Our one-track minds: singles bounce back

British pop fans are buying more singles than at any time since the days of Bright Eyes and Blondie. Elisa Bray investigates

When the indie-pop band Ash announced in 2007 that they would release only singles instead of albums, they had a point. Six years later, as physical album sales continue to fall, singles continue to grow in popularity. The music  industry breathed a sigh of relief this week with the news that singles sales are at their highest ever. So  accustomed are we to reading about the death of music-buying, that it comes as some surprise that by the time we reach December 2013, this year will have been the biggest year on record for singles sales.

The Official Charts Company reported last week that it was the first time since 1999 that every No 1 single for eight weeks had sold more than 100,000 copies a week. Average sales for a No 1 over the past eight weeks have been 150,000 copies, compared with an average of just 106,000 in 2012. The current soaring sales are thanks to a raft of hits in recent weeks: Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines”, featuring TI and Pharrell, was the year’s fastest-selling single in its first seven days on sale, not only retaining its No 1 slot in its second week but breaking the record again when it went on to sell almost 199,000 that week – adding another 10,000 more sales than the previous week.

Meanwhile, the return of French electronica duo Daft Punk has helped to boost sales. This week’s No 3 – “Get Lucky”  featuring Pharrell – is Daft Punk’s first single from their new album, Random Access Memories, and the biggest-selling single of the year to date, with nearly 900,000 sales.

Rising star Naughty Boy, who produced singles for Wiley and Chipmunk and worked with the likes of Cheryl Cole, Leona Lewis and Rihanna before stepping out of the backstage shadows with his forthcoming debut album Hotel Cabana, is at No 2 in the chart with his drum’n’bass-channelling single “La La La”, featuring the Disclosure collaborator Sam Smith. Other popular acts that have sent single sales soaring include electronic act Rudimental.

It is undoubtedly an extraordinary run of hit songs, but the overall singles market was already booming. Last year saw 188 million singles sold in the UK – the biggest year on record, and sales are already ahead of where they were at this time last year. The market has grown so much at its top end that acts now need to sell more  singles to make the Top 40 than they would have had to do at any other time in the past 25 years. In order to make the No 1 spot today, they must sell twice as many  singles as they did back in 2003.

“Singles sales are definitely surging at the moment,” says Martin Talbot, managing director of the Official Charts Company. “This is part of the long-term explosion in the singles market which has seen nine years of unbroken growth. But we are also in a truly rich period for enormous smash hit singles.”

Music fans may not be queuing outside record shops in anticipation to physically buy the latest single on CD, but more people across the age ranges are buying singles than ever before, and it is all driven by the  digital market, which now accounts for more than 99 per cent of all  single tracks sold in the UK.

Sales have been rising since the first legitimate download services launched (iTunes UK went live in June 2004), steadily climbing from 30 million in 2003 to 188 million last year, as physical releases have given way to digital downloads. More people are downloading music than ever before. The  percentage of people buying only digital music rose to more than a fifth last year, and it is all reflected in the fact that sales of Apple iPods and other MP3 players are outstripping purchases of CD players.

It is now so easy and instant to download a single – a click on the computer or smartphone from wherever you are at that  moment – and a digital download is cheaper. The use of current pop hits in television advertising and in popular programmes (known as synching), means that people can hear a song as they are watching television and simultaneously download it. Before the digital revolution, the biggest year for singles was 1979, when 89 million singles by the likes of Blondie, The Police, Abba and Ian Dury & the Blockheads were sold in the UK.

“Digital music has revitalised the singles market,” says BPI chief executive Geoff Taylor. “More and more people are downloading music on to tablets and smartphones. We have made it easy for fans to get any song they want  instantly – and that should promise a bright future for Britain’s world-leading music business.”

The rise in singles also reflects a trend for people downloading single tracks rather than entire albums. But before we revert to predicting the death of the album – because the spending on physical LPs is dropping year on year – digital album sales are also on the rise.

 

Then and now: The top 10 best-selling UK singles

1979

1 Bright Eyes – Art Garfunkel

2 Heart of Glass – Blondie

3 We Don't Talk Anymore – Cliff Richard

4 I Don't Like Mondays – The Boomtown Rats

5 Another Brick in the Wall – Pink Floyd

6 When You're in Love With a Beautiful Woman – Dr Hook

7 I Will Survive – Gloria Gaynor

8 Are 'Friends' Electric? – Tubeway Army

9 Dance Away – Roxy Music

10 Sunday Girl – Blondie

2012

1 Somebody That I Used To Know – Gotye featuring Kimbra

2 Call Me Maybe – Carly Rae Jepsen

3 We Are Young – fun. featuring Janelle Monae

4 Titanium – David Guetta featuring Sia

5 Impossible – James Arthur

6 Gangnam Style – PSY

7 Starships – Nicki Minaj

8 Domino – Jessie J

9 Payphone – Maroon 5 featuring Wiz Khalifa

10 Wild Ones – Flo Rida featuring Sia

Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
Arts and Entertainment
Ready to open the Baftas, rockers Kasabian are also ‘great film fans’
musicExclusive: Rockers promise an explosive opening to the evening
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hell, yeah: members of the 369th Infantry arrive back in New York
booksWorld War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
    World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

    Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

    The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
    Why the league system no longer measures up

    League system no longer measures up

    Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
    Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

    Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

    Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
    Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

    Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

    The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
    Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

    Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

    Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
    Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

    Greece elections

    In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
    Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

    Holocaust Memorial Day

    Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
    Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

    Magnetic north

    The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness