My December In Media

Was Christmas busy for you? Mine was, and not just for the usual work-related reasons either.

December saw me spend much of the month popping up as the invited expert in a variety of media, all of which helped nicely to expose both myself and the Chart Watch site which saw a welcome boost in visitors over the same period.

So where did I end up? First in the queue was the gloriously talented Laura Snapes who was writing a piece for The Guardian about the hottest lady of 2017 – Dua Lipa. Read the article and you will see quotes from me, noting, in particular, the extraordinary way in the spring that she landed herself quite by accident with three simultaneous Top 20 hits which instantly made her one of the biggest names of the moment. I never really made the link myself when New Rules became a hit, but there is little doubt this was the momentum which propelled her to the top of the charts for the very first time.

This was one of those occasions when it only occurred to me after the fact to note one more pertinent point. Tolerating the slow burn of a brand new act is far easier than it used to be, given you can release ‘flop’ singles with minimal overhead beyond the actual recording. Digital distribution means you don’t have to press physical copies that might go unsold, and as countless big-name acts have proven you don’t even have to fund the production of a video until the track has become a substantial hit. If at all. If your first attempt fails, bin it and move on. You’ve actually lost very little. And that’s something that artists like Dua Lipa will find works increasingly to their advantage in the future.

Next, it was Christmas Number One season and things became a little frantic. First in the queue was Mark Savage from BBC Online, a reporter I’ve spoken to on and off for a number of years now. He quizzed me over the phone on the Monday morning about the Christmas Number One race which at that time was by no means the clear-cut race it turned out to be. So the resultant piece features me hedging my bets just a little but noting that Ed Sheeran has the nap hand with his multiple versions, plus the fact that he did the Strictly final that weekend and so was benefitting nicely from that exposure.

In fact, your favourite Chart Watch writer ended up quoted in several BBC News articles that week, largely based on quotes I gave in that Monday morning interview. So here is me noting how the Christmas songs on the front page of Spotify are by a strange coincidence the highest charting ones that week, followed a day later by my thoughts on how long it takes a Christmas song to turn into a bona-fide classic given our fondness for nostalgic hits rather than newly-recorded attempts at an artists’ pension plan.

However, it was to be Friday 22nd, the day that the Christmas chart itself was unveiled which would turn into my big day of media. It began with a tweet from a producer for the Drive show on 5 Live. Would I be interested in participating in a conversation about Christmas Number One hits generally later that day, and could I make it to a BBC studio somewhere? Would I ever. I told them I could attend at New Broadcasting House at their convenience and was duly booked in for a chat. It was a fun 20-minute segment featuring some other guests with their own unique perspective to add. Second only to the rather naughty thrill of appearing as an invited guest on the direct rival to the radio station I actually work for was the fun surprise of noting that the BBC’s security system still recognised me from when I’d had cause to visit the building two months earlier and they still had my picture on file for the security pass.

Here it is then, my big 5 Live Drive debut:

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Yet there was more. Earlier in the day, I had also been contacted by a researcher for the BBC News TV channel, someone also alerted to my potential as a pontificator on all things Christmas Number One. I noted to them that my booking on 5Live meant I was actually going to be present in the building around the time they wanted me to appear so it should all work out nicely. This necessitated a trip to the wardrobe to select a shirt, my first choice vetoed by Mrs Masterton who pointed out I was wanting to wear the exact same outfit I had used to appear on TV five years earlier. And these things matter apparently. Shirt and tie duly knotted, I was off into town to turn myself into a global superstar. Of a kind.

I was actually glad I’d done the radio appearance first. Because I am at home in a radio studio and was relaxed and happy and had already warmed up my opinions. It meant that being guided down to the green room by the enthusiastic intern who had become my personal runner for the evening and awaiting makeup was by no means as nerve-wracking as it might have been. So it was, to the surprise of several relatives and one or two colleagues who happened to be tuned in at that time, I made my first live TV appearance in 18 years. And all three minutes of it is captured below.

So there you are, another in my sporadic bursts of minor celebrity as I prove that if you try hard enough you can have multiple 15 minutes of fame, just spread out a little. But hopefully, this also proves that I give incredibly good copy, make a well-spoken radio guest and can scrub up well to appear on camera to be on television as well. And if you are a journalist or a researcher wanting to add some colour to a story about pop music or the charts, I can probably be of some use.

Oh yes, and this all helped to add to the usual Christmas time spike in interest in the Chart Watch UK site. Rather curiously the most-read piece of that period was not the Christmas Number One announcement itself, but that of the one before. Perhaps it was just a question of timing.

Liveblog: Christmas Number One 2017

Thursday, December 21st. 11am

This is probably the last live update it will be necessary to do given it is all over bar the shouting.

Preliminary numbers for the singles chart as of the close of play on Wednesday indicate that Perfect has notched up almost 68,000 chart sales compared to 52,000 for RiverLast Christmas languishes in third place with 45,000. That’s with significant streaming information missing (that is late arriving as always and doesn’t get folded into the live numbers until lunchtime) but based on yesterday’s calculations that only closes the gap by 1,000 chart sales or so.

Whether 13,000 or 14,000 copies in the lead it doesn’t matter. Ed Sheeran and friends are out of sight in the Christmas Number One race.

Wednesday, December 20th. 6pm

I should have just waited. Music Week has updated the midweeks this evening and given us some numbers to play with.

Suffice to say the surmising below is correct. 56,366 sales so far this week for Perfect are playing 42,836 for River. That’s a lead of more than 13,000. Which is pretty much insurmountable. For those agitating for Last Christmas to give poor late George a Number One as a tribute, note that it is as of close of play on Wednesday more than 20,000 chart sales behind Ed Sheeran. All the plugs on This Morning in the world aren’t going to help it from here.

Perfect by Ed Sheeran is the 2017 Christmas Number One. You read it here first.

Wednesday, December 20th. 2pm

I’ve got literally nothing concrete to report here, which has made for a curious couple of days. There’s a conspicuous lack of updates from anywhere official, be it Music Week or the Official Charts Company themselves. That would suggest they are happy to let speculation ride, and avoid clueing anyone into just how the gap between the Ed and Eminem singles is progressing.

But what we can do is make some educated guesses based on accessible numbers. We don’t have hard numbers, but do have sales proportions based on the iTunes popularity bars, which are a reliable barometer of how singles are selling in relation to each other, even if we don’t physically know how many that is.

So, at the time of writing although River remains the top-selling individual single of the last 24 hours, as it has been since release, it still cannot compete with the multiple versions of Perfect. All three of them are occupying places in the iTunes Top 10 and adding up their numbers we can conclude that as of right now Perfect is selling 185% of the amount River is. Which is one hell of a lead.

Over on Spotify, it is a different story. At the start of the week, Eminem’s numbers went berzerk, rocketing up by a fifth to further extend his lead at the top of the market. These are always a day behind. but we do know that on Tuesday (19th) River was streamed 605,460 times in the UK. The individual versions of Perfect are some distance behind (and indeed Perfect Symphony just hasn’t managed any market traction at all). Combined they only add up to 492,578 copies. Or a little over 100,000 copies behind.

So to put it another way, we know that Eminem is ahead of Ed Sheeran on the streaming side of things by the order of about 666 chart sales each day. But remember that sales lead above? If we take a guess and assume that River is selling 10,000 copies a day on iTunes (which may be an exaggeration or it may be underestimating it we just don’t know), then that means the combined sales of Perfect are 18,500 a day. That sounds a lot, so even if we halve the numbers we still end up with 5,000 placing 9,250. So Ed’s sales lead is anything between 4,000 to 8,000 copies s day. And that’s way more than the 666 copies a day that Eminem has on Spotify.

