Imagine Boards of Canada hitting top spot in the album chart today? 25 years since ‘U.FOrb’ made the UK album top spot

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This week 25 years ago the number 1 album in the UK was, wait for it, ‘U.F.Orb’ by the Orb. When I first was reminded of this, via a tweet by Discogs, I began to wonder if a record similar this one would make the number 1 spot in 2017. (then again, what exactly qualifies as a record ‘similar to this one’?). My conclusion– a touch depressingly– was that there’s little possibility of this happening.

One wonders if the cartel of interests that more tightly controls the charts these days would allow an equivalent of an ‘U.F.Orb’ to milk top spot today (even, like this one, if it’s only all for a single week).

Imagine, say, Boards of Canada hitting top spot in the album chart today. The comparison might be a touch exaggerated (granted the Orb had already a couple of well received singles to their name, gaining daytime radio play in the process), but listening to those first two Orb LPs (including the less well received ones that were to come), these are definitely ‘out-there’ records, albeit ones that obviously managed a unique crossover appeal to the chill-out, chichi crowd as much as they did those that appreciated the music’s stoned-out pilgrimages, and those– like myself– who adored the outlandish fun side of it all.

Oh, and there was also that never far away homage to dub. The Orb: bringing dub and ambient music to the masses. Ah, them times…..

Looking down the list of number 1 albums so far in 2017 one sees, among the rest of the homogenized devising and airbrushed rehashing, such names as Little Mix, Elbow, Rag’n’Bone Man and, almost inevitably, Ed Sheeran. Looking at the 1992 list and we have Simply Red, Neil Diamond, INXS, and Cher. Hmm, maybe looking at that comparison things haven’t changed that much. Crap(ish) pop and easy listening rock are still popular. But still, the Orb. How did that happen?

Has the big drop off in CD sales meant that an album showcasing such genuine artistic merit and originality as ‘U.F.Orb’ just isn’t getting the exposure and experiencing the sort of communal buying that it deserves? Has the average age of the record purchasing public gotten lower since 1992, meaning that sticky bland samey pap, and the occasional ‘mature’ indie act, rule the charts? Has downloading and file sharing got something to do with it? People are surely still listening to lots of decent new music (though maybe not to the same numbers as in decades past) but perhaps not going out to ‘purchase’ it at all at once like they used to.

Back in ’92 lots of music fans would have been waiting around, counting down the days, for the release of ‘U.F.Orb’. Honest. Big album releases are not the same kind of events as they once were. Not in this era of leaks and surprise releases and drip feeds and pre availables.

Listening to the Orb as they were back then, some of the music– in fact, a decent share of it–, does sound almost too extended for its own good, and even a touch cheesy, but these were different times; a time when music of this sort was being enjoyed by students– and non students–, in search of comedown music to counter that energised, chemical-enhanced rave-up from earlier that night. These tunes’ trippiness brought the listener in touch with nature as much as it did with all things spacetime. The Orb would go on to influence a lot of artists and record labels, from every single act singed to the Planet Dog label, for instance, through to Underworld, Leftfield and beyond. Maybe the record buying public foresaw this.

One footnote, though: The best of The Smiths also reached the UK album top spot later the same year. Looks like 1992 edges it, then?

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