It is 1981, a warm, bright Sunday evening in late May. I am standing on the soot-blackened stone wall that borders the primary school I am about to leave at the onset of summer. There are four other boys with me, and resting on the wall is a transistor radio.
The DJ is counting down from 10 to one. We all know what’s coming at the end of it, by dint of a process of basic elimination, but there’s an electric thrill building nonetheless. The expected announcement comes: “And at number one, for the fourth week running… It’s Adam and the Ants with ‘Stand and Deliver’!”
I can’t remember now whether we had pre-arranged what happened next, or if it was a result of that strange group telepathy that we now often forget we employed on an almost daily basis as children, but we all gave a high-pitched whooping holler and leapt off the wall in unison.
In my memory we never hit the sloping grass field, but are preserved like a grainy Polaroid picture, frozen in flight arms blurring in a moment of flailing joy. It is 1981, and the pop charts mean something. The hit parade, as our parents call it to our groans and rolling eyes, is important. Everybody knows what’s number one. Everybody can name the top 10, at the very least. We know the new entries and what’s slipping down the rankings.
And now it’s gone. I’m calling it. And it’s all Ed Sheeran’s fault. As I write this, the midweek chart rankings have just been released, and Ed Sheeran has nine – count ‘em, nine! – songs in the top 10. He’s expected to have 16 songs in the top 40 when the countdown is officially unveiled on Sunday.
But will anybody be listening? Does anybody care? Has the pop charts finally, officially, ignominiously, just been put to death with half a housebrick repeatedly smashed into its head?
Well, it’s not really Sheeran’s fault. He’s just done what pop stars do – released an album. But the absolute mess the pop charts have become means that it no longer has an relevance or meaning. Sheeran’s domination of the charts this week is nothing to do with the number of singles he’s released, but the fact that every paid-for download or stream of digital music now gets collated, added up and given a chart position, meaning that pretty much every track off his new album ÷ (yes, I know. Divide, apparently) which has been individually downloaded, makes the grade for the singles chart.
And where, I wonder, is the fun in that? I’ve just asked my 12-year-old daughter who’s top of the charts.
“Ed Sheeran?” she hazards, though she would have been very unlucky to get it wrong this week.
“Do you ever listen to the Top 40 on Radio 1?” I ask. She shrugs.
“I listen on Spotify.”
Oh, don’t worry: I know I’m old and not with it, if I ever was. I cling on to outmoded culture consumption rituals. I still like watching TV dramas when they are actually broadcast, week by week, rather than waiting to binge watch them. I like the heft of a paperback book in my hands. I like holding a disc of black vinyl sandwiched between the palms of my hands and blowing non-existent dust from its grooves.
But I long ago resigned myself to the fact the water cooler moment of the pop charts was no more. The last time I remember caring was on a drive home on a dark December night, waiting to see if The Darkness would beat Gary Jules and Michael Andrews’ cover of Tears for Fears’ "Mad World" to the Christmas number one. (They didn’t). That was 2003.
The 20 most ridiculous things superstar musicians have demanded at their concerts
The 20 most ridiculous things superstar musicians have demanded at their concerts
The Demands: 1 Large table for catering dressed with white tablecloths. Dressing room should be 78 degrees 4 Brand New White Towels in bathroom (2 face & 2 body) Hot Food: Juicy Baked Chicken: Legs, Wings & Breast only (Please season with fresh garlic, season salt, black pepper, and Cayenne pepper HEAVILY SEASONED!!) Steamed Garlic Broccoli Lightly Seasoned Green Beans Lightly Seasoned Steamed Spinach Beyoncé can only have Pepsi products. 1 Case of Aquafina water (half cold, half room temperature) 1 Hot Tea Set up (Please have NEW Coffee Pot) Sliced Lemons Wedges Rose scented candles Lighter for candles CD player
