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Encyclopedia > UK Top 40

The UK Singles Chart is compiled by the Official UK Charts Company (http://www.theofficialcharts.com) on behalf of the music industry. The chart week runs from Sunday to Saturday, with the chart being compiled on Sunday afternoon. Most UK singles are released in record shops on a Monday. The main chart contains the top 200 singles, of which the Top 75 is generally considered to comprise the main chart (although only the top 40 are generally of interest), and uses only sales figures. No airplay statistics are used for the official Top 200. As of February 13th 2005 1004 singles have topped the UK singles chart according to the Official UK Charts Company's statistics. The precise number is debatable due to the profusion of different competing charts during the 1950s and 1960s, although the usual list used is that endorsed by the Guinness Book of British Hit Singles and subsequently adopted by The Official UK Charts Company. The current #1 single is U2's "Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own".

The Top 40 is currently, and always has been, sold to BBC Radio 1, who broadcast all the songs from the Top 40, in reverse order, on Sundays from 4-7PM. Mark Goodier and Bruno Brookes are famous for having been the presenters of this chart show for many years, but in 2003 Goodier was replaced by relative newcomer Wes Butters. In February 2005 the show is now presented by JK & Joel.



The first British singles chart was published in the November 14, 1952 edition of the New Musical Express. It was at first little more than a gimmick, a tool in the circulation war against NME's much older (and more popular) rival Melody Maker. The chart, at first a top 12, was the creation of the paper's advertising manager, Percy Dickins, who compiled it by telephoning around 20 major record stores and aggregating their sales reports. He would continue to personally oversee the compilation of the chart well into the 1960s.

The chart rapidly became one of the paper's most popular features. After only a few weeks, it started being quoted in record company advertisements and press releases. The chart also spawned imitators - Record Mirror launched its own chart in 1955 and Melody Maker in 1958.

The forerunner of today's official chart first appeared in the music trade publication Record Retailer (now Music Week) in 1960 as a Top 50, but was not immediately recognised as the definitive chart in the country. Arguably, the NME chart was still the most recognised chart, and had the advantage of widespread exposure due to its use by Radio Luxembourg. Throughout the sixties, the various different charts vied for public recognition, leading to some historical anomalies — for example, The Beatles' second single "Please Please Me" was a number one on most charts, but not in Record Retailer. To add to the confusion, the chart used by the BBC on their popular shows Pick of the Pops and Top Of The Pops was actually calculated by averaging out all the others, and so didn't agree with any of them, and was prone to tied positions.

It wasn't until 1969 that a truly reliable, official chart emerged, from an alliance between the BBC and Record Retailer. For the first time a professional polling organisation, BMRB, was commissioned to oversee the chart, and a pool of 500 record shops was used - more than twice as many as had been used for any previous chart. The new Official Top 50 was inaugurated in the week ending 12 February 1969.

In 1978, the singles chart was extended from a Top 50 to a Top 75.

In 1982, BMRB lost their contract to Gallup, who arranged for electronic data gathering to replace the old sales diary method of compilation. The first chart terminals appeared in record shops in 1984. As a result, in October 1987, it was now possible for the chart, incorporating sales up to close of business on Saturday, to be announced on Sunday afternoon, rather than being delayed until Tuesday as was previously the case.

In 1990, the chart came under the auspices of CIN (Chart Information Network), a syndicate including the BBC, Spotlight (publishers of Music Week), the BPI and BARD (British Association of Record Distributors). This was basically a formalisation of the previously-existing informal arrangement, and did not significantly affect compilation.

The entire UK top 75 can be found online on Yahoo! Launch UK (formerly Dotmusic) at The Official UK Top 75 Singles (http://uk.launch.yahoo.com/c/uk/single_charts.html) along with weekly commentary by James Masterton.

Comparison of UK singles charts prior to 1969

New Musical Express
Launched the first UK singles sales chart (a top 12) on 14 November 1952, initially compiled on a points system, from a sample of 15-30 from a pool of 53 shops. The chart was expanded to a Top 20 from 1 October 1954, a Top 30 from 13 April 1956 and a Top 50 from April 1983. The sample size was initially 15-30 shops, expanded to 70 by the early 1960s and 150 by June 1963. The NME chart survived until the early 1990s, and was still compiled in-house until the mid-80s when it was taken over by MRIB.

Record Mirror
Launched a top 10 singles chart on 22 January 1955, later expanded to a Top 20 and then Top 30. Discontinued in March 1962 when Record Mirror began taking the Record Retailer chart.

Radio Luxembourg
Radio Luxembourg was hugely influential in the 1950s and 1960s, but never had its own chart. It launched a Top 20 based on Melody Maker's sheet music chart as early as 1948 and switched to using the NME Top 20 singles sales chart at the start of 1960. During the 1970s the chart fractured into multiple genre charts.

Melody Maker
Launched a Top 10 singles sales chart in April 1956, alongside (but eventually superceding) the sheet music chart it launched ten years earlier. The chart became a Top 50 in September 1962. Its sample size was 30 at launch, expanding to 110 by 1963, 150 by 1965 and 220 by the time it merged with the Disc chart in August 1967.

Disc & Music Echo
Launched a top 20 singles chart in February 1958, based on a sample of 25 shops. It expanded to a Top 30 with a sample of c.75-100 shops by 1966. The chart became a Top 50 in April 1966 and merged with Melody Maker's chart in August 1967. Due to Disc's lower circulation and smaller sample size, its chart is not generally considered as important as other charts of the same period.

Record Retailer
Trade magazine Record Retailer launched a Top 50 singles chart on 10 March 1960. Its sample was only 30 shops to begin with, growing to 40 by March 1962, 60 by March 1963 and 80 by 1969. This was the only major singles chart to exclude EPs, which had their own separate chart until 30 November 1967. EPs were allowed into the main singles chart from that point on, just in time for The Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour to enjoy a chart run which peaked at number two.

British Broadcasting Corporation
Introduced Pick of the Pops on 4 October 1955, fortnightly until the end of the year, then weekly thereafter, based on an average of the Record Mirror and NME singles charts (and probably also Melody Maker from April 1956).

Building the canon

While the BBC/Record Retailer chart is almost universally accepted as definitive for the period from February 1969 onwards, there is some controversy over which charts should be considered "correct" prior to this. The most common solution to this problem is to regard the Record Retailer chart as the correct one from its inception in 1960, and the NME chart before that. This approach originated with the Guinness Book of British Hit Singles, first published in 1977. However, it may be argued that almost nobody considered the Record Retailer chart to be canonical at the time of publication, at least until "Record Mirror" began publishing it as well. Some chart reference books simply take "Record Mirror" as their source from the start; this is the approach taken by "The Top 20 Book" compiled biannually by Tony Jasper from 1978 to 1994, and "Rock File", an annual publication during the 1970s whose "Chart Log" feature was effectively the forerunner to "British Hit Singles", as well as numerous books by Dave McAleer. The result of this approach is a chart that begins in 1955, and joins up with the "Record Retailer" chart (and so agrees with the Guinness book) in 1962.

A case may also be made for considering the NME chart to be the correct one for at least part of the 1960s, since it was arguably the one followed by the most people. Similarly, Melody Maker's charts could be considered correct for the same period because they drew on the largest number of shops for their compilation. (However, the latter is less practical since unlike the NME charts, the Melody Maker charts have never been reprinted and are therefore difficult to obtain.)

The Official UK Charts Company have adopted the Guinness solution as defining the official chart canon, however different approaches continue to exist.

Criteria for inclusion

In order to qualify for inclusion in the UK singles chart, a single must meet the following criteria:

  • It must be available on one or more eligible formats. Eligible formats are CD, DVD, Vinyl, Cassette and flexidisc. Digital Compact Cassette and MiniDisc formats are not eligible.
  • All formats must contain the featured track or a version/remix of it.
  • Only three formats can be included in a single's sales. Sales of any additional formats are disregarded when calculating a single's chart position.
  • The single must meet a minimum dealer price requirement, to prevent record companies from making cut-price deals with retailers.
  • Each format must have no more than three different tracks on it, though each song may appear in any number of different versions.
  • The maximum running time for any format is 20 minutes if more than one different song is featured, or 40 minutes if only one song is featured in multiple versions/mixes.
  • A "mini CD" format is now recognised for chart purposes. It can have a running time of up to ten minutes and can feature no more than two tracks. It must be a 5" CD and sold in a single jewelcase. Its minimum price requirement is lower than the regular CD single. This cheaper alternative was first recognised in October 2003 as part of a drive to make singles more attractive to buyers in the face of widespread music downloading.

