This week's Official UK Singles Chart

POP STARS - THE RIVALS

So after Pop Stars and Pop Idol, how do you breathe new life into the formula? For ITV this autumn it was simple, they set out to create not one but two pop groups, one all boys and the other all girls. The idea was that two groups would be chosen at the same time and release singles on the same day to battle it out head to head to become Christmas Number One. The judges of the competition were all set up as rivals. Pete Waterman was put in charge of the boys, Westlife manager Louis Walsh in charge of the boys with Geri Halliwell in charge of sitting in the middle and looking pretty. This time there was also an interactive element with the final five members of each group being whittled down in a series of public votes in a Pop Idol-style elimination contest (at times to the chagrin of the judges who saw their own personal preferences stymied by the choices of the public). At the start of December, the final choices were made, the groups were in place and their potential hits were in the can. All that remained was to release the records and to see if the early predictions of the bookmakers (who made the boys easy favourites even before the contest had started airing) would prove to be correct.
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1 SOUND OF THE UNDERGROUND (Girls Aloud)

[Pop legends debut klaxon!] As it turned out, all the predictions were wrong. With Girls Aloud, Louis Walsh proved that he was no one trick pony and spotted which way the wind was blowing where pop music and girl groups were concerned. As a result Sound Of The Underground followed the Sugababes template, a slinky grower of a song with some biting harmonies and a genuine air of danger and credibility (and penned as it happens by Brian Higgins who also wrote Round Round for the Sugababes). Beyond a shadow of a doubt, it was the far better song of the two and right from the very moment it was released at the start of the week it had built up a commanding lead over the One True Voice single. A nasty little spat developed in midweek when a frustrated Pete Waterman complained that the input of the five members of Girls Aloud into the song was actually quite minimal. The track has actually existed for a while and was one of the tracks recorded by an aborted girl band project called Orchid back in 2001. Indeed this single release of the track is actually little more than Orchid's version with the vocals of Girls Aloud grafted on top. To be fair the deadlines imposed by the charts and the TV show meant that the production of both singles had to be as cookie cutter as possible. The vocals for the single were actually recorded before the final lineup of the band was known, the contribution of the eliminated members being deleted from the final mix. This approach meant that proper vocal arrangements were an impossibility and the only way forward was to simply paste a lead vocal over an existing production. Still, at the end of the day, it matters not. The Christmas Number One for 2002 goes to Girls Aloud with a strong sale that did not fall short of 200,000 copies. If nothing else they have staked their place in chart history.


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2 SACRED TRUST/AFTER YOU'RE GONE (One True Voice)

Sadly where there are winners there also must be losers. With One True Voice (a "male harmony group" it is insisted) Pete Waterman arguably got it badly wrong. His group have turned out to be little more than naff Westlife clones, recording a barely mid-tempo cover version of a little known Bee Gees track [history has been rather kinder to the memory of this single, its only flaw really was just being not quite as good as the Girls Aloud one]. Although the bookies assumed that the sex appeal factor would be enough to give the boys an advantage (and after all weren't the two Pop Idol finalists a pair of teenage heartthrobs?) but quite sweetly the public thought otherwise and actually went as much for artistry as they did for image. Still, at the end of the day, the series did everything it set out to do, creating two rival pop acts who were far and away the front runners in the race to be Christmas Number One. My only worry is the implication that these two singles were, in fact, the only ones in with a chance and that the message appears to be that the only pop acts worth bothering about are those which have emerged from reality based TV shows [I pretty much called the next ten years of Christmas charts right there didn't I?]. Much will now be made on the future prospects of both groups, particularly given the experiences of Hear'Say once their initial TV-inspired star had faded. Girls Aloud may well have a future, for One True Voice the jury is very much still in session.

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3 CHEEKY SONG (TOUCH MY BUM) (Cheeky Girls)

They may have dropped a place this week but the Cheeky Girls are still up there in the Top 3, meaning that a certain TV show has indeed and quite inadvertently been responsible for the whole of the Christmas Top 3. Rejected at an early stage in the Pop Stars auditions and indeed rejected from the auditions of Model Behaviour, the Romanian twins appear to have had the last laugh on everyone with the biggest novelty hit of the season and the worrying possibility that their single is set to sell more copies around Europe than either Sound Of The Underground or One True Voice. Be very afraid, we may not have heard the last of them yet.
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7 YOU'RE A SUPERSTAR (Love Inc.)