Now admittedly this is only based on one retailer for each market sector, but they are each far and away the leaders. So any differences in the numbers from other platforms are unlikely to skew these calculations too much. But based on the figures above, Ed Sheeran’s lead of 4,000 sales from the Monday midweek has almost certainly increased in the 48 hours since.

I’m still calling Christmas Number One 2017 for Ed Sheeran.

Monday, December 18th. 9pm

A busy old day today, for sure. Ed Sheeran is keeping things interesting.

First, here’s me chatting with the BBC News website to add some colour to their own story on the official midweek update which landed at 6pm.

As for the update itself, well the headline story was kind of what we were expecting based on guesses from the available numbers. According to the Official Charts Company, the combined versions of Ed Sheeran’s Perfect are enough to ensure it is the most-purchased track so far this week, Eminem’s residency at the top of the iTunes table notwithstanding. On streams, however, the reverse is true and indeed the midweek figures reflect what we’ve been reading from Spotify since the weekend. Combined, the streams of Ed’s track are strong but still not quite strong enough to overhaul the enormous popularity of River. It is even managing to withhold the onslaught of All I Want For Christmas Is You to ensure that perhaps incredibly (and reassuringly) the most played track of the moment is an up to the minute hip-hop album cut rather than a tired festive favourite.

My interview with the BBC was based on the vague details we had at the time, the press release from the Official Charts Company (and their subsequent website story) playing up the fact that the race is very close indeed. Suggesting we have a genuine battle on our hands.

Leaked figures suggest a slightly different story, most indications seem to be that Perfect has done 34,000 copies so far this week with River lagging behind on 26,000. The Wham! single in third place is indeed a very close third, but only in the sense of being another 4,000 copies distant.

Right now, Christmas Number One is Ed Sheeran’s (as a lead artist) to lose. It all comes down to what happens next to the Eminem track now that we are beyond the weekend. Sag or surge. The next 24 hours will confirm whether this is actually still a race.

Meanwhile, over on the Facebook group desperate to see a 33-year-old single which people listen to every year regardless top the charts, they aren’t taking the news very well.

All A Fix In Favour Of Sheeran Anyway

Monday, December 18th. 3pm

Patiently awaiting the lifting of the 6pm embargo on the official singles chart midweeks, so to pass the time let’s note what seems to now be the regular Monday morning “people being grumpy at bookmakers” thread.

As we noted at the weekend, there’s a mysterious lack of Eminem in the latest odds for Christmas Number One, this despite all indications being he is now one of the leading contenders to grab the crown. The problem is the presence of Ed Sheeran on the Eminem track. Having tied themselves in knots over the whole issue of whether the Beyonce duet counts as the same record as Ed solo, most bookmakers cheerfully converted all Ed Sheeran stakes into bets on “Ed Sheeran solo or duet”. But that is clearly intended to cover his own record. What happens if he is the guest on someone else’s? One chap on Twitter atempted to find out:

Paddy Power (or their social media team) wrestled with this for a few tweets and then concluded:

Except that’s wrong and that’s not what they are doing. At the time of writing no bookmakers have laid odds on Eminem being Christmas Number One, precisely because if they do they will have to pay out twice if he does it – to those punters backing Eminem and also to those who backed what is now established as a bet on “anything with Ed Sheeran on it”. And technically you cannot have a first-past-the-post market where two winning lines are possible. Unless they apply their own dead heat rules which will cause no small degree of social media fume.

However, this does raise the scenario of Eminem and Ed topping the Christmas charts and the bookmakers electing not to pay out given that Ed is only the guest star and not the lead artist. Although then they would technically have to void the entire lot, given that no odds were ever laid on what was eventually the winning act.

The moral? If we ever see Christmas Number One betting again, you can bet your life we’ll have to bet on the title of the song that tops the charts, not the artist as has traditionally been the case.

4pm Update:

Paddy Power eventually clarified the position, one which we can asume is being followed by all the other bookmakers:

…and that’s why, confusing though it may be, you cannot bet on Emimen being Christmas Number One. Because of the chap who appears on his record. Even if that isn’t the one people were betting on in the first place.

Sunday, December 17th. 5pm

Sunday means nobody at work in offices so nobody to put out anything resembling a full status update on the Christmas Number One race. All I can say is that for the moment it is quite intriguing, simply because the multiple versions factor means it is more or less impossible to read anything into the available live charts. Although since when did that stop us?

On the face of it, Eminem’s River is surging ahead. It has been lodged at the top of iTunes ever since release and according to the Spotify numbers made available this lunchtime, has consolidated its position as the most streamed track of the moment. As I noted before, take this with a small pinch of salt, Eminem hits burn out very quickly indeed and his progress once we move beyond the weekend is more significant than anything he does now.

Ed Sheeran performed on the Strictly Come Dancing final show on Saturday night, and that at the very least sent his online sales berzerk. Perfect Duet is at No.2 on iTunes with Perfect Symphony just behind at 3. Meanwhile, the original album version is at the present moment the sixth most-purchased single of the last 24 hours. Cumulatively all are enough to wipe out whatever sales lead Eminem might otherwise have had.

Streaming though continues to be the problem child, maybe surprisingly for a man who was streamed so much in the spring his entire album swamped the Top 20. The three versions of Perfect combined clocked up a total of 511,703 streams on Saturday, just short of the 545,077 enjoyed by the Eminem track. The tactic of releasing multiple takes of the song has almost certainly given it a boost in the rump of the sales market, but there is little evidence so far that it has had a significant effect on its streams. People are listening to the track, but selecting their favourite version and sticking with it rather than necessarily consuming them all together.

On balance though, Ed has an edge still which would concur with the early flashes we saw on Saturday. If he keeps that up during the week he should still be on course to be Christmas Number One, with or without any Eminem drop-off.

As for Christmas classics? They are up there too, but I suspect both Mariah and Wham! are going to be left knocking on the door of the Ed and Eminem (with Ed) show.

Meanwhile, there’s still no further whispers of the phantom Adele single. And the bookies remain bizarrely leaden-footed with not one of the major firms yet offering odds on an Eminem victory. With five days to go, we are in the extraordinary situation of not being able to back the single which stands an even money chance of winning the race.

Saturday, December 16th. 3pm

We are a little over 24 hours into the chart week, so what do we know so far?

  • Based on a Saturday lunchtime sales flash from the Official Charts Company, Ed is ahead already. This one seems to be a little more meaningful than the one they issued this time last year. Back then we had an update which featured zero streaming information and gave an artificially high indication as to the status of some singles. Many of which in the event never even made the Top 75. This time they appear to have more data to work with, and all seems to be in order with the news that Perfect has a narrow edge over his nearest rival.


  • That nearest rival is indeed something out of left field rather than the tedium of Mariah or Wham! Eminem’s new album Revival is released this week and naturally enough many of its tracks have taken up residence in the top streamed tracks of the moment. Far and away the most popular though is one called River which features the additional vocal talents of one E. Sheeran. At the time of writing it is the solid sales leader on iTunes and was the most played track on Spotify on Friday. I’m cautious as to how to view this, as big deal Eminem singles tend to open strongly and then fade away as the week progresses. Plus you must remember there is only one of him and a great many different versions of Ed Sheeran. I’d actually love a Christmas chart race to be between two contemporary and brand new hit singles (even if the same man appears on both). Let’s just hope that he keeps up.