The full chart regulations also place limits on how chart singles can be packaged and what free gifts can be offered to purchasers. The full regulations can be downloaded from the Official UK Chart Company website or obtained by post from them.

Charts and the music industry

The record industry place a fair amount of importance on the UK singles chart. Music singles are mostly sold as a way of promoting the artist's album - the singles themselves usually make a loss. A single that charts in a high position, or makes it to number 1, is therefore good advertising for the album. Sometimes stickers are even placed on the album mentioning the popular singles.

Because the record industry is mostly interested in the highest position which a single reaches, there is usually a wave of promotion of the single before it comes out, in the hope that people rush out to buy the single in its first week of release. This means that most singles enter the charts at a certain position, and then fall down the chart in subsequent weeks. Singles that climb the charts and spend a number of weeks at a high position are rare, and usually denote 'super' singles, which manage to enter the public consciousness and appeal to a wide range of people.

An effect of this competition for high chart positions is that a number of high-profile "battles" have taken place in which singles released on the same day have become the focus of media attention concerning which will sell the most copies in their first week and therefore enter the chart higher. The first and most famous example was in August 1995 when the Britpop groups Oasis and Blur released their respective singles "Roll With It" and "Country House" on the same day. The outcome was that "Country House" entered the chart at number one, and "Roll With It" at number 2, and the rivalry was widely reported in the mainstream news media. Another high-profile battle occurred exactly 5 years later in August 2000, when "Groovejet (If This Ain't Love)" by Spiller featuring Sophie Ellis-Bextor beat "Out Of Your Mind" by Truesteppers featuring Dane Bowers and Victoria Beckham to the number one position. On this occasion the main media interest was in the supposed rivalry between the featured female vocalists on the two records. On both occasions, the press and TV coverage is generally believed to have increased sales for all parties.


There has been much controversy over the fact that the UK Singles Chart has, for many years, been sponsored by various companies. This in itself would be unremarkable were it not for the fact that the chart is broadcast exclusively on BBC Radio 1, a public owned radio station which cannot sell advertising or sponsorship. The singles chart sponsorship is, however, sold by the Official UK Charts Company, and so the BBC does not receive any money from the deal. They have, in the past, mentioned the name of the sponsors when doing the chart rundown and this has in effect allowed the sponsors to do indirect advertising on a publicly owned radio station.

For many years the chart was sponsored by worldpop.com, a music website. However, in 2004, Coca Cola became the sponsors of the chart instead. For a while, the BBC continued the practise of mentioning the sponsoring company during the chart show, however there was a huge backlash against this - partly caused by controversy elsewhere over allowing sugary/fatty foods and drinks to be advertised to children.

The BBC initially stuck to its guns, but eventually came to an agreement whereby the name would be dropped from its on-air broadcast.


To see what records are held by what artists associated with the singles chart, click here

See also

  • List of Number 1 singles (UK)
  • List of best selling singles
  • List of best selling singles by year
  • One-hit wonders in the UK
  • UK topics

External links

  • The Official UK Charts Company (http://www.theofficialcharts.com/html/index.shtml)
  • Top 40 on the UK Singles Chart (http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio1/chart/top40/) – from bbc.co.uk
  • Top 75 on the UK Singles Chart (http://uk.launch.yahoo.com/c/uk/single_charts.html) – from LAUNCH (UK) (http://uk.launch.yahoo.com)
  • everyHit.com (http://www.everyhit.com/)
  • ChartStats.com (http://www.chartstats.com/)
  • Hit 40 UK (http://www.hit40uk.com/)

  Results from FactBites:
Top 40 - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (1308 words)
Top 40 is both a record chart and a radio format based on frequent repetition of songs from a constantly-updated list of the forty best-selling singles.
Top 40 was a response to the rise of television.
Top 40 also spawned the first generation of star disk jockeys, whose between-song patter and connection with the listeners became as important as the songs themselves.
UK Singles Chart - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (4011 words)
The main chart contains the top 250 singles combining record sales and downloads, of which the Top 75 is generally considered as the official chart (although only the top 40 are of interest to a wider public).
The Top 40 is currently, and always has been, sold to BBC Radio 1, who broadcast all the songs from the Top 40, in reverse order, on Sundays from 4 to 7pm.
The chart was expanded to a Top 20 from 1 October 1954, a Top 30 from 13 April 1956 and a Top 50 from April 1983.
  More results at FactBites »



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