Tuesday, 3 August 2010

The First Ever UK Chart

As promised the chart for 1948, with the sales of the 78rpm records at the side (in thousands). At first glance you will notice that many of the tracks are the same song, just sang by different people. The main reason for this is due to song publishers and their relationship with the record companies. Few artist back then wrote their own songs. So songwriters would hang around music publisher's offices hoping to get the song they had written published. The publishers would then take the songs to a record company and all the A&R men would select the songs for the artists under the label. A very popular song could see several artists under a load of labels all recording it (sometimes 16 versions). However due to the war a lot of English songwriters had been killed and so most of the songs were coming from the USA. Some record companies liked to get a UK act to sing/record the song before the American artist got the sort of original version out in the UK. This system stays around till the sixties when Lennon & McCartney put the death blow to it.
That should explain that, now to how the chart was affected. Influence number one had to be Radio Luxembourg. This powerful Medium Wave transmitter was broadcasting popular music across the UK. In fact it was the same station that broadcast the propaganda messages of Lord Haw-Haw during the war, after being captured by the Germans. The BBC stations at that time were more likely to ban songs than play them, it was also not wanting to broadcast USA material as it thought it low brow and not the sort of thing the BBC should be doing! A lot of the time the BBC would have a live orchestra playing and not the singer. And you can see several tracks of the Orchestra Version in the chart. Luxembourg would often play a certain record by a certain artist, but if you went to some record shops to buy it you would be given the record by a different artist. This was due to record shops being dealers. So an HMV dealer was only allowed to sell HMV records and not Decca label products. None HMV dealers could sell anything they wanted except HMV of course!
Influence number two has to be the movies. With picture going at it's all time high, with some of the still biggest selling movies (which most of us younger than that time would say "what") bigger than modern day blockbusters, it's no surprise to see songs featured in them riding high into the top 40.
Another lesser effect was the stage musical or show. These would later be made into movies such as "Oklahoma!" and we see at number 6 one of the songs from it. Oddly enough after I got hold of this chart, I was looking up Richard Tauber's version on the net, and found that he had sadly died the week this chart covered. Which sort of explains why the record released in October 1947 was so high in the chart. It seems therefore this is the first time recorded that the public went out and bought a record by a artist who had just died. Not unlike more recent times with Elvis, Lennon, plus more recent still Jackson.
The only other thing that would have given the records a boost was the Sheet Music charts. These were the top 20 sheet music sales. They often had the artist picture on the cover, who was most linked to the song. Containing the lyrics and the notes to play on say a piano. Which many houses did have back then. Sheet music was cheaper than a record at 1 Shilling (5p). In my quest to get all the numbers ones in the Real Chart, I recently got the Radio Revellers Shoemaker's Serenade 78 rpm record from the same year, which had a original price of 3/11 on it! Over triple the price of the sheet music!!
The sales on this chart are high by the way, due to a combination of several weeks and the holiday season. They fall off a few weeks after this chart sharply.
By the way the only number one from the late 40's I have not got is Bill Johnson's We'll Keep A Welcome. From 1949 on the Columbia label (DB2574). If anyone has a recording of it let me know! Now you can see the very first number one from Leslie Hutchinson in this video I made...


  1. Thank you for an interesting list. I have been collecting 78s for some years and I am amazed at some of the records listed. My experience at the availability of some of these records does not marry up to their sales. It took me some years to get hold of a copy of Mantovani's Dream Of Olwen on a 12" Decca 78. However you can see lots of Charles Williams conducting this, his own composition, on a 12" Columbia 78. This is listed but below the Mantovani version. You yourself say that "We'll keep a welcome" by Bill Johnson is the record of which you don't have a copy. Does that not imply that there are not many copies around ie it was not a big seller. Yet it was number one. What record of that title you see lots of is by The Lyrian Singers on HMV. Records by Bill Johnson in abundance are You're Breaking My Heart and Some Day My Heart Will Awake. I have never seen a copy of We'll Keep A Welcome by him or of his record of Suvla Bay which was another forgotten hit.
    Can I ask where you got your information from? I have been led to believe record companies did not keep records of disc sales - sheet music was the thing for assessing a hit. I know of only one chart book purporting to be based on record sales of this era and that is by Stephen Waters.
    This is all fascinating and I look forward to seeing what other listings you put up.
    All the best

  2. The Stephen Waters book isn't based on sales, but orders from record dealers. It doesn't follow that if orders are high then a record sale is high. For example dealers will order a lot of Christmas records up to Christmas then none after. In the book all Christmas records fall out the first chart after Christmas. Even if they were Number One!! All new records enter the first week of each month, when dealers could order them. That doesn't happen in a Sales chart.
    I suspect that the Bill Johnson was only selling in certain areas of the UK in small numbers, but overall selling the most. I leave you to guess where, but it might be where such a song would be sung today!
    It's not uncommon for a record to get to number one for a week or more and not appear in the top 100 best sellers of the year. Since the late 1940's Record market wasn't that strong, records were only selling in small numbers anyway.
    I would say that about half of my family's 78 collection were binned as they had broke, many of them were late 50's records, so what does that say for those that are older?

    The explanation of how the Real Chart is compiled can be found on the What Is The Real Chart section of this blog.