Fast-moving pop charts confound even the experts: The vast turnover in the Top 40 has major labels fearing for their profits. David Lister reports

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The Independent Online
MUSIC INDUSTRY chiefs met this week to make what is, for them, a unique confession in the history of popular music: they no longer understand the pop charts.

And, to be fair, they have rarely been stranger. Few pundits predicted that last week's entry at No 47 in the album charts would be An Evening With Johnners, a spoken-word compact disc by the late Brian Johnston, the revered cricket commentator. Yet even that was perhaps not as bizarre as the debutante at No 66, The Major Works of Canto Gregori by Monks Chorus Silos, a classical recording from a Spanish monastery.

The singles chart has been equally unpredictable. Two old songs used in television advertisements have appeared: 'Wonderful Life' by Black, a mid- 1980s group from Liverpool, which is used in the Standard Life commercial, enters at 42, while Eartha Kitt singing 'If I Love Ya, Then I Need Ya' comes in at one place lower, courtesy of Flora margarine, and just 37 years after it was recorded.

Of greatest concern to the record companies is the rapid movement of singles in and out of the charts. It costs at least pounds 250,000 to launch a new major-band, yet most records that make it into the pop charts leave it within two or three weeks, sometimes even one week.

Record company executives who met on Wednesday learnt that since 1989 the number of records entering the singles chart has risen by 50 per cent to 1,000 a year. And increasingly, new releases are failing to climb the chart. Last week just three Top 40 singles climbed, while only one rose the previous week.

Ideas considered included urging that the charts include recognition of airplay, and releasing titles on fewer formats, which would cut the costs for record companies. Most singles are released on vinyl, cassette and CD.

The key problem is that records now mainly sell to fans of the genres, be it dance music or heavy metal, and there are fewer and fewer records appealing to a mass market. Once the hardcore fans have bought a new release, it quickly drops out of the charts.

Jeremy Silver, a spokesman for Virgin Records, said: 'Record companies alone can't control what's going on. There is an increasing fragmentation of musical taste out there and there are very few singles that cross over outside their core market. We used to have definite trends like punk or new wave, or new romantic. We don't have that now.'

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