Who's number one? Who cares?

It just occurred to me that a radical shift in the music retail model has deprived me of one of the biggest holiday thrills I used to experience: The anticipation of who would be the Christmas number one in the charts.

Yes, I’m showing my age; I’m from an era when people bought singles, on vinyl, for about 75p in my hometown, London. This story from the BBC makes a decent attempt at stirring up a bit of excitement, but much of that was caused by last week’s controversial censoring of a word in the Pogues’ classic Fairytale of New York on BBC radio stations and the subsequent U-turn on that decision).

Most music charts now factor in downloads – it’d be daft not to. How many people now actually go to a record shop (do they even still exist?) clutching a greasy bill in excitement to buy the long-awaited tune from their latest passion? And the download model for music works well in that it makes purchase so much easier. But because of that, songs are less likely to stay at number one for more than a week; in fact, the concept of being at number one is so outdated and irrelevant in today’s multichannel music world that I find it hard to believe many music fans will even know what’s top of the pops during any given week.

Complex algorithms on download sites recommending new bands to people who’ve just downloaded a song undoubtedly expand musical tastes; it’s worked for me in the past. The thrill of discovering new sounds is still there, and social networking has brought the excitement (and bragging about early discoveries) into a new sphere which is arguably larger than the traditional groups of friends in “real life.” And the record companies are having to step up their game to prove their value and pick the right pricing model (or the bands will do it for them, such as Radiohead did).

But just for this day, five days before Christmas, just let me mourn for a moment the fact that I won’t wake up on Sunday, atwitter with excitement as to who will be number one. I probably wouldn’t have heard of the song anyway.
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