Popular FAQ

What is Popular? It’s a music writing project reviewing all the UK Number One hit singles, in order, from Al Martino’s “Here In My Heart” (1952) onwards. For each single I write a short review and give it a mark out of 10: readers then give their own takes in the comments and hearty discussion ensues (not always about the Number One).

When will it be finished? Good question! It won’t finish so much as “catch up”. It started in August 2003, and I’m now three-fifths through. It’s possible that something so major might happen in the composition of the charts that I think “That’s it, I’m stopping there” – not yet, though.

Where’s “Please Please Me”? Aren’t you missing some Number Ones? The source I’m using for my list of #1 singles is the canonical list provided by the Official Charts Company – the exact version I use is at Everyhit. In the 50s and throughout the 60s, though, there were several rival charts published and the official list selects sources from these. The side effect is that 30 or so records reached Number One on credible other charts – sometimes several credible other charts – but not the ‘official’ one. “Please Please Me” and “Stranger On The Shore” are probably the most notorious examples. Comments regular Marcello Carlin explains what happened here – this topic has been quite exhaustively discussed in the comments section! Should I turn Popular into a book project, I will fill in these gaps (and a few others).

How about “God Save The Queen” – you covered that! What about controversial ‘missing’ number ones? Wait and see! My rule of thumb with these is that I’ll write about them if I think it’ll make the blog more interesting (as was the case with GSTQ). In general, though, I’m sticking to the official list – flawed though it might be. You’ll notice that the Pistols didn’t get an official mark, though :)

Where can I hear these songs? How come I can’t download them from you? A lot of the songs are very well known. Almost all are on Spotify or YouTube in some capacity or other.

How does the marking system work? I write the review, then give it a mark based on how I feel about the track at that instant in time. The marking system is a fun little add-on – the reviews and comments are the main point. Broadly speaking though, I try to keep the marks on a kind of “bell curve” – so a lot more 9s than 10s are given, and a lot more 8s than 9s, and so on with the most common score being 5 or 6. I am not trying to be “objective” in my marking – this is just what I think of the song at the moment I’m writing about it.

Will anything ever get 0 out of 10? No. The scale is 1 to 10. The worst record I’ve written about so far is “The Stonk”, which I gave 1 to.

Do the marks ever change? No. Pretty much the only rules I’ve given myself on Popular are that I never give a mark until I’ve finished the review, and I never change the marks. This means I sometimes regret marks almost immediately, but oh well. I do change the review sometimes to correct mistakes or gibberish. If I ever do it as a book, I will revise the early reviews considerably, and some of the marks.

I don’t know much about the songs and I wasn’t around at the time: can I still comment? Yes! A lot of the people commenting on Popular are experts – or have good strong memories – but anyone can join in and I’m interested in what people who’ve never heard the songs have to say, as much as people who grew up on them. Now we’re in the 1990s, the same goes for people who had given up on pop before these records topped the chart – if you have something to say, say it!

What is the “Readers Top 100” on the Populist page? Any registered user can put in their OWN mark out of 10 on any given song – the Readers’ Top 100 is an aggregated list of the highest-scoring ones, which updates a couple of times a day. If you want to see the average mark given to an invididual song you need to log in and vote on it. We don’t let unregistered users do it in order to avoid vote-floods from angry Peter Andre (or whoever) fans.

Do you ever delete or censor comments? I try not to – on the other hand it’s more important to me that the site remains a friendly one with a lot of different viewpoints than that a particular individual gets the last word in a flamewar. Generally I want to encourage arguments and discourage personal attacks and I moderate the site accordingly. Sometimes if an argument is getting circular and is likely to come up again anyway I will step in, too.

I was drunk last night and posted Des O’Connor fanfic on the “I Pretend” thread!! Can you delete it? If you regret comments, I will usually delete them if you ask. A possible exception would be if they’ve already spawned a huge discussion and the thread will become incomprehensible without them. In that case you’re better off retracting your post in another comment.

What do “spoilers” mean on Popular? The list of Number One singles is in the public domain, so anyone can see what’s coming up in the future on Popular. But direct discussion of upcoming number ones is discouraged until they actually get their own entry – this is what we mean by “spoilers”.

