Saturday 24 March 2012

News, Views and Music Issue 138 (Top Ten): AAA albums that spent the most weeks on the UK albums chart

Here’s another of our occasional best-seller lists for you, this week it’s the AAA albums that spent the most weeks (not necessarily consecutively) at #1 in the UK album charts. It’s subtly different to our ‘best selling album’s top 10 a few issues back in issue 132 and this time, thank goodness, the Spice Girls wouldn’t have been close to making the charts (despite having three album no 1s *shudder*). As you may remember, ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ came top of that list but guess what – that album never actually made #1 so it’s not relevant for entry here (in fact there’s only four albums that are in both lists!) In case you’re interested, if we’d gone on to a top 20 it would have looked very similar to our last list, with the first two Monkees albums, more Rolling Stones and yet more Beatles (together and solo)...Again, there’s no real surprises and you might get a bit sick of Beatles albums cropping up yet again...

1) Simon and Garfunkel “Bridge Over Troubled Water” (first chart entry 15/2/1970): 33 weeks

In true Simon and Garfunkel style, ‘Bridge’ made a big splash with their huge fan-base, hitting #1 for an impressive 13 weeks (interrupted by ‘Let It Be’ among others), then made #1 for 4 weeks (interrupted by Dylan) as word-of-mouth began to spread, then another 5 weeks (before being interrupted by The Moody Blues and Rolling Stones) then another week (before being interrupted by Black Sabbath, then a final week at number one – when surely anyone who’d ever be likely to want to buy a copy had bought one. At least one of the reasons for this album’s humungous sales was the success of the title track as a single in March 1970- about five weeks into this album’s original run at #1. All that said, though, I’m still amazed in retrospect how big this album was – it wasn’t as if the duo particularly promoted it (the wonderful but controversial ‘Songs Of America’ was the only special bit of promotion for the album, one more likely to put all but the biggest liberal voters off!) and there was only ever two singles taken from it, one of them (‘The Boxer’) almost a year old by the time the album finally came out. But then the whole S+G story is something of a rags-to-riches one, with each release snowballing by word of mouth and getting slightly bigger sales each time. Oddly this is the only S and G related album in the list, although ‘Graceland’ just missed the cut.

2) The Beatles “Please Please Me” (5/5/1963): 30 weeks

The first of an impressive six Beatles albums in the list, this album actually sold less individual copies than pretty much any Beatles album (barring ‘Let It Be’ and ‘Revolver’, interestingly enough) but lasted so long at number because a) the word of mouth spread quite slowly (in later years the Beatles sold massive amounts the first week of sale and then dropped off) and because there was such little competition in the charts back then (long-players were still very much second cousins to the single back in 1963 when rock and roll 1960s style hadn’t really got going). All in all, pretty impressive for an album made in a single cheap 14 hour session (barring the two singles!) 

3) The Beatles “Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band” (4/6/1967): 27 weeks

As we said in issue 132 the release of Sgt Pepper’s wasn’t just another record release but an event. Little wonder then that so many bought a copy of this album after what had been (in those days) a ridiculously long 10 month gap between records – or that the whole experience, designed to catch the ‘now’ of 1967, just sounds badly dated today. This record sold to even people who weren’t Beatles fans and – shock horror – broke with pop tradition by including a libretto for the first time (well, a lyric sheet in actuality but that’s what it amounted to).

4) The Beatles “Abbey Road” (28/9/1969): 23 weeks

‘Abbey Road’ is another record whose time at the top came in bursts of one or two weeks. On the face it that seems odd given that singles-wise this album was probably the least popular of all Beatles releases (a single #3 double-sided hit). But pretty much everyone knew that this was likely to be the fab four’s last release and – timed to come out just three months before the start of a brand new decade – a lot of people bought this record as a chance to say goodbye. Add in a classy cover of the foursome on the zebra crossing outside their recording studios (much parodied and very useful to sales assistants to make displays for their record shop windows, back in the days when vinyl was big enough to see from a distance) and voila, another best-seller. Again, though, my own personal view is that ‘Abbey Road’ is one of the weakest fab four LPs, but then that’s heavy sellers for you (more people bought a copy of Neil Young’s ‘Harvest’ than any of his other LPs and about 75% of fans will tell you it’s the worst record he ever made).

5) The Beatles “A Hard Day’s Night” (7/7/1964): 21 weeks

This Beatles album surely sold so well on the back of the film, which considering its paltry-for-the-times budget defied all odds by becoming one of the most seen films of all in the 1960s. Sales were undoubtedly helped by a surprisingly lacklustre set of releases by the Beatles’ colleagues (in mid 1964 Merseybeat was dying out and the lure of American folk-rock ie The Byrds and British power pop ie The Kinks hadn’t properly got going yet) and the unusual (for the Beatles) presence of two #1 hits on the soundtrack in an attempt to maximise publicity for the film (the title track and ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’). A little bit of trivia for you though: did you know that at barely 28 minutes this is not only the shortest album in the list but also the shortest ever Beatles album (not to mention one of the shortest albums to ever make #1), staying at number one for one week per every one minute and 125 seconds of playing time?

