How Rainbows ruined the charts

Tuesday, 26 February 2008
by adrian
filed under Found On Last.fm and Lunch Table
Comments: 61

Since I was a teenager I have always loved music and at the same time have also had an affinity for numbers. Put the two together and what more could a young boy want? I’m talking about charts. I was addicted to them. Still am. I fervently refresh my last.fm profile page on Sunday nights and Monday mornings to see my personal weekly charts. In the past I used to listen to the South African charts live on the radio to see how my predictions for the movements of certain tracks had panned out. I used to buy British pop magazines to read the UK charts. I would stay up late on the weekends to watch US video charts. I got pen pals in Morocco to put the North African charts on postcards and send them to me. You get the picture.

Now most of these charts have something in common – they generally feature new music and there is a lot of change from week to week. A hot new tune could shake things up in the space of a few days. This is where the last.fm top tracks chart differs. Top tracks summarises what our users have listened to in the past week and while this often does include new music, if a whole bunch of people decided to go retro and relive the 80s by playing Public Enemy constantly, then Public Enemy would show up, even though they haven’t released anything (good) in years. Now, this has a certain charm to it and it can be interesting to see when an artist generates a lot of publicity (by dying for example) that they leap up the charts without there being any new music from them during that period. However it can also be really boring when the charts just stay the same for months on end.

Case in point. If you go back to Top Tracks for the week ending Sunday 14 October 2007 you will see the 10 songs on Radiohead’s “Rainbows” album (which was released that week) come out of nowhere, blasting Kanye West from number 1 and taking over the entire top 10. At the time I thought, wow, cool, this really is proof of the power of a new model of releasing music over the internet directly to your fans. It also shows that the whole album is popular, not just a few “singles” which would be released with a bunch of wack filler tracks around them. So far so good. Christmas came and went without anybody managing to get a word in on the top 10. After 18 or so weeks, the top 10 tracks were still all Rainbows. Yawn. I’m not a big Radiohead fan at the best of times, so this was really starting to get to me. Please, somebody, anybody, release something awesome and save the charts from Radiohead!

And then two weeks ago it happened, someone else managed to nudge their way not only into the top 10, but into the number one spot no less. It wasn’t a new song though, it was Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab” which saw a resurgence of popularity in the wake of her Grammy winnings. “Back to black” also made it in at number 9. Now, I’m not a big Amy fan either, but hey, at least here was something shaking things up a bit. Was this beginnng of the end for Rainbows in the Top 10? As much as a I would like to think so, last week saw them snatch number 1 back and drop Amy down to number 5. Ho hum.

Am I the only person who finds the Top Tracks chart boring? Surely not? Being a chart addict a few possible solutions come to mind – for example, adding more charts. Charts by tag could be nice, especially if more people were as anal as me when it comes to tagging music by genre. More detailed hype charts which would focus on new music? Charts which only cover music that was recently released? A worldwide Radiohead boycott? We are actually working on some of these at the moment (not the boycott!) and they will hopefully see the light of day in the coming months. If you’ve got ideas, we’d love to hear ‘em.