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 & Entertainment
A stranger calls: Martin Freeman in ‘Fargo’
tvMartin Freeman’s casting is a stroke of genius

Arts & Entertainment
Maisie Williams of Game of Thrones now
tvMajor roles that grow with their child actors are helping them to steal the show on TV
Arts & Entertainment
Customers browse through Vinyl Junkies record shop in Berwick Street, Soho, London
music

Arts & Entertainment
Who laughs lass: Jenny Collier on stage
ComedyCollier was once told there were "too many women" on bill
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
Ken Loach (left) and Mike Leigh who will be going head to head for one of cinema's most coveted prizes at this year's Cannes Film Festival

film
Arts & Entertainment
film

Arts & Entertainment
Don (John Hamm) and Megan (Jessica Paré) Draper are going their separate ways in the final series of ‘Mad Men’
tvReview: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatre

Review: Of Mice and Men

Arts & Entertainment
art

By opportunistic local hoping to exhibit the work

Arts & Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio will star in an adaptation of Michael Punke's thriller 'The Revenant'
film

Fans will be hoping the role finally wins him an Oscar

Arts & Entertainment
Cody and Paul Walker pictured in 2003.
film

Arts & Entertainment
Down to earth: Fern Britton presents 'The Big Allotment Challenge'
TV

Arts & Entertainment
The London Mozart Players is the longest-running chamber orchestra in the UK
musicThreatened orchestra plays on, managed by its own members
Arts & Entertainment
Seeing red: James Dean with Sal Mineo in 'Rebel without a Cause'
film

Arts & Entertainment
TV
Arts & Entertainment
Heads up: Andy Scott's The Kelpies in Falkirk
art

What do gigantic horse heads tell us about Falkirk?

Arts & Entertainment
artGraffiti legend posts picture of work – but no one knows where it is
Arts & Entertainment
A close-up of Tom of Finland's new Finnish stamp
art

Finnish Postal Service praises the 'self irony and humour' of the drawings

Arts & Entertainment
Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in 2002's Die Another Day
film

The actor has confessed to his own insecurities

Life & Style
Green fingers: a plot in East London
TV

Allotments are the focus of a new reality show

Arts & Entertainment
Myleene Klass attends the Olivier awards 2014

Oliviers 2014Theatre stars arrive at Britain's most prestigious theatre awards
Arts & Entertainment
Stars of The Book of Mormon by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park

Oliviers 2014Blockbuster picked up Best Musical and Best Actor in a Musical
Arts & Entertainment
Lesley Manville with her Olivier for Best Actress for her role in 'Ghosts'

Oliviers 2014Actress thanked director Richard Eyre for a stunning production
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter: The man who could have been champion of the world - and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him

    The man who could have been champion of the world

    Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him
    Didn’t she do well?

    Didn’t she do well?

    Miranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
    The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

    The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

    In Iraq, mafiosi already run almost the entire oil output of the south of the country
    Before they were famous

    Before they were famous

    Can you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
    Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is genius

    Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is a stroke of genius

    Series is brimming with characters and stories all its own
    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players