixing was ran by the Daily Mail newspaper in January 1967. It highlighted how the Melody Maker chart had been targeted but that the paper was doing all it could to address the problem. Quickly following this, an ITV documentary also concerning the `fixing` of record charts was aired in early 1967. In one scene Melody Maker Editor Jack Hutton explained to the reporter how the chart staff tried to look out for unusual record sales and carefully scrutinised the returns concerning new entries to its chart. Ironically one record mentioned in the documentary was the debut Jimi Hendrix single, `Hey Joe` which had just been `aided` into the Melody Maker chart.
The Melody Maker, which after such disclosures and scrutiny by the media, had to no one's surprise, almost certainly suffered from chart tampering. Part of the reason was that by having the largest set of returns, it was mathematically more likely a M.M chart shop would be `hit`. As their chart was especially vulnerable in the bottom 20 positions, the paper decided to try and check attempts at manipulating records into this region of the chart.
On 1 April 1967 the paper, in a front-page announcement, declared it knew what was going on and was aware of some of the people involved. It declared that from that date it was cutting its published chart to a Top 30, though it would still compile a 50 in order to check suspicious movements. The Melody Maker Top 50 was later published in the trade paper Music Business Weekly from 20 September 1969 to 27 March 1971. Disc similarly cut down its Top 50 on 1 April 1967 taking its lead from Melody Maker. The bottom twenty positions of the Record Retailer chart were far easier to target due to the extraordinarily low figures needed to get into such a low sampled chart. It possibly had less to fear due to the fact in the 1960s, that Retailers chart was so insignificant in comparison to the New Musical Express and Melody Maker charts.
So, there is a possible argument that the lower sections of Record Retailer and Disc were less at risk of anomalies due to their lesser importance within the pop world, and therefore less interest to chart riggers; but no chart in the mid 1960s was completely safe from such machinations. The NME and Melody Maker were targeted more due to their far higher authority within the industry, thus both charts being carefully scrutinised by their compilers for signs of interference.
Ironically, the ways and means that virtually all major record companies manipulated and marketed record releases in the late 1980s, and early 1990s, left the 1960s, manipulators in comparison, nowhere nearly as effective in mass chart rigging.
Comparing The Charts.
As mentioned, Record Retailer was very much out of step with every other chart of the time in the lack of records that entered its chart straight at number 1. Up to 1969, when Record Retailer stopped compiling its own chart, the paper only registered two records entering straight at the top spot. This was well out of step with all other major charts for that period. The NME achieved 14, Melody Maker 10, Disc 11 and Record Mirror in the 1955 to 1962 period registered five. The Record Retailer chart never registered any Beatles title instantly at number 1, unlike NME, Melody Maker and Disc who respectively placed 8, 8, and 7 of their singles as instant chart toppers. The lesser charts such as Pop Weekly and Music Echo also registered Beatles records as instant chart toppers. Without doubt the Record Retailer chart was very much out of step with many chart placements and completely at odds with all other charts of the period.
There was one difference in how figures were gauged: both NME and Disc would accept advance order figures when compiling their charts, whereas Record Retailer and Melody Maker would only accept actual sales over the counter. However, with Record Retailers chart being compiled on a different day, it is possible this affected their chart in comparison with others. The difference between chart positions based on advance figures and actual sales is clear when taking the Rolling Stones, `Little Red Rooster` into account. In the NME and Disc charts it entered straight at number 1(NME) and 9 (Disc). In Record Retailer and Melody Maker it entered at 24 (Record Retailer) and 21 (Melody Maker).
On television both NME and Melody Maker charts were the charts referred to at this time. Pop TV researcher Keith Badman has revealed that NME chart positions were referred to in the more popular type of programmes such as Ready Steady Go and Thank Your Lucky Stars .The Melody Maker chart was used by the more in depth pop profiles such as news reports that examined the social aspect of the pop boom. NME also had Radio Luxembourg using its chart for their Top 20 chart rundown. When Top Of The Pops took to the screens on 1 January 1964 it, like Pick Of The Pops, used the combination of NME, Melody Maker, Disc and Record Retailer to compile its Top 20. For many people the BBC compilation chart as used by Pick Of The Pops and Top Of The Pops was the chart they referred to.
By 1967 both Melody Maker and Disc were now owned by publishers IPC, who had also bought a controlling interest in the New Musical Express. Both Melody Maker and Disc were based at the same offices in Fleet Street. It was deemed unnecessary to have the expense of compiling two charts; so Disc cut their compiling to 30 to 50 phone calls which main compiler Fred Zebedee would combine with Melody Makers, 200 plus postal sample to make a combined chart of approximately 250-280 postal and phoned returns. New Musical Express however, still compiled its own charts, even though it was part of the I.P.C set up by 1967. (It was based in different offices which meant it was far more removed from Melody Maker and Disc).
`Top Pops/Music Now`.
There was yet another chart to come on the scene. This was from a paper that began life titled Top Pops. It was set up by MP Woodrow Wilson and edited by author Colin Bostock-Smith. It debuted in May 1967. At first the magazine appeared only every three to four weeks. It formed an arrangement with WH Smith & Son. In exchange for advertising space, the firm would supply a national chart based on sales returns from branches across the country. The first chart appeared in issue 23 dated 25 May 1968. Two issues later date 22 June 1968 both paper and chart became weekly. WH Smith no longer keep records of how many stores were used but Colin Bostock-Smith who compiled the chart confirmed the sample was only about a dozen branches of WH Smith stores. He received by post each store's Top 30 selling records on Monday and Tuesday and would also use the points system to gauge each records place. Top Pops changed its title to Music Now on 21 March 1970, and finally ceased in March 1971. In its chart positions it tended to be closer to New Musical Express and Melody Maker than Record Retailer-BMRB.
For the main bulk of the 1960s even though the NME, Melody Maker and Pick Of The Pops charts were by far the most influential and referred to listings; sections of the trade and industry were thinking of setting up what would be seen as a fully `official` chart for all to use. The Record Retailer was the most vociferous in this call for a new chart, possibly due to the fact that its own chart had so little prominence.
Choosing An `Official` Chart.
This situation of no `official` chart being universally accepted was a problem the BBC also wanted to resolve, particularly when, on 31 August 1968, they had three records all sharing the top spot on their compiled Pick / Top Of The Pops listings. The Bee Gees `I've Gotta Get A Message To You`, the Beach Boys `Do It Again` and Herb Alpert's `This Guys In Love With You` all had to be played as the joint number.1 on Top Of The Pops.
This situation was seen as untenable by Derek Chinnery and Denys Jones who compiled the BBC charts, so a series of meetings were set up by the BBC, those retailers and record companies that made up the Gramophone Record Retailers Association and Billboard Publications who were owner of Record Retailer. These were attended by such luminaries as Derek Chinnery from the BBC, Graeme Andrews (Record Retailer) and Peter Meneer of the British Market Research Bureau. Details of a new chart operation evolved. Maurice Kinn, now the chairman at the New Musical Express and Jack Hutton who was the editor of Melody Maker were both invited to come into the scheme. They declined this invitation as they were happy enough with their own charts.
The BMRB had first been asked to investigate chart anomalies back in 1966 following a Sunday Times `expose` which concerned a version of The Sound of Music LP. This was out on the EMI Music For Pleasure label; but in spite of what EMI insisted were robust sales it had not registered in the three main LP charts of 1966 (NME, Melody Maker & Record Retailer) The BMRB were asked to look into the matter.
A solution to the chart difficulties was close at hand. At a cost of approximately £52,000 the opinion poll organisation British Market Research Bureau would contact a rolling panel of 250 major record stores plus phone calls to a further 50 shops. The prime 250 would change each week with shops entering from a pool of 50 reserves. This was similar to the `rolling pools` of the music papers. Shops were randomly chosen from any of Britain's 6,000 plus record retailers. The shops supplying figures would enter point of sales figures into diary's which would then be posted at close of sales on Saturday to arrive on Monday mornings, (there was still Sunday post then) at the BMRB offices. Each diary's total would be translated to punch card data which would then be fed to a computer which would calculate the Top 50 positions. The chart would be sent to the BBC to arrive on Tuesday morning ready for broadcasting on the early afternoon chart show. Commencing on 15 February 1969 the new BMRB chart was broadcast on BBC's Top Of The Pops with a Top 30 which was also used by Radio 1. It was also carried by Record Mirror and Record Retailer who published the full Top 50 positions; and from 10th October 1970 in the new music paper Sounds that also published the Top 30 positions.
This system was called `Bars` by the BMRB meaning "British Analysis of Record Sales". The chart did find difficulty in getting aired in the newspaper chains, as these were still very happy with NME and Melody Maker charts. By and large though, the new chart was seen as the official national chart and accepted by the industry. It is this acceptance that ironically was to be one of its drawbacks.
The problem of having the new BMRB chart announced as an official listing, sadly concentrated the practice of getting records into the new chart by any means possible, including dishonest methods. The list of chart shops was supposed to be secret but, as Melody Maker had discovered to its cost, determined operators managed to uncover their locations. Record companies in order to plug their records put BBC Radio 1 disc jockeys under much pressure. Not helping matters was a feature in the `Radio One` book published in early 1969 where details of how the new chart was regulated were disclosed. It is very possible that too much information was given in the feature which might help unscrupulous `chart hypers` to circumvent the `policing` methods of the new chart. Certainly, some of this lobbying applied to Producers and Disc Jockeys at Radio One could be perceived as not quite one 100 per-cent above board. Over the years more and more stories, some greatly exaggerated, ran in the newspapers about the chart being rigged. The side effect of this concentration on the new chart rather ironically benefited the NME and Melody Maker charts making them now far less targeted and affected by chart hype.
