fFor 70 years the UK singles chart has been a constant in our lives: a weekly countdown buzzing along in print, on TV and radio. But for Dave Watson, it’s more than background noise: it’s a lifestyle. The 55-year-old has been collecting copies of UK No. 1 hits since the late 1980s; He now owns all 1,404 UK No.1 singles dating back to the chart’s birth in 1952. He believes it is the only complete collection of its kind.
Watson’s devotion to the charts began when he was given a Guinness Book of Hit Singles gift one Christmas. Starting a collection made sense: with a mother who had worked in a record store, he grew up in a musical household and loved collecting. “I was just looking at the list at the end of the book and thought, oh, that might be a good idea!” he says from his home in Dunstable.
When he began his mission in 1988, the charts had already seen 605 #1 singles. With Aswad’s newly released Don’t Turn Around under his arm, he went in search of the previous 604 releases.
Growing up in High Wycombe, Watson would take trains to London scouring music fairs and second-hand record stores in search of his bounty. He responded to advertisements in Time Out and Loot magazines and wrote to record retailers. “I would spend endless fucking hours sifting through dealer inventories,” he says. “I had a handwritten list that I would photocopy and carry around to spread the word. Some wrote back to say what they had with their prices scrawled on it.”
His wish list had started pages long. “Then you start drawing lines, your list gets shorter, and you’re like, ‘Well, I actually have a shot at doing all of this. When I started building it, that spurred me on to keep going.”
Watson would split the search up to the decade of release; the older ones were harder to find. But he relished the challenge and chose the rarer of the two when transitional periods saw singles being released on two formats.
The discovery of eBay around the turn of the millennium was a game changer: at the time, Watson had fewer than 10 singles left on his list: “I remember going on for the first time, finding the remaining half dozen and just thinking, Wow, that’s crazy.” I looked and looked and looked, then suddenly you type it in and there it is.”
When he bought a 1953 Lita Rozas (How Much Is) That Doggie in the Window 78 record, which reached #1, his collection was up to date.
At one point, Watson toyed with the idea of collecting all the No.1s on the Official UK Albums Chart as well, although he says thankfully common sense has set in. “It’s not so much about the money as it’s about where you put it everyone? There will be hundreds of them!” he laughs. “You can’t collect everything!”
To adapt to changing technology and listening habits, digital downloads and streamed songs were allowed onto the singles chart in 2005 and 2014, respectively. Accordingly, Watson began downloading and burning the #1 onto CDs, complete with a printed box and label.
In 2020 he began making Now That’s What I Call Music style homemade compilations of the year’s top hits. “I try to make the CDs look like they were store bought,” he says. “It’s probably a bit old school.”
Physical singles are rarely released these days. (The physical singles sales chart reads like a different world story; The Prodigy’s Firestarter is currently No. 1.) While he misses browsing through the stands, Watson can now maintain his collection from his computer. It’s a weekly ritual: “On a Friday night, I check the charts to see what’s number 1 and I record it,” he explains. “Sometimes if I can’t do it on a Friday, I do it on a Saturday, but I very rarely forget – because I want to keep the collection going.”
Watson’s ever-growing archive of 78s, 45s and CDs is now on display at his home. He doesn’t listen to the singles much anymore – he uses his phone to return to his teenage ’80s favorites and later cherished hits from The Prodigy to the Spice Girls – but the collection is a source of pride as well as a icebreaker. “I try not to talk about it, but it’s a good topic of conversation. It opens up a conversation,” he says.
While he doesn’t particularly like today’s chart music (“that’s not really my style”), Watson isn’t about to give up his hobby anytime soon. “It’s just one of those things: I’ve gone so far with it that I’d be stupid to stop now,” he says. “I’m going to keep doing it for as long as I can because it just seems like a part of me now. It’s just what I do.”