‘It was part of the fabric of life’: readers on 70 years of the UK singles chart

From the Tuesday No 1 reveal to Sunday’s Top 20 rundown, from Blur v Oasis to the glory days of Christmas No 1s: Guardian readers share their relationship with the charts

Shami Scholes, Oxford, 54

Shami Scholes

I grew up listening to Radio 1 – especially the Sunday evening charts, whose results would be discussed with friends at school the next day. My earliest memory is of listening to the charts with my mum in the early 70s, when I fell in love with music by the Bay City Rollers, the Osmonds, David Cassidy and Motown music in all its entirety. Now, as a Radio 2 listener, I don’t always know what’s top of the charts, or always care, but still have a love of music and can’t go a day without listening to it.

Without fail, I would listen to the Top 20 charts rundown on a Sunday night, with my radio-cassette player ready to record those songs I liked or loved, ready to listen back to on my Sony Walkman on my cycle to school and back the following week. I remember the countdown for the Christmas No 1 was so important. Sadly, shows like The X Factor killed that. These artists and more formed the soundtrack to my life, and I now love sharing it with my 13-year-old son.

Fernando Augusto Pacheco, 36, London

Fernando Augusto Pacheco

Growing up in Brazil, I always looked up to the singles chart in the UK. I always thought it was more interesting than the American one. I loved the one-hit-wonders, the appreciation the British had for novelty hits and of course, the Spice Girls. Now, I am a bit older and living in London, still obsessed with the charts, I even have my own podcast about it – The Global Countdown. I used to follow the Spice Girls’ chart run very closely, and it used to upset me if a favourite hit didn’t reach the Top 10. I used to buy CD singles every week, now I buy on iTunes. I’d rather buy a song than stream it.

Harvey Summers, 58, Southport, Merseyside

Harvey Summers

The UK singles chart charted my own developing tastes, independence and first forays into personal spending power. Following toys (received as gifts, mostly) but before clothes, 45rpm singles were the thing I spent my (little bit of) money on, when I had saved enough. From 1972, I would listen to the Top 20 on the radio at 6PM, and jot down the chart. I would do this for the next decade, eventually switching to its first reveal on a Tuesday lunchtime. I actually went home from school for lunch in order to be able to do this.

I remember the excitement of any single entering the chart at No 1 in those days – a rare occurrence then. Slade having three in one year – 1973 – was phenomenal. I also remember being disappointed for years that Stevie Wonder had never had a solo No 1, then feeling more disappointed that he achieved it with his worst ever single [I Just Called to Say I Love You]!

Philip, Scarborough

I don’t think the UK singles chart means anything to me any more. But there was a time, like many others of my generation, when it did. Even if, in the early 80s, there may have been some disdain for the chart acts at the upper end of the Top 40, there was always an interest. I was interested in the numbers and the generated controversy of the charts. How long would Frankie Goes to Hollywood spend at No 1 with Relax? The singles chart was part of the fabric of life. Or, at least, part of the fabric of a teenager’s life. It mattered even when it really didn’t. It had a lot to say about British society at the time and I realised this much more when my family emigrated to North America in the mid-80s.

The key chart rundowns of my life were the charts of the early to mid-80s. The battles between the new romantic bands that eventually conquered the world: Culture Club, Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet … Coupled with the growing influence of videos, I was interested in new releases and then wanted to see how these new releases fared compared to the last ones.

Liz Mannion, North Yorkshire

When I was at school in the early 80s, the UK singles chart meant everything. Conversations were dominated by what was No 1 and which singles were being bought. Tuesdays were the days when we’d race to listen to the chart rundowns on a transistor radio, secretly so as not to get it confiscated. March 1980 stands out as an exciting chart race – when the Jam’s Going Underground went straight in at No 1. The excitement was palpable and I’m sure we were impossible to teach that afternoon. We were 15 years old with everything ahead of us. Singles were currency to us, with the highest value ones (in addition to the Jam) being the Police’s Roxanne, the Boomtown Rats’ Rat Trap, and Bowie’s Space Oddity.

Graeme Arthur, 55, Fontainebleau, France

Waiting for the Jam’s Going Underground to be announced as “straight in at No 1” on a Tuesday in March 1980 was a spectacular vindication of my emergent musical taste. Strange to think that wanting the music I liked to feature high up the charts was even remotely important to me given what I listened to. I’ve still got the 7in of Going Underground – I might play it later.

I was accompanying a group of 14-year-olds on a climbing trip up Mount Elgon on the Uganda/Kenya border during the Blur v Oasis showdown. The kids were a pretty diverse mixture of mostly Ugandans or kids of south Asian heritage – few had any English connection, and yet they argued about the merits of the bands. Blur won, as I remember, with choral renditions of their songs being offered to the mountain each day.

Cambridge Jones, London

Cambridge Jones

The UK singles chart did mean everything for much of my youth – who was up, who was down, who was newly in and no longer in … and, of course, most importantly who was No 1! The official Top 40 was the only one that mattered because the placement mattered – so you couldn’t have an unofficial No 10 or No 1 – what would be the point of that? Buying a single mattered – you were doing that for posterity. I still have them all, still care!

Sandy Burnett, 45, Perth, Australia

Like many institutions, the UK singles chart has lost its significance over the years. Every Tuesday the chart was published. Every record store pulled out the full Top 75 rundown as the double page spread from Record Mirror magazine and taped it to the counter. There you could see what was new, shooting up the charts or sliding down the other way. On Thursday, Top of the Pops showed you what was predicted to be big. Then, come Sunday, you had the comprehensive rundown where every song in the Top 40 would be played. It was possible in those days for non-mainstream [acts] to cross over and achieve some moderate chart success. As a child, I would buy whatever was in the Top 20 in the early- to mid-80s. As I became a teenager, I questioned the authenticity of some pop music. Then I started listening to more left of centre music that rarely got anywhere near the charts.


Guardian readers

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