When the BMRB chart became established by the early 1970s, both New Musical Express and Melody Maker cut back their chart samples to 100 for NME and 200 for Melody Maker. Both papers were aiming now at the `serious` rock market audience of the early 1970s and were less concerned with the singles charts or as `teeny bop` orientated as they had been in the 1960s.
Problems with the B.M.R.B Chart.
Though supposed to be thoroughly efficient, the BMRB chart was having difficulty getting its diaries in on time and filled out correctly. Melody Maker had little trouble with postal returns as they had built up a loyal retinue of chart shops, but for the BMRB chart the early returns barely got past 20 per cent of the 300 supposed returns. Many of the early BMRB charts from February to July 1969 suffered many tied positions with up to five records sharing one position in one instance. This is something which should have been a virtual impossibility on a sales based chart. Also, postal strikes affected this system badly. No album charts could be compiled for February - March 1971 during the national postal strike, and while some phoning was done to get a Top 40 singles chart, it was deemed inadequate for a national chart.
After more postal strikes hit the charts in 1973 the BMRB turned to a more reliable method of gathering data with motor cycle couriers collecting the diaries. Unfortunately this method proved to be quite expensive. According to Michael Cable's The Pop Industry Inside Out, even by May 1976 only 158 out of a sample of 299 were getting in on time. Despite all of the problems the BMRB chart became the accepted rundown by the mid 1970s.
When Gallup won the franchise in 1983 they brought in computerised tills, which speeded up the returns figures so that Christmas charts could be produced (from 1969 to 1983 the BMRB charts had a two-week break at Christmas). Both NME and Melody Maker stopped doing their own chart listings on 14 May 1988 and started using the rival to BMRB, the Music Research Information Bureau (MRIB) lists. Advanced technology was about to create a stable platform for a single official chart accepted by the vast majority of retailers, customers and the media.
It had taken a long while to get only one chart listing accepted, not only by the music trade and industry, but record buyers and the general listening public. The truth about the situation in the 1960s, was there wasn't such unanimity on which chart was supreme. The NME and Melody Maker were by far the `big two` and the BBC Pick Of The Pops chart was extremely important. By comparison, Record Retailer and Disc were well behind in influence or importance. It may upset all those pundits who think everything should be in black or white, like so many dubious quiz programmes, but that is the true picture of the 1950s and 1960s record charts. There was no single chart ever accepted as official in that period, which did lead to confusion at times as to what was number 1 when the various charts differed. But that is how things really were.
To take any one chart in the manner that Guinness Hit Singles did, just distorted the truth of the period. Ideally, it would suit many chart historians to have just one chart to represent the 1960s, but any one chart chosen would have certain number 1 records not believed as true chart toppers. Even the BBC amalgamated Pick Of The Pops chart would have `oddities` in its listings; for example, the Rolling Stones `It's All Over Now` and `Little Red Rooster` did not make it to the top on the POTP chart, something many pop fans would now find hard to accept. Similarly, Elvis Presley fans would surely be angered at 1963's `Devil in Disguise` relegation to number 2 on the BBC chart.
The 1950s, and 1960s, had a range of competing charts. It may be unpleasant for those who want everything neat and orderly, but that is the fact of that period. To try and enforce just one chart taken from that era and put it forward as `official` is to change pop history and give an untrue picture. To have given the weakest of the major 1960s charts Record Retailers such undeserved prominence is one of the greatest errors in chart history. This article has tried to redress this.
Many thanks are due to those former staff members from the music and trade papers who kindly assisted with factual data for my research. These are Peter Jones and Norman Joplin (ex Record Mirror), Nigel Hunter, Norman Bates, Graeme Andrews, Michael Clare and Jeremy Wilder (ex Record Retailer), Colin Bostock-Smith and Roger St Pierre (ex Top Pops), the late Penny Valentine and David Hughes (ex Disc and Music Echo), Chris Welch, Chris Charlesworth and Richard Williams (ex Melody Maker), Fred Dellar and Derek Johnson (ex New Musical Express) and Karen Walter who is still at NME!.
Thanks to Nigel Mundy and Peter Cox (ex Chantry, Button & Co), Derek Chinnery and Jeff Walden of the B.B.C, Paul Clifford from the Official Charts Company. Thanks are due to author Johnny Rogan for his help in advising me on the formatting of this article. Also, thanks are due to record shop managers such as Max Millwards of Wednesfield, John Hawkes and Mal at `Memory lane Music`, Oldbury, Jim and Morris Hunting of the `Diskery` in Birmingham. These three and others have provided useful data, contacts and insights from the seller's perspective.
Thanks are also forthcoming to the staff of the British Library branches at Euston and Colindale. Many thanks indeed to Andrew Tipple who is the son of Harry Tipple, the founder of the Record Retailers association for his documents outlining the setting up of the association. Finally, thanks are due to Graham Appleyard care of UK MIX for his data regarding Jukeboxes and Record Label `only` shops`
©Alan Smith September 2005. (Revised November 2013)