Shorter, slower and less significant changes: How the numbers changed in 70 years

UK number one singles have become shorter, slower and more likely to boast a diverse lineup of performances but once familiar elements such as significant changes and fading has almost completely disappeared, new research shows.

His singles chart celebrates its 70th anniversary on Monday, and while some characteristics have remained largely unchanged over time – more female than male and mixed artists – there has been a long trend. The term moves towards more hits in the small keys, while the time signature grows to four beats in a bar.

Changes in taste help explain some of the findings, the experts said, although “advancement of technology and new ways of working in music” could also be to blame, the experts said. said.

PA news agency analyzed all 1,404 releases to hit number one from the first, Al Martino’s Here In My Heart, to the latest, Taylor Swift’s Anti-Hero.

From research:

– Major changes were used on nearly half (43%) of the entries in 1953 and remained popular until the 1980s, appearing on almost a third (29%) in 1986. However, now They are extremely rare now, with only one example from the past nine years – a cover version of You’re Never Walk Alone by Michael Ball and Captain Tom Moore in 2020.

– Fade-outs have fallen out of fashion, from appearing on 93% of the first issues in 1971 and 100% in 1983, to no longer appearing in 2011 and only 23 since.

– Also facing extinction are time-signed number ones in anything other than four tight beats in a bar, with just 13 of those so far this century – almost this is the 2020 version of You’re Never Walk Alone.

– Played continuously, 1,404 numbers, including both sides of the letter A, took nearly 85 hours to listen in full.

Chart analyst and historian James Masterton said: “Many of the changes are due to the advancement of technology, which has changed the old way of working in music production and composition.

“When you do it naturally by playing a live instrument, your instinct is to change things up a bit to prevent a song from becoming boring – and there was a time when that meant changing things. change keys. Now that everything is on the computer screen, you can be more subtle and change the harmonics instead.”

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He continued, “and it is only in the digital age, when everything is online and streaming, that musicians and producers discover the art of ending a song the right way. with a flourish. “

Tim Wall, professor of popular music at Birmingham City University, says the findings reflect a long shift away from “well-trained professional musicians delivering hits for artists, to self-composed groups – such as The Beatles – and then to people who make music on technology they can control, who never thought they needed to change keys. lock up. “

Trends towards number one can be influenced “by something bursting, like magma underneath a volcano, bright and disruptive – but also blockages and obstacles that block the entire sound source.” the music is at its peak,” he added.

An example is the average speed or tempo of digital tracks, which increased sharply in the late 1950s, when rock and roll music became mainstream, and again in the early 1960s, thanks to the success of The Beatles and other guitar groups.

But the tempo has since gone down widely, with no punk in the 1970s or dance music in the 1980s having had enough impact to stop the trend, while in recent years the average has fallen. more.

The numbers averaged three minutes in 1967 and four minutes in 1984, before starting to get shorter in the late 1990s and now closer to three minutes.

One reason for this is that “songs have lost their intros, with streaming being the cause,” Mr.

“You only get paid – and a play counts towards the leaderboard only – if the listening is longer than 30 seconds. People still won’t sit back and watch a song they don’t like, so production is now focusing on getting to that song as quickly as possible, to engage listeners.”

There has never been a year where all-female artists have captured the majority of the chart top spots, despite numerous hits from Madonna, the Spice Girls and Adele – the closest being a 50-50 split in 1998. .

But while they have become more ethnically diverse, it’s only been six years when the number of people led by mixed/non-white acts has outstripped white artists, five of them since. 2009.

“England is becoming a more diverse country, but crossover is still important: that moment when white audiences started picking up music from a different genre, whether reggae in the 1970s or more recent. more, and that can take time,” said Professor Wall.

Meanwhile, there have only been 3 years where the number of songs in the minor keys is more than the number of songs in the major keys, all recent: 2019 (58%), 2020 (55%) and 2022 so far (55%).

This, Mr. Masterton suggested, may reflect a period of “recession economic”. However, caution should be exercised when looking for connections, Professor Wall said, as “change can come from the preferences of the record buyer or what they are given to choose from – or often both.” two”.

Over the past 70 years, the singles chart has grown from the top 12 released by the New Musical Express in 1952, to the top 50 prepared by the UK Market Research Service in the 1970s, to the top 100 currently published by the Official Charts Company. manufacturing.

“Something that’s lasted this long, and that tells us something about change in society, is something that’s really valuable,” added Prof Wall. : “Charts are sometimes considered trivial, but they are not trivial to everyone who buys these records, it is absolutely central to their lives, and I think we do. for them and ourselves to be dissidents by treating it that way. “ Shorter, slower and less significant changes: How the numbers changed in 70 years

Fry Electronics Team

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