Sixty years of hits, from Sinatra to ... Sinatra

Sixty years ago the New York magazine Billboard published the first pop chart based on record sales. Reproduced in the 4 January 1936 issue were three separate Top 10s from each of the three leading record companies. No 1 was "Stop, Look and Listen" by Joe Venuti and Orchestra - according to Columbia. Alternatively, it was "Quicker Than You Can Say" by Ozzie Nelson and Orchestra on the Brunswick label. Or again it was RCA-Victor's Tommy Dorsey and Orchestra with "The Music Goes Round".

The charts have seen many a one-hit wonder, but some musicians keep plugging away. The man who holds the longest note was then a vocalist with Tommy Dorsey, on "I'll Never Smile Again", No 1 in 1940 - Frank Sinatra. He holds a place in the latest Billboard album chart.

In 1940, Billboard was producing its own unified chart by asking what was selling well at 50 stores, including the Louis Pizitz Dry Goods Company, Atlanta. The early hit parade has evolved into today's hi-tech version, in which sales at record store tills are electronically passed down phone lines to the chart compilers.

The US chart does not merely tot up the sales. Added into the equation is the amount of airplay each record has received - and how many people were listening at the time. A sample of America's 11,500 radio stations is vetted by electronic "listeners" programmed to recognise a couple of snatches taken from a large number of new releases.

The Top 10 did not reach Britain until New Musical Express published its first sales chart, in 1952. This featured several names still shifting records today. The late Nat King Cole, recently exhumed for a duet with his daughter, was crooning away at No 3 with "Somewhere Along the Way". Vera Lynn, in her pre-Dame days, was at No 7 with "Forget Me Not". The public clearly didn't, because another of her songs was at No 9 and yet another at No 10. Frankie La(i)ne's "High Noon" shared the No 7 slot; he was also at No 8, this time in a duet with Doris Day.

In 1954, NME turned its Top 10 into a Top 20; other music publications started their own listings, which the BBC amalgamated into its grand list in 1955. Over much of the Sixties, the charts were swamped by the Beatles, who in January 1964 could boast six hits at the same time - one an album. Three months later they pulled off an even bigger coup in the US: Billboard's chart showed the Fab Four in the top five places.

In 1978 Paul McCartney, trading as Wings, was, with "Mull of Kintyre", the first to sell more than 2 million copies of a single in Britain. The biggest-selling single of the present decade is by Robson and Jerome, the singing soldiers. Their "Unchained Melody" was in its best week selling around 400,000 copies; normally a weekly sale of 100,000 is enough to push a title into the No 1 slot.

Their warbling may be old-fashioned, but the technology used to record their sales is not. Chart Information Network, which provides the figures for the Radio 1 Sunday afternoon UK Top 40, monitors 2,300 of the country's 3,000 record stores, totting up all sales until midnight on Saturday. In 1936 a hit record was something that went round at 78 rpm. Today the same main title can come out as a 7in or 12in vinyl, or as a cassette, or as a CD, each accompanied by different tracks or mixes. A title's sales in three of those four formats can be added together to count towards its final chart position.

Like NME, Billboard splits its charts by categories such as Rap, R'n'B, Dance, Country, Latin, Gospel or even "Top Contemporary Christian". Its bestselling 200 list of albums is based not on airplay but entirely on copies sold. Don't laugh at Frank Sinatra still being there: Ol' Blue Eyes at least has the advantage of being 100 per cent alive, unlike members of some of the groups also in the Top 200 - Nirvana, Queen and the Grateful Dead. And the Beatles are at No 1.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
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
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Male Behaviour Support Assistant vacancy in Penarth

    £55 - £65 per day + Travel Scheme and Free Training: Randstad Education Cardif...

    BA/PM,EMIR/Dodd-Frank,London,£450-650P/D

    £450 - £650 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

    SEN Learning Support Assistant vacancy in Penarth

    £55 - £65 per day + Travel Scheme and Free Training: Randstad Education Cardif...

    Key stage 1 and 2 teachers required for the Vale of Glamorgan

    £90 - £110 per day + Travel Scheme & Free Training: Randstad Education Cardiff...

    Day In a Page

    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
    Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
    Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

    Feather dust-up

    A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
    5 best waterproof cameras

    Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

    Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
    Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

    Louis van Gaal interview

    Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
    Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

    Will Gore: Outside Edge

    The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz