And Finally Artist News

Kate Bush heading to UK number one following chart rule change

By | Published on Wednesday 15 June 2022

Kate Bush

Kate Bush’s ‘Running Up That Hill’ looks like it will finally hit number one in the UK singles chart this weekend after the Official Charts Company changed the rules about how streams of the song are counted. Which might make the whole thing seem like a bit of a farce, but whatever. There is some justification.

‘Running Up That Hill’ has, of course, been rising up the charts in recent weeks thanks to being featured prominently in the latest series of ‘Stranger Things’ on Netflix. It’s not just in the UK, the 1985 track has been hitting top tens around the world. But it’s here in the UK where we’ve been expecting the track to reach the top spot on the back of all the ‘Stranger Things’ hype.

However, so far it has been unable to knock ‘As It Was’ by Harry Styles off its perch atop the main UK singles chart, despite it being streamed far more than Styles’s song. Given the Bush track has been getting so many more streams – and is also ahead of ‘As It Was’ in the OCC’s Sales Chart, which aggregates all the non-streaming consumption that is also counted in the main chart – clearly ‘Running Up That Hill’ should be the overall number one. So why isn’t it?

Well, it’s all down to how the OCC treats older songs. For a new song, it takes 100 premium streams or 600 ad-funded streams to have one sale counted in the main singles chart, which aggregates data from streaming services, download stores, and the sale of physical products.

However, if those rules were applied to all songs being streamed in any one week, then a handful of perennially popular tracks would be forever clogging up the chart. And given one key reason for even having a weekly chart is the marketing boost a decent chart ranking can give to new releases, well, having a Top 20 always dominated by the same older tracks wouldn’t be ideal.

That wasn’t a problem in the pre-streaming age, of course, because the chart was tracking what music was bought rather than what music was played. So even if people were still playing older tracks again and again, the chart was blissfully unaware of and therefore didn’t track that consumption. And that was the case in the short-lived download era as well as in the pre-digital age.

It is true that, with iTunes, if a very old track suddenly became of interest again – for one reason or another – resulting in a surge of people downloading said track, it could suddenly reappear towards the top of the chart. Though that reappearance was usually short-lived, as the surge in new sales ended. And, of course, in pre-digital even that didn’t usually happen.

Because, pre-digital, if a track like ‘Running Up That Hill’ suddenly became of interest again on the back of a prominent sync, people couldn’t just rush out and buy it as a single, because the label would have long ago stopped pressing and distributing it.

You might have seen a short-lived surge in sales of the album on which the track appeared, as that might still be available in bigger record shops, but the new interest would be unlikely to impact on the singles chart, unless that new interest was sufficient enough – and anticipated enough – that the label who owned the recording instigated a full-on re-release.

So, the nature of streaming created various challenges for the music industry’s chart compilers. First, they needed complicated metrics for merging consumption data with sales data in order to create a single chart that covered all forms of consumption.

But they also needed to consider how to stop a small number of hugely popular tracks constantly dominating the top 20, resulting in people becoming bored with and uninterested in the industry’s weekly charts. If you can imagine such a thing happening.

It was with all that in mind that the OCC introduced something called ‘accelerated decline’ – a set of rules which apply on tracks that have been on the chart for more than nine weeks and which have experienced three consecutive weeks of decline at some point.

For them, different ratios are used to equate streams to sales, called the Accelerated Chart Ratios. Under that system the number of streams required to score a sale for chart purposes are doubled – so one sale is equal to 200 premium streams or 1200 ad-funded streams.

This is why The Killers’ ‘Mr Brightside’ has been in the top 100 pretty consistently for the last decade, but hasn’t much bothered the top 40 in that time. Which is surely a good thing, right?

So, the accelerated decline rules keeps things fresh, and ensure that tracks (usually) rise up and down the charts in a fashion similar to that of the good old physical days.

However, there are always going to be issues with any chart compiling system once you are dealing with the complexities of including consumption data from streaming services. And the sudden popularity of ‘Running Up That Hill’ – and the accompanying flurry of “hey, who knew young people would like an old pop song?!” news stories – has put the ‘accelerated decline’ rule in the spotlight.

It has to be said, Bush herself seems more than happy that so many younger people are discovering her old track via a TV show she also happens to love, and doesn’t seem especially aggrieved that chart rules are biased against her. And you could say that her label should be happy that – thanks to the way streaming works – those young people can easily find and listen to the track in a way that suddenly generates a load of new royalties with minimum effort on its part.

But, given how much ‘Running Up That Hill’ is being played on the streaming services just now, some reckon that the ‘accelerated decline’ rule is damaging the credibility of the chart, which – after all – many people assume exists to primarily identify the most popular song of the moment.

And right now that is ‘Running Up That Hill’, which has enjoyed enough streams to get the track to number eight and then, last week, to number two on the overall singles chart, despite it needing to score twice as many streams for a sale to be counted as all the newer tracks appearing around it – not least ‘As It Was’.

Aware of all that, the OCC’s Chart Supervisory Committee – which oversees the charts to make sure they’re all cool and fun and definitely not irrelevant – has now decided to not apply the accelerated decline rule to ‘Running Up That Hill’ this week.

In doing so, it has allowed the song to start, er, running up that hill to the number one position. Unshackled, it is far outselling (or ‘outselling’) Styles’s track.

This is not entirely unprecedented, it’s worth noting. There is already a system in place to apply ‘normal’ streaming counts to an older song if it sees sales (or ‘sales’) increase by 25% week-on-week. Although that rule is specifically designed for tracks released in the last three years. ‘Running Up That Hill’ was released in 1985 remember. Which, fans of maths will hopefully confirm, was somewhat more than three years ago.

There is also a further exception to the rule that can be applied. Say the OCC official regulations: “In exceptional circumstances, where a track is being scheduled for promotion, a label may elect to reset a track to [the standard streaming to sales ratio]”.

So that’s all great. Except, it goes on, “this manual reset is limited to two tracks per artist album, only where the track in question is outside the top 100 and subject to one week’s notice being given from the releasing label that they wish to implement a manual reset. Manual reset shall be strictly subject to Official Charts and/or CSC approval”.

But rules are meant to be broken, right? Otherwise what’s the point? And so, the accelerated decline rule will not be applied to ‘Running Up That Hill’ despite it already being in the top ten and without any notice of reset being given in advance of the track suddenly becoming popular again.

Why would the OCC allow that? Well these are exceptional exceptional circumstances. It seems that the sudden boost in the popularity of ‘Running Up That Hill’ brought on by ‘Stranger Things’ caught everyone by surprise. And after everyone got over that surprise, they were then surprised that the song had failed to knock Harry Styles off number one. So, really, the OCC is basically breaking its own rules to fulfil everyone’s expectations. A common sense solution!

Still, if you’ve read this far, it seems quite possible that you only did so out of anger, and you’re now fuming about how streaming has made a mockery of the whole chart system. After all, when it was all based on physical sales, all tracks were treated equally. Now there are all sorts of complicated calculations that need to be made which inevitably skew for and against different tracks, plus those rules can seemingly be changed on a whim.

Well, to you I say this: Let’s just pretend that we’re back in the age of only physical media and something causes an old song to suddenly become incredibly popular. So much so that the label decides it’s worthwhile actually re-releasing the song as a single. And so they quickly get to business pressing up some new discs and rushing them out to record shops.

For a while, everyone would know that the song was popular again, but it wouldn’t be able to get the number one placing that everyone knew it deserved until the label had managed to press up and distribute those new singles. So why not just pretend that’s what’s happened here?

Actually, that situation isn’t as far-fetched as it might seem. In 1990, the inclusion of the Righteous Brothers song ‘Unchained Melody’ in the film ‘Ghost’ prompted thousands of requests to radio stations in the US to play the 1965 recording. That new interest ultimately resulted in both a re-release and re-record of the track, the former getting the song to number one in the UK chart.

Also, if you think all songs were really equal in the physical era, you probably need to have a little think about your life and how it’s going. Just let Kate Bush have her moment, you scoundrel. If she gets to number one, it’ll be the first time she’s done so since 1978.