Long Distance Dedication

Online charts plot music tastes around the world

Written March 11, 1996
Published by Websight Magazine in June, 1996

In Cameron Crowe's movie Singles, Matt Dillon played a struggling Seattle rocker trying to impress an interviewer, claiming, that while his band was, er, not all that popular at home, they were very popular in Europe: "We just had a record break in Belgium!" he exclaims. And why not? That kind of statement has always been popular with certain types of struggling local bands, not the least for the simple fact that it was always nearly impossible to disprove. After all, it's not like the Belgium (or German or Estonian or Swedish) pop charts were readily handy. Until now. The next time someone tells you how popular their band is in some obscure portion of the globe, you can pop over to the nearest computer and verify it by dialing up the Charts all over the World Page.

Based in Latvia, the Charts Page is essentially a jumping-off point to hundreds and hundreds of sites around the globe, each of which attempt to quantify the unquantifiable - what the most popular music is at any given moment . This is, of course, basically impossible, but its something that we do quite naturally: we love to read hit counts, Nielsen ratings, sales charts, opinion polls -- even stock markets -- all in an eternally vain attempt to fix absolute numerical certainty to the slippery concepts of "what is popular?" "what is hip?" "what is cool?" "what, oh, what should I like?"

Well, good luck on that last one, but who can resist discovering that -- as I type this -- a record like "Gangsta's Paradise" is a world-wide Top 10 smash? Or wondering who the hell is Babylon Zoo, and why they show up on so many European charts? Or - at the other end of the spectrum -- noticing that the Croatian Radio 101 Alter-Indie chart is easily more alternative than any American commercial station, and could give several college stations a run for their money.

That's just the beginning: there is a dazzling array of links to every type of music-oriented chart on the Web: besides the obvious sales and airplay charts, there are year-end listings, all-time countdowns, DJ charts, archives of previous charts, interactive music charts, and personal playlists. And it isn't just pop music, either: there are country, rap, dance, blues, christian, reggae and world music pages to be found.

Of course, the idea for a page like this couldn't come from the U.S.A, the pop music capital of the world. America is just too big and self-absorbed to really care all that much about what's popular outside of our country. That's why musicians come here to make their fortunes. That's why "hey, we're big in Sweden" is kind of a running joke in our music industry. "Big in Sweden" or even in the U.K. hasn't ever really meant jack shit - in terms of money or status -- to our record industry, but you know that the popularity of Abba was incredibly important to the Swedish music industry. Hell, it was important to the entire Swedish economy: for years only Volvo pumped in more export money to the Swedish economy. This despite the fact that Abba actually got better gas mileage. And The Beatles didn't get their MBE's because of the jewel-rattlers appreciation of their music - they were honored at least in part for their contribution to the royal coffers. You multiply their sales by Britain's prohibitive 90% tax rate, and you can spare a few tin medals and the expense of a ceremony, too.

And even the U.K. (or Australia or Japan) is probably too big and established to care much about what's popular outside of their country and here in America. On the other hand, a global charts would seem totally cool to punters in a country that is a) still discovering and is completely fascinated with American popular culture and b) is also actually curious about what other people around the world think. So it probably came as a natural thing to its maintainers in Latvia - a place which just a few years ago was part of the USSR You'd think that so soon after throwing off the yolk of Communism, they'd have more important things to do than to track down the most-played songs on Latvian radio. Then again, maybe not - after all, one of the most natural tenets of capitalism is figuring out, and then giving - I mean, selling -- the people what they want.

And even more importantly, it goes to the heart of why these people wanted their freedom and independence in the first place. Anyone who doubts that the yearning for Western pop culture was a major contributing factor in the fall of Communism just has to check out the Latvian or Estonian or Lithuanian charts. This is why communism fell -- so punters in the Balkans could have their own Top 20 pop charts! Democracy rules, dude! Let the freedom to listen to Coolio and Madonna records ring loud and true all over the world! It isn't pathetic that "all-time" Latvian airplay chart only goes back to 1994, its wonderful!

And in the true spirit of democracy, the Charts Page doesn't limit itself to "official" charts pages - that's why the links to the online charts and personal pages exist. The online charts are the interactive charts - your vote, right here right now, is tabulated with others who come across the page and also decide to vote. Which is both the appeal, and the problem: many of these charts live and die purely on how many people, and what kind of people link to them. So while the top song on the March 11th LEO Archive chart is "Brilliant Creatures" by Marc Almond, the number one song on the March 2nd Top Hits Online Chart is "Ironic" by Alanis Morrissette. And so it goes.

The personal charts are even quirkier. Basically, they are someone sitting down and figuring out what his or her favorite songs of the moment are, week after week. Despite the fact that they all have names like Adam Rifkin's Top 60, or Kaoru's Weekly Favorite Music , they all show a lot of thought, and reflect people trying to make sense out of their own intensely personal responses to music. It's probably the fastest growing section of the entire Charts page.

So what does all of this add up to? Why nothing less than a global dialog about contemporary music, conducted via the Web. Its sheer scope and diversity guarantees you access to opinions and ideas - not to mention bands and songs - that you would have otherwise never encountered. And, of course, the next time someone claims that their band is big in Portugal or Poland, you can find out.

This was one of those that was conceived, written, and emailed all in the space of about 4 hours. I was desperately past deadline.

I have no idea if any of the links in this article are still good.

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This page HTMLized on 6 October 1997
I was listening to Bob Dylan and the Hawks -- The Genuine Basement Tapes Vol 1