1 BABY ONE MORE TIME (Britney Spears)
[Superstar debut klaxon. And what a superstar she turned out to be]. So it continues. The unprecedented rate of turnover at the top of the charts has in recent weeks been seized upon by the mainstream press, prompting a number of half-informed articles in many publications suggesting variously that this all means that anyone can get to Number One these days, that you don't have to sell very many copies to do so and that release dates are staggered by record company collusion so that everyone's big song gets a turn at the top rendering the record charts almost totally meaningless. This week the .dotmusic chart commentary begs to differ.
First of all, let's just say the press is right in some respects. The current climate and shape of the market is such that the marketing of a hugely commercial single is geared towards the first week or even first few days of sales. You may or may not know that my day job is as a radio presenter, and yes I have been playing the Britney Spears single for the best part of the last month, enthusing each time how it deserves to be Number One. If anyone at all pays attention to what I say on the air they will have been aching to get their hands on their own copy at the very first opportunity. Had you gone into any record shop last week you would have seen Baby One More Time, along with many other new releases in prominently racked positions and selling far more cheaply than records already on the chart. Do so at any time this week and you will pay full price for the single, assuming you have walked past the displays urging you buy the new Blur song. It is also perfectly true that no big single releases have gone head to head and the single that everyone expects to hit the top of the charts has duly done so each week. Granted that is the way the music industry is currently marketing its product. Believe it or not, nowhere is there some magical rule that says this is wrong or that things will have to change. Here's why:
The superb pop masterpiece that is the debut single from American teen sensation Britney Spears has this week equalled her recent American feat and shot straight to the top of the charts. In doing so it has become the 11th new Number One single in as many weeks, each of these having entered the chart at the top and fallen down. By the end of trading on Monday, the single had sold almost as many copies as Lenny Kravitz's Fly Away did in the whole of the previous week. By the end of Wednesday, the total was close to a quarter of a million. By the time shops closed on Saturday night and the cutoff point for this week's chart rundown was reached Baby One More Time had been bought by around half a million people [463,722 seems to be the settled number]. It is the biggest weekly sale achieved by any record since Elton John's Candle In The Wind 97 sold over a million in its first full week on release in September that year. Indeed over the course of the last month, the Number One singles by Armand Van Helden, Blondie and Lenny Kravitz have all sold over 100,000 copies to claim the top of the charts, quite a few more in some cases. Add those figures together and you will see that since the middle of January the Number One single in the UK has accounted for sales of over one million singles. Remember this is also in the middle of the seasonal sales slump.
A single might well only need to sell 60,000 copies to guarantee the Number One position. The fact of the matter is nobody is doing so, they are simply selling double. Ironically at a time when the state of the charts is being decried by so many, interest in what record will be top of the pile this week has never been higher. It will continue over the next few weeks, despite Britney Spears' huge sale this week nobody is in any doubt that Blur will be Number One next week [oops] and will, in turn, be replaced by Boyzone the week after. Can anyone honestly say that none of these records actually deserves to be Number One? No, the fact is that in any other circumstances they would have quickly risen to the top after release. The fact that today they are doing so in the first week is utterly meaningless. Strange though it may sound coming from my lips, mere statistics should never be allowed to swamp appreciation of the music itself.
Finally, how likely is it that during the course of this week someone is going to approach the divine Miss Spears and say "hey, I hear you are Number One in the UK and sold half a million records to get there. Pretty meaningless huh?" American chart watchers are despairing over the stagnant nature of their listings over the last few years and look enviously at Britain. Most European countries would kill to have a pop music scene as exciting and diverse and breathtaking as ours. What a crying shame that so many people here seem intent on running it down at any opportunity.
2 RUNAWAY (Corrs)
After all that it is something of a relief come back down to earth. The most obvious singles chart beneficiaries of last week's television Brit Awards ceremony are The Corrs, winners of the statue for Best International Group and performers on the night. Runaway began life as a track on their debut album Forgiven, Not Forgotten and in its original form was their first ever chart single, reaching Number 49 almost exactly three years ago this week and charting once more at Number 60 when re-released in December that year. Whereas 1996 was not to be the year of The Corrs, 1998 certainly was and having now exhausted the Talk On Corners album for hit singles the record company has now turned back to their debut release which has also been selling steadily for the past nine months and since Christmas has joined Talk On Corners as a regular fixture in the album Top 10. Once more the group have a hit single with a remixed form of one of their tracks, Tin Tin Out once more doing the honours after their transformation of What Can I Do in August last year. Once a rather gentle, intimate acoustic track, Runaway is now as much as testament to the skills of Edwards and Stokes as it is of the band themselves. The remix is a masterpiece of subtle brilliance, adding an intermittent snare rhythm and a touch of bass to open out the song without for a moment ruining its original subtlety. In hitting Number 2 it becomes their fourth Top 10 single in a row and beats the Number 3 entry of What Can I Do to become their biggest hit to date.
4 EX-FACTOR (Lauryn Hill)
OK, I will come clean and freely admit that to use the current vernacular I don't "get it" when it comes to the appeal of Lauryn Hill. It is the done thing to fall over with praise for her album and now its brace of hit singles but whilst I cannot criticise I can't pretend her music does anything other than pass me by in spite of the fact that this is nothing short of one of the most gorgeous records made this year, an epic meandering modern soul ballad that is bound to move a great many people. Just not me. Since when did I worry about being in a minority anyway, this is the second solo hit for the first lady of the Fugees, the followup to the hugely successful Doo Wop (That Thing) which added a Number 3 peak last October to its list of worldwide achievements. Funnily enough most club attention over the past few weeks has focused not on the main track itself but on the dance remix of the album track Lost Ones which caused delight when it became available to DJs over here after previously only being available on the precious-as-gold-dust American 12 inch single of Doo Wop (That Thing).