  • There is one rather startling move on what might be an otherwise moribund betting market. All the major bookmakers still taking bets on Christmas Number One suddenly installed Adele as second favourite, at odds of an average of 3-1, late on Friday afternoon. This appears to be down to reports in Friday’s newspapers that she is planning a charity release of her own, tying in with her own interest in the ongoing plight (if we can call it that) of those displaced by the Grenfell Tower disaster. For now this is a ghost single, nothing has been announced or released. But that’s not to say such a record couldn’t suddenly become a Number One contender, even if released midweek at the last minute. Yes, we’ve already had a Grenfell charity single top the charts this year, so you do kind of wonder what the appetite for another will be. But never underestimate people’s desire to virtue signal or just try to attract good karma with a sideways charity donation at Christmas. However with every passing hour that no such single materialises, the greater the challenge will be to propel it to the top of the charts.

Speaking of the bookmakers. How funny is it that nobody is actually offering odds on an Eminem Christmas Number One? At least not at the time of writing.

Friday, December 15th. 2pm.

The talking is over, let Christmas battle commence.

We are now formally into the sales week which will determine the identity of the 2017 Christmas Number One. All sales and streams logged from midnight last night until midnight next Thursday will count towards the compilation of the Official UK Singles chart. It is due for public unveiling by Radio One from 4pm next Friday. During the course of the next week, this particular blog will analyse the latest numbers, rumours and market movements as they become available. I hope to give you a heads up as to just how the charts next week are shaping up.

Last year was enormous fun. This year, not so much. Today Ed Sheeran released what is now to be called Perfect Symphony, a brand new version of his current Number One record featuring a new guest vocal from Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli. Sales and streams of this will combine with both the original Perfect and the Beyonce-featured Perfect Duet. He clearly wants to be Christmas Number One and he and his label have gone all out to achieve this. Having gamed the singles market last winter with a simultaneous single release, ensuring Ed locked down the top end of the charts right the way through to the release of his album, the singer and his label have apparently gamed the Christmas market too. Ed Sheeran will start and end 2017 on the top of the charts.

That is unless Mariah Carey pulls off a Christmas miracle with a track over two decades old. Mind you, it is not as if there is room to bet on this. Some of the fun in previous years has been in monitoring the Xmas Number One market on the Betfair Exchange and watching the flow of money in real time. Having tied themselves in knots over the whole Ed/Beyonce issue and been forced to void the existing market, the online bookmaker hasn’t seen fit to create a new one. Possibly because they also know this race is more or less a foregone conclusion and the liquidity in it for other contenders will be practically zero.

Liveblog: Christmas Number One 2017 (1 Week To Go)

For the very latest Christmas Number One odds from all the online and high street bookmakers, just go to
December 13th, 1pm

So what of the other contenders that were, given we are all but assuming Ed Sheeran has wrapped things up?

If you backed Rita Ora, sadly it looks like you did your money. Just like I did. Two weeks ago it wasn’t a completely fanciful notion that she might ascend to Number One and stick there, but crucially she needed to get there in the first place to have a position to consolidate. Three solid weeks of knocking at the door essentially sapped all the momentum she had with Anywhere and right now although still popular, the single is on the verge of fading away. Number 2 was for her a huge success, cementing her big mainstream chart comeback this year. But Christmas Number One was just never to be.

Do X Factor winners Rak-Su stand a chance? Certainly, they impressed the first week out, their debut single Dimelo complete with Wyclef Jean and Naughty Boy in tow made good the potential deficit of not being available until Sunday evening. It raced to a solid Number 2 chart position to become the highest charting X Factor winner’s single for three years. But you still have to remember that these sales were largely front loaded, a result of the outpouring of support they enjoyed in the wake of triumphing on the TV talent show. In order to remain this close to the top of the charts they have to cross over into a wider audience. This is by no means impossible given the music they perform and the entertainment value they provide, but on midweek evidence this just isn’t happening. Dimelo remains a distant second on iTunes behind Perfect Duet and their Spotify streams are showing little sign of advancing beyond 160,000 or so a day. That’s barely enough to put them in the Top 30 streamed tracks of the moment. Number One is beyond them based on current evidence.

The one wild card remains the festive classics, and in particular the near-constant seasonal champion All I Want For Christmas Is You by Mariah Carey. Just as last week, the weekend saw demand for the festive favourites go through the roof once more. The Mariah track is swapping places on a regular basis with Post Malone’s Rockstar at the top of the daily Spotify listings and has essentially moved into the pole position online it seems destined to occupy from now until the end of the year. It isn’t quite the most streamed track overall, the two competing versions of the Ed Sheeran song meaning that combined it is managing about 439,000 plays a day compared to Mariah’s 350,000. But that is by no means an insurmountable deficit. The jury is out on just how many streams the Bocelli version of Perfect will add, and as we move closer to Christmas itself and the demand for Christmas songs grows even larger it would be dangerous to completely rule out the possibility of an upset. And fascinatingly the bookmakers have not cottoned on to this yet. They seem to have a sentimental attachment to Last Christmas, pushing Mariah out as far as 9-1 in some place. If an upset does indeed take place that will be an absolute mugging for them.

Hoping that a 23-year-old record poses some kind of challenge to the market leader to give us some kind of race next week. That’s how far we’ve fallen people. Two more days of the phoney war to go anyway, then the survey for the Christmas chart can properly begin.

December 12th, 6pm

So with a few days having passed and the dust settled on the latest UK singles charts, what have we learned about the prospects for the Christmas Number One in a week and a half?

Well, working on the continuing theory that the single which replaced Camila Cabello’s Havana at the top of the charts is effectively nailed on, we can presume that Ed Sheeran and Perfect will be top of the charts for the next fortnight with some ease. The release of the brand new Perfect Duet version resulted in what Music Week reported as a 174.9% week on week increase in chart sales. The Ed Sheeran track vaulted to the top of the charts to give him his fourth UK Number One with a sale easily double that of his nearest rivals (who themselves clocked up that total in a little over four days).

Shortly after the announcement on Friday it became clear why his label rejected the idea of adding duet partner Beyonce to the single’s chart credits. Because there is yet another duet version of the track set for release, this being a rather less well kept secret this time around and so in short order, it was revealed that in the week of the Christmas chart itself there will be one final(?) version of Perfect released, this time with Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli on co-vocals.

Now, whilst this may not quite give the single the kind of boost the Beyonce version did, it is yet another set of sales and streams to add to the cumulative today. This essentially pushes the single far out of the reach of practically everything else in the market. The multiple versions of the same single stunt has been tried before, most notably by “chartjacker” Alex Day in 2011, but never on this kind of scale by a mainstream and established act. The man who began the year by releasing two singles at once and nailing down the Top 2 for weeks on end and who released an album in the spring which saw every single one of its tracks enter the Top 20 is now going to top the charts for Christmas by gaming his single in a quite inspired manner.

Is it a racing certainty? Well yes, if you believe the bookmakers, with literally no value to be obtained from any kind of bet on Ed Sheeran (or his multiple partners) right now. But that’s not to say there aren’t other contenders. In the next update later tonight I’ll deal with who they are and just why they might still be in with a chance.

Liveblog: Christmas Number One 2017 (antepost)

For the very latest Christmas Number One odds from all the online and high street bookmakers, just go to
December 6th, 3pm

The plot thickens. Last night Betfair voided the ENTIRE exchange market on Christmas Number One. I haven’t had this much fun since all the bookmakers installed “Strictly Come Dancing Theme” as the favourite when no such record existed or was planned.

