Later today it’s a pretty safe bet that the thousandth No.1 hit single will be announced in the UK Singles Chart, and Elvis Presley is odds-on to get it.
Elvis also had the 999th No.1 in last week’s charts, which set some interesting records, according to Music Week. Firstly, it was the oldest recording ever to top the chart, and also the most posthumous. It sold fewer copies than any other No.1 in history, and the singles market as a whole shifted the lowest number of units since quantifiable sales data became available.
It’s pretty clear that, as an indicator of what’s fresh and exciting in pop culture, the singles chart is heading towards meltdown. It’s a second-hand measure of developments that start elsewhere in charity (e.g. Band Aid), TV (e.g. Pop Idol) and cultural anniversaries (e.g. Elvis).
In the week after Christmas, the number of downloads sold exceeded the number of singles (though this was quite possibly a blip, as gift recipients explored the novelty downloads). However, the songs at the top of the download chart sell many fewer than the physical singles, because download sales follow a long tail distribution. Downloads may substitute for singles in terms of revenue, but not as an indicator of new talent.
All of which demonstrates the increasing middle-age spread of the charts.