Wednesday, September 8, 2010
Fighting Your Way up the Charts
I was reading this post on Mr H's Bleat blog about when Heavy Metal bands would appear fairly regularly on Top of the Pops. Among the clips he has on show is the one above, Girlschool playing - alright miming along to - Hit & Run back in 1981 or so. I remember watching this, and I even went out and bought the single. Unfortunately, however, not so many other folk did, because the notable thing about this TOTP performance is that the single actually went down in the charts the next week. Which was quite an achievement because it was only at no. 44 or so in the first place. I bet they weren't expecting that. I bet their record company wasn't expecting that either.
A Singles Chart formed out of healthy sales is a cruel taskmaster. One of the thrills about following the singles chart back in the early 80s was watching one of your favourite singles fight its way up the placings. Singles had a lifetime, and you knew that if they'd gone up 5 or 7 places a couple of weeks back but only 1 or 2 places last week, then they'd probably got as far as they were going to go. This was annoying when they were knocking at the Top Ten: AC/DC still haven't had a Top Ten hit in the UK, their best placing is No. 12 (Heatseeker), while they've also been at 13 (twice), 14, 15 (twice) and 16. Even more bitter sweet was when your band's song stalled at No. 2. I can still remember the helpless frustration of watching Dr Hook's When You're in Love with a Beautiful Woman stubbornly keeping Crazy Little Thing Called Love off of the top spot. Still, at least Queen already had a no. 1; Marillion surely knew they were never going to get closer to no. 1 when Kayleigh stalled at no. 2 in May 1985.
Later, as singles sales plummeted, Top Ten hits became ten a penny and it was quite normal for songs to appear on the charts in high positions and then go down the next week, especially if the band had a strong fanbase. I doubt if many of Iron Maiden's singles from the late 80s and 90s actually went up the charts. Maiden of course, have a no. 1 single: Bring your Daughter to the Slaughter. Still, it was only because loyal fans went out and bought the thing on the first week of release. It didn't count for much, not really, and a set list from their current tour makes the point: Bring Your Daughter to the Slaughter is nowhere to be seen, while they finish with Running Free, which fought its way to the giddy heights of No. 34 in February 1980.