The Demands: 12 Small bottles still (non-carbonated) spring water (at room temperature) 1 Electric kettle for BOILING water 6 Large mugs for tea. All mugs should be new, washed and dried. 6 metal teaspoons 2 “Squeezy” bottles clear honey (not organic) 1 Bottle very best quality red wine (Italian, French or Spanish) 1 Assortment of chewing gum 1 Pack Marlboro Light plus 1 disposable cigarette lighter 1 Small selection fresh fruit, to include bananas, apples, grapes, fresh berries NO CITRUS FRUIT! 1 Small plate of assorted freshly made, individually wrapped sandwiches, to include chicken salad. Sandwiches must NOT contain tomatoes, vinegar, chili or citrus fruit
3/20 Kanye West
The Demands: 1 Tub Plain Yogurt for dipping 4 small Yoplait Yogurt 1 Bowl of assorted nuts 1 Bowl of Sunkist Salted Pistachio Nuts (No Red Coloring) 2 Packs of Extra Chewing Gum 1 Bottle of Hot Sauce (Tabasco, Caribbean Type) 1 Box of Toothpicks 1 750 ml bottle of Hennessey Liquor 1 750 ml bottle of SKY or Absolut Vodka 1 Bottle of Patron Silver Tequila 4 Six Packs of Heineken Beer
Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty, David Parsons/iStock
The Demands: 5 AC power outlets Adequate lighting for a “relaxed atmosphere” White drapes to cover lockers and/or brick 1 Humidifier 1 Large throw rug — plush and animal print (Cheetah, Leopard) … must be CLEAN, as she will walk on it barefoot. Pipe and Drape the room in Dark Blue or Black drapes with Icy Blue Chiffon draped nicely on top 6 Candles — Archipelago Black Forest (if you can't get these, please let me know ASAP as we have a 2nd choice of candle for Ri). 4 Small, clear, square vases with White Tulips, no foliage (2nd choice: White Casablanca Lilies no foliage, 3rd choice: White Freesia, no foliage)
5/20 Katy Perry
The Demands: Arrangement of pink fresh flowers. White and purple hydrangeas, pink & white roses and peonies. If not available, seasonal white flowers to include white orchids–ABSOLUTELY NO CARNATIONS. A box of Huggies baby nature care wipes 6 Vitamin waters zero, assorted flavors Bowl of whole fresh organic grown fruit (apples, bananas, oranges and grapes) Plate of fresh-cut Crudités (to include cucumber, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, snap peas, celery) w/ ranch dip Snyder's of Hanover Honey Mustard & Onion Pretzel Jar of Salsa Baked (blue corn if possible) Tortilla Chips Freeze dried strawberries 2 bottles of Santa Margarita Pinot Grigio Throat coat, Twinnings Chamomile PG tips and Mint medley tea. Fuze slenderize assorted flavors A jar of quality honey Plastic drinking straws
6/20 Paul McCartney
The Demands: All lamps must be halogen floor lamps with dimmer switch. Only animal free materials (cottons, denims, velour, etc.) Do not provide furniture made of any animal skin or print. Do not provide artificial versions of animal skin or print either. No leather seating is allowed in the black stretch limousine either. Arrange for a dry cleaner before arrival. 6 Full and leafy floor plants, but no trees. We want plants that are just as full on the bottom as the top such as palm, bamboo, peace lilies, etc. No tree trunks! $50.00 - One large arrangement of white Casablanca lilies with lots of foliage. $40.00 - One long stemmed arrangement of pale pink and white roses with lots of foliage. $35 One arrangement of freesia. It comes in various colors so please mix them up. Freesia is a favorite. 20 dozen clean towels outside of the production office
7/20 Mariah Carey
The Demands: Each room must be draped. Black drapes are fine. The entry door should open into the living room space, not the dressing room. Temperature should be about 75 degrees. 1 Three Seat Couch — Plain Color, no busy patterns; black, dark grey, cream, dark pink are fine 12 1 Liters of Fiji Water 3 Bottles Chardonnay — Chilled 12 Coke 12 Diet Coke 12 Vanilla Protein Drinks 6 Sparkling Water (Pellegrino) 12 Melon Flavor Gatorade 6 Red Wine Glasses 6 White Wine Glasses 4 Joe Malone Vanilla Candles 2 Vases White Roses Fried Chicken (warm) 12 Small Bottles water (room temperature) 3 Whole lemons and honey Sugarless gum
The Demands: 25 pound dumbbells 24-Diet Coke 16oz plastic bottles 12 Diet Coke 12oz cans 6 Verner ginger ale soda (or Schweppes) 48 Daisani, Poland Spring 12oz bottles “NO Evian” 1 Loaf white bread 1 Loaf wheat bread 6 Lunchables snacks (3 turkeys & 3 ham with cheese) 6 Cans Red Bull 16 Cans Sugar-Free Red Bull Large fresh jumbo shrimps with cocktail sauce and plenty of lemons 1 Jar of banana pepper rings
9/20 Grace Jones
The Demands: 6 Bottles of Louis Roederer Cristal Champagne 3 Bottles of French Vintage red wine (e.g. St Emilion, Medoc, Bordeaux) 3 Bottles of French Vintage white wine (e.g. Sancerre, Pouilly Fuisse) 2 Dozen Findeclare or Colchester Oysters on ice (unopened)—(Grace does her own shucking.) 2 Sashimi and Sushi platters for 8 people 6 Fresh lemons 1 Bottle of Tabasco sauce 1 Fresh fruit platter for 8 people 6 Bottles of Coca Cola 12 Bottles of still and sparkling water 12 Bottles of fresh fruit juices Wine glasses, champagne flutes, tumblers (all glass, no plastic) Cutlery and sharp knife 1 Oyster knife 1 Make up mirror (no neon strip lighting, only opaque white bulbs) Fresh towels, clothes hangers, clothes rail 3-4 Bunches of flowers—prefer lilys and orchids Sofa and arm chairs
The Demands: Four dozen natural-scented incense sticks Dr. Bronner’s peppermint soap Pork-free food E-Z Wider rolling papers and a pack of Dutch Master President cigars Pinot Grigio Heineken Bottles of Jack Daniel’s Patron Silver tequila Nivea chapstick A bottle of Hennesey or Courvoisier Grey Goose Andis T-Outliner trimmers Extra sets of speakers
11/20 Jack White
The Demands: 1 dozen chicken wings (buffalo, teryaki, suprise us) 1 bowl of FRESH HOME-MADE GUACAMOLE 8 champagne flutes (real glass) 8 wine glasses (real glass) 8 highball glasses (real glass) 1 hummus & pita chips iPod player with sufficient volume control NO fluorescent lighting PLEASE NOTE: This is a NO BANANA TOUR. (Seriously)
The Demands: 200-person entourage 2o international phone lines Her backstage room must look exactly like her own home (that means she ships around her furniture) Special flower-scented fabric Actual flowers Personal chef who prepares only vegan foods Her own dry-cleaning service
13/20 Alicia Keys
Alicia Keys performs at the UEFA Champions League Final
14/20 Jay Z
The Demands: 7 sets of metal silverware 1 Lighter 3 Glade Candles (French Vanilla, Rain shower, Wild Berry, Tangerine Ginger) 3 Cans of Chunk White Tuna 10 Nutri-Grain Bars (Blueberry, Cherry, Apple, Strawberry) 6 Individual Packets of Quaker Oats Instant Oatmeal (Brown Sugar and Apple Cinnamon) 1 Assorted Fruit Platter with strawberries, seedless red grapes, bananas, mango, blueberries, cantaloupe and raspberries 2 Cases of beer (one imported and one domestic; brands preferred: Amstel Light, Corona, Bud, Bud Light or local beer) 3 menus for local seafood and Italian restaurants to order meals for Alicia
15/20 Mary J. Blige
The Demands: 2 Humidifiers 10 medium prewashed bath sized towels NO DAIRY OR PORK OF ANY KIND!! 10 1.5 liter bottles of FIJI water (absolutely, positively must be FIJI) 6 cans of Diet Dr. Pepper 6 cans of Schweeps Ginger Ale 2 packs of Mentos — cinnamon fresh only 6 cans of Red Bull energy drink 6 bottles of Black Cherry Propells in sports bottle 8 sets of silverware 24 napkins 1 tub of clean ice
16/20 Lady Gaga
The Demands: 2 Bottles of white wine with wine opener — Kendall Jackson or Robert Mondavi preferred 1 Pack of Straws 1 Cushioned office style chair TV with cable and a DVD player 1 Rolling clothing rack 4 Unscented candles Cool-mist humidifier 3 fans Tea kettle, organic ginger and lemongrass tea and honey are very important. 1 4 pack of Red Bull Light (on ice) 2 Bottles of Green Tea 1 Container of Guacamole Hot dogs (Yves veggie dogs eaten with toothpicks) A smoothie station (with frozen berries, fuze and whey protein or non-fat Greek yogurt) Blender needed 1 Plate of cheese (non-smelly, non-sweaty on ice) with whole wheat/healthy crackers A mix of assorted fresh fruit (cut and must have edible skin OR edible seeds OR citrus)
