Singles chart remix to favour golden oldies

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The singles chart is poised to undergo one of the most significant transformations in its 40-year history.

From Monday, chart position will no longer be pegged to the sale of a CD single or seven-inch vinyl release. Instead, digital downloads, which outstripped high street sales for the first time earlier this year, will dictate the risers and fallers in the Top 40. This means that any song available on the internet - including "golden oldies" - could top the charts.

Experts said that old tracks revived for television advertising campaigns and films, but not re-released - such as the post-punk soundtrack to the Sofia Coppola movie Marie Antoinette - could well reappear in the charts. The soundtrack included songs by New Order, Siouxsie and the Banshees and The Cure.

The aim is to make the charts more representative of what consumers are actually buying and revitalise an institution that was looking past its sell-by date after years of declining sales.

While downloads have been included in the chart makeup since 2005, they have only been counted if there was also a CD or record release. But the success of artists like Gnarls Barkley, Lily Allen and the Arctic Monkeys, who built chart success on the back of internet popularity, has convinced the Official UK Charts Company (OCC).

From Monday, all download sales will count - including album tracks and old numbers given a new lease of life by use in advertising or a film.

Steve Redmond, the OCC's director, described it as a dramatic development. "For the past 54 years, a single was a track selected by a record company to be pressed on plastic and distributed to stores on a particular date," he said. "From now on, a single can be any track available as a download - even an album track or a golden oldie - as well, of course, as the established physical formats."

The bid to boost the chart comes after a turbulent few years. From the 1970s until the end of the 1990s, sales remained relatively static at around 70 million. But the singles market went into free-fall at the end of the millennium. Between 1999 and 2004, it crashed to around half the sales level of its heyday because of illegal downloading and filesharing sites. The industry fought back, offering legal and paid-for digital services. As a consequence, legal downloads rose from 5.8 million in 2004 to 50 million in 2006, accounting for 60 per cent of the overall market and 80 per cent of back catalogue sales - although physical sales look to be in continuing decline.

Gennaro Castaldo, of HMV, said he believed every track should be accessible to customers. But he feared that the shift to downloads could mean some singles would not be available and some labels may want to phase out physical sales altogether. However, the resurgence of the seven-inch market, up to 2 million this year, showed there was demand. "One reason we don't believe that physical sales will disappear is because enthusiasts continue to want to own a single or album," he said.

Steve Kincaid, of Virgin Megastores, said he believed the changes were "a positive move forward, as they clearly reflect consumers' buying habits". But he said that there was still an incredible demand for a physical single when the right artist comes along, and that should be catered for.