5 I WANT YOU BACK ('NSync)
Despite superstardom in American and across Europe, the *NSync revolution has taken its time arriving in the UK. Indeed their only previous Top 40 entry to date was Tearin' Up My Heart which crept onto the bottom rung in September 1997 [during the Diana Week chart and at the time I failed to pay it any attention, thus denying 'NSync their superstar debut klaxon proper]. Something tells me this is their year as the American group now explode into the Top 5 with this single, already the recipient of numerous awards for its American achievements last year. It is worth pointing out that just as it took 911 a number of years to break from the shackles of being labelled Boyzone-lite, so too *NSync may have a job on their hands avoiding being labelled as another Ameican teen band in the mould of the Backstreet Boys - particularly when you consider that the BBs also had a slow start to their chart career and in a sad irony, both made use of the commercial Midas touch of the late Denniz Pop when it came to choosing producers. [There was a nice circularity to this, this single being one of the last successful productions of Denniz Pop's life and charting in the same week as the Britney Spears single which marked his former protege Max Martin's own coming of age as the genius who would go on to define the sound of American pop music as the decade turned].
14 CRAZY (Lucid)
First came I Can't Help Myself (Number 7 in August last year) and now comes this new single from Lucid which adds a touch of frantic guitar to their Sash-alike beats. It treads more on the side of line marked 'pop' than many other records of its ilk but as always is best appreciated whilst sweating under flashing lights with a couple of pints of Red Bull inside you. Interestingly enough it is the second Top 20 hit in the space of two weeks to be called Crazy and is now the 15th different record to use that title making it far and away the most common name for a song in chart history.
18 BORN TO BE WILD (Steppenwolf)
Where did I put the sign that alerts people to the presence of an historic record? Furthermore who would have thought that when Ford steered nervously into the realm of cliche by using the rock classic as the soundtrack for their current TV adverts for the Cougar that they would bring one of the most famous biker songs of all time screaming back into the charts and this just a week after a car advert has (for now) revived the career of Lenny Kravitz. Born To Be Wild is regarded by most rock historians as the moment that Heavy Metal was born [coining the phrase in the lyrics no less]. The moment that the original wild spirit of rock and roll sprang free from the social acceptibility that The Beatles had helped to force it into. Just as The Who had turned instrument abuse into part of their performance, so Steppenwolf showed that guitars were made to be thrashed and you didn't have to be Hedrix to make it sound good. Once more rock became the clarion call of youth and rebellion. Still sounding as fresh today as it did when first recorded over 30 years ago this is incredibly enough the first time the single has successfully been repromoted. Having only reached Number 30 when first released in 1969 Steppenwolf's only hit single makes a long overdue appearance in the Top 20. Heavens above, if car adverts are the way into the charts these days, does that mean the stage is set for the Andy Williams comeback?
22 BACK TOGETHER (Babybird)
Another masterpiece from Steven Jones and a pleasing improvement on Baby Bird's chart form after their last single If You'll Be Mine only made Number 28. The epic sounding Back Together is now their biggest hit single since Candy Girl hit Number 14 in February 1997.
23 AS GOOD AS IT GETS (Gene)
To herald a brand new album, Gene return to the chart for the first time in almost two years with a rather brilliant commercial sounding track that almost certainly deserves a higher chart placing than this. Sad to say that Number 23 looks like being the best it can manage for now. They have been higher in the past, the bands biggest hit to date coming in January 1996 when For The Dead reached Number 14.
28 SUNBURN (Michelle Collins)
Sunburn is (or rather was as it finished this week) the BBCs main selling point of their new year Saturday evening schedules. A comedy drama set in the world of travel reps in Cyprus it has as its star Michelle Collins, best known for her role as uberbitch Cindy in the soap opera Eastenders. Her role in the new show even extends as far as singing the theme song which this week makes a rather undramatic debut just inside the Top 30. In actual fact the single is not at all bad, written and produced as it is by Steve Levine who has worked the magic on recent hits by Louise and The Honeyz. It is by no means Michelle Collins' first foray into the world of pop. She made an ill-advised attempt to launch a singing career in 1993 with a cover of the Temptations' Get Ready which failed to chart but what is perhaps less well known is that she was once a backing singer for Mari Wilson in the early 1980s [totally true that, go look it up] and appeared uncredited on her string of hits in 1982 and 1983 including the enduring favourite Just What I Always Wanted.
29 WHISKEY IN THE JAR (Metallica)
Something of a surprising release this, Metallica clock up their first chart hit since July last year with the first cover version they have ever released. It is a startling new version of Thin Lizzy's whimsical classic that marked their debut in 1973 when it reached Number 6. It surely speaks for itself that Metallica, for a time regarded as the greatest rock band in the world, are just scraping the Top 30 whilst a 30-year-old Steppenwolf track is easing its way into the Top 20.
34 WHAT'S IT LIKE (Everlast)
A rather disappointing chart entry for this track given the amount of media attention it has received. Everlast is of course Erik Schrody. the former lead rapper for House Of Pain whose most famous hit came in 1993 with Jump Around. Now he has shifted his musical style to become a soulful bluesman and whilst the track has been deservedly massive in the states it looks like his music may struggle to find a large audience over here.
37 TO YOU I BELONG (B*witched)
Ironically at a time when the world and his dog is complaining that all chart singles are downwardly mobile and that they all seem to reach Number One it is somewhat refreshing to note the reapparance of B*witched's single. Released in December it was the track that ended Cher's epic 7 week run at Number One and was the first in the still ongoing sequence of tracks to enter the chart at Number One and then drop down a week later. To You I Belong dropped out of the Top 40 a month ago after 8 weeks on release. Since then it has gone 41-48-48-37 and I won't pretend I can offer any rational explanation why.