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More stats to celebrate 60 years of singles chart, 3.7 billion singles sold in UK since chart began

By | Published on Wednesday 14 November 2012

Official Charts Company

So, the great and the good of the British record industry amassed at London’s Portcullis House last night at the invite of the All-Party Parliamentary Group On Music to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the British singles chart.

And as the actual anniversary arrives today, the Official Charts Company has published another batch of data, revealing that UK music fans have between them bought an estimated 3.7 billion singles since the first chart was published in the NME 60 years ago, which, the OCC tells us, would be enough records to stretch sixteen times around the Earth or to fill all the seats at London’s O2 Arena 185,000 times over (one record per seat).

The 80s was the biggest decade for pre-digital singles sales, though post-iTunes sales of single tracks have soared, so that 683 million tracks were sold last decade. 500 million singles have already been sold since 2010, making this likely to be a record breaking decade by some margin, even with the growth of streaming music services and such like.

The stats being shared as part of the 60 year celebrations have been compiled by combining data from various sources, the early singles charts not having been compiled in quite the same high tech all-embracing way that they are today. Chris Green, Research Director at the BPI, worked with the OCC, combing data for all years from 1955, including manufacturing and trade delivery totals in addition to over-the-counter numbers gathered by official chart compilers.

OCC boss Martin Talbot told CMU: “Working on historic statistics from so long ago to create data reflecting sales to consumers has required diligent research and attention to detail. And, while it is unlikely to ever be possible to arrive at exact totals for those early years due to the nature of the data available, we are confident that these figures give us the clearest picture yet published of the development of singles sales across the six decade history of the Official Singles Chart”.

Total sales per decade, according to the OCC and Green’s work, are as follows:

1950s – 280 million (the biggest year was 1957 with 50m sales)

1960s – 450 million (the biggest year was 1964 with 57 million sales, biggest track of the decade The Beatles’ ‘She Loves You’)

1970s – 540 million (the biggest year was 1979 with 79 million sales, biggest track of the decade Wings’ ‘Mull Of Kintyre’/’Girls’ School’)

1980s – 640 million (the biggest year was 1984 with 71 million sales, biggest track of the decade Band Aid’s ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’)

1990s – 620 million (the biggest year was 1997 with 78 million sales, biggest track of the decade Elton John’s ‘Candle In The Wind 97’/’Something About The Way You Look Tonight’)

2000s – 683 million (the biggest year was 2009 with 152 million sales, biggest track of the decade Will Young’s ‘Anything Is Possible/Evergreen’)

2010s – 500m (so far) (This year is already the biggest year with 160 million sales – as of 45 weeks – biggest track of the decade Adele’s Someone Like You)

The research also reveals that while 78s dominated vinyl single sales in the early 1950s, the seven-inch 45rpm format soon took off as the 50s proceeded, and accounted for 90% of all singles bought in the 1960s. The classic seven-inch dominated through most of the 1980s, though twelve-inches, cassette-singles and the CD single all started to compete, so that by 1990 seven-inch vinyl accounted for less than 50% of singles sold for the first time since the 1950s. The CD single became more dominant in the 1990s though today, of course, 99% of single sales are digital.

Read a CMU interview with Official Charts Company boss Martin Talbot to mark the 60th anniversary here.