Top 40: Still Relevant Today?


Some of us like to consider ourselves pretty serious music listeners. We buy records. We frequent gigs. We count down the days until release dates for new albums. To a certain extent, we care about the numerical structures that our music is put into – ratings out of ten; however many stars; awards; prizes – even though we know that, at the end of the day, the crux of the industry lies in the sounds made by these artists. But an in- stitution that seems to be becoming less and less relevant to the modern day listener is the UK Top 40: the Singles Chart.

The number of songs I could name that have been in the Top 10 over the past year whittles down to the repetitive cycle of tracks I succumb to dancing to in Wahoo or Bridge each week. When asked, the majority of people I speak to aren’t especially aware of what’s in the singles charts either. So is this list a true representation of the music British people are enjoying each week?

As I write, artists whose songs feature in the UK Top 40 include Justin Bieber, Adele, Jess Glynne, and Drake, alongwith names unfamiliar to me: R.City, Diplo & Sleepy Tom, and Rachel Platten (am I missing out here?). Sam Smith is the only artist to have both a single (Writing’s on the Wall) and an album (In the Lonely Hour) in the Top 10 of both the singles and albums charts. Which seems odd. Surely if one of your songs is popular enough for the singles charts – we’re talking 70,000 sales in the first week for Sam Smith – you’d hope the collection of songs from which it came would be just as successful. Apparently not. There is a different appetite for singles than there is for albums. We devour them differently. Consequentially, they are being written, recorded and advertised quite differently too.

With Friday now the new music release day, the Top 40 is broadcast on BBC Radio 1 each Thursday. But with the number of Radio 1 listeners plummeting, the impact of the Chart Show seems to be declining more and more. Compare this to the era of Top of the Pops from 1964 to 2006, where the biggest bands in British pop played live to huge TV audiences as the week’s top singles were revealed. The significance of getting to Number One seems much more impressive when artists have a live studio audience screaming as the announcement is made, and then go on to play their track live on TV. Having a presenter announce and play the pre-recorded results over the radio is just not as exciting.

Frankly, it appears that the institution of the Top 40 is becoming redundant, and in an age where the charts are incessantly updated online, the fuss around chart position iswearing thin. I wouldn’t worry too muchif you couldn’t tell me who was Number One last week: I have no idea either.