A beginners’ guide to the NME Charts, the UK’s original Hit Parade
The UK’s first singles chart, like its American pioneer owes its existence to an iconic music magazine. On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, it is the Billboard Singles Chart that was (and remains to this day) compiled by Billboard Magazine. In the United Kingdom, the New Musical Express magazine led the charge.
New Musical Express was the first British publication to chart recorded music. At first, its countdown focused on sheet music sales. In 1952, the NME’s co-founder Percy Dickins created its first singles chart in November that year. As the first Hit Parade, it assumed its position as The UK’s Official Chart.
The first countdown was published on the 14 November 1952; it only had twelve entries. In reality there was fifteen entries, but some songs had tied positions. After telephoning 20 record shops for details of their ten best selling singles, Al Martino’s Here In My Heart was the UK’s first Number One single. Owing to Al Martino’s nine-week stint at Number One, he also had the UK’s First Christmas Number One.
In its first three years of existence, the New Musical Express published Britain’s only singles chart. In 1955, it had a competitor in Record Mirror‘s chart. The publication used postal returns, with 24 record shops sending in details of their best-selling singles. A year later, the NME’s then rival publication Melody Maker issued a chart, one that had a longer stint than Record Mirror‘s by 26 years.
In 1958, another rival came in the Disc and Music Echo chart. This ran for nine years. Even so, the NME Chart was regarded as the definitive chart in the UK. The same year saw the BBC creating a chart of its own. This aggregated all the singles charts from the NME, Melody Maker, Record Mirror, and the Disc and Music Echo charts.
Record Retailer takes over official chart
After nearly eight years of compiling what is accepted as part of the UK’s official singles chart, another magazine took over from the NME. On the 10 March 1960, music industry journal Record Retailer took on the role of compiling the UK’s Hit Parade. The decision was a controversial one as the New Musical Express was Britain’s best selling music paper.
Nevertheless, the NME chart outlived Record Retailer‘s stint in solely compiling the UK’s official singles chart. From the 15 February 1969, Record Retailer and the BBC hired the British Market Research Bureau (BMRB) who compiled the chart up to 1994.
“It’s Number One… It’s Top of the Pops…” Or was it?
If you have watched or taken part in any pub quizzes, there is one question that may be a banana skin: “What was The Beatles’ first Number One single?” If you answered Please Please Me, the answer is wrong. On what is now the Official Chart Company’s countdown, Please Please Me peaked at Number Two on the 27 March 1963.
If the question writer had Please Please Me as a correct answer, they looked at the NME’s chart. The Beatles’ song topped the New Musical Express chart on the 02 March 1963 with a two-week stay. That was toppled by Cliff Richard’s Summer Holiday. The Beatles’ first Number One single on what is now the official UK singles chart was From Me to You, hitting the top spot on the 24 April that year.
The differences between the Official Chart Company’s countdown and rival charts would conjure up a few anomalies for several years. Seen below are the following songs that topped the New Musical Express’ chart between 1960 and 1969 though not the official UK singles chart.
1960 – 1969
- Are You Sure, The Allisons (1961) – also that year’s Eurovision Song Contest entry (official chart position: #2);
- Wild in the Country, Elvis Presley (1961) (official chart: #4);
- Take Good Care of My Baby, Bobby Vee (1961) (official chart: #3);
- Stranger on the Shore, Acker Bilk (1962) (official chart: #2);
- Let’s Twist Again, Chubby Checker (1962) (official chart: #2);
- March of the Siamese Children, Kenny Ball and his Jazzmen (1962) (official chart: #4);
- A Picture of You, Joe Brown (1962) (official chart: #2);
- Please Please Me, The Beatles (1963) (official chart: #2);
- Do You Want to Know a Secret, Billy J. Kramer and The Dakotas (1963) (official chart: #2);
- For Your Love, The Yardbirds (1965) (official chart: #3);
- The Price of Love, The Everly Brothers (1965) (official chart: #2);
- 1-2-3, Len Barry (1965) (official chart: #3);
- Nineteenth Nervous Breakdown, The Rolling Stones (1966) (official chart: #2);
- I Can’t Let Go, The Hollies (1966) (official chart: #2);
- Help Yourself, Tom Jones (1968) (official chart: #5);
- Eloise, Barry Ryan (1968) (official chart: #2);
- In The Ghetto, Elvis Presley (1969) (official chart: #2);
- Oh Well, Fleetwood Mac (1969) (official chart: #2);
- Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday, Stevie Wonder (1969) (official chart: #2);
- Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town, Kenny Rogers and The First Edition (1969) (official chart: #2).
