Official UK Singles Chart celebrates 60th birthday with singles sales survey

Tina Hart
The Official Charts Company 60th Anniversary

Today (November 14) is the 60th anniversary of the launch of the Official Singles Singles Chart in the UK and the company has released the results of its first survey of singles sales volumes.

The survey revealed that 3.7 billion singles have been bought by UK fans since November 1952. This amount is equivalent to fill London’s O2 Arena (which has a 20,000 capacity) 185,000 times, or 824 times the number of copies that Adele’s 21 has sold in the UK (4.49m).

This amount has also been calculated – if laid back-to-back in 7-inch vinyl – to reach 16 times around the Earth (which has a circumference of 24,901 miles).

Pre-digital, the Eighties saw a peak for singles sales as 640m were sold. In the Nineties, 620m were shifted.

Moving on to the digital era – the Noughties includes six years of downloads (iTunes was launched in 2004) and boosted singles sales with 683m sold.

Post-Noughties the trend has largely changed with digital accounting for over 99% of sales and 500m sales so far – equivalent to the entire Seventies (540m).

Looking at annual figures, peak years for singles sales in each decade are: 1957 (50m), 1964 (57m), 1979 (79m), 1984 (71m), 1997 (78m) and 2009 (152m).

This year to date, 160m singles have been sold and by year-end this is expected to reach an all-time high of 190m – this is compared to 178m for the whole of last year.

Official Charts Company managing director Martin Talbot said: “Working on historic statistics from so long ago to create data reflecting sales to consumers has required diligent research and attention to detail.

“And, while it is unlikely to ever be possible to arrive at exact totals for those early years due to the nature of the data available, we are confident that these figures give us the clearest picture yet published of the development of singles sales across the six decade history of the Official Singles Chart.”


Singles sales by decade


Total sales

Biggest selling year

Sales of biggest year

Decade’s biggest seller





Not available





She Loves You – The Beatles





Mull Of Kintyre / Girls’ School - Wings






Do They Know It’s Christmas? – Band Aid





Candle In The Wind 97 / Something About The Way You Look Tonight – Elton John






Anything Is Possible / Evergreen – Will Young





Someone Like You - Adele




[*after 45 weeks]


Source: Official Charts Company / BPI

The survey has been completed by the Official Charts Company with BPI research director Chris Green, taking data for all years from 1955 to the present day and cross-matching manufacturing market totals and trade delivery market totals, together with existing over the counter data from more recent years.

Some of the very earliest manufacturing market data has never previously been available before as it has only recently been uncovered, while no attempt has previously been made to equate the trade delivery figures which have existed to reflect actual, over the counter purchases by consumers.

The research also highlighted that in the years immediately after the launch of the Singles Chart in 1952, 78s were the pre-eminent singles format accounting for more than 90% of all singles sold in 1952 through to 1955, before seven inch 45rpm singles became the dominant format (taking more than 50% for the first time) in 1959. By 1960, the seven-inch was accounting for 90% of all singles bought.

The seven-inch endured until the early ‘90s – for the first time, its share of all singles sold fell below 50% for the first time in 1990, with 12-inch, cassette and CD singles all competing for popularity. By 1992, the CD single had become UK consumers’ favourite format, accounting for 31% of all sales.

The first-ever UK Official Singles Chart was published in the pages of NME in 1952.

Some 32,000 chart hits and more than 1,200 No.1s later, the Official Singles Chart Top 40 continues to be unveiled exclusively by long-standing partners, BBC Radio 1, every Sunday 4-7pm.  The full Top 100 is published Sundays 7pm at www.officialcharts.com.

Radio 1 and OfficialCharts.com now also hand over the Official Number 1 Award each week. The trophy, created by the Official Charts Company, is presented to artists who achieve the coveted Number 1 spot on the Official Chart.

Read Music Week's special brochure on the 60th anniversary of the Official Singles Chart through here.


Tags: singles, Official Charts Company, single sales, the official charts company, martin talbot

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