Friday, December 1, 2017

A brief history pop charts : 'Not 'arf!'




The term hit parade originated in the late 1930s and initially was a list of the bestselling songs and instrumental sheet music. At the time record players were rare and people listened to the wireless, be entertained by live music at clubs, dance halls and theatres as well as entertain themselves and friends at home playing pianos, accordions etc. Sheet music was very popular and simple enough to create a ‘hit parade’ of the bestselling copy. Lists were prone to manipulation often with only selected outlets ever asked to contribute their sales information. As record players replaced radios and recorded pressings became more available and leagues of bestselling records were compiled based upon popular airplay or actual record sales. These became known as The Top Forty or Top 40 and represented the most-popular songs in a particular genre e.g. Country & Western or Pop. When used without qualification, it typically referred to the best-selling or most frequently broadcast pop music songs of the previous week.



Singles charts based on actual record sales were first published by the American Billboard magazine in 1940. Similar charts started to appear in the UK from 1952 onwards and were published in the New Musical Express. Initially these were based on an ad hoc survey but later as the information became critical to the industry and a succession of market research companies including the British Market Research Bureau (1969) and later Gallup gathered independent information. Today the UK charts are produced on behalf of the British record industry by The Official UK Charts Company (OCC) formerly the Chart Information Network. When the recording industry agreed upon a standard recording format for higher fidelity music in 1954 they also introduced new single records on 45 rpm. This meant people could buy cheap commercial pressings which meant those who sold well and appeared on the league of best sellers became hits.



Broadcasting the top 40 became a dominant program format on radio with jingles, contests, listener dedications, news updates, traffic reports, and other features designed to make Top 40 radio particularly attractive to listeners. The chart week ran from Sunday to Saturday and most singles were released on a Monday. The term ‘hit parade’ was used to describe the league of bestselling records and the term was later incorporated into a title of radio and television program which dealt specifically with the most popular tunes of the day. In the US, Your Hit Parade was broadcast on radio (1935-1955) and television (1950 to 1959). By the mid-50s the term Hit Parade had passed into the common vernacular. The first British record sales chart appeared in 1952 and Radio Luxembourg had previously broadcast a sheet music Top 20. The template for the hit parade shows was forged in the US and consisted of showcasing the top ten (sometimes 20) best sellers for that week and several other potential best sellers from the list of new releases. The order of the charts was reversed and the top three songs were presented with an extra flourish as the listening/viewing audience would speculate among themselves as to which tunes would climb to the top three positions and how long they would stay there. This pattern of chart shows has rarely changed over the decades and the term ‘count-down’ was frequently used. In Australia during the 70s and 80s there was a TV program called ‘Countdown,’ (ABC).



American Bandstand (1952-1989) was a television program which aired nationally and featured teenagers dancing the latest dances to Top 40 music. Although Dick Clark was not the original host he became synonymous with the show and introduced a ‘rate a record’ segments where teenagers (the main consumers of pop music) were interviewed about their opinions of the songs in the Top 40. The catch phrase, "It's got a good beat and you can dance to it" is credited to this source. Bandstand (1958 – 1972) was an Australian musical/variety television show based on American Bandstand and was hosted by Brian Henderson. The show showcased mainly Australian Acts, all of which were popular across the country.



Pick of the Pops was a BBC radio programme based on the Top 20 UK singles chart and was first broadcast on the BBC Light Programme in 1955. It later transferred to BBC’s Radio 1 in 1967 before it was axed in 1972. There was a series of presenters starting with Franklin Engelmann (1955), Alan Dell (1956), David Jacobs (1956-61 and 1962), Don Moss (1963) and then the late Alan ‘Fluff’ Freeman (1961-62, 1963 and 1964-72). The Pick of the Pop charts was based on an average of the Record Mirror and NME singles charts (and probably the Melody Maker from April 1956). Alan Freeman split his shows into four segments: chart newcomers, new releases, LPs and the Top 10. The programme achieved big audiences and primarily was the only pop music on BBC radio. Freeman continued with the show when Radio 1 replaced the Light Programme and stayed until the programme ended in September 1972. Alan Freeman’s original opening to the show was “Hi, there pop pickers! (which was later changed to “Greetings, pop pickers?”) and he ended the show with ' 'Alright? Stay bright!'



The longest running UK ‘hit parade” styled TV show was Top of the Pops, (TOTP) BBC and was originally broadcast on the first of January 1964. The program ran until 2006 when the BBC axed the show. The successful format was each programme consisted of performances from some of that week's best-selling popular music artists, with a rundown of that week's singles chart. In the 1990s, the show's format was sold to several foreign broadcasters in the form of a franchise package, and at one point various versions of the show were shown in nearly 100 countries. For most of its history the show had very strict rules about which singles could be featured. A song could not appear if it was going down the charts, nor could any track appear on consecutive weeks unless it was at number one. These rules were abandoned in 1997, possibly as a response to the changing nature of the Top 40 (in the late 1990s and early 2000s climbers in the charts were a rarity, with almost all singles peaking at their debut position). In its heyday in the 1970s, TOTP attracted 15 million viewers each week.



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