December 6th, 1pm

Now much of the talk about the anticipation of the Christmas Number One race is framed in the context of the bookmaker’s odds. At the end of the day that is what much of this is about, the whole idea of the Number One record at the end of December being something special largely an invention of William Hill back in 1984.

But secretly the bookmakers hate markets like this. They are way out of their comfort zone, trying to price up a market of which they have no understanding and which is subject to the whims and tastes of the general public rather than performance on a sports pitch. It is a good publicity tool and sucks in a casual punter who might not gamble with them any other time of year save for Grand National weekend. But the risk they take is enormous. Especially when they are offering odds at the end of November or the start of December. They don’t know any more than we do what may or may not be selling – or even released – five or six weeks hence. So the early odds are largely guesswork. And if they’ve guessed incorrectly, they take drastic steps to correct themselves.

I was alerted on Monday to a series of tweets from one grumpy punter who has discovered his apparently shrewd stake at significant odds on an Ed Sheeran victory seemed set to be all but voided by SkyBet. The issue is the appearance of Beyonce alongside Ed on his single. Most bookmakers sensibly converted the existing market in line with changing circumstances. My bet with Ladbrokes on Ed at 5-1 is now a bet on Ed/Beyonce instead and the stake rides.

Not so at SkyBet, who earlier in the week appeared to have decided on a whim that a bet for “Ed Sheeran” is different to that of “Ed Sheeran and Beyonce” and are running both markets side by side. The implication is clear. If Ed/Bey top the charts for Christmas, then all those punters who backed him solo back in November were going to be out of luck. Their bet would be a losing one. That’s actually nothing short of a disgrace.

As late as Tuesday evening this was still the case on their site. You could back Ed/Beyonce at odds-on and Ed alone at a now massive 14-1. I noted at the time this was set to bite them on the backside, as it is looking unlikely that Beyonce is even going to be credited on the singles chart. Technically a bet for “Ed Sheeran” would have been a winning one according to the arbitrary rules SkyBet had elected to apply.

As of this lunchtime though they have changed their minds, and on SkyBet you can now get 8/11 for “Ed Sheeran (Solo or in Duet)”. Quite what has happened to those punters who had staked separately on solo and duet lines remains to be seen.

Mind you, they are still tied up in knots over different artists and different credits. Why else is it possible to back Clean Bandit three different ways at three different prices to be Christmas Number One? Bookmakers hate betting on pop music. This illustrates why.

December 5th, 3pm

Another day, another Spotify update. And this one is equally as startling as the Christmas songs have all fallen back sharply.

They are still huge, but not chart-swampingly huge as appeared to be the trend 24 hours ago. Most have seen their streams cut by close to a quarter of the numbers they did over the weekend. Based on past form this isn’t totally unexpected. Christmas songs tend to become more popular approaching and over the weekend, and there may be some further sagging as the days pass this week. That said, this still means they are starting from a much higher level than we’ve ever seen before. Where people like Mariah and Wham! chart on Friday will be a bassline, not an expected peak.

In the meantime, the focus can return to the important stuff. How far ahead will Ed (and Beyonce) be? How much of an impact will X Factor winners Rak-Su make (given the rest of the market had a two day stat). And how on earth is Rockstar still being streamed more than any other single, six weeks after it was knocked off the top of the charts?

December 4th, 10pm

So remember all that stuff I said last week about the Christmas songs being destined to peak far too late at streaming to have any kind of impact on the Christmas chart? Ignore it. Because as it so often the case with anything to do with chart watching, particularly in this day and age, everything we know is completely wrong.

This is a snapshot of the Spotify daily chart for Sunday, December 3rd. Reflecting a situation which seemed to spring up out of nowhere two days earlier.

I’m not going to lie to you, that is pretty damn scary. Because this has literally never happened before. It is almost as if the recent cultural phenomenon of the British public declaring the onset of advent to be “the start of Christmas” and flinging up decorations, both internal and external, as well as pitching up to the office wearing fluffy antlers has extended to tastes in music. Whereas once we would grumble at radio stations stirring in festive songs before even the first few advent chocolates had been consumed, now we are on the verge of a situation where contemporary popular music is being swept aside by listening patterns which focus solely on songs made 20-30 years ago. And in some cases far older.

Yet the true reason for this is far subtler than that. Because it is Spotify themselves who seem to be solely responsible for this incredible skew. Literally the first tile on their “genres and moods” screen in the app points to Christmas playlists. And if you happen to be in the mood for that kind of thing, they are making it easy for you.

Indeed if you click through to the first offered playlist “Christmas Is Coming”, what are the first few songs in that list? You guessed it, the exact same songs which have barged their way to the top of the live charts.

Even the appearance of the previously unknown Ariana Grande track Santa Tell Me at Number 17 on Sunday’s daily live chart is explained by this playlist – it is the seventh track on it.

Why is this all significant? Well because Spotify for good or ill owns the lions’ share of music streaming and has the most sway over the numbers which go to make up the Official UK Singles chart. If their subscriber base continue to hit this playlist (and others like it) in those kind of numbers then all talk and speculation over which contemporary hit single stands the most chance of becoming Christmas Number One becomes moot. Because aged classics like All I Want For Christmas Is You and Do They Know It’s Christmas will barge everything else out of the way.

This is why compilers such as Billboard have long had a policy of excluding tracks from the vintage long tail from the reckoning that compiles the Hot 100. The British charts have traditionally taken a more relaxed stance. It if sells (or plays) then it goes in, a policy which has led to some quite joyful spontaneous comebacks for older hits in the past. But if we end up in a situation where the December charts are full of exactly the same old songs, in exactly the same order year in, year out, you can guarantee there will be voices for change from within the industry.

This will also be grist to the mill for those grumblers who moan that passive playlist listening should not be part of the streaming numbers that count towards chart compilation. My argument to counter that has always been that you still have to listen to a song for at least 30 seconds for that to happen, and if something on a playlist has that “shit click” factor then it will be skipped in numbers equally as large. The cream will rise to the top. The problem is that Christmas classics have no shit click factor. They are classics because they are so loved. And if you have chosen to stream a playlist of these vintage songs, it is highly unlikely you will dislike any of them enough to skip ahead before the 30 second cut off point.

For now, this has stood even the current chart race on its head. Sheronce were supposed to be more or less a lock for Number One from now until the end of the year. I’m genuinely unsure as to whether this is still going to be the case.

November 30th, 6pm

So it is Beyonce.

One of the more intriguing questions of the week was finally answered by Ed Sheeran on Thursday lunchtime, leading those select few in the industry who knew and who were sworn to secrecy to finally breathe a sigh of relief that they are allowed to talk about it. The question of whether this new “remix” is any good for now remains unanswered. My only guidance here is the the view of one contact who responded in the negative. Quality aside, there is no doubting this new version will give Perfect a significant sales and streaming boost. Enough most probably to send it to the top of the charts next week. Enough to stay there another fortnight? That remains to be seen. The bookmakers know which side of the argument they are on. Ed Sheeran (with or without Beyonce) is now odds-on favourite to be Christmas Number One.

November 26th, 11pm

Christmas Number One 2017 won’t be Last Christmas by Wham!/George Michael.

