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

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7

film

Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary

TV

Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige

TV

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
  • Get to the point
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.

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence