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  • Early Chart History!

    Here is the early chart history, now updated!

    The Charts: An Early History: N.M.E. To B.M.R.B By Alan Smith

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    Today the official Top 40 charts as used by the B.B.C. for radio and Top of the Pops are compiled electronically on computerised tills and relayed to compilers Millward Brown. These figures, from 4,700 retailers from a pool of 5,600, are processed into a full Top 75 chart used by publications such as Music Week magazine. The Top 40 of this chart is the most referred to and acknowledged as the ‘Official Chart’.

    However; when record charts first began in Britain compiling methods were far slower and simpler and for many years there was no real ‘Official’ chart. So, how did charts begin? As with many musical innovations; the idea originated in the United States. The very first charts in the U.S.A. were compiled from sheet music sales which were paper sheets of the notated music which people could purchase in order to play at home on the piano and other instruments. The first chart of popularity of these songs was on the radio show ‘Your Lucky Strike Hit Parade’, which started on 20th April 1935. Following the lead of sheet music charts, eventually sales of 78 rpm shellac discs came into being, with the task of compilation undertaken by the US music trade paper ‘Billboard’ published on 20th July 1940.

    One important difference between the method of compilation of American disc charts and their British counterparts was that US charts also took note of the amount of radio airplay of songs which would be calculated in their tally. British charts never applied this format, they were sales based only.

    The first British sheet music charts only appeared sporadically in the Jazz based Music paper ‘Melody Maker’. This paper was established in January 1926 as a monthly publication catering mainly to jazz fans became a weekly within a year and the first sheet music list appeared under the title ‘Top Tunes’ in 1935 as part of the ‘Song Sheet’ page. It was by no means a regular feature at that time; sometimes disappearing for a few weeks. The first regular weekly chart commenced on 27th July 1946. One surprising feature of many of the early sheet music charts before 1946 was that many of them were only alphabetical lists, not sales based.

    By the early 1950s, similar to 40s America, sales of 78rpm shellac discs started to grow. Shellac was still in short supply limiting the number of releases; hence those early charts were only top 10 and 12 size for a couple of years. The recently revived music newspaper ‘New Musical Express’, which evolved from ‘Musical Express’, now catering to popular music tastes of the time, came up with the idea of Britain’s first sales based chart of popular discs. The paper’s management contacted a number of record stores and gathered a master list of 53 establishments willing to supply returns. The compiling of the chart was undertaken by advertising manager Percy Dickins, who took some time out from his main duties of gathering advertising for the paper to phone between 15 to 25 record stores for their sales data.

    Mr Dickins would vary the stores contacted week by week in order to use all of the 53 on his list over a period of time. The data gathered from the stores differed from today’s charts in one vital area. Though all record stores kept precise internal sales figures, only a list of their Top 10 selling titles was relayed as a list 1 to 10. It was

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    deemed too time consuming for Mr Dickins to have to tally up precise lists of sales figures. Far more convenient and time saving was the totting up of points per chart
    placing. For example ten points for a No.1, down to one point for tenth place. This set a precedent for all early charts.

    The first ‘New Musical Express’ and Britain’s first record chart was published on 14th November 1952. These early charts, though a Top 12 in size, could sometimes be rather larger due to the unusual tied position system. Instead of, for example a joint No.2 then No.4, the paper would go to No.3. This certainly expanded the chart but was soon amended. The immediate success of this ‘Hit Parade’ feature, as it was titled, set the trend. Within a few years a second chart would appear. This came from another popular music paper ‘Record Mirror’, which later in the 50s became ‘Record And Show Mirror’ then back to ‘Record Mirror’ then ‘New Record Mirror’ in 1961 and then eventually back to ‘Record Mirror’.

    On 22nd January 1955 ’Record Mirror’ displayed a Top 10 chart. This was compiled from postal returns (financed by the paper) from record stores, again, of top 10 title listings. ‘Record Mirror’ figures could be viewed as they published each stores lists, along with their address on its chart pages. This first chart was based on 24 stores returns. By 1956 ‘Record Mirror’ was sampling over 60 record stores and as with ‘New Musical Express’ they would rotate shops used from a larger pool. By 1956 sales of records were eclipsing sheet music, so record charts began to attain more prominence.

    Hence the first appearance on 7th April 1956 of ‘Melody Makers’ first record chart, as part of its ‘Song Sheet’ page along side the sheet music charts.The ‘Melody Maker’ chart was a Top 20 and was based on 19 stores returns, these were gathered by phone. As with ‘Record Mirror’, ‘Melody Maker’ would display a list of shops addresses, but it did not list individual Top 10’s. ‘Melody Maker’ was the first compiler to get returns from Northern Ireland making its sample a true U.K sample. Interestingly, the official charts as used by the B.B.C. only sampled Northern Ireland results when ‘Gallup’ took over the franchise in 1984.

    The various compilers did try to verify the fact that their charts were based on true figures. To this end they would send blue forms to all shops on their list, which would be signed by the manager of each store when sending in returns to verify figures were accurate.

    The next chart to appear; was in the pop paper ‘Disc’. This paper differed slightly in that it instigated, under the auspices of Editor Gerald Marks, the awarding of gold and silver discs for records attaining sales of respectively 1,000,000 and 250,000 units. ‘Disc’ appeared on 1st February 1958 with its first chart, a top 20 based on 25 phoned returns.

    The last major chart came from the trade magazine ‘Record Retailer’. The paper was produced in August 1959 by the pooled resources of the members of the Independent Record Retailers Association, a body of record stores not aligned to any Record company as with HMV shops. The magazine was at first a monthly issue, but in March 1960 it changed to the weekly format with its first weekly issue dated 10th
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    March 1960. From this date it displayed its first chart run down. This chart differed from its predecessors in the popular papers in that it was a larger Top 50. Managing Editor Roy Parker and Secretary Ann Smith undertook the task of phoning record shops for their lists of best sellers each Monday for Tuesday compilation, by staff member, Jeremy Wilder.

    Though a top 50, it was still only based on around 30 phone calls from a pool of 50. The chart used a ‘count back’ system where rates of sales increase, or decrease, were noted when tied positions occurred, as they would in a top 50 based on only 30 returns. The ‘Record Retailer’, published as a magazine only for the benefit of its members, was not on commercial sale to the general public at the time. It could be accessed via public libraries and those record shops who in supplying returns to it would display the chart on the wall of their stores. Many other record shops not supplying returns to any compiler displayed this chart while others displayed ‘N.M.E’ or ‘Melody Maker’ run- downs. Charts would also be audited with the ‘N.M.E’s regulated by the papers accountant Ted Hull. In January 1963 ‘Record Retailer’s’ chart was audited by the firm of Chantrey, Button & Co, its chief auditor Mr Nigel Mundy. These audits weren’t infallible though as ‘New Musical Express’ would learn in the 1960s.

    None of the 50s charts was taken too seriously by the music industry or the general media. They were looked on as fun guides to that section of the entertainment industry with both ‘Record Mirror’ and ‘Melody Maker’ printing addresses of their suppliers at that time.

    The ‘New Musical Express’ was seen as the premier chart of the 50s and by 1956 its compiling was handed over to a team from one of the opinion poll organisations and was expanded to approximately 50 to 60 returns from a pool of about 80 and still completed by phone calling. The ‘N.M.E’ chart was taken up for publication in some regional newspapers. It was also used by ‘Radio Luxembourg’ the commercial radio station based, of course in Luxembourg.

    It was the ‘Record Mirror’ chart that was taken up by many national newspapers. Their postal returned sampling was every bit as large as ‘N.M.E’s, in fact it was probably larger in some weeks as it often ranged to more than 60 returns in the late 50’s. Meanwhile, ‘Melody Maker’ in the 50’s was still focusing primarily on the jazz scene and regarded its pop chart service as a sideline and hence did not at that time, put many resources into this new innovation. ‘Melody Makers’ size of sample ranged from as low as 14 samples up to a more respectable 33. Even by 1960 it barely touched 40, but that was soon to radically change. ‘Disc’ did not gather more than 40 returns at any point during the 50s as with ‘Melody Maker’ and its phone duties for chart data was a small part of its criteria then.

    The day that most compilers set aside for their chart compiling was a Monday. New Musical Express and Disc would phone their list of shops each Monday and then start compiling their charts. Melody Maker would collect its mailed chart returns and also compile their chart on a Monday. Record Mirror, when running its own chart, did similar to Melody Maker. The ‘Record Retailer’, however, when it began its chart in

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    March 1960; phoned on a Monday but did not compile the chart until Tuesday. Most papers were published on either Thursday or Friday.