That may sound a bold statement to make, especially given that the golden oldie was installed as an early favourite by just about every bookmaker going, still at the time of writing the favourite choice even on the more informed Betfair Exchange markets. On the face of it, it is an obvious sentimental choice, a final commemoration of poor late George Michael, coinciding with the first anniversary of his death.

It also isn’t totally out of the question that a festive classic could end up dominating the singles market by the end of December. As Christmas approaches these seasonal favourites are streamed in ever-larger numbers. Sweeping aside all other contemporary hits to become virtually the only songs played online in large numbers. This is indeed what happened last year, the Spotify daily charts for Christmas day almost totally dominated by Christmas songs. Last Christmas naturally one of them.

But that was on Christmas Day itself, when these songs reach their natural peak. And as I noted the bottom of this piece, the Christmas chart will be based on the market totals between the 15th and 21st of December. During which time the golden oldies will be nowhere near their streaming peak, just as last year. Factor in sales too – Last Christmas is already selling steadily as it and its companions always do at this time of year, edging their way into the iTunes chart. In order for an old single to stand a chance of topping the charts in that particular week, those still bereft of a copy would be required to hold off from purchasing one until that week in particular. And that just isn’t going to happen. Because it isn’t happening right now.

Also, let us face it, it is hardly something to aspire to. A tired 33-year-old song which every casual music fan in the country knows backwards managing to outpoint every other contemporary hit single the week before the holiday? I can’t think of anything more disappointing to see. And thankfully we won’t have to.

No, Last Christmas won’t be Christmas Number One. And by installing it as favourite the bookmakers are set to make a fortune from those suckered in by the hype.

November 25th, 6pm

An update from Oddschecker who have noticed the amount of money flowing through them for Ed. According to their figures, over 40% of all bets placed in the last 48 hours have been for Perfect. Savvy punters have spotted what we noted yesterday. The prospect of a new version of the single gives it a very important edge.

November 24th, 12pm

Ed Sheeran just announced something significant.

Contacts within the industry had in the past few days passed on chatter that “something big” was planned in relation to his current hit single Perfect. Whilst its presence near the top end of the singles charts at present always made it a possible contender, it seemed a tough ask to expect it to climb to the top for Christmas. This is a track which has already peaked at Number 4 back in March when it was an album cut, was reactivated as a single two months ago and has spent three straight weeks locked at Number 6. It was going to need a hell of a kick to propel it close to the top of the charts.

Well, now it looks like it has one. The Official Charts Company are quoting an interview he has given to Channel 4 Radio in the UAE where he has revealed that next Friday (1st) will see the release of a new “remix” of the track. “It’s a really fucking big deal. And I’ll drop who I’m doing it with next Thursday. The vibe is that it’s a remix to Perfect. I’m just basically going to ‘Despacito’ Perfect.”

Best odds you could get on Perfect being Christmas Number One on Friday lunchtime were 5-1 at Ladbrokes. I’ve a feeling that won’t last. Sheeran’s just delivered a brand new reason for even those who are bored of a track which hasn’t been off the radio since the summer a new reason to buy and listen to it.

November 23rd, 7pm

I know, I know. It seems early. But it really is that time of year again. That one time when even the most long-lapsed pop music fans suddenly start to take a keen interest in what is at the top of the UK charts. When everyone is suddenly a self-professed expert on something they pay absolutely no attention to the vast majority of the time. It is time for everyone to speculate just what will be Number One in time for Christmas. This also is the only time of year you can place bets directly on the pop charts, the bookmakers are also hoping to profit from this speculation along the way.

Well here is the good news. Because I’m a self-professed expert who happens to pay attention to the charts all year round. So on these pages over the next few weeks, I hope to be able to steer you through the minefield of speculation. Hopefully documenting along the way the market changes as the sales position becomes clearer.

It seems prudent to point out that much of the speculation you may read elsewhere will be wrong. The continuing exponential growth of the online music streaming market over the past year has changed the way the market for music operates forever. Assumptions based on the way things used to work (release big single the week before, watch everyone download it, profit) will inevitably be wrong. Whilst this year has seen its fair share of singles make instant chart impacts and fly straight to the top of the charts, there have equally been plenty which have traced a graceful upwards path and then once established at Number One sit there for an extended period.

Last year should have given you a clue as to the extent that the old rules no longer apply. Last year’s favourites failed. The parade of specially released singles with either a charitable or mischevious aim had simply faded away to nothing in Christmas week. Instead, the Christmas Number One was a proper pop record, Rockabye by Clean Bandit. It was one which had actually begun its life at the top of the charts at the end of November. Nobody in the mainstream media predicted this. Those of us who backed it at 66-1 in early December did, however.

So welcome along to this liveblog. Over the next few weeks I’ll explain just why some of the earliest assumptions as to the destiny of this year’s prize are wrong, keep a close eye on the betting markets and note where the smart money is going, and as the next few weeks progress shill blatantly for the Chart Watch UK site which will have the week by week analysis of each new singles chart.

The 2017 Christmas Number One will be announced on Friday, December 22nd at 6pm. It will be based on sales and streams (mostly streams) tallied between Friday 15th and Thursday 21st. Which is bad news for one single which is the early favourite in the bookmakers’ markets.

Now We Are 25

For someone who celebrates his birthday with something approaching extreme reluctance, one which grows with every passing year, I seem to have spent a great deal of time celebrating my own anniversaries. Hence if you care to look deeply enough through the archives of this page, you will find the occasions when I noted the 15th anniversary of the weekly Chart Watch columns with a full account of how it all began (complete with a link to the Usenet post by longtime fanzine editor Bob Gajarsky which inspired the idea in the first place), along with the series of pieces I wrote to mark my 20th anniversary, which included dips into the archive of old posts for the very first time.

So here we are five more years down the line. This week marks 25 years since my first attempt to shed some light into the dark corners of the net. Explaining just why Simple Minds had an old hit from seven years earlier floating around the Top 10. Sky Sports, if you need to ask.

This time around I’ve no need to go into detail about origin stories. Instead, I get to note the climax of what has at times been a herculean effort. I’ve clicked New Item nearly 1300 times in a content management system to make available the full archive of every single column I’ve ever written. I’m sure most people reading this have seen it already, but it never hurts to plug these things once again. Head over to Chart Watch UK and enjoy some rather compelling bursts of nostalgia. Or discover that you have a brand new online timesink to waste time on. Your choice.

There’s a podcast due later this week to commemorate this. As well as an overdue brand new look for the whole site. Past anniversaries have seen me writing from the position of someone who was paid and commissioned to write. The online economy and changing landscape being what it is, that is no longer the case. What Chart Watch remains is a genuine labour of love. One which I don’t even pepper with adverts in a faint effort to bring in money from it. The only revenue comes from sales of the associated books and the odd hardy soul who clicks on the donation button on the right-hand side.

But on that basis, it means the reason I do this remains the same as it was back in November 1992. It was clear the internet had the power to collate the sum total of human knowledge. On that basis, I wanted to find a way to contribute. In an era when everyone shares, but few have the urge to create, this is my contribution to the online world. I am able to spend a part of each week communicating about the things I am passionate about. All thanks to the power of the internet. And I’ve now done so for 25 years.

No More Silent Voices

As the decade turned, as 1989 begat 1990, so the most innovative sounds of the previous year began to inspire others. Chief amongst these was what became known as the “Soul II Soul” shuffle, the languid beats and laid back tone which had defined the early work of Jazzi B’s chart-topping group and which had become one of the defining sounds of that summer. If you were making a club record at the end of the 1980s and Italia House wasn’t your thing, you were unashamedly plugged into the Shuffle and reaping the rewards.

