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Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - 14 November

It’s still number one: the UK singles chart celebrates 60 years of success


1952 has a strong case for being branded the most important year in the history of UK popular music. In November of that year, Percy Dickins, then advertising manager for the National Music Express, phoned 20 record shops, tallied their biggest-selling songs and created the first ever official singles chart.

The chart added a competitive edge to the industry, as evidenced by the fierce rivalries between bands such as Blur and Oasis – not to mention the various hopefuls bidding for a Christmas number one.

Although the chart now showcases the top 40 singles, the first hit parade was limited to a top 12 – though 15 singles were included because of tied sales figures for three spots on the list. It was topped by American crooner Al Martino, whose tune, Here in my Heart, held on to the number one spot for nine consecutive weeks. The first chart also featured no fewer than three entries from wartime favourite Dame Vera Lynn.

This week, 60 years on, it is Robbie Williams’ single Candy that rests at the number one spot.

The Official Charts Company, the entity that now oversees the chart’s compilation, has marked the occasion by releasing a list of the top singles artists of all time, nicknamed the “diamond dozen”. While most are long-standing and iconic acts – including The Beatles, Elvis Presley, Cliff Richard, Madonna and Michael Jackson – there were more recent successes, including Kylie Minogue and Rihanna.

Top of the Pop Facts

10. Since the chart’s launch there have been 1,200 number ones.

9. Music fans have bought 3.7 billion singles. That is enough CD singles to fill London’s O2 Arena 185,000 times over. If you measured them in 7 inch vinyl, you would have 17,000 times the length of Felix Baumgartner’s Red Bull Stratos jump.

8. The days of phoning round record stores have gone. The Official Charts Company now survey 6,350 physical and online retailers every day of the year, tracking 99% of UK sales.

7. 178 million singles (including legal digital downloads) were sold in the UK last year.

6. Wham's Last Christmas achieved the biggest one-week sale without hitting number one. It remained runner-up to Band Aid in December 1984, despite 500,000 copies of the single being sold.

5. In the Official Chart Company’s top 10 singles by bands beginning with “The”, The Beatles sweep the board with six songs including number one She Loves You. The Human League, The Seekers, The Black Eyed Peas and The Righteous Brothers also feature.

4. The Beatles, Queen and Abba are the UK’s biggest selling groups. Their combined sales are worth £46.2 million.

3. Bryan Adams’ (Everything I Do) I Do it For You (1991) holds the record for the longest consecutive run at number one. The Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves theme song stayed top of the charts for 16 weeks. However it does not have the accolade of most number of weeks at the top spot – that honour goes to Frankie Laine’s 1953 single I Believe, which spent 18 weeks at number one in total and which remains the only song to return to number one twice.

2. Ed Sheeran was crowned the most streamed act of the year in the Official Chart Company’s first streaming chart in May this year.

1. At the end of October, the UK’s most listened to track for 2012 was Gangnam Style by Korean pop sensation Psy.

Questions for discussion

  • Which songs do you enjoy listening to at the moment?
  • How does your taste in music compare to your parents' taste?
  • Do you pay attention to the music charts? Why do we have them?
  • Do you think TV shows like 'The X-Factor' affect which songs top the charts? Can you think of any other influences that could make a difference?

Related resources

Chart toppers

  • Develop students’ research skills with this investigation on top artists and hit singles from English Banana.


  • Get nostalgic with this lesson on the history of Britpop with a fun odd-one-out game to start.

Pop music practical

  • Try this BTEC Level 3 assignment pack to help you assess students’ pop music efforts.

Digital music

  • Try this revision grid for a concise overview of the effects that digital technology has on the music industry.

Further news resources

First News front page

  • Help your pupils understand the features of the front page of a newspaper.

Write all about it

  • Get students creating their own news report with this step-by-step guide.

What is the News?

  • A sociological and media perspective on what makes an event 'newsworthy'.

On the box

  • Help pupils to write their own TV news broadcast with this handy PowerPoint.

Structuring stories

  • A scheme of work to help students structure news stories.

In the news this week

News items

The Ugandan government has announced it will pass an anti-homosexuality bill before the end of the year as a “Christmas gift” to Ugandans who are demanding it.

A row over errors broadcast on the BBC current affairs programme Newsnight has led to the resignation of three senior figures at the corporation.

Humanoid robots are being used as classroom buddies to support children with autism in a project that aims to improve social interaction and communication.

Barack Obama has won a decisive victory in the US presidential election after months of campaigning, and has promised the American people that "the best is yet to come".

In the news archive index

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