(Still) No Place I'd Rather Be
Not for the first time this year, "entrenched" is the word I think I'd use. Put simply there is just no stopping Rockabye by Clean Bandit from running away with the sales and streams market. Nothing else is managing to come close. The all-conquering single spends a fifth week at the top of the Official UK Singles chart this week, duly establishing itself as the group's most successful single to date as it exceeds the four-week chart-topping total of 2014 hit Rather Be. Rockabye is now the fourth single this year to spend at least five consecutive weeks at Number One, a level of consistency not seen on the British charts since 1992 when five different hits last five weeks or more at the top. To find the last time a single topping the charts in the middle of November clung on until this deep in December you have to go back still further - to this week in 1987 when China In Your Hand by T'Pau was also spending a fifth week at the summit. Those who believe historical precedent counts for anything may care to note that the single to replace it a week later was eventual Christmas Number One Always On My Mind by the Pet Shop Boys.
Is anything likely to depose Clean Bandit next week? On the face of it, it seems unlikely. The single still rules the roost in both sales and streams. 30,000 people paid for a copy of the single last week whilst it was streamed a still massive 4.04m times. I'll repeat the stat - based on figures so far this year the streaming "sweet spot" any Number One single needs to reach as a bare minimum is 3.5 million. And track still being played above that total is more or less nailed on for the top of the charts. It would take an unanticipated meeting of two superstar names to stand any chance of deposing them.
Button Your Lip Baby
The real headline of the week, however, is the identity of the Number One album this week. Mere days after he became a father again at the age of 73, Mick Jagger also performs on the biggest selling album of the week as Blue & Lonesome by The Rolling Stones storms to the summit in its first week on sale. The group's 23rd studio album (if one counts British releases), the set of covers was apparently recorded in just three days last December but has taken until now to emerge as a finished product. Shooting to the top of the charts it becomes the Stones' 12th Number One album, a span which stretches all the way back to their 1964 self-titled debut - almost 52 years and 8 months which is deeper into their career than any other group in chart history. With an average age of 72 the Rolling Stones are collectively the oldest group ever to top the album charts. Just as significantly Blue & Lonesome becomes their first new Number One album for 22 years, dating back to the arrival of 1994's Voodoo Lounge at the top of the charts. Technically they've been back at the top since, but this was thanks to the 2010 special edition re-release of Exile On Main Street which had originally topped the charts in 1972 and so doesn't truly count as a newly recorded Number One album.
No way to split hairs over its sales, though, a massive 106,000 combined sales and streams to ensure they take over as the second fastest selling album act of the year. Only one other long playing release has sold over 100,000 copies in a week in 2016 - that being David Bowie's Blackstar in January. So the only six-figure albums this year have been released by a veteran of the 1970s and veterans of the 1960s. Draw your conclusions from that about the demographic left purchasing albums in any significant numbers. Mind you, I've seen some wags speculate on the exact percentage of those 106,000 albums which were actually played this week and how many are left either as collectables or as gifts. And in turn how many will appear on Ebay on December 26th.
Any Old Iron
Back to the singles market now, and Clean Bandit preside over an all-static Top 4. The only single to penetrate the top end elite is Neiked's Sexual which finally reaches a brand new peak of Number 5 (Sales: 7, Streams: 6) in its seventh week as a Top 10 single, four of which it had spent stuck at Number 6. Also making a slow and assured lift is Rag'N'Bone Man's lovely Human which arrives in the Top 10 with an 11-8 rise (Sales: 2, Streams: 30), you suspect nowhere near enough to make him any kind of Christmas Number One contender but enough to suggest he'll be in the mix in the new year when awards season kicks off properly.
There's one other new single in the Top 10 this week. Well, "new" in relative terms. But we'll come to that shortly.
Simon Cowell Isn't Working
At the risk of returning to old themes, it seems appropriate to return to an old theme. And demonstrate how TV appearances just don't work anymore. The recent X Factor semi-final saw show ratings climb to their usual series peaks and theoretically giving a huge boost to the acts invited to appear on the Sunday night results show. Most notable amongst these was Zara Larsson, an artist familiar to dedicated pop fans thanks to her activities so far this year but someone who will have been new to the more casual TV audience. And who naturally would have been in a large position to benefit. Most of her act was devoted to performing I Would Like, a track she made available three weeks ago but which has been allowed to find its own level thus far to speak, a "release" without anyone pretending it was promoted as a "single" so to speak. Until now. Her X Factor performance coincided with the release of a lyric video, thus confirming the track is indeed her new "single". As a result, it now takes off, shooting from 54 to er, 21. And when you break it down you'll see why that is. Online discounts meant a sales peak of 8 but on streams, the track is a mere 33. Because once more: TV performances give you a sales boost. They have limited effect on streams - at least that we can detect so far.
Still, she could have had it so much worse. She could be Lady Gaga. Her ladyship was also the star attraction on X Factor last weekend, but her laboured and rather tuneless performance of Million Reasons served only to hammer home the well-made point that whatever magic she possessed at the start of her career and whatever creative inspiration she was once able to tap into has deserted her entirely. Having initially made Number 58 as a pre-release album cut back in October the track returned to the chart at Number 51 three weeks later when Joanne was finally released. Following her X Factor appearance the track now charts for the third time. At Number 60 (Sales: 16, Streams: uncharted). This is an old school hit single of the very worst kind.
Sell Sell Sell
Here's yet another common theme to return to: tracks which appear enormously successful at retail but which have died a death streaming and so suffer massively depressed chart positions. A glance at the sales chart this week throws up two rather startling examples. We've already noted the struggles of Robbie Williams' Love My Life which despite a huge push limped to Number 33 three weeks ago. This week the single was the subject of another huge boost, discounted and hyped to the hills on iTunes. In sales terms, it is the ninth most popular track of the week. But nobody streamed it, so it languishes at Number 51.
