Wind the clock back to the Sunday of last week. All seemed set for an interesting if rather straightforward chart battle. X Factor 2011 winners Little Mix had a brand new single to unleash, backed with the support of the TV show, whilst the superstar discovery of the last couple of years Bruno Mars was also challenging with a much-awaited brand new single. Both tracks were released on Sunday, with Mars shooting into a comfortable lead from the off. All was well.
Except that according to the press, X Factor producers were nervous. Ratings for the current series were wobbling and they had a pressing need to regain some momentum. Sitting in the can was a recorded performance of show discoveries One Direction performing their brand new single, one which was set for full promotion at the end of November. No matter that it created a small continuity issue given that the band were publicly on an American tour last week, One Direction were wheeled out "live" on the Saturday performance show to perform their brand new single, the Ed Sheeran-penned Little Things.
On Sunday the track wasn't available to buy, yet by Monday it was - a track from their newly released album Take Me Home. The album cut duly nailed itself to the top of the iTunes ranking within hours, shouldering Mars out of the way. Sales flashes during the week indicated that although Bruno had a strong lead from the weekend, it was narrowing all the while. Even by Friday the race was too close to call.
But now we know - one week after Robbie Williams did the chart double we have yet another one to contemplate. One Direction's album Take Me Home becomes one of the fastest sellers of the year to land squarely at Number One (155,000 sales we are told) as their first ever album chart-topper and it is joined on the top of the singles chart by the rather sweet ballad Little Things, finally giving the thrown together and astonishingly popular boy band a second UK Number One hit to follow their debut What Makes You Beautiful. Thanks to that X Factor performance Little Things charts weeks ahead of schedule, arriving as it does just seven weeks after the release of their previous hit Live While We're Young (which itself rebounds to Number 26 this week). Undoubtedly it would have charted somewhere this week thanks to cherrypicking fans, but due to circumstances beyond their control it winds up as a new entry at the very top.
So what of Bruno Mars, whose thunder is rather stolen but who at the very least has a Number 2 hit this week with his brand new single Locked Out Of Heaven. After producing three Number One singles and a handful of other smaller hits from his 2010 debut album Doo Wops And Hooligans, anticipation was high for brand new material from the Hawaiian star. Written and produced by Mark Ronson (as part of something of a committee it seems), the energetic new track sees the musical chameleon switch horses again, the track a throwback to early 80s new wave with some strong Police influences within. Lifted from forthcoming second album Unorthodox Jukebox it is for the moment the first single of his career to peak at Number 2 and his sixth Top 3 hit in total. As strong as his initial sales were, it is worth noting that by the end of the week he had only sold 75,000 copies - not enough to guarantee a chart-topper even in a less competitive week.
Back in September when reigning X Factor champions Little Mix released their first single proper Wings in a rather out of season move, I noted that there was almost certainly method in the madness, the timing of the release setting them up to launch a second single during the season of live X Factor shows. The logic was flawless, for indeed on the show last week there were Little Mix, ushered back as the conquering heroes and cheerily performing new single DNA for the watching millions. Except that the unplanned One Direction performance the night before threw a huge spanner in the works, Bruno Mars notwithstanding. There is nothing wrong with entering the singles chart at Number 3 as Little Mix have done this week, but when you do so as merely the third biggest selling new hit - well, it is hard not to feel frustrated for them. DNA serves as the title track to their debut album, in a store near you as we speak.
Hard on the heels of Paloma Faith's take on Never Tear Us Apart, the TV advertising campaign for John Lewis department stores has spawned yet another inspired cover version hit, this time Gabrielle Aplin's take on the Frankie Goes To Hollywood hit The Power Of Love which charted at Number 36 last week and now occupies the Number 5 position. Originally released by the Liverpool group in 1984, it was the song which helped them make chart history when it became their third Number One hit in three releases to equal a record that at the time belonged solely to Gerry and the Pacemakers. Although not explicitly a Christmas song, it has remained a seasonal staple ever since and so seems a perfect choice for Aplin's cover for a Xmas TV commercial. It is the debut hit for the singer-songwriter who first shot to prominence performing her own acoustic covers of popular songs on YouTube. Meanwhile the Frankie original reappears at Number 59 in sympathy, its first chart appearance since a rather offensive remix project saw it make Number 6 in July 2000.
A busy Top 10 is rounded off by a new entry at Number 10 for former teen superstars McFly with new single Love Is Easy. It is their first brand new single since they raised eyebrows by going dance-pop with the track Party Girl and other hits from their last album Above The Noise. This rather more traditional sounding new single heralds what we have to say in all credit to them is their second collection of Greatest Hits, the album Memory Lane a companion piece to what everyone assumed was their first swansong retrospective released in 2007.
I wondered last week if the delay until 2013 of the new album from The Wanted wasn't a tactical move, and it possibly seems wise given that the single I Found You tumbles 3-20. One place below them are Stooshe who were also the subject of a knock back last week, their label insisting that the decision to hold fire on their debut album a consequence of the girls turning out ever more impressive material in the studio which deserved proper consideration. Either that or nervous eyes were cast at the performance of their third single, a curiously uninspired cover of the TLC R&B classic Waterfalls which can only creep to Number 21, a far cry from the Top 5 performance of their two releases to date.
It seems almost a shame to reduce the album chart to a footnote, but that is really all the space I have. Whilst One Direction swept all before them at the top, it is left to hardy veteran Rod Stewart to take the runners up slot with his new seasonal album Merry Christmas Baby. His public profile boosted by the promotional rounds for his current autobiography, the album is his highest charting release since 1998s When We Were The New Boys also reached Number 2 in June 1998. Rod hasn't topped the charts with a solo studio album since 1976s A Night On The Town. A Top 3 of new entries is rounded off by an act who can trace their chart history back even further. To celebrate their 50 years together, the Rolling Stones chart at Number 3 with hits collection GRRR, one place lower than the Number peak scaled by their 40th anniversary collection Forty Licks a little over ten years ago.