In the late seventies I used to look up the album and singles charts to see how the first punk releases on Sire or Elektra were doing. Often you’d see that the first Television album or the second Ramones album were stalling in the second hundred. Successes like Patti Smith or Talking Heads were stalling in the nineties. (We were told in late 1981 that BF’s “Damaged” was under the “bubbling unders”, meaning something like #240.) When Billboard began their Dance chart sometime circa 1980 it was the one end-run around radio’s airplay blockade and Rolling Stone’s rear-guard defense of its platinum gods against the barbarians at the gate (see once again both Lee Abrams, and Jan Wenner). The Dance chart was in part assembled by sales, but it also took play list reports from hip gay clubs in major cities who were playing stuff like The Contortions, Magazine, PiL, Liquid Liquid, etc. Because these kinds of records showed up on that chart the buying policy of mainstream shops and chains would kick in. Depending on their customers they might buy just the top ten from the chart, or the whole list.
Before you knew it all kinds of British bands as well as big city bands were moving their music toward that Dance chart! It was the only break in the dam of the American music Industry, but still it was odd to have former noise bands like Throbbing Gristle, D.A.F., and SPK looking for booty action. I remember being surprised when Chicagoans I knew (Jim Nash, Al Jourgenson, and the Sport of Kings guys) talked about cutting test lacquers of their stuff to play over the best club DJ systems to gauge response. It seemed like some kind of revenge of the audiophile via the gay underground.
Anyway that Dance chart did some damage. We couldn’t get The Minutemen with their grubby ear-surgery funk onto that chart, and though SST triggered the need for new rock charts, these weren’t added until it was too late to help us. The CMJ charts which collated college radio and other non-commercial station airplay were becoming real enough that eventually Billboard added a dozen new Modern Rock-type charts so as to provide information on airplay and sales at the level of independent distribution and non-commercial radio. Actually these charts too were quickly filled up with wannabes and actual major label “indie” styled hopefuls. But again lazy, poorly run record stores and chains used these charts to buy so instead of collecting information they created it. Don’t worry, Timothy White might have said, the Heisenberg Principle rocks!
One thing we know about the web and 3G networks is that they change everything in a content-version of Moore’s Law which together yield faster and faster delivery of smellier and smellier garbage to you the former listener of music, now consumer of media. Maybe the new Billboard service instead of playing both sides (established stars and unknowns) against the middle will finally dissolve the stars in an acid bath of amateurs leaving no money at all to collect for anyone who tries to locate the middle and stand there with an open basket, whether its an old trade mag founded in 1894 to track billboard advertising in Cincinnati, New York, and Chicago, or last year’s flavor of social network.
The Karl Hendricks Trio peaked around 60 on the CMJ charts.