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
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Voices
voices
Sport
Roger Federer is greeted by Michael Jordan following his victory over Marinko Matosevic
tennisRoger Federer gets Michael Jordan's applause following tweener shot in win over Marinko Matosevic
News
peopleJustin Bieber accuses paparazzi of acting 'recklessly' after car crash
Arts and Entertainment
Oppressive atmosphere: the cast of 'Tyrant'
tvIntroducing Tyrant, one of the most hotly anticipated dramas of the year
News
i100
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

    Technical Manager – Heat Pumps

    £40000 Per Annum dependent on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: They ...

    Test Job

    TBC: Test Recruiter for iJobs: Job London (Greater)

    Senior Developer - HTML, CSS, PHP, JavaScript, VBA, SQL

    £30000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: We are working with one o...

    Senior Developer - HTML, CSS, PHP, JavaScript, VBA, SQL

    £30000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: We are working with one o...

    Day In a Page

    Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

    Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

    A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
    Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

    The science of herding is cracked

    Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
    Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

    This tyrant doesn’t rule

    It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?
    Rachael Lander interview: From strung out to playing strings

    From strung out to playing strings

    Award-winning cellist Rachael Lander’s career was almost destroyed by the alcohol she drank to fight stage fright. Now she’s playing with Elbow and Ellie Goulding
    The science of saturated fat: A big fat surprise about nutrition?

    A big fat surprise about nutrition?

    The science linking saturated fats to heart disease and other health issues has never been sound. Nina Teicholz looks at how governments started advising incorrectly on diets
    Emmys 2014 review: Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars

    Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars?

    The recent Emmy Awards are certainly glamorous, but they can't beat their movie cousins
    On the road to nowhere: A Routemaster trip to remember

    On the road to nowhere

    A Routemaster trip to remember
    Hotel India: Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind

    Hotel India

    Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind
    10 best pencil cases

    Back to school: 10 best pencil cases

    Whether it’s their first day at school, uni or a new project, treat the student in your life to some smart stationery
    Arsenal vs Besiktas Champions League qualifier: Gunners know battle with Turks is a season-defining fixture

    Arsenal know battle with Besiktas is a season-defining fixture

    Arsene Wenger admits his below-strength side will have to improve on last week’s show to pass tough test
    Pete Jenson: Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought

    Pete Jenson: A Different League

    Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought
    This guitar riff has been voted greatest of all time

    The Greatest Guitar Riff of all time

    Whole Lotta Votes from Radio 2 listeners
    Britain’s superstar ballerina

    Britain’s superstar ballerina

    Alicia Markova danced... every night of the week and twice on Saturdays
    Berlin's Furrie invasion

    Berlin's Furrie invasion

    2000 fans attended Eurofeurence
    ‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

    ‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

    Driven to the edge by postpartum psychosis