1970 – 1979 differences
Throughout the 1970s, 47 songs which peaked at Number One in the New Musical Express charts didn’t reach the top spot in the official charts. The most infamous example was The Sex Pistols’ God Save The Queen. In the official BMRB chart it was placed at Number Two, with the top spot going to Rod Stewart’s I Don’t Want To Talk About It.
Sweet fared better in the NME chart than the official chart. In the latter, only Blockbuster took the top spot. Teenage Rampage and Ballroom Blitz as well as Blockbuster were Number One hits in the former chart.
Two one hit wonders had Number One singles in the NME charts, though peaked at Number Two in the official chart. Space’s Magic Fly was one, having a three-week stint at the top spot of the NME chart. Janet Kay’s Silly Games was another, topping the NME chart for a week.
1980 – 1988 differences
The artistes you would have thought had Number One singles in the UK official chart this decade, though didn’t, may surprise you. The most famous one was Ultravox’s Vienna, which was kept off the top spot by Joe Dolce Music Theatre’s Shaddup Your Face in the Official Top 40. On the NME charts, a week at the top spot, knocking off Phil Collins’ In the Air Tonight.
Liquid Gold’s Dance Yourself Dizzy topped the NME charts on the 12 April 1980, though peaked at Number Two in the official singles chart. Other examples include ABBA’s One of Us, the first NME chart topper of 1982. The single peaked at three on the official singles chart. The album which it came from, The Visitors, was topping the official albums chart at the time. After knocking off K-Tel’s Chart Hits ’81, a pre-Now!… compilation album.
Frankie Goes To Hollywood had three number one singles in both the NME charts and the official singles charts. Relax and Two Tribes hit the top spot in both charts. In the official singles chart, the Frankies’ third number one single was The Power of Love. In 1985, their third number one on the NME chart was Welcome to the Pleasuredome (number two on the official charts).
Interestingly, in NME land, Wham!’s Last Christmas did top the charts: with a week long stay from the 19 January 1985. This time with Everything She Wants on the A side and their legendary Christmas song on the double A side. The Pointer Sisters’ only UK number one single was on the NME chart instead of the official one: that was Automatic, second track on the European version of 1984’s Break Out LP.
The final countdown
The NME chart continued until the 14 May 1988, making it the UK’s longest running independently compiled chart. Its last Christmas Number One was Rick Astley’s When I Fall In Love. In the official singles chart, that faced competition from a re-release of Nat King Cole’s original version. Also Mel and Kim’s Rocking Around The Christmas Tree, which was Mel Smith and Kim Wilde singing for Comic Relief. In The Official Top 40, Rick’s cover peaked at number four.
The last Number One single was Fairground Attraction’s Perfect, which also topped the official UK singles chart the very same week. After the cessation of the NME Charts, subsequent editions of New Musical Express started publishing MRIB’s Network Chart.
In 1992, a book was published to commemorate the chart’s 40th anniversary. Each year was represented with that year’s biggest stories. The last year of the ‘proper NME chart’ (1988) is represented by Holly Johnson’s battle to leave his contract with ZTT Records which he won. This led to the release of Blast, his first solo album the following year. The book also had weekly top tens from the NME charts and the weekly top tens from the Billboard charts.
Next in The Other UK Singles Chart…
We shall look at Radio Luxembourg’s singles chart, the iconic radio station’s chart from the station’s English service. In the spirit of The Great 208, we shall say this blog post was brought to you in association with Taylor’s of Harrogate Yorkshire Tea.
S.V., 04 May 2020.