The UK’s 1,404 number one singles: key stats and trends
The PA News Agency has analyzed 10 characteristics of each of the 1,404 UK number one singles from 1952 to the present day.
Here are the main results:
Number-one hits in minor keys were rare in the chart’s early years, the first being Rosemary Clooney’s Mambo Italiano in January 1955.
From 1952 to 1977 there were only 25 minor key roster leaders, 6% of the total, and for 14 of those years there were none.
A shift occurred in 1978 (21% in minor keys) and 1979 (39%), coinciding with the emergence into the mainstream of genres like reggae, disco and electronic music.
Since then, songs in minor keys have reached the top spot every year, although there have only been three occasions when they have outnumbered those in major keys, most recently: 2019 (58%), 2020 (55%) and 2022 to date (55%).
Until the late 1950s, almost all number ones came to an abrupt halt. Then a trend began for songs to use a fade, which appeared on more than half (52%) of all number ones in 1965 and reached a whopping 93% in 1971.
The level remained high for the following years, reaching 100% in 1983. The trend was then downward, falling below 50% in 1991 and reaching zero in 2011.
Since then, only 23 number ones have ended in a fade and there have been none so far this year.
– Time signature
Songs in strict four beats in one measure were not always common: in 1953, 36% of number ones were on waltz time, compared to 21% in 1967, such as Engelbert Humperdinck’s The Last Waltz.
But any time other than 4/4 is now rare: there have only been 13 examples in the UK so far this century. The most recent was Michael Ball and Captain Tom Moore’s version of You’ll Never Walk Alone in April 2020.
The last number one in strict 3/4 was Changes by Ozzy and Kelly Osbourne in December 2003.
– The rapidity
The average speed, or tempo, of number ones rose from 99 beats per minute (BPM) in 1953 to 137 in 1957 with the advent of rock and roll. There was another peak in 1963, at 133 BPM, driven by the success of the Beatles, Gerry And The Pacemakers and other British guitar bands.
The average then began to drop, reaching 98 BPM in 1975 thanks to slow ballads like Rod Stewart’s Sailing and 10cc’s I’m Not In Love.
There were signs of a revival in the early 1980s, with BPM reaching 122 in 1982, but it was short-lived. Since then, the average has remained mostly in the 100s, although there was a one-time drop to 92 BPM in 2017, mainly due to songs by Harry Styles and Ed Sheeran.
The average length of a chart exceeded three minutes for the first time in 1967 and four minutes in 1984.
It peaked at an average of four minutes and 16 seconds in 1997, thanks to songs like The Drugs Don’t Work by The Verve (five minutes and two seconds) and D’You Know What I Mean? by Oasis (a whopping seven minutes and 21 seconds), but since then it has fallen back, dipping as low as three minutes and seven seconds in 2019.
– Soloists versus groups
Solo artists dominated the top spot for much of the 1950s, but by 1963 they fell to just 11% of number ones with the rise of British guitar bands.
Since then, solo artists have rarely managed to break above 50%, with groups, duos or other collaborations getting the majority of number ones.
There’s been a slight resurgence in recent years, including in 2015, when soloists made up 61% of the top billings, thanks to Justin Bieber, Adele and Jess Glynne.
– Change of key
Almost half (43%) of number ones in 1953 had a key change, but by 1959 it had fallen to a third (33%) and fell further over the years.
The first full year without any key changes was 1993. There was a brief rally in the early 2000s, led by Westlife, which used it on 10 of its 14 number one hits.
But only one chart topper in the past nine years has rolled out a key change: the cover version of You’ll Never Walk Alone in April 2020.
There were no years when all-female artists had the majority of number ones, and only one year when they managed to reach 50%: 1998, thanks to All Saints, B*witched, Cher and the Spice Girls.
In 14 years, the combined total of female and mixed acts outnumbered all-male acts. Eight of these 14 have been since 2008, including a peak of 71% in 2009.
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, all-white acts were responsible for nearly all of the top UK charts, and in some years (1953, 1963 and 1965) they accounted for 100%.
It wasn’t until 1992 that all-white artists first made up less than half of the top charts (46% versus 54% for mixed/non-white artists), thanks to artists like Tasmin Archer, Boyz II Men and Whitney Houston. .
There were only five other years in which mixed/non-white artists outnumbered all-white artists: 2009 (61%), 2010 (74%), 2011 (57%), 2012 (53%) and 2020 (65%) .
In 1955 and 1960, British artists managed to win just over half of the top charts (57% and 63% respectively), but it wasn’t until later in the 1960s that homegrown talent really started to dominate the top spot, landing 83% number one in 1963 and 1964.
Since then the numbers have tended to be about even, although there were peaks for UK-only acts in 1981 (74%, driven by artists like Shakin’ Stevens and Adam & The Ants); 1996 (75%, with top picks from George Michael, The Spice Girls and others) and 2021 (77%, thanks to Adele and Ed Sheeran).