What’s all this about a bunny? What does “bunnied” mean? At some point a commenter – possibly Waldo AKA Jimmy The Swede – made spoilers incarnate in the form of the mysterious and terrifying “Spoiler Bunny”, a Candyman-type figure who would turn up and wreak lagomorphic horror if the spoiler rule (see above) was breached. This became a comments box in-joke. So “bunnied” basically means “embargoed from discussion because it’s a future No.1”

How come there are so many more comments on the entries from 1966 on? Popular took a while to build an audience, but it had a healthy comments box culture from about the time of the 1960 entries. Unfortunately, the comments system we used – Haloscan – at that time didn’t preserve comments past a certain point, and so the 1960-1965 entries saw a lot of their comments wiped out. Since we moved to WordPress this hasn’t been an issue.

Can I comment on an older entry? Yes! Please do! It might spark up the conversation again. On the front page of Freaky Trigger, on the right, there’s a sidebar with all recent comments, so we do see the ones on old entries, and so do some of our readers.

I commented and it didn’t show up! It may have been eaten by our spam filter. We don’t like moderated comments or CAPTCHAs so we have an open comments system, but the price of freedom is an occasionally over-eager filter. Within a day or so we can retrieve anything you post though, so if you just mention on the thread that a comment vanished we can go and find it. And if you register the spam filter is less ravenous.

Who does the awesome circular header pictures? The mighty Steve M.

It would be awesome if there were a club night that played only number one hits, inspired by this project! Indeed it would! We occasionally did such a night as part of our late Poptimism club night, and the format might be revived from time to time.

Do you do any other writing? I write stuff on the rest of Freaky Trigger. I used to write regular columns for Pitchforkmedia (called “Poptimist”) and The Guardian (called “Tom Ewing On Music”) and have contributed occasional reviews for those sites. I have an over-busy Tumblr. My day job is in market research, and I have a blog devoted to that, too.

Are you ever going to publish Popular as a book? If a publisher wanted it, I would – one problem is it’s rather long, so it would be quite a different beast in book form. I am also tempted to self-publish it, in which case I would revise a lot of the entries, possibly tweak the marks, add a bunch of material and potentially go the Kickstarter route. The main issue with all these is time: when it’s advancing at a decent clip Popular takes up a lot of time as it is, let alone the time needed for revisions.

Is there one of these for Number One Albums? There is. Then Play Long by Marcello Carlin.

Is there one of these for Number Two Singles? There is. Music Sounds Better With Two by Lena Friesen.

Is there one of these for US Number Ones? There is. No Hard Chords by Sally O’Rourke.

Is there one of these for Number Ones on the Billboard Latin Chart? There is. Bilbo’s Laptop by Jonathan Bogart.

I HAS ANOTHER QUESTION! Ask it in the comments box!


  1. 1
    Steve Mannion on 10 Apr 2008 #

    ‘Where do you find the singles sleeves that illustrate the entries? The mighty Steve M does it.’

    Well I swipe most of them from ChartStats website’s list of #1s – although it’s a bit annoying that most of them don’t seem to be the sleeves from the initial releases as many feature that ‘#1 Hit In England!’ or similar declaration on the front.

  2. 2
    LondonLee on 11 Apr 2008 #

    Have you tried Rate Your Music for sleeves? They have a lot of there.


  3. 3
    Tom on 11 Apr 2008 #

    I like the #1 hit in England bit!

  4. 4
    James Bowers on 25 Oct 2008 #

    Can you please advise where I can purchase a CD with JJBarrie’s version of
    “No Charge” on it?
    Thank you

  5. 5
    Alec on 22 Sep 2010 #

    Surely this must be a FAQ:

    Will you ever be publishing Popular or Poptimist as a book?

  6. 6
    Tom on 22 Sep 2010 #

    Popular feels unpublishable to me as is – so much of the point of it is in the comments and the community. Also, I suspect my cavalier attitude to facts would irk most readers (and all editors).

    Poptimist (and FT stuff): I have a format in mind and obviously a ton of content. I just need time to corral the latter into the former, enough to be able to pitch to publishers. But yes, “doing a book” is pretty much #1 on my list of stuff I’d like to do before I’m 40.

  7. 7
    hardtogethits on 31 Oct 2010 #

    I cannot save my marks out of ten. Why?

  8. 8
    hardtogethits on 18 Jan 2013 #

    What’s the process following the message “your comments are awaiting moderation”?

  9. 9

    Process = waiting for a mod to get up, get dressed, have coffee and notice this message :)

    It was sat in pending, not in the junk filter; I guess the number of links set off the alarm.