Such was the influence of the groove that by the spring of 1990 the dance pages of Record Mirror were noting with wry amusement that the overall effect had been to slow the average bpm (beats per minute) of the nation’s dancefloors virtually to a crawl. Hi tempo, hi energy was for the moment out the door. Clubbers wanted to do nothing more than sway.

Riding this wave, in particular, were four-piece Innocence. The production trio of Anna Jolley, Brian Harris and Mark Jolley had made waves individually with the odd remix over the preceding 2-3 years but hit commercial paydirt of their own with the recruitment of singer Gee Morris and the creation of an elegant new concept. Innocence were at the forefront of what would become the chill-out, their tracks an alluring mix of Balearic beats, ambient soundscapes and the crystal clear tones of Morris. Soul music you could dance to, fall asleep to and fall in love with all at the same time. Cooltempo Records snapped them up in an instant.

The first Innocence single was a critical sensation. In its full version Natural Thing ran almost ten minutes long, the main body of the song (with its “coming on, keep coming on” refrain) all but vanishing after three minutes. Instead it gave way to an extended ambient breakdown which cheekily mixed in what was almost the entirety of Dave Gilmour’s guitar solo from Pink Floyd’s Shine On You Crazy Diamond. The fact that this never attracted any legal issue suggested either that the group had full permission to do or that the star tacitly approved of the work. The concept was taken a stage further with the No One Gets Out Of Here Alive mix which stirred in elements of Riders On The Storm by The Doors. A full blown cover of the song would later appear on international editions of the group’s debut album.

Natural Thing was one of the more rapturously greeted club hits of the first few months of 1990, its destiny was to end up Innocence’s highest charting single when it peaked at Number 16 in late March, its reputation and regard possibly outstripping its overall commercial performance.

Following this early success, however, subsequent singles from the group’s debut album Belief struggled to match even that mid-table peak. Silent Voice barely scraped the Top 40 in the summer and Let’s Push It barely improved on that with a visit to the Top 30 in the autumn.

Yet it is their fourth single which concerns us here. Despite being lavished with the kind of attention which suggested it was being pitched as a major seasonal smash hit, it barely tickled the charts at all.

The tale of heartbreak A Matter Of Fact was not at first listen one of the standout tracks from the debut Innocence release. Following on from the full ten minute version of Natural Thing on the tracklisting, it in its original form it was a sparsely produced track. Beats, bass and voice. This gave it a haunting and elegant simplicity. The song was one of the more unabashedly ambient cuts from the album and as far removed from a pop hit as you could imagine. Hence a transformation for single release. A Matter Of Fact had several gallons of fairy dust sprinkled on it – more beats, a melancholy piano riff and perhaps most crucially of all a full string arrangement. The chilled-out cut was now an epic soulful pop masterpiece. More than anything they had released before, this was surely destined for the Top 10.

The timing of its release as a single was no coincidence. It appeared in the shops at the end of November. This was Innocence’s pitch for a Christmas time smash and a much needed boost for the album which by that time had sunk out of sight. Yet to widespread shock it just didn’t work. Charting just outside the Top 40 in its first week on release, the newly enhanced A Matter Of Fact simply refused to take off. Over the next few weeks it would move 46-37-38-39 before dropping out of the Top 40 by Christmas. Perhaps a Top Of The Pops appearance would have helped to propel the single further into public consciousness but the failure of the single to move up, as opposed to down, the charts put paid to that idea.

So the song remains something of a lost classic. I bought the single anyway, and to hear it again transports me back to the tinsel-clad sixth form common room and my starring role in the Christmas revue that year. Back to memories of my parents’ house being a building site, and of failing to land Christmas kisses with the girl who first screamed across the common room how much she loved the song.

The Innocence project was good for one more album, their second album Build spawning two more minor Top 40 hits in 1992, but none had quite the impact or indeed the cultural significance of anything on their debut. Singer Gee would later attempt a solo career, her only album landing to little attention in 1994.

Backtiming Back In Time

Nostalgia Ain’t What It Used To Be

Radio studios are quite glamorous places to earn a living, all things considered. If you are even halfway technically minded, there is something quite thrilling about your working environment being a LED-drenched palace of glowing buttons, dancing meters and multiple busy viewscreens. Clocks tick away, dials move, and people sit there with their faces gently illuminated by some very expensive technology.

A studio, yesterday

That said, I also like to consider myself lucky that my career began in the mid-1990s during the crossover from an entirely different era. A more earthy, direct, analogue era where things were magnetic, plastic rather than solid state and had plenty of moving parts to go wrong. Because just like driving a stick shift car as opposed to an automatic, where you somehow feel much closer to the engine and at one with your vehicle, back then it was far more of an art to create things live rather than just pushing a button and waiting for the computer to do all the work.

This is particularly resonant when I sit and play out pre-recorded shows (all on a computer these days naturally). Because my first ever job in radio was to deal with a weekly recorded programme back in the analogue era. Along with all the heavy lifting that entailed.

Dees Sleaze

It is a shame I never kept one of the old rotas which listed me as being in charge of “taking Rick Dees” which was certainly not as violent as it may sound at first glance. This was preparing for the weekly Saturday night broadcast of the Rick Dees Weekly Top 40, an American chart show which was syndicated around the world from Los Angeles where it was produced, and which was taken by a handful of British stations in the UK.

As I would only learn in later years, what we broadcast was a heavily condensed version of what at source was a four-hour marathon, shipped to broadcasting stations on a bundle of CDs which contained both the full produced show and the dry elements should they want to stitch it together themselves. Somewhere in the bowels of Metro Radio in Newcastle, it was the job of a producer to take this show and wrestle it together for British consumption. And perhaps most importantly reduce it to three hours and ensure the countdown all still made sense. Once this task was complete, the show was dubbed onto reels of tape and couriered to the offices of Satellite Media Services for onward distribution.

Until the late 1990s SMS had an effective monopoly on audio distribution to the UK radio industry. Everything, from news bulletins through to adverts and networked shows, came via their studios and over the dedicated satellite link that connected stations had installed. Every Thursday at midday their stereo “Programmes Channel” would carry the weekly feed of Rick Dees to the network, and it was my job to be in place in the studio at that time to effect the recording.

Because yes, we were only set up to do this by hand. I’d haul the huge 12-inch reels of tape (three in total – one for each hour) out of the drawer where they were kept and lug them into the off-air studio. The first would be carefully laced up onto the reel to reel player which occupied more than its fair share of studio space, ready for the feed to begin. A couple of minutes before the hour the SMS channel would broadcast a tone, against which I’d set the studio levels and a portion of which I’d record onto the start of the tape for reference before waiting for the clock to tick around.

Midday on the dot, the feed of the show would begin. I’d hit record, watch the spools gently turn (7.5 inches per second speed) and then basically sit there for the next 45 minutes and hope nothing would jam. I’d eat lunch, or pop next door into the on-air studio to chat to the presenter and generally try to look busy. Once the hour had finished it was time to hit stop, rewind the tape and lace up the next one ready for the next hour.

The feed of the third hour would also end with the weekly programme trail in which Rick himself would extol the virtues of whatever special guests he would feature. I’d have to hope that the SMS engineers would leave the tape at their end running long enough for there to be enough music at the end to allow me to edit in one of the “Saturday night – only on The Pulse!” lines that Dees had recorded years before. I’d record this trail onto a handy Sonifex cart and deliver it to the racks in the on-air studio before stowing the tapes back in the drawer in the office ready for the weekend.