    The countries national Broadcaster the B.B.C recognised the commerciality of popular music and on 4th October 1955, on its Light Programme, began broadcasting ‘Pick of the Pops’. At first this was a random choice of popular songs of the day; but soon a method of having a continuous Top 20 chart was conceived. From 1956 the B.B.C. would calculate a Top 20 by using ‘N.M.E’, ‘Melody Maker’ and ‘Record
    Mirror’ charts and, in 1958, the ‘Disc’ chart was added to the calculations. They would give No.1 positions 20 points, No.2 19 points and so on down to one point for 20th position. This amalgamated chart would then be transmitted each week.

    This method had one drawback in often having tied positions and sometimes even a joint No.1. However, this run down did a lot to bring pop music and the concept of charts into focus for the general public. The American trade paper ‘Cash Box’ also used the combined method to produce a British chart along side some sampling as well, to add to its figures.

    By the end of the 50s record sales were on the increase, passing the 55 million production figure (Excluding Long Players) by 1960. To reflect this ‘New Musical Express’ expanded its size of published chart.

    The N.M.E Top 12 became a Top 20 on 2nd October 1954. It expanded to a 25 listing to catch the Christmas sales on 31st December 1955 and reverted back to the 20 format the following week. It then expanded to a Top 30 on 14th April 1956 staying at this size up until 14 May 1983 when it enlarged to a Top 50. ‘Record Mirror’ expanded from a Top 10 to Top 20 on 8th October 1955. ‘Melody Maker’ and ‘Disc’ stayed unchanged in published size in this period.

    The first big change to the size and method of compiling a chart occurred on 30th July 1960. This took place at the ‘Melody Maker’. The paper changed from phoning its list of record stores to the postal returns system that ‘Record Mirror’ was using. A far larger pool of compliant stores was contacted and from these a rotated sample of about 110 stores returns was posted in each week. So, from a figure of 38 samples on 23rd July 1960; ‘Melody Maker’s’ chart of 110 returns from the following week onward became, at that point, the largest sample in operation. The paper displayed the fact that it sampled over 100 shops above each weeks chart.

    The ‘N.M.E’ also kept enlarging its sample as the 60’s took hold. At this time, it reverted back to using its own staff members for phoning duties; this entailed four to five employees each phoning 20 to 25 shops for a sample of 80 to 100 retailers in the early part of this decade.

    ‘Disc’ did not have the resources that ‘N.M.E’ enjoyed, so its sample rose to the lesser figure of approximately 50 who were phoned during this period; its main compiler was Fred Zebadee.



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    ‘Record Mirror’ was still receiving up to 50 to 60 postal returns circa 1960/61 but it was badly hit by the increase in postal charges from April 1961. The ‘Melody Maker’ was able to absorb these costs with its higher circulation and the massive resources of its publisher I.P.C. ‘Record Mirror’ however had to start cutting back on costs. From 18 March1961 the paper no longer printed the lists or addresses from stores, (‘Melody Maker’ had ceased this practise on 30 July 1960). To add to ‘Record Mirror’s’ problems many national newspapers started to use ‘Melody Maker’s’ charts in the early 60s. On 24th March 1962, ‘Record Mirror’ finally abandoned compiling its own lists. Instead, from that date onward it began publishing the ‘Record Retailer’ Top 50.

    By 1963 both ‘New Musical Express’ and ‘Melody Maker’ were sampling over 100 stores with ‘Disc’ sampling about 60 to 70. Only ‘Record Retailer’ had kept to the same sized sample of 30 phoned. It was during 1963 that the rise of the Beatles sparked off the Mersey beat which led to a sales boom. Pop music and the charts were very much in the public eye by the mid 60s. The advent of the Pirate Radio stations in early 1964 gave pop music a very high public profile. Some of these stations used `airplay` statistics for their charts. Radio Caroline from July 1964 used the Melody Maker top 50 for its popular listings.

    ‘Melody Maker’ increased its sample to over 150 by 1964, with a team of staff who compiled the figures from sacks of mail using, in today’s terms, an old fashioned calculating machine. Editorial staff, Jack Hutton and Ray Coleman also helped out in compiling the charts. On Monday 30th November 1964 newspaper the Daily Mirror sent reporter Patrick Doncaster to the MM offices to report on the way their chart was compiled. Assistant editor Ray Colman fetched the first sack of postal returns from G.P.O headquarters by St Pauls to work from (In those days there was Sunday post).

