Robbie Williams's Swings Both Ways is 1,000th UK No 1 album

Singer's 10th solo LP sells 109,000 copies in first week to beat Jake Bugg and Eminem, and knock Lady Gaga off top spot

Britain's albums chart is still swinging. It was back in 1956 that Frank Sinatra's Songs For Swingin' Lovers! became the first UK No 1 album. Now Robbie Williams's Swings Both Ways has become the 1,000th.

With sales of 109,000 copies in its first week, it trounced competition from Jake Bugg's second album Shangri La and the farewell greatest hits collection of talent show boyband JLS. He knocked Lady Gaga's Artpop from the summit and beat the next most popular release, Eminem's The Marshall Mathers LP 2, by 67,000 copies.

Pop critics have described Williams's 10th album, which revives Cab Calloway and Irving Berlin classics written more than 80 years, as swinging so much "you can almost smell the brillantine" and the work of "a karaoke kind of crooner". The Observer's chief pop critic, Kitty Empire, said it "inaugurates the present-buying season and, with it, the annual leave-taking of taste".

But its soaring sales means the former Take That member has now equalled Elvis Presley's 11 No 1 albums. On Sunday night he declared himself honoured to be "following Frank Sinatra who was the first person in that spot and my hero".

The accolade came just a few hours after the Labour leader, Ed Miliband, selected Angels, Williams's bestselling 1997 ballad, among his Desert Island Discs on Radio 4 along with Edith Piaf's Je Ne Regrette Rien. Angels has become a favourite funeral song, but Miliband said he heard Williams play it live in 2008 when he was falling in love with his wife, Justine Thornton.

Swings Both Ways marks Williams's return to the Sinatra-like sound of Swing When You're Winning, his 2001 No 1 album, which sold 2.3 million units in the UK alone.

Promoting the release last week in a Rat Pack-style tuxedo on The Graham Norton Show on BBC1, the Stoke-born 39-year old, who now lives in California, admitted that one of the effects of his millionaire lifestyle in Los Angeles had been that he wanted a hair transplant even though he didn't need one. He added he was moving back to the UK so his 13-month old daughter would grow up understanding irony.

While the singles chart often grabs the headlines - this week Lily Allen's Somewhere Only We Know takes the top slot - artists see the album rankings differently, according to Martin Talbot, who runs the Official Charts Company.

"Across the years, success in the singles chart has always been a sign that you have 'arrived'", he said. "But success in the albums chart was a sign that you could make a proper living from being a pop/rock star. To labels and managers, the albums chart has always been more important in that way - the single was viewed as a promotional necessity, with album sales being the end goal."

Since it was first compiled and published in Record Mirror, there have been almost 3,000 album charts. Over that period, The Beatles have scored a record 15 No 1 albums, with Madonna (12) and Elvis Presley and now Robbie Williams (both 11) in second and third place respectively. The Fabs have also spent the longest time at the summit, notching up 174 weeks compared with Elvis (63) and Abba (57). Despite their dominance, the only Beatle to have ever scored a No 1 solo album is George Harrison, with 1970's All Things Must Pass. John Lennon and Paul McCartney are with Stevie Wonder and the Beach Boys as artists never to have reached the top of the UK albums charts.

Bob Stanley, the author of Yeah Yeah Yeah: the Story of Modern Pop, believes the albums chart can sometimes paint a more realistic picture of the national mood than the singles: "If you look at 1980, for example, there was a string of albums – Gary Numan's Telekon, Peter Gabriel's [eponymous] third album, Kate Bush's Never for Ever – that were all quite bleak. This is when the Tories were busy wrecking the country, and it does feel like they were more reflective of the national mood than the singles chart, which remained relatively perky."

Talbot agrees and says that the album charts provide "a really fascinating reflection of the tastes of British music fans – albeit, perhaps, less pop orientated and more focussed on song collections." He points out that soundtracks dominated throughout the 1950s, with South Pacific holding the top spot for the entirety of 1959. The album chart crown is passed along much quicker now. There were only 56 number one albums throughout the whole of the 1960s, whereas by the 2000s that number had increased to 269. Elvis Presley became the 1,000th artist to have a UK No 1 single back in 2005 when One Night reached the top spot for the second time, the first being when it was originally released with I Got Stung back in January 1959.

Powered by article was written by Tim Jonze and Robert Booth, for The Guardian on Sunday 24th November 2013 19.00 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


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