Just Can’t Wait ‘Til Saturday

That was really only part of the fun. It wasn’t generally my job, but sometimes I’d be invited to cover the Saturday evening shift. A large part of which involved actually broadcasting my carefully recorded show. And this was a whole new part of the operation.

One of the first things I was ever taught to do as a “professional” broadcaster was to successfully back time the recorded show. If you owned a calculator which did hours, minutes and seconds – great! If like me, you were a poor recent graduate, you just had to do it all by hand.

Each hour of the programme had to finish on time to take the national news (for reasons which will become apparent). How you managed that was often the result of some on the fly creativity and what would hopefully be a happy coincidence between the length of each hour of the show (which differed week by week) and the number of adverts and trails that were scheduled. So for each hour of the show, you would carefully count back from the top of the hour… take off 12 seconds for the news jingle, 90 seconds for the last break, 12 minutes for Part 4 of the show etc. to eventually arrive at the ideal start time for each third of the programme.

Hour 1 was always straightforward, as there was no need to take the news at the start. You knew when the previous live show needed to finish, what time to start the final ad break and when the top of the hour “Legal ID” would play to start the Weekly Top 40 on time. You would press Play on the carefully laced up and cued up tape, stopping it every 10 minutes to play the ad break, during the course of which you would manually cue up the next band of the programme. If all went well and you hadn’t messed up the calculations, the tape would end a little over 90 seconds before the top of the hour and the final ad break would play.

Then the fun would begin because the next few minutes were a genuine race against the clock. Stopping the tape and hitting ‘rewind’ and watching the spools spin round at speed. You knew you had until the end of the news bulletin to rewind the tape, lift it off the machine, locate the tape for the second hour, lace it up (under this pin, over that one, past the heads and onto the take-up spool) and cue the first part of the next hour, all before the two minute IRN bulletin had finished. And that, my friends, is why you always had the news during these taped shows on a Saturday night. Because that was your window to swap the tapes over.

This is where the back times (as they were called) never quite worked. Because the start of Hours 2 and 3 was fixed in time at 2 minutes past the hour. And if your total running time of programmes and commercials didn’t come to 58 minutes you had to get creative. Of all the lessons I learned during the first weeks of my career, this was the most important. How to get Rick Dees back running to time.

If you were under that was easy. You could insert another programme trail into proceedings, or if it was just 10-15 seconds or so which needed to be accounted for, be relaxed about how tight the broadcast was. Let a second elapse between adverts, be slow off the mark starting the show back up after the station jingle. Straightforward. More often, however, you were over time. Without adjustments, the programme would crash through the next news bulletin.

Fixing this was actually easier than it sounded. As long as the show had not been produced with a lengthy spoken link at the end of each part, it was possible to just fade it out early mid-song. 45 seconds over time? Not an issue, have a station jingle standing by (or better yet a whispered ID) and use it to mask your fade out and cut to the ads. In one move you were now running to time (and could relax a bit) and the audience was none the wiser. Ideally you’d do this at the end of Part 1 and be back on schedule as soon as possible. But sometimes the last song would end too soon and Rick would spend the last two minutes of the part being wacky or doing something that Steve Wright would copy six months later. So you would move on to Part 2 and attempt the same again, praying that this time it would work. Because if you were still behind by the time Part 3 began you could be forgiven for getting nervous.

Hence my manual gearbox comparison above. None of this was rocket science really, and once you’d learned the tricks of the trade it was like riding a bike, but it somehow felt like real broadcasting. You were in hands-on control, your timing skills the difference between the station sounding superb and missing the start of the news. Or worse still, having to yank the show off air mid-link. And I was lucky enough to start my career learning how to do this. Because in the old analogue world you had to. This was how you made radio.

These days I line up a recorded radio show by dragging and dropping files into a computerized schedule. A piece of software shows me how long it will run, at a glance how many seconds I am over or under and if needed will time stretch things on the fly to make it all fit. It is liberating, slick and has fewer moving parts to go wrong. But for those new to the industry, it is all they will ever know. They will thrill at the sight of flat screens, glowing buttons and computer programmes with exotic names like Myriad, Zetta or Burli. But they will never know the adrenaline rush and blind panic of realising you’ve laced the tape up with a kink in it, 30 seconds before IRN is due to finish.

Radio Rewind ’98

My on-air radio career is, let’s be honest now, a vanishingly long time in the past which is why I rarely hark back to it these days. What doesn’t help is that I have vanishingly few good examples of it, most of the tapes I have dating from a period when I was frantic about where my career was going and with a note of panic sounding in my voice.

Hence it was a nice bonus to the other day stumble across a tape from a period when I was sounding happy, confident and above all something approaching good. Havin digitised it, it seemed a shame not to share, not just for the benefit of those friends who begged to hear it but the world in general. If only as an example of how local radio sounded almost 20 years ago.

Here then is 100 minutes or so of an off-air recording of a show I presented on a Saturday afternoon in October 1998. When listening to it the following should be borne in mind:

  1. It was a football results show, so precious little room for many so-called personality links. But this does also date from a period when in my one claim to fame this was the most-listened to show in the area on a Saturday afternoon. I was literally Number One in the ratings.
  2. My style was very much of its time, and a reflection on that of the people I had worked with and learned from. The cheery and sometimes strident tone I’d adopted is far from what would work on air now, when the emphasis is on being slightly calmer and more friendly.
  3. I’ve left in one particular link that makes me cringe to hear it now, but again it was very much a part of the whole notion of “share something of yourself with each broadcast”.

You can hear the show in two versions:

First, a telescoped version featuring just the links. 17 minutes or so of non-stop me, you lucky people.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Or alternatively, here is the full uncut tape. Music, adverts and Masterton all combined. Hope you enjoy. You’re on The Pulse.

The Great 2017 Chart Shake Up

So now it can be revealed. Rumours have swirled, talk has circulated and speculation has mounted. At least if you knew where to look. The Official UK Singles chart is to get a tweak to the rules used in its compilation. It is a change that will send certain purists into a frenzy, and have others nodding in agreement that it all makes sense. And will probably baffle many members of the general public when they need to have it explained to them.

So let me here try to explain how and perhaps most importantly of all why.

The singles chart matters. Far more than many people outside the music industry realise. It is the driver of radio programming, TV production, the promotion of albums and much, much more than I can articulate here. So when it stops working it creates enormous problems for everyone.

Those problems should be fairly obvious to most watching, even if I’ve been one of those stridently insisting that we should wait and see how things shake out. Because those with more influence and less patience than I have called for them to be fixed. They are:

  • The slowing down of the singles market. The charts ‘clogged up’ with long-running popular hits that have entered a slow burn decline as streams. Great for longevity records. Hard work for those trying to break new music.
  • The single artist dominations. Ed Sheeran’s 9 out of 10 in the Top 10 may have been a genuine freak one-off, but with artists such as Drake, The Weeknd, Kendrick Lamarr and Stormzy demonstrating that their fans will consume new product en-masse and once again clog up the singles chart, it has now become necessary to mitigate the problem.

So as of next week (for the singles chart published on Friday, July 7th) two crucial new rules will apply:

Three Is Tops

This was the one that everyone seemed to know about in advance. The three-track cap as it will be known. No more than the three most popular tracks (based on sales and streams) by any one lead artist will be permitted to feature in the Top 100. This will raise hackles, the first time in over 10 years that there has been any kind of forced removal rule in effect, disqualifying certain tracks altogether.