    Roy Burchill, Alf Martin, Mike Benson, Jeff Stars assisted by Editor Jack Hutton and Ray Coleman would produce lists from each of the 147 postal returns of the best sellers allotting 40pts for No1, 39 for No 2 and so on. Another 40 shops that could not get their postal returns in on time were phoned for their list of best selling titles. From these lists secretaries Linda Leighton and Sandra Coleman would use two mechanical calculators to collate the final Melody Maker top 50 singles chart for that week. Also witnessing their work was guest Ringo Starr who was told the good news that the Beatles new release “I Feel Fine” was straight in at No 1 on the MM chart.

    ‘New Musical Express’, by this time, had reached its peak of 150 phoned, now with a staff of six, led by its chief chart compilers Fiona Foulgar and Tony Martin. ‘Disc’ managed to get up to 80 to 100 returns (also phoned). ‘Record Retailer’, realising that its phoned sample of 30 was far too low for the period, contacted both E.M.I. and Decca’s distribution chains for a list of stores. Working from a master list of 100, the ‘Retailer’ changed to postal returns commencing at the start of 1964 with 75 to 85 returns, rotated in the list. Staff member Jeremy Wilder spent all of Tuesday each week compiling the top 50 from these returns.

    Now that pop music was seen to be big business, a lot of chart hyping began. Teams of shoppers were hired to buy a particular record at what were deemed to be chart return stores. This systematic process is well documented in Johnny Rogan’s book ‘Starmakers and Svengalis’. The worst recorded example of this was when a member
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    of the ‘New Musical Express’ staff was actively involved in the manipulations affecting their chart. Even though ‘N.M.E’s’ chart was still a Top 30, the lower placements were still affected.

    The ‘Melody Maker’, which had also suffered from similar chart tampering, decided to try and check attempts at manipulating their chart. On 1 April 1967 the paper, in a front-page announcement, declared it knew what was going on and was aware of some of the people involved. It declared that from that date it was cutting its published chart to a Top 30, though it would still compile a 50 in order to check suspicious movements. The Melody Maker Top 50 was later published in the trade paper ‘Music Business Weekly’ from 20 September 1969 to 27 March 1971. ‘Disc’ similarly cut down its Top 50 on 1 April 1967 taking its lead from ‘Melody Maker’.

    Both these papers had increased the sizes of their published charts when record sales vastly increased in the early 60s. ‘Melody Maker’ expanded from Top 20 to 30 on 14th April 1962 and soon followed this on 15th September 1962 by increasing again to a Top 50. ‘Disc’ increased from a Top 20 to 30 on 6th October 1962 and increased to a Top 50 on 23rd April 1966 when incorporating the failing pop magazine ‘Music Echo’ into its title, becoming ‘Disc and Music Echo’. From this date (23 April 1966) ‘Disc’ acquired its first L.P chart.

    The big beat boom sparked off lots of short lived pop papers. Many, like ‘Brum Beat’ from Birmingham were regional. Two of the more prominent papers, which ran along with the premier magazines, were ‘Mersey Beat/Music Echo’ and ‘Pop Weekly’. ‘Mersey Beat’ started in Liverpool in July 1961as a bi-weekly publication primarily
    Concerned with reporting on the regional sound; and groups growing in popularity at the time.

    By 1963 it became nationally distributed, buoyed by the tremendous boom generated by the regions biggest sensation, the Beatles. The paper had started publishing a Top 20 in 1963 though also bi-weekly it is impossible to correlate it to other charts of the time. Only from 24 April 1964 did “Merseybeat” become a weekly with a weekly chart. Significantly, by 3rd December of that year, ‘Mersey Beat’ began publishing the nation’s first Top 100. It certainly did not have the resources of either ‘N.M.E’ or ‘Melody Maker’ so it is unlikely that this chart was not based on more than 50 to 80 returns at best. By 6th March1965, with signs of a slow down in Beat music, the paper changed its title to ‘Music Echo’ in order to carry a wider spectrum of music but still carried on with its Top 100 chart plus the countries first Top 50 LP rundown from May 1965. In 1966 sales were slipping badly and the singles chart returned to a Top 50. Then ‘Music Echo’ ceased publication on 16th April 1966 and on the following week it was absorbed into ‘Disc’ becoming ‘Disc and Music Echo’.

