Dissecting the Top Five – Has Music Really Changed in the Last 50 Years?

Since the launch of UK record charts in 1952, we have been graced with the weekly skirmish of artists competing for the coveted position of Number One. Some of these stand the test of time, whilst others fade into obscurity, the metaphorical B-side of the music world. But what makes a ‘chart-topper’? What set records spinning fifty years ago, and can we draw any comparison to what gets the downloads going now?

Number Five

Then: My Guy - Mary Wells

Now: Budapest - George Ezra

27th June 1964 – hair is big, hemlines are short, Beatlemania has reached epidemic levels, and in at Number Five we have this catchy soul track brimming with cheer and classic Sixties doo-wop backing vocals.  “Nothing you could say can tear [her] away from [her] guy”, a sentiment matched in Ezra’s folk-influenced single, which claims “for you I’d leave it all”. Although fairly different sound-wise, both songs share a relaxed, lyrical vibe which seems to have captivated listeners across the time gap.

Number Four

Then: Hello, Dolly! - Louis Armstrong


Now: One More Day (Stay With Me) - Example

Recorded to promote the 1964 musical of the same name, Hello, Dolly! is rich with the gravelly tones of Louis Armstrong, a world apart from the smooth vocals employed in Example’s house anthem. The former was re-released by more than fifteen different artists in this year, but it was Armstrong’s version which found its way into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2001. Will One More Day enjoy the same legacy? I could be wrong, but this entirely forgettable tune doesn’t seem the type to last the decades. Maybe it’s the lack of trumpet solo.

Number Three

Then: You’re My World (Il Mio Mondo) - Cilla Black

Now: Sing – Ed Sheeran


Ed Sheeran takes on a new sound in this upbeat pop track produced by the seemingly-omnipresent Pharrell Williams, who also provides additional vocals. Although this may sound like a tame Justin Timberlake song, the trusty Sheeran guitar-playing makes its trademark appearance. At the other end of the musical spectrum, Cilla Black’s indulgent voice floats out over the arrangement of a full orchestra, a feature sadly lacking from most 21st century hits.

Number Two

Then: Someone Someone - Brian Poole and the Tremeloes

Now: Ghost - Ella Henderson

Ella Henderson’s debut single, which went straight to Number One upon its release, combines lyrical metaphor with the strong vocals cultivated by (or more likely, after) her X Factor career. Its immediate success is testament to the insatiable hunger of the pop music market. In stark contrast, the appeal of the Tremeloes’ song stems from the mellow harmonies and soothingly predictable tune. Harmony groups have become less common in recent years, giving the style a dated feel.

Number One

Then: It’s Over – Roy Orbison

Now: Gecko (Overdrive) - Oliver Heldens x Becky Hill

So, whom did we deem worthy of the top spot? In 1964, Roy Orbison’s crooning rock ballad. In 2014, Oliver Heldens’ reworking of his own song. The former is a sentimental narrative love tale. The latter is a sexual innuendo set to music. To the contemporaries of the hits, perhaps those are the same thing.

Some of these songs are destined to last longer than others. Three of the five ‘Sixties records are covers, and those that are original are more memorable. Many of the modern tracks were co-written by their artists, so are they likely to last longer? Who can say? What is certain is that if song trends change as much as they have done in the last fifty years, the hits of 2064 will be unrecognisable.

Image Rights; Audio Luci Store


About the author

Sian Collins

Twitter Website

Bibliophile, logophile, linguaphile, philomath, big fan of dictionaries and thesauri. French student, more than a little pretentious.