Poland has never embraced a music single in the way the Western world did. There have always been singles, but mainly as songs on the radio – those that were available in shops, if at all, were never popular. Therefore Poland has never had ‘proper’ charts based on record sales.
With piracy in Poland in the 80s and 90s – and even now – reaching record levels, nobody would probably bother buying singles even if they were available. (In many towns and smaller cities they simply weren’t.) You could record all songs from the radio, uninterrupted by ads or DJs.
It actually seems like a crazy idea now, but DJs in the 80s would play ENTIRE records for people to record at home; for a majority of Poles this would be the only source of new music from the West. Most of those records would be privately owned by the DJs themselves, who mostly brought them from their trips to London, Berlin or anywhere with a properly functioning record store. (Quite often they would time their foreign trips to make sure they get a particular CD on the day it is released and quite often they would play it on the very same day in the evening on one of the 3 national public FM stations we used to have back then; and a whole nation of music enthusiasts would wait with baited breath, a blank C-90 tape and their collective finger on their hi-fi’s RECORD button).
So if the records sold in the shops were not the ones people wanted to listen to, no wonder nobody even thought of collecting any sales figures and collating lists.
But in April 1982 a DJ called Marek Niedźwiecki started what later became a cult show on Polish Radio, a weekly chart show called “Lista Przebojów Programu Trzeciego” (Radio Three’s Chart Show – radio Three being the public broadcaster’s youth-oriented station).
Until 1996 when they introduced online voting, the only way to decide the position of a song on the chart was by sending a postcard with the title of the song you liked. AND it was only possible to vote on the songs played on that particular station. And as Marek was responsible for music there – and it was the most popular show in Poland, playing the most popular hits Marek liked – no wonder some Poles in their 30s and 40s have a particularly soft spot for rock ballads, power ballads and, er, Celine Dion in particular….
Luckily, the rest of us also listened to Radio Two, which played everything else – from jazz to alternative.
In 2009 the Chart Show is still going strong, there are hundreds of other charts everywhere – from the smallest commercial radio stations to the biggest music dowload sites. Nowadays they might reflect the number of downloads and CD sales.
But the humble music single has never been loved in Poland. Fact.
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Image © Erica Marshall via Flickr, used under CC licence