Chart Measured Performance (CHAMP)
The ultimate measure of commercial success is sales. So, assessing the most successful singles and artists for each of the Golden Years (1977-85) should be a simple matter of finding out which singles sold the most. After all, bestselling single lists are published and broadcast with monotonous regularity. Yet, the reality is not straight forward as it seems, especially for singles released in the late 1970s and early 1980s. For example, the authors of The Million Sellers (2002) conceded that prior to 1990s they had to research "published reports, official record label returns and a wide range of other sources" to compile their book. In other words, no comprehensive and accurate sales data set existed.
Shipments v Sales
In an age of dial phones and 8-bit computers, achieving an accurate census of weekly retail single sales was logistically impossible. Record companies knew how many copies of a single they had shipped each week but this did not necessarily reflect how many had been bought across the counter in smoke-filled record stores on the high street. A single might have received large advanced orders but this did not mean that even one copy had been bought by a customer at full retail price. The weekly charts were compiled using a sample of the record stores in the UK and the thorny issue in compiling an annual bestsellers chart was reconciling the sampled data to actual sales.
The researchers for The Million Sellers would have encountered inconsistencies in the contemporaneous bestsellers charts. For example, in 1979 there were three authentic million sellers i.e. singles that actually passed this magical threshold during their initial chart run. One was Heart Of Glass by Blondie, a fact explicitly mentioned in The Guinness Book of Hits of the 70s (p. 233) and confirmed by every similar source published since. The book also published the Top 100 bestselling singles of the decade compiled by BMRB, the official chart company at the time. Heart of Glass was placed at No. 32 on this list, implying that at least 31 other singles had sold a million in the 1970s. Two are these are worth noting: Under The Moon Of Love by Showaddywaddy at No. 10 and Mississippi by Pussycat a place lower. Both are No. 1 singles from 1976.
Gallup took over the role of official chart compilers in 1983 and, on the 20th anniversary of Radio 1, published a list of the bestselling singles from 1967 to 1987. Heart of Glass was at No. 18 while Under The Moon Of Love and Mississippi were not even in the Top 100. These were not isolated inconsistencies – there were numerous other examples. When Million Sellers was published, almost half of the 31 singles that supposedly sold a million in the 1970s apparently had not.
The point is that there is likely to be difficulty in compiling an accurate list of bestselling singles of during the Golden Years, let alone compiling a list of bestselling artists. So we decided to take a different approach in evaluating the annual top singles and artists of this period: we use chart performance. Although we are not the first to do this, we believe our chart measured performance (CHAMP) system provides the definitive measure of which singles and artists made the greatest chart impact during these years. It assigns a total score to a single based on its weekly performance in the charts. The plural is important. CHAMP uses the official BBC chart and the longest-running independent chart published by the NME newspaper. See Unofficially For You for more about the latter.
Although the official BBC chart was a Top 100 by the end of 1985, we consider only the Top 40. Most people were familiar with this countdown because it was broadcast every Sunday evening on Radio 1, first hosted by Simon Bates in November 1978. For the NME, we focus only on the Top 30 because it was the chart the newspaper was publishing in 1977 (see Table 1). We ignore the subsequent expansions to both listings because, as a single is almost certainly to accrue more CHAMP points in, say, a top 75 than a top 40, it would skew scores to later years. In addition, by considering the BBC chart as a Top 40 and not a Top 30, CHAMP has a slight bias, or weighting, towards the official chart. This is intended.
†Approximate number of record stores used to compile chart.
1NME gradually increased it sample size, reaching a peak of about 200 stores by the mid-1960s, which was scaled back to 100 in the early 1970s, a figure that remained constant until the chart ended in 1988.
2Although the BMRB used a larger sample, its system of mailed-in sales diaries meant that even in the mid-1970s as few as half the diaries might arrive on time.
How Does It Work?
