Westlife are the equal of the Beatles. Oh yeah?

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Some music lovers will be merely surprised. Others will be appalled, but it is a milestone, none the less. The Irish boy band Westlife have apparently bettered the Beatles.

Some music lovers will be merely surprised. Others will be appalled, but it is a milestone, none the less. The Irish boy band Westlife have apparently bettered the Beatles.

As they embarked on a whirlwind tour of record shops round the country yesterday, the boys were celebrating their seventh consecutive single to reach number one - a record equalled only by the Fab Four.

Westlife's latest release, "My Love", went straight in at number one, knocking the Spice Girls off the top spot. But such is the fickleness of the record-buying public that they are unlikely to remain therefor long.

There have been 37 number ones so far this year, compared with 17 in 1960 and 24 in 1964, the year the Beatles started their run of number ones with "A Hard Day's Night" in 1964 and ended it with"Yellow Submarine"/"Eleanor Rigby" in 1966. But it took them two years to achieve their record compared with only 19 months for Westlife, who are the only band to have gone straight to the top of the charts with each of their first seven singles, starting with "Swear It Again" and including "I Have A Dream" and "Fool Again".

Geoff Baker, a spokesman for the Beatles, responded tersely: "Congratulations. I look forward to them changing the world."

The singles chart has changed beyond all recognition since the days of Beatlemania when records tended to spend several months on the chart often taking a number of weeks to climb to the top spot.

Nowadays aggressive marketing techniques mean that a single can expect to peak in its first week of release and it is usually downhill from there.

Radio 1 plays new singles up to six weeks before they come out leading to a stampede on the day of release. Westlife's latest made it to number one on the back of a mere 112,000 sales which, according to an insider at the station, "is not in the least remarkable in terms of sales figures. Singles really don't have much longevity at the top nowadays.

"Bands like the Spice Girls might have had nine number ones, but they don't evenfeature on a recent chart we did of the all-time Top 40. Each song was given a point forthe number of weeks at number 40 and 40 points for the number of weeks at number one - and so on. And on that basis, the number four was actually Jim Reeves, with 'I Love You Because'.

"Westlife weren't there either. But nowadays the battle is about getting to number one, not about how long you stay there."

John Hindmarch, the features editor of Smash Hits, said there was no question that Westlife were one of the most popular bands in the country.

"Our readers, aged between 8 and 15, just love them, and very often so do their mothers - so they have a broad appeal," he said.

"They are quite middle-of-the-road, but they do classically good power pop ballads and they are brilliant at it."

Paul Williams, the news editor of Music Week, said it was a myth that bands needed to sell fewer singles to reach number one nowadays than back in the Sixties.

"Last year was one of the biggest-selling years for singles in the history of recorded music; so you needed to sell a lot more to get to number one than you might have done, for example, this year, when we have already 37 number ones.

"The sales of albums and singles have always fluctuated over the years, but 1999 was the third highest since 1973 forsingles and that is when records began.

"The main difference is that bands used to take weeks to climb the charts and now they need to peak in the week of release or not at all. That is due to the aggressive marketing that goes on prior to release which creates the demandas soon as its out and it will then die down."