6) The Beatles “With The Beatles” (1/12/1963): 21 weeks

This was the second ever Beatles album and, like ‘Please Please Me’, the whole Merseybeat Beatles youth era was in full flow. Tie in the same factors as before (a gradual word of mouth spread and more demand than probably any other product the long-playing record market had ever seen by that point) and you have another recipe for success. Add in the fact that this record was perfectly timed for the Christmas market (with a release date of 28/11/1963) and the fact that so many teenagers purchased it with Christmas money and you can see why this album spent so many weeks at number one. Indeed, had the first Rolling Stones album not come out when it did to give it fiercer competition then ‘With The Beatles’ might conceivably have stayed at the top for as long as ‘Please Please Me’.

7) Rolling Stones “Rolling Stones” (26/4/1964): 12 weeks

It’s always surprised me that the first serious British rivals to the Beatles in the album market didn’t turn up until a full 18 months into the fab four’s story (it’s also surprising that more people didn’t buy the Hollies or Searchers long-playing records, come to that!) But buy it they did and in droves – after all, with Andrew Loog Oldham’s publicity machine out to make one genuine rebel (Brian Jones), his posh friend (Mick Jagger), his shy working class friend (Keith Richards), a bored bassist twice the age of many of the fans (Bill Wyman) and a drummer who saw rock as a poor substitute for jazz (Charlie Watts) seem like the best new thing to come out of the music world since...well, The Beatles themselves. The band haven’t got into their stride as writers yet, hence even more cover versions than on ‘Please Please Me’, but the release of one or two big tie in singles (most notably ‘Little Red Rooster’ and ‘Not Fade Away’) help sales greatly. One word of note though: fancy so many record-buyers actually recognising who the Stones were from the dark and rather sombre picture on the cover, where only Brian Jones’ white shirt sleeves add any colour at all against the blackness. Refusing to put your name on the cover seems like a daring move today, so imagine how it seemed for the debut record by an unknown band back in Easter 1964...

8) Oasis “(What’s The Story?) Morning Glory?” (14/10/1995): 10 weeks

Our only modern band (not that there are many AAA modern bands...) and the only group to make rock and roll sit up and notice in anything like the same amount of numbers is Oasis. Now that rock music seems to be dead again, sacrificed to the altar of boy and girl bands (we haven’t knocked the spice girls for a while, but don’t worry – my venom for them remains as high as ever) and spawning the mess that is Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga in our present day. ‘Definitely Maybe’ broke all the records as the highest selling debut album of all time but ‘Morning Glory’ sold much more steadily over a longer period, as word of mouth took on. Against all odds it was the fourth single ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’ that pushed this album back up to number one after it had fallen slightly – traditionally fourth singles on an album that’s already selling steadily do very poorly but a few really do buck the trend (The title track of Wings’ ‘Band On The Run’ is another example) – and that after already strong sellers in ‘Some Might Say’ ‘Wonderwall’ and ‘Roll With It’. All that fake Britpop Blur vs Oasis cobntroversy probably didn’t hurt matters much either, even ifg most fans forget nowadays that it was Blur’s excruciatingly awful ‘House In The Country’ that made #1 that week (then again ‘Roll With It’ isn’t exactly Oasis’ greatest moment either and easily the weakest link of the whole LP).  

9) Rolling Stones “no 2” (31/1/1965): 10 weeks

Here we are again for Stones album no 2. This poor album was crucified by critics when it came out for the rather lacklustre cover choices and the rather bored antipathetic performances (the Stones never really hit their stride till 1966 I say). But the public continued to lap their albums up in droves – well till third LP ‘Out Of Our Heads’ did so badly anyway. Pretty much the same people must have bought this album as the first one as the sales tally is pretty much identical. Note that this album would almost definitely have beaten records as a number one had not The Beatles inconveniently just released ‘Beatles For Sale’ at more or less the same time (a record that, oddly perhaps, only notched up eight weeks at number one and thus fell just short of this list) – the Stones album continued to sell after ‘Beatles For Sale’ had fallen out of the charts (and thus was only ‘for sale’ if you checked out the older record bins). Again post-Christmas sales probably had something to do with this album’s success.

10) The Beatles “Help!” (8/8/1965): 9 weeks

We end with yet another Beatles LP and yet another fab four record boosted by the impact of a feel-good film. Like the films, ‘Help!’ the album had a much bigger budget than before and lots of genuine belly laughs but doesn’t feel like such a serious or weighty piece of work. Again the Beatles broke their unsaid rule of no singles on LPs and included both the title track and ‘Ticket To Ride’ in an effort to plug the film. Trivia: ‘Ticket To Ride’, which came out first, featured a mention of a forthcoming Beatles film titled ‘Eight Arms To Hold You’, the working title to ‘Help!’ and – so we presume – named after the statue Ringo is nearly sacrificed under at the film’s end. ‘Help!’ makes for a much snappier title however. Again note how perfectly spaced the Beatles albums are, with teenagers free to buy their albums either at Christmas (either as presents or with money given as presents) or the summer (when some teenagers were lucky enough to get summer jobs in the days before the Coaltion came along!)

And that’s that. Join us for a similar list of the 10 AAA singles with the most weeks at number one next issue!

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