The excellent Miss Cisco wrote this and inspired me to write about my life with charts and music.
My earliest memory of music was us sitting around the radio in the seventies, listening to the Top 40 with my mum and dad. Every week we’d listen to the countdown on a Sunday and sing along and dance to the music – we’re talking Bay City Rollers, ABBA and so on – a bit of Brotherhood of Man and a splash of ELO of course, like some concoction of music which got mixed up and spat out and brings me to where I am now.
I bought my first record in Boots. Daryl Hall & John Oates ‘I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)’ on 7″. This was closely followed by the England World Cup Squad and Tottenham’s singles both of which are still treasured, obviously. Boots was THE place in York to buy records when you’re twelve – that or the ex-jukebox singles that were stacked out the front of our local supermarket at 50p a time (I got some great ones).
I remember the days when I’d tape from the radio, carefully placing my battery operated radio next to my cassette player, giving my sister strict instructions not to come upstairs or into my bedroom in case she wrecked my recordings by making a noise – which by then were Hazel O’Connor, Duran Duran, The Lambrettas, Madness and The Specials; anyone good in the charts, basically. I also remember accidentally recording over some of my chart songs and singing in the gap (once I’d carefully timed it so I knew when to stop) – one that springs to mind is ‘Give Me an Inch’ by Hazel O’Connor. Oh the memories, flooding back they are. I remember Helen up the road who was convinced her brother was shouting for his mum at the end of ‘Hungry Like The Wolf’ by Duran Duran (listen carefully, you’ll know the bit when you hear it); the curse of taping from the radio until everyone got stereo systems that linked together.
If you fast forward to around 1981, then you’ll meet me at school with my school friends, all of us crowded around a radio on a Tuesday lunchtime, furiously scribbling down the Top 40 to then be logged into our chart books we’d spent careful time putting together (after watching BBC4 last night I now know we’re not the only ones to do this).
I knew my Cocteau Twins from my Thompson Twins (it was almost compulsory to listen to Annie Nightingale’s show after the Sunday Top 40 show), my Associates from my The The.
It didn’t matter if it didn’t make the Top 40, but it was really exciting when it did – especially when it popped its head around the corner – a quick number 39 and gone again forever, only to be remembered by me and the Guinness Book of British Hit Singles. BUT! The advantage of writing it down on a Tuesday meant I knew which songs were coming up on the Sunday, so my fingers were poised over the pause button (copyright This Poison!) to make sure I got as little of the presenter as I possibly could on my tape – plus I knew what was coming next. Stuff like that is important when you’re trying to make a good tape – though the invention of the twin cassette deck helped that too. Less helpful is when your tape mangles up in the machine.
The music I heard wasn’t the music I liked, so I stopped. It’s okay though, The Chart Show existed for that indie fix, when the show would count down through the Top 10 Indie Singles and you’d hope and pray that it would stop on a song you liked, until eventually anything on PWL took it over and you’d hope anyone else would get a play – even something you really disliked.
Top of the Pops though. Top of the Pops. That was the mecca of all things chart and music – and I was really lucky to go twice. I can’t remember who I saw when, but we definitely saw The All Seeing I (with Jarvis Cocker), Backstreet Boys (or N-Sync, I don’t know which ones they were – they wore jumpers), Gay Dad (remember them? We jumped around to ‘To Earth With Love’ and they had to re-record it) Terrorvision with Mint Royale (that was pretty cool as I knew Mint Royale by then), Sebadoh (Tracy and I were down the front, if it’s on YouTube you might see our pink feather boa’s), Blondie, Cher (doing the song after ‘Believe’ – Craig Logan from Bros, her manager was there too which was possibly more exciting), Cast (you can see me on this – it’s on ‘Beat Mama’ – I’m dancing badly, fortunately not on YouTube), and some others I can’t remember. It was brilliant fun – and one of those experiences I’ll not forget (the waiting around, anyway – I’ve forgotten half of who I saw). The best bit was watching the show a few days later. I can’t even remember who presented it – Jayne Middlemiss maybe? Kate Thornton?
(I found some of it on YouTube!!)
Oh, and there was also that crushing moment when the floor man tells you to stand “there” and you get excited for a milisecond as you think you’re going to be on TV, but actually, no. You’re being hidden behind the prettier and more glamorous girls. I still spotted the top of my head though.
What do seventeen year olds who write down the charts each week do when they decide to stop? They log every Peel and Jensen Session instead.
The Charts are 60 this week. I remember at work we did that old game, the ‘Who was number one when you were born’ one. Someone did point out that the charts didn’t exist when he was born, and we mocked him for being old – I think he’s 61 though, so only just. Mine was ‘All Kinds Of Everything’ by Dana. For years I thought it was Norman Greenbaum’s ‘Spirit in the Sky’, so I was kind of sad to find out that I’d been wrong all this time.
If I’d worked where I do now, back in the 80’s (and there’s still a few people who did), then I’d be working with bands who chart like The Cult, The Icicle Works (and of course the Cocteau Twins, and M|A|R|R|S) and I’m sure there’s more… but instead I was that fourteen-fifteen year old writing their names in my chart books.
I’ve worked where I am now for 13 years. We’re on a good run at the moment with the charts and have had two incredibly good years. Rewind back to when I started and we were proper indie – often getting to the number 1 position in the indie chart, but more often than not missing the Top 40. I do remember the song that did it though – a Biffy Clyro single – straight in at 39 with a bullet – and out again. It was really exciting too – and that’s coming from a previous job where I was label managing a few Top 40 singles. Much as I wanted to get away from the charts in my teens, it’s impossible to avoid them now. In my previous job I’d help distribute the midweek charts (before they were provided like they are now, when all the labels traded chart positions instead) – it was like the thirteen year old me on a spreadsheet and weird.
These days I get the charts and sales flashes, and half the names these days mean nothing to me. I’d hate to admit it, but I think I’m maybe getting too old for the charts. Which makes me a bit sad… and is where I pass on my pop knowledge to H so she can devour the music like I once did. I’ll stick to my 1980s reissues instead, destined never to chart, but that’s only because they had their time several years ago. Boy, do I sound like my mum….