  10. 10
    enitharmon on 18 Jan 2013 #

    That’s very civilised of you Mark, having your coffee after you’ve got dressed :)

  11. 11

    They won’t let me on the bus to work in my Slanket™ any more

  12. 12
    weej on 5 Apr 2013 #

    I’ve just become aware of this guy blogging about all the “That’s What I Call Music” albums – don’t think it’s anyone who hangs around here (if it is he’s keeping it very quiet) but it may be of interest to Popular / NPL / MSBWT readers – http://www.now-music.co.uk/
    Not sure if this is the right place to stick this info, but where is?

  13. 13
    punctum on 5 Apr 2013 #

    Interesting. Thanks for that; I’ll keep it in mind, but like Pushing Ahead Of The Dame I’m only going to read about specific records after I’ve written about them myself. Not long now until TPL reaches the NOW era, though (I know everyone’s waiting for me to stick the boot into 1983 but have patience)…

  14. 14
    weej on 5 Apr 2013 #

    FWIW I’m sure your reviews will be more interesting, his seem to be much more about the packaging & marketing than the actual music so far.

  15. 15
    Alan not logged in on 27 Apr 2013 #

    “I’m hoping to catch up by 2013”

  16. 16
    David Kip Stewart on 15 Nov 2013 #

    I have a real problem….I have ahad to create a new e-mail address , so how do i contact “Freakytrigger ” now that my old e-mail address has been closed down. Freakytrigger only recognises my old defunct address .

  17. 17
    Brendan F on 15 Nov 2013 #

    re-register with the new address and you’ll be sent a new password

  18. 18
    Tom on 25 Jan 2014 #

    I have FINALLY updated this FAQ! With
    – links to similar blogs
    – definition of bunny/bunnied etc
    – the book question
    – how to get comments deleted
    – and more tweaks here and there.

  19. 19
    Cumbrian on 10 May 2016 #

    Technical stuff: I think your “All” button is not working as intended on the comments section. At least, when I press it (on Chrome), it doesn’t give all the comments on one page – it gets rid of the numbered pages’ buttons but only gives the last page or so’s worth of comments, thus rendering the other comments irretrievable without using the back button to reload the individual comments’ pages buttons and then clicking through from there.

    This, of course, is not an enormous problem in the grand scheme of things but thought I’d give you a shout.

  20. 20
    Alan on 10 May 2016 #

    Thanks. not spotted that. The recent WP update tweaked some backend stuff. I’ll have a look at re-fixing that.