Our CHAMP methodology assigns 100 points for every week a particular single spends at No. 1, 90 points for every week at No. 2, all the way down to 20 points for a No. 30 and 10 points for a No. 40; the scale is not perfectly linear. This means that CHAMP equates one week at No.1 as having the same chart impact as five weeks at No. 20 or 10 weeks at No. 40. By using this fine-tuned method, rather than simply the number of weeks on a chart or peak position, a more accurate indication of chart impact is obtained. The CHAMP score for a particular single is simply the total number of points accrued on both the BBC and NME charts. Although our methodology works equally well with either chart separately, we combine them here to provide the most comprehensive measurement of chart impact in the UK.
Adding It All Up
Let's take two simple examples. In January 1977, The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald by Gordon Lightfoot peaked at No. 40 for just one week on the BBC chart but failed to break inside the NME chart. Therefore, it has a CHAMP score of 10 points. Of course, this is not the lowest possible – singles that failed to make the official Top 40 and the NME Top 30 score zero. American Girl by Tom Petty – another single from 1977 – also peaked for a week at No. 40 in the BBC chart but spent two weeks in the NME chart, reaching No. 21. Its CHAMP score of 60 reflects that it spent more weeks in the charts at higher positions. It also demonstrates how two songs with identical scores on one chart can be differentiated by performances on the other. Both these songs have extremely low CHAMP scores. By comparison, a No. 1 single racks up an average CHAMP score of 1,350 points, a Top 10 hit tallies about half this and a single that peaked in the lower half of the official Top 40 typically sums to around 125.
We date a single not by its year of release but when it achieved its peak position (see FAQ). If a single's chart run spanned two years – typically because it charted in December and also in the January of the following year – the performance in both is used to calculate the CHAMP score. For example, Love's Unkind by Donna Summer peaked in early 1978 but its CHAMP score includes its chart positions from the end of 1977. It is the opposite with Mull Of Kintyre by Wings – it hit No. 1 in December 1977 but a substantial part of its chart run was in early 1978. You will find Love's Unkind listed in our Biggest Singles of '78 and Mull Of Kintyre in the Biggest Singles of '77.
On rare occasions a single charted in two different years because it was re-released. For example, Drive by The Cars reached No. 5 in October 1984 and – after it was used at Live Aid – it reached No. 4 in September 1985. Incidentally, its peak positions were the same in both the BBC and NME charts. Therefore, Drive is classified as 1985 but its CHAMP score includes its performance in 1984. Similarly, the CHAMP score for John Lennon's Imagine, which hit the top in 1981, also includes its original chart run from 1975. We do not consider additional chart runs prior to February 1969, when the official chart began, and after May 1988, when the NME chart ceased.
We also use our CHAMP algorithm to calculate a score for an artist. This is achieved by simply summing the scores of the relevant singles by a particular act. Let's return to 1977 for our final example. ABBA had two singles this year. Both Knowing Me Knowing You and Name Of The Game topped the charts for lengthy stays, garnering ABBA a total of over 3,000 points for 1977. Although they only had two hits and spent 24 weeks on the Top 40, fewer than many other acts this year, ABBA had the third best CHAMP score. This accurately reflects the group's tremendous chart impact this year. Anyone who remembers 1977 will surely agree. In fact, this was the year that Swedish quartet became global superstars but, in terms of UK chart performance, they were bettered by two other acts. Any guesses? Take a look at our Biggest Artists of '77 to discover who.
It's hardly rocket science, but CHAMP is an original system involving a tremendous amount of detailed work. The results do not reveal the best singles or artists during the Golden Years – this is down to personal taste. For instance, we instated American Girl on The Wall as one of the finest singles of 1977 and believe its woeful chart performance is a travesty. Nor does it tell us the bestselling singles and artists – although there is a strong correlation (for the statisticians, r = 0.7). Rather, CHAMP tells us which singles and artists made the greatest chart impact in a simple and consistent way, allowing us to provide a rich and accurate historical context to the Golden Years.
Ant & Dave Brown, Founders of WOW Vinyl
The CHAMP trademark and methodology are the intellectual property of WOW Vinyl.