[So here it is then, the watershed moment in the history of the UK charts as a brand new technology and a brand new way of consuming music is folded into the chart countdown, changing everything forever and oddly enough sending a small handful of obsessives into an extended sulk as they continue to insist there was no need for it. It also gave me the chance to do some fun copying and pasting as words used nine years earlier turn out to still be valid].
"Most of the most significant changes in the 50 year history of the singles chart have been technical, from the launch of the “official” chart in the 1960s, the creation of the Top 75 in 1978, Gallup’s introduction of electronic barcode scanning to replace manual diaries in 1983 through to Millward Brown plugging themselves into the EPOS terminals of the major retailers in 1994 and thus expanding the charts from a selective survey into a near 100% mirror of record sales in the UK. This time a chunk of the market that has grown up invisible to the OCC’s flagship listing is about to arrive en masse – a change that could well be as significant as Billboard magazine in the US allowing airplay-only singles onto the Hot 100 in 1998."
I wrote those words for a previous incarnation of this column in April 2005 to mark the publication first ever Official UK Singles chart to count the sales of digital downloads. Nine and a half years later the same words apply as the musical format destined to confine purchased music to history is counted by the UK charts for the very first time. Digital streaming data is now included in the survey that makes up the list of what is no longer the best selling songs, but what are now calculated to be the most popular.
Those expecting dramatic changes may find the chart this week to be something of a surprise, for at the very top end of the market the impact is limited. The biggest selling single of the week turns out to be the most popular of the week with its sales eclipsing its online streams by some considerable margin (106,000 sales and 712,000 streams - or just 6% of its 'chart sales' total. As seems to be so often the case, Britain has been slow to appreciate the charms of actress turned singer Ariana Grande [superstar debut klaxon!]. None of the singles from her debut album Yours Truly became hits on these shores, her best chart performance to date being the Number 41 peak of The Way. All that changes this week as brand new single Problem (with Iggy Azalea in tow) storms to the top of the charts to give both women their biggest ever UK hit singles.
The most-streamed audio track of the week (1.32 million plays - or 13,000 'chart sales') is Sing by Ed Sheeran which actually slips a place, dipping 3-4, although Sheeran has better news to celebrate - something we'll come back to in a moment.
By a strange coincidence, the second highest new entry of the week is also the work of an Australian female, although solo this time. Sia Furler hasn't charted a solo single since Breathe Me stalled at Number 71 in May 2004 but in the intervening period has developed a new level of stardom thanks largely to her work with David Guetta and in particular, her vocal turn on 2012 Number One hit Titanium. Ready now to resume her solo career she lands at Number 6 with Chandelier, a single which at a stroke becomes her highest charting solo hit ever - beating the Number 10 peak of Taken For Granted back in June 2000. [Sia takes her final step towards proper superstardom and gives us the first instalment in a long series of Maddie Ziegler-starring videos].
Just over two months ago we had our first glimpse of something that has become quite commonplace in the weeks since, a track beating all competition in the market but in a manner which meant it was ineligible for the singles chart. The track in question was Coldplay's A Sky Full Of Stars which was released under instant grat terms but as the second such single was debarred from the chart until the week of May 31st when it debuted at Number 15. In the six weeks since the track has drifted as low as Number 22 but for the past two weeks has been back in the ascendancy as it is promoted to proper single status. As its sales have increased so has its chart position and this week the single rises 14-9 to land its highest chart placing yet. Keep an eye on this one, as I noted at the time Coldplay's two Number One hits to date Viva La Vida and Paradise were both tracks which became their life at retail debarred from the singles chart. It would be an odd case of history repeating if A Sky Full Of Stars similarly rises to the top of the charts.
DJ Fresh has already had a Top 3 hit this year with Dibby Dibby Sound which charted back in February. He returns to the singles chart this week with Make U Bounce, actually a reworking of a track originally created by Bristol-based dubstep producer TC who is given a co-credit on the single. Vocals come courtesy of female singer Little Nikki, a lady who began her career in 2001 as a member of girl group SoundGirl (biggest hit Don't Know Why reached Number 45 in June that year) and who appeared on two chart singles last year, guesting first of all on the Maxsta single Wanna Go (Number 43) and her own track Little Nikki Says which limped to Number 53. In need of a proper singles chart soft landing she now has her first ever proper mainstream hit, preparing the ground presumably for her own relaunch before the end of the year.
Keep an eye next week on Somebody To You by The Vamps which sits at Number 39 this week thanks to sales of its album version. This is actually in anticipation of a re-recorded version adding guest vocals from Demi Lovato which is released this week and should send the single soaring on next week's chart.
So go on James, I hear you cry, what about the singles whose streaming popularity is currently in excess of their sales performance? Well, the relative sizes of the two markets - particularly when the 100:1 ratio is taken into account - mean that the half-anticipated chart leaps simply don't happen. Even current Top 10 streaming hit All Of Me by John Legend cannot take advantage and falls 9-11 to bring to an end its epic 18 weeks run in the Top 10 of the main singles chart. Former Number One She Looks So Perfect by 5 Seconds Of Summer jumps 37-23 but this may also be down to the availability of the group's eponymous debut album which charts at Number 2 this week. The group's current hit Don't Stop actually falls two places this week, dropping to Number 14 and of the plethora of instant grat singles which gummed up the live charts just ahead of the album release, there is practically no sign at all. As far as Top 40 singles go, the only odd chart leap which can be attributed to the arrival of streaming data is the 32-24 jump for Clean Bandit's Rather Be which remains in the Top 10 of the streaming chart five months after it first peaked at retail.
Lower down, however, the change is more pronounced, and it is almost all to the benefit of Ed Sheeran who naturally enough retains the Number One album as X continues to outsell everything else. People clamouring to listen to the individual tracks mean that uniquely many of the cherry-picked tracks which swarmed the chart last week actually CLIMB, and the red-haired singer-songwriter this week occupies positions 4, 17, 25, 38, 45, 46, 48, 49, 57, 59, 60, 62, 82 and 85 - or 14% of the Top 100 if you prefer, the greatest ever chart domination by a living artist and eclipsed only by the Michael Jackson flood which saw him have 37 of the Top 100 singles in the week following his death just over five years ago. Sheeran is at least the first artist to see every single one of the tracks from at least one version of his album reach the Top 100 single chart. [Looking back, it should hardly have come as a surprise that his next album proceeded to do something even more extraordinary to the singles chart upon release. He had form].