The Demands: 1 Wig Room 1 Room for Dr. Stacey 1 bottle of fine red wine (No Kendall Jackson) 1 bottle of fine white wine (No Kendall Jackson) 4 Cokes 4 Diet Cokes 1 coffee table 1 end table for the phone to be placed on TV with VCR with a cable Hook up. Please make sure we can get the following channels: Turner Classic Movies or AMC
18/20 Taylor Swift
The Demands: If arriving before 11 a.m., the following from Starbucks: 1 Grande ICED Caramel Latte w/ 2 sweet-n-lows 1 Grande ICED Americano w/ 2 sweet-n-lows with soy milk 1 slice pumpkin loaf 1 Stick Butter 3 Boxes Kraft Macaroni/Cheese 2 Four Packs of Red Bull 1 12 Pack Corona Beer 1 12 Pack New Castle Beer 1 Bottle Welch's Grape Juice 1 Avocado 1 Bag of Twizzlers red licorice 1 Case of Smart Water 1 Pint Ben & Jerry's Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Ice Cream 1 Pint Ben & Jerry's Chocolate Brownie Frozen Yogurt
19/20 Iggy Pop
The Demands: A copy of USA Today that's got a story about morbidly obese people in it 6 bottles of Grolsch or decent local beer F——— loads of good red wines 6 large bottles of good quality sparkling water 3 cases x 12 oz bottles of still mineral water 6 bottles of alcohol free beer 1 case of big bottles of good, premium beer A bottle of vodka Cauliflower/broccoli, cut into individual florets and thrown immediately into the garbage. I f——— hate that
20/20 Van Halen
The Demands: Nuts Pretzels M&MS (WARNING: ABSOLUTELY NO BROWN ONES) 1 large tube of KY jelly 3 packs of Marlboro cigarettes (box) Herring in sour cream 2 gallons non-carbonated, bottled spring water 3 fifths Jack Daniels Black Label bourbon 2 fifths Stolichnaya vodka 1 pint Southern Comfort 2 bottles Blue Nun white wine
Two years later the Official Chart Company allowed downloads to be eligible. Understandable, and I’m no Luddite, but that was where the rot set in. In 2014, streaming from services such as Spotify was allowed, and I threw up my hands and walked away. The first track to reach number one under this new rule? "Thinking Out Loud" by – of course – Ed Sheeran.
So why do you care, grandad? Because I just do. I understand fully the democratising nature of allowing downloads and streaming, and I am pleased it could give bands and artists who don’t have a label a chance at pop stardom. But it’s like a genie’s been let out of a bottle and laid waste to everything. If nine songs in the top 10 are from the same artist, then what’s the point of it all?
And yes, you are going to tell me that in 1964 The Beatles held the top five positions on the Billboard Chart. But that was notable because it was such an achievement: these were all actual singles, that were so good people kept buying them even as new ones were being released. It was a phenomenon, notable because it hadn’t happened before or since. Until this week.
Still: get with the programme, old man. The thing is, it feels to me like we need unifying moments more than ever these days. We’re such a divided society in so many ways that even little things that can bring us together. Even just finding out, all at the same time, which song is the best-selling one in the country, seems like it would be a victory, of sorts.
It would be a victory, too, to have diversity, choice and variety instead of the bland, pale homogeny of one artist dominating the top 10 with nine positions.
By virtue of the internet (oh, the irony, you cry) I can see exactly what was in the top 10 that week in 1981 that’s preserved in aspic in my memory: Adam and the Ants, of course; Shakin’ Stevens; Stars on 45; Kim Wilde; Tottenham Hotspur’s FA Cup song! Tenpole Tudor; Smokey Robinson; REO Speedwagon; Toyah; Kim Carnes.
And don’t worry, kids, I’m not saying the music was any better then than it is now (rider: it was) – but it was different. All of it. And that, as in so many ways then and now, is something to be celebrated and cherished.
There’s no stopping Ed Sheeran, of course. I am, however, toying with the idea of downloading The Chainsmokers and Coldplay’s joint effort – the only non-Sheeran song in the midweek updates – enough times to try to get it to the top spot, just out of pure mischief.
Even so, I won’t be jumping off any walls come Sunday teatime. I don’t even like Coldplay. I mean, they're no Adam and the Ants, are they? Then again, especially these days, who is?