Jan 2, 2017

Charts in crisis: here's why there are so few number one singles

There are no more UK number one singles left.

In 2016, there were only 11 UK number one singles. This equals the lowest record set in 1954 when Doris Day and Yorkshire warbler David Whitfield dominated the charts.

This is a huge drop off considering 2014 had 38 chart toppers. If this trend continues, in 2017 there will be -2 chart toppers. That's right. We'll go into the minuses. If they do another Top Of The Pops, it will simply be a video of antimatter.

To demonstrate this alarming statistic, I've made a graphic (above). This shows the number of separate number one singles over the past decade expressed in sizes of Drake. Drake is not a duck: he is a hugely successful music artist who enjoyed 15 weeks at number one last year. Drake should be used in all bar charts.

There can be only one explanation. It's upsetting, but I don't want to hide the truth from you.

ALL THE MUSIC STARS ARE DEAD. Let's face it: all the celebrities popped the bucket in 2016. Kicked their clogs. Maybe there was no-one left to have number one singles.

No, wait, hold on. That's not right.

The actual answer seems to be volume of weekly sales. There are two clues. 1992 and 2007.

In 1992, the year of Ebeneezer Goode (pictured) and Rhythm Is A Dancer, single sales tanked. There were only 12 number one singles that year. Likewise, in 2007, the CD collapsed as a format and single sales again fell: you could top the chart with a fraction of what you needed just a few years earlier. And as you can see in the chart above, in 2007 there were relatively few number ones.

By contrast, the measuring of downloads and streams saw single sales rocket at the start of this decade. So the opposite trend happened: as sales increased, we saw a big increase in the quantity of chart toppers in any one year.

Seems odd?

Nope. It's mathematics in action. Low weekly sales means a single's chart run is exhausted slowly. The songs then stick around like musical farts. Conversely, high weekly sales sees their sales potential exhausted in no time at all. Sometimes after just one week. Theoretically, a track with 200,000 sales could spend one week at number one in 2013 - or ten weeks at number one in 2007.

Which also reveals something else quite sobering.

There are certain totems that stick around at number one forever. In 1992, Whitney Houston spent 10 weeks at number one. In 2007, Rihanna spent 10 weeks at number one. In 2016, Drake spent 15 weeks at number one.

Notice something about those years? I bet the same is true for Bryan Adams and Wet Wet Wet too. Record-breaking chart toppers? Or merely mathematical musical farts?

Footnote: This is based on a theory once posited by James Masterton. Although the fart metaphor is my own, as is much of this analysis. Tell others: please tweet this article using the hashtag #musicalfarts.

If all that has left your head exploding, here's an old tune to lighten things up.

Further Fats: It's not a pie chart but I called it a Bri Chart because that was the only pun I could think of (2008)

Further Fats: Whatever happened to the cheeky New Year number one? (2013)