It sold more than 45m copies, provided bedroom poster art to countless youngsters and propelled Pink Floyd, then a relatively obscure English rock band, to international stardom. “The Dark Side of the Moon” has earned countless accolades since its release in 1973. Among its most extraordinary achievements is the time it spent on America’s Billboard 200 album chart: 943 weeks, the equivalent of 18 years.
Such feats are becoming ever less common, according to a recent paper by Lukas Schneider and Claudius Gros of the Goethe University in Frankfurt. The study, which analyses music charts in America, Britain, Germany and the Netherlands going back to 1979, finds that today’s pop stars have to jostle with more of their fellow artists to gain the top spot. Whereas three decades ago any given year might produce about a dozen number-one albums, these days there are around 40. Popular music has become more varied as a result.
As competition has increased, artists’ journeys up the rankings have accelerated. For much of the past five decades, albums took more than a month to climb to the top (“Dark Side” entered the Billboard charts ranked 95). These days, if an album does not immediately reach number one, it is unlikely it ever will. Artists are falling out of the rankings more quickly, too. In the 1970s, albums’ final position in the 200-album chart was 100 on average. Today it is typically 75. A successful album spends less than half as long in the charts as it did 25 years ago.
The authors offer several explanations for their findings. The internet and the growth of smartphones have given music-lovers immediate access to new music, allowing them to buy or download albums with a single click. Streaming services, meanwhile, have made the listening experience more personal. Popular taste, the authors argue, has consequently become both more fragmented and more volatile.
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