    ‘Pop Weekly’, formerly ‘Top 10 Monthly’, became a weekly issue from 1 September 1962. It was smaller in its dimensions than the other magazines, at about A5 size and was edited by Albert Hand who ran the Elvis Presley fan club. The paper ran a Top 30 chart as well as ‘write in’ polls for artists. ‘Pop Weekly’s’ chart was compiled by averaging out the charts of New Musical Express, Melody Maker, Disc and Record Retailer; similar to the B.B.C. However ‘Pop Weekly also received advance sales figures from Record companies and sampled around 20 to 30 stores to get its chart.
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    The Pop weekly chart ran to 6 November 1965 when it reduced to just a top ten. Finally on 27 November the last sales chart appeared and until the papers demise on 12 February 1966 a `popularity top 20` of readers favourite songs was displayed. Affected by the slowdown in the market on 12th February 1966 “Pop Weekly” published its last issue. It was then merged with sister paper “Pop Shop” becoming “Pop Shop Monthly”.

    With the public’s upsurge in interest for pop and, in particular, the weekly focus on who was No.1 in the charts the need for a single reliable chart, rather than a selection offering different results became important. There has been much controversy over the years as to what was the ‘best’ chart for this purpose. When the ‘Guinness Book of British Hit Singles’ was first published in 1977 it made a key decision in selecting charts for the purposes of recording chart statistics. The new book’s authors, Tim Rice, Jonathan Rice, Paul Gambaccini and Mike Read plumped for the New Musical Express chart from 14 November 1952 up to 10 March 1960. They then changed to
    the debuting’ Record Retailer’ chart and retrospectively gave it the prominence it now enjoys. This decision was largely down to the longevity of ‘Record Retailer’s’ run as a Top 50 – the biggest and longest running rundown of the decade.

    Although this much is true, the ‘Record Retailer’ chart had a good deal of competition for the title of ‘most prominent chart’ in the mid 60s. When considering the size of chart sample ‘Record Retailer’ fares badly in comparison with some of the alternatives. From March 1960 to December 1963 only 30 stores were phoned for sales figures. In that period both ‘N.M.E’ and ‘Melody Maker’ were sampling over 100, and ‘Disc’ was certainly at over 50. By 1964 ‘Record Retailer’ was getting regular postal returns from approximately 80 dealers, which gave it parity with ‘Disc’s’ size of sample. It still trailed behind ‘N.M.E’s’ 150 and ‘Melody Makers’ 200 plus around 1964 –66.

    ‘Record Retailer’s’ chart suffered many volatile chart movements due to its smaller sample. Quite often records would shoot up from the 40s to the edge of the Top 10, only to collapse back down again the following week. In July 1967, due to the change
    in publication at the start of the month from Thursday to a Wednesday, hardly any returns got in on time precipitating hurried phone calls to dealers. This disruption very much affected the Top 50 until things settled down by the end of July when all dealers were familiar with the change of day.

    ‘Record Retailer’s’ chart; (Unlike ‘Record Mirror’s’ 1950’s lists) was never used by national or regional newspapers. It was only included for the B.B.C.’s ‘Top of the Pops’ compiled chart from 31st March 1962 (When it was utilised by Record Mirror from 24th March 1962). Even then not on a regular basis due to late arrival at the BBC on some weeks and Derek Chinnery’s decision to omit it on the first week of chart entry for Beatles singles. By 1966 the Retailer chart was more established with in the trade and sections of the industry, but it never really succeeded in becoming the full record industry chart

    ‘Record Retailer’ was set up by independent record shops, not aligned to the record companies and had no funding from the record companies, only from surplus subscription funds to the ‘Record Retailer’ itself. Inside the entertainment industry,
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    particularly for artists and management, it was the ‘New Musical Express’ charts that were scanned to see if their songs had made the chart.

    In many ways ‘N.M.E’s’ chart was the most highly regarded of the 60s. It was already in use by Radio Luxembourg plus some print coverage in the Daily Mail, Evening Standard, Evening News and regional papers in Wolverhampton, Sheffield, Glasgow, and Birmingham. In terms of music paper sales, more people than all the other music papers combined read ‘N.M.E’ charts. At its peak for two years from 1964 to 1966 its circulation was at just under 300,000.