Also the subject of a heavy push is Charli XCX's latest single After The Afterparty which has been on release since the end of October but still stubbornly refuses to catch fire. Rather startlingly the single slips in sales terms this week, falling 13-18 but slowly but surely its streaming momentum is growing, rising 84-57. Combined, these sales are enough to ensure the track finally makes the Top 40 for the first time at Number 34. However, you suspect it will take a new year miracle to take it anywhere near the Top 10 - somewhere she hasn't been since the release of Doing It which made Number 8 in February 2015.
Don't Care About The Presents
The ever more fevered speculation as to the nature of the single which tops the charts for Christmas in two weeks time has produced a debate which fractures people into four different camps. The Christmas Number One, it is said, will either be a "proper" hit single from the current crop (from Clean Bandit or similar); one of the less tedious charity releases which seem to be attracting the betting money; a 'campaign' track from those seeking to propel older singles to the top as a tribute to something or other (unlikely); or a fourth option which canny observers flagged up to me as a possibility a couple of weeks ago. A true Christmas oldie.
We've become used to the singles chart being slightly clogged up by classics over the past decade. The 2007 rule change which allowed digital tracks of any kind to chart if their sales permitted meant the sight of certain holiday favourites charging up the December lists has become a familiar sight and one we put up with year-in year-out. Chief among them are All I Want For Christmas Is You by Mariah Carey (first released in 1994) and Fairytale Of New York by The Pogues featuring Kirsty MacColl (first released in 1987). Without fail both are the biggest selling Christmas tracks of the year and either one or the other becomes the highest peaking of the season. Both made Top 5 in 2007, their first year of modern day eligibility but as ownership of each (even as digital tracks) has reached close to saturation point in the years following, their chart peaks in subsequent years have settled into what is by and large a standard level. I have to confess I put together the following table of the two singles' chart peaks over the last decade during the week in the hope it would highlight a trend. But it does nothing of the sort, except to show just how consistent the two recordings have been over the past decade and how exceptional things are about to become in 2016:
Even the introduction of streams didn't seem to have much of an impact last year. The relative peaks of each single while close to their best of recent years were still broadly in line with expectations. But a year is a long time in pop music, particularly one as revolutionary as this one. Streaming has exploded this year, and in particular, the casual use of pre-made playlists has rocketed. Front and centre of all the services from now until the end of the month will be an invitation to stream their collections of holiday classics. The use of which will inevitably propel these holiday favourites further up the charts than they have managed for some time.
This week we can see the first results of this. The aforementioned Mariah Carey track zooms 29-6 (Sales: 15, Streams: 5) to make the Top 10 for the first time since those heady days of 2007 and for the third time since its release. And it is higher up the chart than it was in this equivalent week in 2007 when it had reached Number 8. My point is that it can only get bigger from here. You cannot rule out the possibility that the Christmas market may well be bucked not by over hyped charity hits or mass clickbombing on Facebook. But instead by a 22-year-old record which is so overfamiliar, it is just daft but which everyone is listening to in large numbers, whether they would necessarily choose to or not.
Mariah may be leading the way, but other Christmas hits are following in her wake. Fairytale Of New York is at Number 16 (Sales: 20, Streams: 17) already, while Last Christmas by Wham! (dating from 1984) rockets to Number 19 (Sales: 30, Streams: 16), just one place below the Number 18 it scaled last year which was itself, in turn, the highest it had climbed since 2007. Most startlingly of all is an older hit making its first ever Top 40 appearance. Michael Buble's take on It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas was first recorded for his now-perennial Christmas album but was overlooked at the time of its first release in 2011 in favour of Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) which was pushed as a single instead and peaked just outside the Top 40. Two years ago however he took to promoting the Meredith Wilson-penned song during TV performances, sending it into the charts for the first time at which point it peaked at Number 41. Now it is back with some style, hitting Number 39 (Sales: 92, Streams: 34) to become only his 8th Top 40 hit single and his first since It's A Beautiful Day reached Number 10 in 2013.
Oh, and in case you are wondering there is no place on the charts yet (or indeed ever one suspects) for If Everyday Was Christmas by Cruz Beckham, the 11-year-old son of Victoria and David. The charity track was a surprise release on Wednesday and made a strong sales impact (Number 57 in all), but one which quickly faded and in any event was released far too late to have any chance to reaching the published charts.
Two Weeks And Counting
So next week is the last to resemble a 'normal' chart before Christmas. It is also the week that this year's X Factor winner is announced and has their debut track unleashed on the world. Based on the dire performance of Louisa Johnson's coronation single Forever Young last year, and based on the announcement that this will be the first ever X Factor winners single not to be granted a physical release (no more live inserts from the pressing plant), I don't think anyone expects it to get anywhere near the top of the charts.
An X Factor 'failure' seems more certain than ever thanks to the arrival of something that nobody factored in at all when making Christmas Number One speculation. The surprise a-list release. Unleashed on Friday and even as I type this having raced into a commanding position at the top of the sales market, the collaboration between ZAYN and Taylor Swift on I Don't Wanna Live Forever (as heard on the trailer for the new "50 Shades Darker" movie) is about to throw the equivalent of a pipe bomb into the betting. Because if Clean Bandit aren't Number One next week then Tay-Tay and Zay-Zay will be. And it will take a devil of a job to shift them. One caveat though: Swift's Spotify boycott holds firm, and the only streams I Don't Wanna Live Forever will get for now are through Google Play or Apple Music. And that will hurt - of the 4m streams Rockabye had last week a full 3m of them came via Spotify, that's how huge their market share is.