  21. 21
    RokinRobinOfLocksley on 5 Apr 2018 #

    “Please Please Me” was a legit #1 record!!! The “official” charts are bogus for the 50s and 60s up until Feb 1969!!! Allow me to explain, and direct you to an authoritative source of truth. Prior to Feb 1969, there was no “official” chart, there were 5 major independent charts from 5 different music papers NME, Record Mirror, Melody Maker, Disc, and Record Retailer. Each thrived over different overlapping time periods of the 50s and 60s, with NME and MM running till 1988. The BBC calculated an average chart of these 5, 4, or 3 charts of the day, going up to Feb 1969. These 5 charts each sampled different record shops, and each chart averaged together all their constituent record shop charts . Thus the 5 major charts did not represent the total number of records sold across all of their shops, but rather indicated an average chart position of each record across all their shops. That’s just the way it was. The Guinness book people produced a chart book in the mid 70s, and they decided to use NME to represent the 50s (a good decision), Record Retailer to represent the 60s (the worst possible decision), and starting in Feb 1969 they used the new national sales based charts, originally known as the BMRB chart, which was carried in Record Retailer and broadcast over the BBC. The BMRB chart evolved into what is now know as the “official” chart. Somewhere along the line, decades after the fact, the “official” charts decided they too needed to designate historical charts before Feb 1969, and they chose to go along with the Guinness books. They did not undertake a massive review of which charts would best reflect UK chart history, but simply copied Guinness’ efforts. And that’s the way it was. UK chart historian/guru Alan Smith started doing research on the pre-Feb 1969 charts, and set about interviewing the people who originally put the charts together. He spent years on this, and eventually wrote a massive article on what he had found. I’ll provide you a link to his report. But in a nutshell what he found was this: each chart sampled a different number of record shops. NME and Melody Maker were the “big” 2, sampling in excess of 200 shops in their heyday, with MM getting close to 300 at one point. Record Mirror, Disc, and Record Retailer sampled the fewest, never getting above around 85 or so. Record Retailer was the worst chart in terms of representing the 60s, as they sampled the fewest number of record shops, their peak positions disagreed most often with the other charts (not just #1 records but also Top 10 records), their charts were the most volatile with huge changes in record positions week to week, they were slow in getting their weekly data in on time, but more interestingly almost no one knew they existed as a music paper or music chart. They weren’t even included in the BBC average calculation until 2 years after they began 1962, and it was only because Record Mirror ceased their own charts then and started carrying Record Retailer instead. All the other music papers NME, MM, and Disc had higher circulations. Record Retailer was only a minor factor at best in UK chart history of the 60s. In terms of % of sampled record shops across the 60s, Record Retailer represented around 13%, Record Mirror about 3%, Disc about 13%, NME about 27%, and Melody Maker about 44%. The only good thing going for the Record Retailer chart was that it had a 50 position chart from 1960 to 1969, but what good is that when your upper chart positions are the most inaccurate? With regards to Please Please Me, this is how it was: PPM peaked at #1 on the NME, Melody Maker, and Disc charts for 2 weeks each, and for 3 weeks on the BBC average chart, representing 270 sampled record shops. PPM peaked at #2 on the Record Retailer chart, representing 30 record shops. Which should you believe, 270 or 30? Likewise, “19th Nervous Breakdown” by The Rolling Stones peaked at #1 on the NME, Melody Maker, Disc, and BBC average charts for 3 weeks each, representing 500 record shops. It peaked at #2 on the Record Retailer chart, based on 85 record shops. Which should you believe, 500 or 85? To believe Record Retailer as “official” for the 60s is to believe false rewritten history, it simply was not the way it was. RR might be the “official” chart of the Official Charts Company OCC, but it was never the “official” chart of the UK. Those are the straight undeniable facts. So what should we do? As Alan points out in his article, NME and Melody Maker are the best 2 charts up to Feb 1969, based on number of record shops sampled you could go with NME for the 50s and MM for the 60s. And the BBC average is very important as well. A very good compromise would be to use NME for the 50s, MM for the 60s, or the BBC for both, and fill in the lower chart positions with Record Retailer. That way you have historical accuracy and the most chart positions. If the OCC really cared, they would do the right thing instead of lying to us. Here’s a link to Alan Smith’s article on the 50s & 60s UK charts:


    And here’s a graph of the various UK #1 records across all the major UK charts for the 50s & 60s:


    Don’t believe the OCC revisionist history, believe the truth!

  22. 22
    RokinRobinOfLocksley on 20 Apr 2018 #

    Chart positions across all the UK charts of the 50s & 60s (and some beyond), check out this dropbox link. This spreadsheet used to be on the Tiscali website, but this webpage has since disappeared from it. Don’t know who put it together. Supposedly this covers all UK records by all artists across the major UK charts from 1952 to 1979 except the BBC, some sheet music stuff before then, along with US Billboard peaks. As with anything this huge, I’ve found a few mistakes here and there. For some reason it doesn’t include Melody Maker chart peaks beyond late 1969 (though MM continued on thru May 1988). NME peaks are continued thru 1979. Compare and be amazed at how Record Retailer disagrees with the other charts of the 60s, and why it is the least deserving of being designated as “official” for the 60s.


  23. 23
    Joshua K. on 31 May 2020 #

    Readers looking for a similar blog with the US Number Ones should check out Stereogum’s The Number Ones at https://www.stereogum.com/category/franchises/the-number-ones/. It’s updated three times a week and they’re up to 1982. (By contrast, No Hard Chords hasn’t been updated in a while.)

  24. 24
    larry.kooper on 13 Sep 2020 #

    Why has Popular not had any new posts since 28 April 2020, and when is it coming back?

  25. 25
    Andrew F on 15 Sep 2020 #

    Bearing in mind both “April” and “2020”, what’s your first guess?

  26. 26
    Neil on 16 Sep 2020 #

    Popular may be on hiatus, but Tom is doing an incredible job with the People’s Pop Twitter Polls. To say that they’re providing a welcome distraction from the reality of 2020 underplays the care, the thought and the humour that both Tom and contributors are putting into the discussion of songs. If anyone’s missing Popular and not joining in with People’s Pop, I’d suggest you rectify that immediately!

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