Unlike some I can actually date the exact moment I lost all faith in the charts as a barometer of creative endeavour. It's the summer of 1995, and underdog heroes Pulp have just released their zeitgeist encapsulating anthem 'Common People'. Even as a mere 9 year old I could understand the sheer power of the track, of tectonic plates shifting deep underneath my feet. Even as a mere 9 year old I could feel desperate disappointment as Robson & Jerome sneaked in to steal the number one slot away from Jarvis & Co., with their saccharine, so bland as to be translucent take on 'Unchained Melody' cruelly pushing Pulp into second place.
So any comment on the importance of the charts has to bear the devil's own Soldier Soldier karaoke duo in mind. But this week's vinyl countdown from the Official Chart Company is still worthy of investigation, simply due to its bizarre running order. First up, the Top Ten:
1. Amy Winehouse – Back To Black
2. White Denim – Stiff
3. Guardians Of The Galaxy – Awesome Mix 1
4. Fleetwood Mac – Rumours
5. The Stone Roses – The Stone Roses
6. Joe Bonamassa – Blues Of Desperation
7. Adele – 25
8. David Bowie – The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars
9. Bob Marley & The Wailers – Legend
10. Nirvana – 'Nevermind'
It's an oft-observed fact that the vinyl revival has underlined a generational split in the way fans consume music. Simply put: young people stream, older fans purchase. This week's chart seems to emphasise this, with only knackered blues six-stringer Joe Bonamassa, Guardians Of The Galaxy and an admittedly very good album from White Denim providing the Top Ten with any sign of new releases.
So what's made the difference? We're seeing the first signs of the impact that Tesco and Sainsbury's entrance into the vinyl market will have. Tesco began trialling vinyl releases at the tail end of 2015, with Sainsbury's following suit last week. Indeed, each and every one of Sainsbury's roll out releases made the charts, with the high-profile product placement no doubt helping Amy Winehouse's 'Back To Black' – the second best-selling vinyl album in the UK last year – push its way back to pole position.
Of course, it's too early to tell what long-term impact the move will have. Independent retailers have already raised concerns, while Sainsburys' head of music and books Pete Selby told Music Week that he didn't believe the format should be “elitist”.
Indeed, Selby also emphasised that – if successful – then Sainsburys vinyl range would broaden to encompass new and left of centre releases. “The diverse nature of CD sales at Sainsbury's – from bestselling chart lines to more specialist catalogue - has given us the confidence that our customers not only choose us as a destination for New Release albums but are also open to recommendation and discovery in store. The vinyl offer reflects this.”
For now, though, it's an uncertain time for independent retailers and for the industry in general. Revenues generated from vinyl sales in the United States recently passed that of the free-streaming model, while year-on-year statistics for black wax sales continue to grow at an imposing level.
Perhaps the charts themselves don't fully represent this. A huge number of fans purchase vinyl from independent shops that don't participate in the Official Chart Company run down, while still others buy from online retailers. In the dance world, Bleep contributes to the vinyl charts, but several other retailers – Boomkat and Glasgow's ever-vital Rubadub distribution service – do not. Furthermore, releases must carry a bar code to be accepted on the run down, and that's an additional that many smaller imprints simply can't justify.
Elsewhere, peer-to-peer shopping is booming – Sainsbury's may well be offering 'Abbey Road' at £16 a pop but you can pick up an original copy from Discogs for a fiver less. The website ranks as one of the biggest music retailers on the planet, with more than seven million albums from four million artists presently sitting in its global database. It's grown to become a de facto hub for crate-diggers across the globe, but none of those sales register on the charts.
So we're left with an awkward détente. The vinyl revival is an unarguable music industry fact, a vital revenue stream at an extremely difficult time, yet the motors underpinning this resurgence can't make any impact on the charts. Perhaps the means by which those charts themselves are compiled should be broadened, or a new, independently-minded, chart launched. In the end, though, it's left to the retailers – perhaps Sainsbury's are right, and they will start stocking left of centre releases; we look forward to picking up the new Tim Hecker record while buying a pint of milk.
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