Official UK Top 40 is compiled by the Official Charts Company (OCC), on behalf of the British record industry, listing the top-selling singles in the United Kingdom, based upon physical sales, paid-for downloads and streaming. The Official Chart, broadcast on BBC Radio 1 and MTV (Official UK Top 40), is the UK music industry’s recognised official measure of singles and albums popularity because it is the most comprehensive research panel of its kind, today surveying over 15,000 retailers and digital services daily, capturing 99.9% of all singles consumed in Britain across the week, and over 98% of albums. To be eligible for the chart, a single is currently defined by the Official Charts Company (OCC) as either a ‘single bundle’ having no more than four tracks and not lasting longer than 25 minutes or one digital audio track not longer than 15 minutes with a minimum sale price of 40 pence. The rules have changed many times as technology has developed, the most notable being the inclusion of digital downloads in 2005 and streaming in July 2014.
The OCC website contains the Top 100 chart. Some media outlets only list the Top 40 (such as the BBC, with their Radio 1 show following the lead of Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 in the 1970s) or the Top 75 (such as Music Week magazine, with all records in the Top 75 described as ‘hits’) of this list. The chart week runs from 00:01 Friday to midnight Thursday, with most UK physical and digital singles being released on Fridays. From 3 August 1969 until 5 July 2015, the chart week ran from 00:01 Sunday to midnight Saturday. From 5 August 1969 until 29 September 1987, the new chart was announced on Tuesdays. From 4 October 1987 until 2015, it was released on Sundays.
The Top 40 chart is first issued on Friday afternoons by BBC Radio 1 as The Official Chart from 16:00 to 17:45, before the full Official Singles Chart Top 100 is posted on the Official Charts Company’s website. A rival chart show, The Official Big Top 40, is broadcast on Sunday afternoons from 16:00 to 19:00 on Capital and Heart stations across the United Kingdom. The Official Big Top 40 is based on Apple data only, (Apple Music streams and iTunes downloads) plus commercial radio airplay across the Global radio network.
The UK Singles Chart began to be compiled in 1952. According to the Official Charts Company’s statistics, as of 1 July 2012, 1,200 singles have topped the UK Singles Chart. The precise number of chart-toppers is debatable due to the profusion of competing charts from the 1950s to the 1980s, but the usual list used is that endorsed by the Guinness Book of British Hit Singles and subsequently adopted by the Official Charts Company. The company regards a selected period of the New Musical Express chart (only from 1952 to 1960) and the Record Retailer chart from 1960 to 1969 as predecessors for the period prior to 11 February 1969, where multiples of competing charts (none official) coexisted side by side. For example, the BBC compiled its own chart based on an average of the music papers of the time; many songs announced as having reached number one on BBC Radio and Top of the Pops prior to 1969 are not listed as chart-toppers according to the legacy criteria of the Charts Company.
The first number one on the UK Singles Chart was “Here in My Heart” by Al Martino for the week ending 14 November 1952. As of the week ending 24 June 2021, the UK Singles Chart has had 1387 different number one hits. The current number one is “Good 4 U” by Olivia Rodrigo.
To examine UK Chart History, we need to go back to the early 1950’s, when the only UK music charts published were for sheet music. There was a UK music paper called The Musical Express And Accordian Weekly. Its circulation was on a downward spiral so in late 1951, when the owners received an offer of £1000 to buy them out, they grabbed the offer with both hands.
A music promoter and agent by the name of Maurice Kinn had put his money where his mouth was and fulfilled his dream of owning a music paper. Within months the re-vamped NEW MUSICAL EXPRESS was launched in March 1952 and rapidly established a following to rival the previously more successful Melody Maker.
Maurice Kinn had followed with interest the Billboard record charts in the USA. Together with Percy Dickins, and editor Ray Sonin, he decided it would be a good idea and provide a circulation boost to start publishing similar charts to reflect UK record sales. For the next 8 months the small editorial team planned furiously and on 14th November 1952, the first UK record chart was published in the New Musical Express. (The name would not be shortened to NME for some time yet). Crooner Al Martino therefore became the first artist to have a No 1 single in the UK charts and in fact the only record to make No. 1 in 1952.
Because there were not the quantity and variety of recordings we see today, that very first chart was a top 15 and had only 12 places on it due to ties for 3 of the positions. Another contributory factor was, records at that time were released on 78 r.p.m. discs manufactured from shellac. The records were easily broken and the raw material was very scarce in post war Britain.
The first charts were published each week after NME staff telephoned a few friendly record shops who had agreed to keep a note of the records they sold every week. Of necessity, at the outset, these were mainly concentrated in the Greater London area. It is a matter of conjecture as to how the sales could have been manipulated by anyone who knew which shops were used to compile the charts, in the early years when there were fewer sales outlets involved in the survey.
The popularity of the UK single charts was evident right from their inception and as record sales grew and it was no longer a problem to fill 20 positions, other organisations jumped on the bandwagon and started to publish their own charts. The NME chart was expanded to a top 30 and in 1960, Record Retailer (now Music Week) published a top 50, although the NME continued to publish its own chart. Moving through the 60’s, the top 50 became independently audited and in 1969, the British Market Research Bureau started collecting the sales figures from around 250 record retailers throughout the UK to compile the Official UK Singles Chart which would be used by both the BBC and Record Retailer.
In 1978, the charts expanded to a top 75 and when Gallup replaced the British Market Research Bureau as the body which collected the sales data and compiled the charts, they expanded it to a top 100. In 1990, Chart Information Network Ltd. or C.I.N. (later renamed as The Official UK Charts Company in 2001) was formed to take over responsibility of chart production. Gallup were initially retained to gather the sales data but in 1994, Gallup’s contract expired and was not renewed. Millward Brown (a subsidiary of advertising and communication giant WPP) replaced Gallup. They installed e.p.o.s. terminals to collect the sales data and expanded the number of outlets used to collect the data to around 1600.
UK Chart History changed direction as the digital age became more mainstream. The invention of compression algorithms which reduced the size of digital audio files was the catalyst which sparked an explosion in file downloads as a distribution medium and signalled the decline of the conventional single embodied by a piece of plastic and its replacement by a digital file. The UK record industry bowed to the inevitable and in 2005 the BBC played its last UK top 40 show based on record sales alone and digital downloads were included along with physical record sales, albeit with very strict rules as to what could be counted and what excluded. Over the next few years, these rules were relaxed somewhat as digital downloads continued to take market share from conventional record sales. The chart rules can be seen at The Official UK Charts Company site.
The Official UK Singles Chart published from 1969 onwards is generally acknowledged as the definitive chart, but for the years from 1952 to 1969, there is no universal agreement on which chart to use. The approach taken by the Guiness Book of British Hit Singles is to use the NME charts from 1952 to 1960, and the Record Retailer chart for the period from 1960 to 1969. This approach has also been taken by The Official UK Charts Company who are responsible for the Official UK Music Charts to this day.