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Friday, 14 April, 2000, 14:30 GMT 15:30 UK
Charting a rocky course

The Top 40 singles chart has long been of vital - at times all consuming - interest for generations of young people growing up in Britain.

Trooping off to the local record shop, to put your faith and pocket money on that week's favourite song, had all the significance some adults place on backing a horse or buying a lottery ticket.

Listening in to Radio 1's Sunday evening rundown of the latest chart, took on a similar importance.
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Sweaty-palmed as the tension mounted. Had your meagre contribution sent The Beatles, The Osmonds or Madonna rocketing to the number one slot?

But the much debated "death" of vinyl, the rise of the CD and predicted invasion of the MP3 internet downloads have all had their effects on the chart.

However, the "hit parade" has always somehow managed to retain an otherworldly, innocent quality, even in the face of the hurly burly of the big bucks music industry.

Commercial pop

This may change with a new deal, which will see the official UK Top 40 - as used on Radio 1 and the BBC's Top of the Pops - gain a commercial sponsor.

From next month, the weekly list of top selling singles will revel in the title of the Worldpop UK Top 40.

Worldpop, a music website and news service, won this branding opportunity despite the chart's compilers, the British Phonographic Industry and the British Association of Record dealers, having reportedly resisted similar offers for years.
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On the rack: The records we buy are reflected in the Top 40

Pop pickers of a certain vintage may be interested to know that former Radio 1 DJ Peter Powell is one of the key figures behind Worldpop.

Although the BBC's listeners and viewers may not notice much difference - the corporation's guidelines say the new name can only be acknowledged twice during a show - it may be yet another straw on the old camel's back.

The chart's critics already point to a sea change in buying habits. Once it was a rarity to see a song go straight to number one.

Top slot

In the chart's first 38 years, a mere 24 records managed this feat. Since 1990 more than 100 have stormed directly to the top.

And in this week's Top 10, there are seven new entries.

Some say this has devalued the once prestigious number one spot, and distorted the record books so that contemporary bands such as Westlife appear the peers of The Beatles.

Former Radio 1 DJ Peter Powell behind the site

Anyone able to remember the 16-week reign of Bryan Adams' (Everything I Do) I Do It For You in 1991, may not be so dismayed by today's brisk turnover at the top of the chart.

And yet there is some evidence of a renaissance in pop buying, as 80m singles were sold last year compared with 52.9m in 1992.

Pop guru Pete Waterman is a staunch defender of the chart. He says it is a "barometer" by which he can judge the popularity of his acts, currently including the immensely successful Steps.

Charting success

But Mr Waterman, who brought British pop fans the likes of Rick Astley, Sonia and Kylie Minogue, says the charts are about more than allowing record companies to tot up their likely profits.

"It's the people who buy singles who matter, the people who are excited by Westlife."

The Top 40 is perhaps more resilient than many of its obituary writers give it credit.
Steps
Steps are today's chart climbers

The chart survived speculation in 1977 that the Sex Pistols' irreverent song God Save The Queen had been deliberately robbed of a number one which would have coincided with Queen Elizabeth's Silver Jubilee celebrations.

The public have also used the Top 40 to put one over on Britain's arbiters of taste and decency.

Both Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Sir Cliff Richard have enjoyed top honours despite being denied radio airplay.

Even the march of technology may not outpace the Top 40. In the US internet music downloads are about to figure in the nation's Billboard Hot 100 chart.

Perhaps the only effect the Worldpop deal will have is on the legions of Radio 1 listeners who, illicitly, tape the chart.

"Worldpop" will be yet another word they have to laboriously edit out, to be left with the real meat of the Top 40, the music.

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See also:

13 Apr 00 | Entertainment
Top 40 gets sponsor
02 Apr 00 | Entertainment
High fives as Westlife break record
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