    However, ‘New Musical Express’ did have anomalies that certainly affected chart positions. Firstly, for many years, the paper’s charts would list `B` sides to some popular records by well known artists such as Elvis Presley or Cliff Richard. This would be due to the title being asked for in shops returning to ‘N.M.E’. Particularly affected were Double `A` sides where sales could be split quite evenly per title, thus
    Quite badly affecting peak positions in ‘N.M.E’s’ chart. The most notable instance was Elvis Presley’s ‘Rocka – Hula Baby’/ ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love’. This was a No.1 in all other charts for at least a month but in ‘N.M.E.’ due to the split sales when both titles entered the chart, neither made the top, only making No.2 and No.3 respectively.

    Because fans asked for “The New Beatles Record” when the singles were released none of the Beatles Double ‘A ‘sides were split by the paper, but many others were - the last known examples being The Rolling Stones ‘Let’s Spend The Night Together’/’Ruby Tuesday’ in February 1967 and Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood with ‘You Only Live Twice’ / ‘Jackson’ in July 1967. The second peculiarity to ‘N.M.E.’s’ chart, one that it shared with both ‘Disc’ and ‘Pop Weekly’, was the inclusion of LP’s in the singles charts. This could possibly be justified when such papers had no LP charts, but not credible in ‘N.M.E.’s’ case when it started an L.P
    chart on 1st June 1962, but still listed LP’s in with singles.

    ‘Disc’ had ceased this practise in their charts when incorporating ‘Music Echo’ on 23rd April 1966 and thus acquiring an LP chart. The ‘N.M.E.’ carried on up to late 1968, with The Beatles eponymous titled double album entering the singles lists in December 68. It is not known exactly when ‘N.M.E.’ ended the practise, but obviously with the boom in LP sales by the early 70s it had to cease; otherwise more LP’s than singles would have been in the chart.

    ‘Melody Maker’ had, by the mid 60s, a chart based on more returns from dealers (Close to 250) than any other. By then it had gained publication in many national newspapers, such as the Daily Mirror, Daily Telegraph, News of The World and The
    People. It was also used extensively in overseas newspapers, particularly those in the US. The copyright from these publications enabled ‘Melody Maker’ to put a lot of finance into its chart processing. Along with N.M.E it was extremely influential in the 60’s and the focus for chart hyping. Neither ‘Disc’ nor ‘Record Retailer’ seemingly suffered at the hands of chart hype anywhere as badly as ‘N.M.E.’ or ‘Melody Maker’ due to their lower profile in chart prominence. So, there is a valid argument that the lower sections of each chart were less at risk of anomalies. It is difficult to be certain

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    how targeted either ‘Disc’ or ‘Record Retailer’ was, but no chart in the mid 60s was completely safe from such machinations.

    ‘Record Retailer’ was very much out of step with every other chart of the time in the number of records that entered its chart straight at No.1. Up to 1969, when ‘Record Retailer’ stopped compiling its own chart, the paper only registered two records entering at the top spot. This was well out of step with all other major charts for that period. ‘N.M.E.’ achieved 14, ‘Melody Maker’ 10, ‘Disc’11. ‘Record Mirror’ in the 1955 to 1962 period registered five.’ Record Retailer’s’ chart never registered any Beatles title instantly at No.1, unlike ‘N.M.E’, ‘Melody Maker’ and ‘Disc’ who respectively placed 8, 8, and 7 of their singles as instant No.1’s. The lesser charts such as ‘Pop Weekly’ and ‘Music Echo’ also registered Beatles records as instant chart-toppers.

    There was one difference in how figures were gauged: both ‘N.M.E’ and ‘Disc’ would accept advance order figures when compiling their charts, whereas ‘Record
    Retailer’ and ‘Melody Maker’ would only accept actual sales over the counter. However, with ‘Record Retailers’ chart being compiled on a different day, it is possible this affected their chart in comparison with others. The difference between chart positions based on advance figures and actual sales is clear when taking the Rolling Stones ‘Little Red Rooster’ into account. In the ‘N.M.E.’ and ‘Disc’ charts it entered straight at No.1 and 9. In ‘Record Retailer’ and ‘Melody Maker’ it entered at 24 and 21.