The logic here is straightforward. It will prevent album tracks from popular artists taking up multiple positions in the singles chart, and thus barging potential hits from other, less insanely popular acts, out of the way. It will also address a common criticism I’ve seen of the present rules, that a stream of a track will essentially be double-counted – adding both to the singles chart position of the track and contributing to the total streams attributed to an album. The streams of the two most popular tracks on an album will continue to be downplayed by the album chart compilation process and whilst this remains for the moment an imperfect mix, you can be at least reassured that streaming a random album track will only register that track for the album.

There are two important points to note here. This doesn’t restrict artists or labels from releasing more than three singles from an album. Just that they cannot have them charting all at once. And if Hit 1 has burned out and fallen away, then Hit 4 is free to join 2 and 3 in the upper reaches. Plus it does not rule out acts still managing more than 3 hits at a time. If someone does a Justin Bieber and is the featured guest on multiple singles by other people, they will all chart at once. There is still no restriction here.

Downplay The Long Tail

Prior to 2007 the ‘official’ bit of the singles chart only went down to Number 75. Below that point, there was a ‘starring-out’ rule in place. Omitting older hits which were in steep decline from the rankings to thus benefit newer releases and other upwardly mobile arrivals. We aren’t about to go back to those days, but the growing presence of the long tail of streaming, the fact that the singles chart now registers long-term engagement as much as it does discovery means there has to be an elegant way of moving ‘legacy’ hits out of the way.

So this is how it will work. A new streaming ratio will be introduced for hits that are in steep, prolonged decline.

Once a track is at least 10 weeks old, AND has registered 3 consecutive weeks of chart sales decline then its streams switch to a 300:1 ratio as opposed to the 150:1 of others. This will punish long-running hits such as One Dance or even Castle On The Hill, moving them gently out of the way following the peak of their commercial appeal but whilst some die-hards still insist on listening to them over and over again.

I’m told from test charts that this effect will be subtle but significant. We won’t see tracks vanish abruptly from the Top 20 as they did back in the “curate’s egg” days of 2006. Instead older singles should actually behave like they did in the old days when they were reliant on shops continuing to stock them. They will reach a low point and then start to sink fast. And once again clear the path for fresher, newer material. Just to keep everything vibrant.

Irk The Purists

Any rule changes of this nature, particularly ones which change the very fundamentals of singles qualification tend to attract an instantly negative response from a small core of music fans. It is meddling, they say. Messing with what used to be the simple purity of a chart which tracked what people bought without favour or bias.

Yet the UK charts have for decades been beholden to rules, and ones which are revised and updated as circumstances require. It seems to jar now because we spent over seven years from 2007 with precious little change and only minor tweaks to admit songs that might have fallen down the cracks. But behind it all is a strict structure of rules, regulations, strictures and eligibility criteria. Most of which arrived into being with the aim of fixing a problem which was threatening to undermine the credibility of the survey.

Really what has been announced today is no different. And on the face of it the impact will be less radical than it might at first appear. The second half of the year should, however, start to see a singles chart that becomes just that bit more vibrant, just a shade more interesting week in week out and in the process the perfect platform for the next exciting new trend in British music to emerge.

You cannot innovate or contend by standing still. The Billboard Hot 100, the gold standard of music charts and one of the most powerful brands in the world, has since 1958 been an odd hybrid of sales metrics, data sources and ever-changing rules. It adapts, evolves and adjusts according to trends in the market and to embrace new formats and technology. To suggest the Official UK Charts should not follow suit would be to invite Britain to stagnate in comparison.

I see the stats for myself. When major chart news breaks the interest in goes through the roof. When little happens only the hardcore come along to take a look. And as a lover of pop music, a passionate fan of the pop charts and as writer who loves a story no matter what the source, I want as many people as possible to come along for the ride.

When You Touch Me Like This

Bat Out Of Hell - The MusicalTo the always magnificent surroundings of the London Coliseum to see what has (with good reason) been hailed as one of the theatrical events of the summer. The traditional home of the English National Opera, it presently plays host to the ultimate in rock operas – the West End premiere of Bat Out Of Hell – The Musical.

Now I stress I’m no theatre critic, and I have friends who run their own theatre blogs who are far better at this than I, so I cannot sit here and offer an expert critique of the staging, plotting or set design. And what I’m about to write will show that I’m far from impartial where the subject matter is concerned. So I cannot offer an expert review.

Every music fan has their core act. The one whose work you know backwards. The one whose work you will collect obsessively, knowing that life will be incomplete without the complete set. And you’ve probably purchased it several times over on multiple formats. Well for me that act is the writer/producer and sometime reluctant performer Jim Steinman. I can recite lyrics, know the release dates of the songs and even to a certain extent name the musicians playing on the records he produces and just who is singing backing vocals where. I can get lost for hours in the poetry of his lyrics and like no other songwriter he speaks to the depths of my soul and peels back emotions I never knew I had buried. These are songs, productions, performances that are guaranteed to make my heart fly and to transport me in an instant into the near-mythical world they inhabit.

So I struggle to begin to explain how it felt to sit in a theatre to watch a musical production of all of his most famous songs bundled together for the very first time. Finally telling a coherent tale of everlasting teenage passion in a dystopian future. These were songs I fell in love with at the age of 16 and then spent the rest of my life falling in love to. In my head they had always played out on a grand stage, one filled with performers and chorus lines. And now it was all happening for real. I was transfixed from the very first bars. Because this was something that was at once very special to me.

By the end of Out Of The Frying Pan (And Into The Fire) I realised I was crying. I’ve never sat in a theatre with tears of joy running down my face before. But that is what happened to me.  I was in the middle of what was surely a deep and everlasting emotional experience.

In countless interviews, Jim Steinman had long spoken of how songs from Bat Out Of Hell and associated projects were always parts of a musical story he was never able to stage. So they became mini-concept albums instead. Peter Pan on motorcycles, all set in an age where you are 18 forever and love and lust never grow old. And finally, this has happened. A large part of the joy was hearing songs that had always seemed like fragments of a story you never heard the start of, suddenly slot into place and become a core part of the plot. Never before had it been explained who the protagonist in the song Bat Out Of Hell was with and just who they were running from. And we finally get to find out.

The Peter Pan references are writ large across the plot. The Lost (boys), we are told, never grow up. Lacking a mother to look after them. There’s even a jealous and ultimately tragic character called Tink.

There were other lovely subtle touches too. The constant tease as the lead character Strat is constantly frustrated that nobody knows the correct response to “on a hot summer night, would you offer your throat to the wolf with the red roses”, the fun thrill when Raven finally does so, only for the pair to be interrupted, leading the audience on the night I was there to erupt into laughter. But when You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth is finally delivered it is inevitably a treat. The casting of Andrew Polec as Strat is also an inspired choice, the singer and actor has perfected the exact New York drawl that Jim Steinman himself uses. So he gets to deliver the famous Love And Death And An American Guitar monologue which opens the show in the exact same voice as used on the records, and throughout the show, you find yourself almost believing the writer and composer is there on the stage himself.

In a summer where my life seems to be filled with emotionally transformative and moving experiences, this was up there with the greatest one of them all. And of course, modern technology means that on the train home you can connect with the cast directly and tell them just what it meant to you.


The musical is on for a strictly limited run before it moves abroad. But if you happen to be in London before July, trade a body part for a ticket. I truly can offer it no greater praise.