Page 2 of the January 13th, 1979 edition of Record Mirror contained a short paragraph with "exciting news for all readers":
The idea of a weekly column dealing with nothing more than a study of the singles chart was an entirely new concept. But the editor of Record Mirror presumably believed it was a way to make his publication stand out in the market. Adding extra value to an expanded set of sales charts, something which would be a feature of the magazine for the next 12 years until its closure. Former financial services worker Alan Jones was the man who had originally pitched the idea and was invited to pen the weekly column. Print deadlines at the time meant that the piece was generally dealing with matters a week behind, the brand new charts not arriving until the last moment before the publication went to press.
The black and white scans available online of those early columns aren't the kindest on the eyes, but those early pieces are fascinating examples of the nascent art of chart commentary. Those who bemoan when my own tastes intrude upon matters will note that the young Alan Jones was never backward in coming forward about what he did and did not appreciate.
Here's a slightly more readable version from mid-1980.
Alan Jones' work was the first of its kind. Billboard magazine in America would subsequently follow suit with the creation of their Chart Beat column, but its first author Paul Grein did not commence writing it until 1981. By the late 1980s Alan's work had extended across the pages of Record Mirror. Inside would be Chart File which regularly dealt with the more obscure chart facts in greater depth, whilst the weekly This Week's Chart column could be found inside the back page alongside the brand new Top 100 listings.
(Fun fact, the column above recounts the long-standing industry legend that a teenage Billy Joel played piano on Leader Of The Pack. The musician has long maintained this is the case, but it is generally contended that whilst he played on the sessions for early demos of the track, the recording that made its way into the shops featured studio staffer Roger Rossi. Although Artie Butler has also claimed to feature on the sessions. But I digress).
Print deadlines could still occasionally catch the magazine out. One piece in July 1988 contained what was clearly a hastily rewritten piece noting the significance of Kylie Minogue entering at Number 2 that week. Seven days later Alan explained that the entire column was supposed to centre around her becoming the first woman ever to enter the charts at Number One, only for Yazz to beat her at the death, the news arriving too late for any substantial changes to be made.
It was during this period that I first stumbled across his work. I'd written a school project in summer 1987 where I wrote about the charts for three weeks (and one day I'll locate my copy of this again), so was delighted to pick up my first ever copy of Record Mirror in April 1988 to discover that someone actually did the same for real. My fascination with the stories you could uncover by watching singles rise and fall week by week was shared by others.
Record Mirror closed in April 1991, the folding of the magazine so sudden that it was acknowledged by a single stop press line at the very back of the final issue.
Happily having contributed to the sister publication for several years, Alan Jones was one of a number of assets which seamlessly moved across to industry weekly newspaper Music Week and where his column has appeared in one form or another ever since. For 41 years now, without ever missing an entry, Alan Jones has tracked the British charts, helped define the record books and set the standard for the level of detail with which it is possible to analyse the weekly lists of best-selling singles and albums. Throughout this time he has remained something of an enigma. Only ever once taking a picture byline. I'd suggested before that he had very little profile beyond this although as the man himself recounts:
I have flirted with the media a little more than you think. In addition to doing Round Table on Radio One, I was interviewed by the station numerous times, mostly for Newsbeat but also for other shows, including promotional activity for a series I wrote for Steve Wright. I also appeared on many other radio stations, including BFBS, BRMB, Five Live, Radio Four, LBC, and many BBC and ILR local stations. I twice conducted interviews in French for a radio station in Paris (I have forgotten which one), worked with Don Bustany (creator of American Top 40) on a project and had my own Radio Sweden series as a summertime replacement for their top DJ and my great friend Kaj Kindvall.
When I began writing my own chart analysis pieces and posted them to usenet in November 1992 whether consciously or not I was taking inspiration from the work of Alan Jones. I noted that I started out copying him and then spent over two and a half decades anxiously trying not to do so. Over the years I've been confused for him, been asked if I secretly am him, and indeed incurred his amused wrath when people have attributed to him errors that are entirely of my own making. Only once did I become a direct substitute for him, Radio One approaching me to help write the Top 40 of 1998 show when he was too busy to make his usual contribution to the research.
But all eras have to end. In January I was taken into the confidence of those who knew that he was ready to retire, having been persuaded to remain in place at Music Week for far longer than he had originally intended. His columns for the March 5th issue of the magazine are to be his last, the legendary music writer signing off in typically understated style:
Those who read between the lines of my own statement in Chart Watch this week that it would be the last piece to appear on the site in this form may well have guessed what is to follow. I now have the enormous privilege of succeeding Alan Jones as the author of Music Week's chart analysis pieces. Whether I knew it or not, I've been auditioning to do this for over 25 years. So now is as good a time as any to step up.
It goes without saying that these are enormous shoes to fill. When Alan began writing he had a mere 27 years of chart history to pick through and with actual raw data all but impossible to come by. Now I will be writing about pop music in the context of nearly 70 years of statistical and factual history and in an era when there are vastly increased numbers of routes by which songs and performers can gain popularity. The availability of detailed daily numerical data is both a blessing and a curse. And of course one can do all the cross-checking in the world, but then wilt under a veritable army of amateur scrutineers and enthusiasts who will gladly pick apart even the tiniest error.
But it is a challenge I'm more than looking forward to. Obviously that has implications for this site as well, and the precise purpose it will serve going forward. Be assured that the archives and other surrounding material will be going nowhere, even if the weekly columns themselves will now have a new home in the pages of the industry's weekly bible.