At number one in the latest album charts is the Motown star Lionel Richie; at two, Elton John; at three, a man even older than Elton, Neil Diamond; and on through young hopefuls, Joe Cocker and Dr Hook, to Tom Jones. The Beatles, though, seem to be slipping. Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band has dropped from 6 to 20, but they are still just above those new wave challengers Black Sabbath, Queen and Tina Turner.
Rarely can the charts have provided such a time warp. There is not a single Nineties artist among the top 10 albums.
The baffled record companies have decided that this is not just a notable musical trend but an important sociological indicator. Jeremy Silver, for the British Phonographic Industry, said: 'It's the first time since the birth of rock'n'roll that there has been a lack of a generation gap. The problem is how do you introduce into a market that's behaving that way any major new talent?'
The problem is exacerbated by the singles charts increasingly bearing little relationship to the album charts. Singles, which tend not to make much money for the big companies, are usually released to encourage album interest. But while the albums are dominated by yesterday's men (and a granny or two), singles buyers are going for a variety of crazes, with fans buying up the singles quickly and the records then dropping out of sight.
Adrian Wistreich, chief executive of Chart Information Network, which compiles the national charts, said: 'If you look at the albums market it amazes me. You're looking at artists who have been around for a very long time. You couldn't go top 20 just on mums and dads buying. You have to have the youth market buying as well.'
Latest research figures from Gallup do show that more than half of all albums are bought by people under 35. But Steve Gallant, senior buying manager for Our Price Music, believes that there are still two distinct customer groups, with teenagers buying singles.
'The age range is broadening because people who grew up in the Sixties are still buying music, and the artists they grew up with are still making records.'
Mr Wistreich believes that the ability of the older artists to get TV exposure is a key factor in maintaining their popularity. But there can be even more curious reasons for a sudden rise. Tina Turner's 1991 greatest hits compilation Simply The Best rose from 40 to 28 last month for no apparent reason. Record company executives investigated. It turned out to be . . . Father's Day.Reuse content