    On Television both ‘N.M.E’ and ‘Melody Maker’ charts were the charts referred to at this time. Pop TV researcher Keith Badman has revealed that ‘N.M.E.’ chart positions were referred to in the more popular type of programmes such ‘Ready Steady Go!’ and ‘Thank Your Lucky Stars’. ‘Melody Makers’ chart was used by the more august pop profiles such as news reports that examined the social aspect of the pop boom. ‘N.M.E.’ also had Radio Luxembourg using its chart for their Top 20 chart rundown. When ‘Top of the Pops’ took to the screens on 1st January 1964 it, like ‘Pick of the Pops’, used the combination of ‘N.M.E.’, ‘Melody Maker’ and ‘Disc’ to compile it’s Top 20. For many people the B.B.C.’s compilation chart as used by ‘Pick of the Pops’ and ‘Top of the Pops’ was the chart they referred too.

    By 1967 both ‘Melody Maker’ and ‘Disc’ were now owned by publishers I.P.C. and both were based at the same offices in Fleet Street. It was deemed unnecessary to have the expense of compiling two charts; so ‘Disc’ cut their compiling to 30 to 50 phone calls which main compiler Fred Zebedee would combine with ‘Melody Maker’s’ 200 plus postal sample to make a combined chart of 280 plus.

    There was yet another chart to come on the scene. This was from a paper that began life titled ‘Top Pops’. It was set up by author Colin Bostock-Smith; and appeared first in May 1967. At first the magazine appeared only every two to three weeks. It formed an arrangement with ‘W.H. Smith & Son’. In exchange for advertising space, the firm
    would supply a national chart based on sales returns from branches across the country. The first chart appeared in issue 23 dated 25 May 1968. Two issues later date 22 June 1968 both paper and chart became weekly.

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    WHS no longer keep records of how many stores were used but Colin Bostock-Smith who compiled the chart confirmed the sample was only about a dozen branches of `Smith` stores. He received by post each stores top 30 selling records on Monday and Tuesday and would also use the points system to gauge each records place. ‘Top Pops’ changed its title to ‘Music Now’ on 21 March 1970, and finally ceased in May 1971. In its chart positions it tended to be closer to ‘New Musical Express’ and ‘Melody Maker’ than ‘Record Retailer / B.M.R.B.’

    For the main part of the 60s no one chart was the accepted one. It was a problem the B.B.C. wanted to resolve, particularly when, on August 31 1968, they had three records all in the top spot. The Bee Gees ‘Gotta Get a Message to You’, The Beach Boys ‘Do It Again’ and Herb Alpert’s ‘This Guys in Love’ all had to be played as the joint No.1 on ‘Top of the Pops’. This situation was seen as untenable, so a series of meetings were set up by the ‘B.B.C., the ‘British Phonograph Industry’ and ‘Billboard Publications’ who were owner of `Record Retailer`. These were attended by such luminaries as Derek Chinnery from the BBC, Graeme Andrews (Record Retailer) and
    Peter Meneer of the ‘British Market Research Bureau’. Details of a new chart operation evolved. Maurice Khin the publisher of ‘New Musical Express’ and the editor of ‘Melody Maker’ Jack Hutton were invited to come into the scheme. They declined this invitation as both were happy enough with their own charts.

    The B.M.R.B had been asked to investigate chart anomalies in 1966 following a “Sunday Times” `expose which concerned a version of “The Sound of Music” L.P. This was out on E.M.I’s “Music For Pleasure” label; but in spite of what E.M.I insisted were robust sales it had not registered in the three main LP charts of 1966 (NME, MM & R.Retailer) The B.M.R.B were asked to look into the matter.

    A solution to the chart difficulties was close at hand. At a cost of approximately £52.000 the opinion poll organisation ‘British Market Research Bureau’ would contact a rolling panel of 250 major Record Stores plus phone calls to a further 50 shops. The prime 250 would change each week with shops entering from a pool of 50 reserves. This was similar to the `rolling pools` of the music papers. Shops were randomly chosen from any of Britain’s 6,000 plus record retailers.

    The shops supplying figures would enter point of sales figures into diaries which would then be posted at close of sales on Saturday to arrive on Monday mornings, (There was Sunday post then) at the ‘B.M.R.B’ offices. Each Diaries totals would be translated to punch card data which would then be fed to a computer which would calculate the Top 50 positions. The chart would be sent to The B.B.C to arrive on Tuesday morning ready for broadcasting on the early afternoon chart show. Commencing on 15 February 1969 the new ‘B.M.R.B’ chart was broadcast on ‘B.B.C.’ ‘Top of the Pops’ with a Top 30 which was also used by Radio 1. It was also carried by ‘Record Mirror’ and ‘Retailer’who published the full top 50 positions, and from August 1970 in the new music paper ‘Sounds’ who published the top 30 positions.

    This system was called `Bars` by the B.M.R.B meaning “British Analysis of Record Sales”. The chart did find difficulty in getting aired in the newspaper chains, as these
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    were still very happy with ‘NME’ and ‘MM’ charts. By and large though, the new chart was seen as the ‘Official’ national chart and accepted by the industry. It is this `acceptance` that ironically was to be one of its drawbacks.

    The problem of having the new ‘B.M.R.B.’ chart announced as an `Official` listing, sadly concentrated the practise of getting records into the chart by any means possible. The list of chart shops was supposed to be secret but determined operators managed to uncover their locations. Record companies to plug their records put B.B.C. Radio 1 disc jockeys under much pressure. Some of this lobbying could be perceived as not quite one hundred percent above board. Over the years more and more stories (many greatly exaggerated) ran in the newspapers about the chart being rigged. The side affect benefited the ‘NME’ and ‘MM’ charts making them now less targeted and affected by hype`.

    When the ‘B.M.R.B.’ chart became established by the early 70s both ‘New Musical Express’ and ‘Melody Maker’ cut back their chart samples to 100 for ‘NME’ and 200 for ‘MM’. Both papers were aiming now at the `serious` Rock market, and were less
    concerned with the singles charts or pop orientated. Established as it was, the ‘B.M.R.B.’ chart was having difficulty getting its diaries in on time and filled out correctly. ‘Melody Maker’ had little trouble with postal returns as they had built up a
    loyal retinue of chart shops, but for the ‘B.M.R.B.’ chart the early returns barely got past 20% of the 300 supposed returns. Many of the early ‘B.M.R.B’ charts from February to July 1969 suffered many tied positions with up to five records sharing one position in one instance. This is something which should have been a virtual impossibility on a sales based chart. Also, postal strikes affected this system badly. No album charts could be compiled for February/March 1971 during the national postal strike then and while some phoning was done to get a Top 40 singles chart, it was deemed inadequate for a national chart.

    After more strike hit charts in 1973 the ‘BMRB.’ turned to a more reliable method of gathering data with motor cycle couriers collecting the diaries. Unfortunately this method proved to be quite expensive. According to Michael Cable’s ‘The Pop Industry Inside Out’, even by May 1976 only 158 out of sample of 299 were getting in on time. Despite all of the problems the B.M.R.B. chart became the accepted rundown by the mid 1970’s. When ‘Gallup’ inherited the franchise they brought in computerised tills, which speeded up the returns figures so that Christmas charts could be produced. Both NME and MM stopped doing their own chart listings on 14 May 1988 and started using M.R.I.B.’s lists. Advanced technology was about to create a stable platform for a single ‘official’ chart accepted by the vast majority of retailers, customers and the media.
    © Alan Smith

    Many thanks are due to those former staff members from the music and trade papers who kindly assisted with factual data for my research. Also; thanks are due to record shop managers who provided useful contacts and data from the `sellers` perspective.
    Alan Smith April 2007.

  • #2
    Fascinating information, thanks very much for that asm.

    Do you have access to those Melody Maker sheet music charts from the 40s ? It would be interesting to see what titles were on them.

    I saw a list of sheet music best-sellers going back as far as 'Among My Souvenirs' in May 1947 (can't remember where - probably one of your threads !), would that have been from the Melody Maker sheet music charts ?
    My God, it's full of Beatles albums !

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    • #3
      Bobcat! I'm afraid i don't have any 1940's M.Maker song sheet lists myself! I was helped with that data by Dave McAleer who knows the people who compiled the book concerning the history of sheet music! In the first few years the charts were not sale based! just an alphabetical listing amazingly!!

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      • #4
        Which book is that asm ? Could you please give me the title and author(s) ?
        My God, it's full of Beatles albums !

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        • #5
          Bobcatbob,
          maybe I can help. I believe it is 'First Hits: The Book Of Sheet Music' by Brian Henson and Colin Morgan. Publisher: Boxtree, London, 1989. It covers sheet music charts 1946-1959.

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