Released today in 1981: Hitsville U.K.

CBS CBS9480

CBS CBS9480

A paean to the country’s independent record companies and the acts who work with them, the lyrics of Hitsville U.K. include the lines

“They say true talent will always emerge in time
When lightning strikes small wonder
It’s fast rough factory trade”

subliminally name-checking minor labels founded in 1977 whose early records included singles from punk and new wave contemporaries of The Clash. Some of them were defunct by the time the single was released; Lightning was wound up in 1979 and Fast Product issued its last in 1980. But Small Wonder survived until 1983, Factory till 1992, and thankfully Rough Trade is still alive and well today.

Hitsville U.K. (its title is a reference to “Hitsville U.S.A.”, the nickname of the original headquarters of Motown Records in Detroit) itself appeared on the ruthlessly efficient and effectively managed major CBS, and “if there was a Hitsville in UK”, as Mick Jones and Ellen Foley speculate, that label would be a large part of it. In fact, this is what Hitsville UK looked like in the 1980s, with CBS having the largest individual share of the singles market in the UK for the decade:

Based on figures from BPI

Based on figures from BPI

CBS achieved this through sheer consistency throughout the years. ‘Others’ in the chart above includes, but is not limited to, all those independent labels operating during the decade. An independent could have made a showing in its own right: just one major artist was enough to affect a label’s market share (notice below the spike in the Island label group’s share in 1984, caused largely by their ZTT subsidiary’s signing of Frankie Goes To Hollywood). But acts with the necessary level of sales were few and far between…

Label group 1980 1981 1982 1983 1984 1985 1986 1987 1988 1989
A&M 4.3 3.0 2.0 2.6 2.0 1.3 4.5 2.9 1.5 1.5
CBS 13.1 15.3 11.8 15.4 16.0 15.5 11.9 12.2 11.4 11.6
Chrysalis 5.2 4.8 3.3 3.6 3.2 5.7 4.8 3.7 3.4 4.1
Decca 1.0 0.9 2.4 2.5 3.2 2.4 3.8 4.0 5.3 4.3
EMI 19.5 14.2 12.0 9.9 9.1 10.8 8.5 8.9 11.2 9.7
Island 1.4 1.7 2.8 8.0 3.3 3.2 3.1 3.9 1.3
MCA 1.0 0.8 1.7 0.9 2.7 4.2 4.2 3.3 4.7 4.5
PolyGram 13.8 15.4 17.8 12.2 11.1 10.1 9.4 9.6 9.1 7.8
RCA/BMG 6.4 7.6 8.8 9.1 9.1 7.3 8.0 11.5 7.5 6.0
Virgin 3.0 4.9 6.5 9.3 6.9 9.9 9.0 8.1 10.1 9.9
WEA 13.6 9.9 9.6 8.1 11.1 13.0 13.3 13.0 9.3 13.3

NEW SINGLES on sale from Jan. 16
1981
BLONDIE Rapture (Chrysalis CHS2485)
The CLASH (Joe Strummer) Hitsville U.K. (CBS CBS9480)
MADNESS The Return of the Los Palmas 7 (Stiff BUY108)
1984
SIMPLE MINDS Speed Your Love To Me (Virgin VS649)
1989
Samantha FOX I Only Wanna Be With You (Jive FOXY11)
SIMPLY RED (Mick Hucknall) It’s Only Love (WEA YZ349)
THEN JERICO (Mark Shaw) The Big Area (London LON204)

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