The biggest "also-ran" of the week is actually quite a pleasant surprise and a welcome relief from manufactured TV acts. Recorded way back in 1998 and a smash hit in clubs in the north of England when it did the rounds earlier in the year, Love Inc's You're A Superstar bumps and grinds in a quite wonderfully retro and above all melodic manner to make a track that has fitted in nicely on radio playlists in between the usual seasonal fare. I don't believe anyone actually offered odds on this becoming Christmas Number One (although this was partly because it was due to hit the shops back in November) but in the event and without the distraction of the Pop Stars, it could well have been a very strong contender.
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9 SK8TER BOI (Avril Lavigne)

My outside bet for the top slot actually has to content itself with a slot just inside the Top 10 but it is of no matter. Avril Lavigne's second single (the follow-up to the Top 3 hit Complicated) is easily one of the strongest tracks on her album, the tale of the dancer and the skater who never quite got it together owing to her friends being too snobbish - that is until she sees him become famous and tries to make amends only to discover that the skater boy is attached to Miss Lavigne herself. Heartwarming isn't it? At the very least it consolidates the alarmingly talented girl next door figure of Avril Lavigne as one of the best new stars to emerge in 2002 and this Top 10 placing for Christmas is nothing less than the single deserves.


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14 SCORPIO RISING (Death In Vegas/Liam Gallagher)

The award for collaboration of the season surely has to go to this track. At the end of a turbulent year when Oasis were yet again accused of not being as good as they used to be and in the aftermath of that incident in Germany, Liam Gallagher makes a triumphant appearance on guest vocals on this track by Death In Vegas. Despite often being accused of ripping off The Beatles, no Oasis track has ever sounded so like John Lennon as this one, a glorious pastiche of the best moments of the flower power era. The track gives Death In Vegas their second chart single of the year, following on from Hands Around My Throat which hit Number 36 back in September. It is their second biggest hit ever, a chart placing eclipsed only by Aisha which hit Number 9 back in February 2000, that single also featuring added star power in the shape of Iggy Pop who provided vocals. Impressive though Liam's contribution to the success of this single is he does of course have some way to go before matching the guest starring feats of brother Noel who has, of course, appeared on two Chemical Brothers singles in the past - Setting Sun in 1996 and Let Forever Be in 1999, the former topping the chart.
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23 I THINK WE'RE ALONE NOW (Pascal featuring Karen Parry)

Ah well, into every life a little rain must fall. The disturbing desire to hear classic pop songs massacred in chirpy northern house remakes has manifested itself once again in this twittering track from Pascal. I Think We're Alone Now began life as a US hit for Tommy James and the Shondells but is possibly best known to a modern generation as the song that turned Tiffany into a teenage star when her version topped the charts on both sides of the Atlantic in 1987 and 1988. This new version is of course as terrible as you may expect and has followed the usual sales pattern of being especially popular in the north of England and Scotland. Still, you have to give All Around The World records credit for knowing a winning formula when they have one although you cannot help but smile at the way the same names come around again and again on their releases. Singer on I Think We're Alone Now is Karen Parry who was also the frontwoman for the last Flip & Fill single Shooting Star. Coming in the new year is Flip and Fill's version of I Wanna Dance With Somebody which will feature a vocal from Jo James who herself was the singer on the original version of Shooting Star.
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36 DON'T STOP (Rolling Stones)

Bringing up the rear this week, but with no less significant an entry for it are the Rolling Stones. Don't Stop is believe it or not the Rolling Stones' first Top 40 entry for almost five years, their last hit single coming back in February 1998 when the Deep Dish remix of Saint Of Me hit Number 26. Don't Stop finds them in fine musical form, even after all these years and it has done enough to extend their hitmaking career to close on 40 years, their first chart single coming way back in July 1963. All in all, this is their 47th chart single although they have not hit the Top 10 since Start Me Up made Number 7 in 1981.
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AND FINALLY

So that then is the Christmas chart. All that remains is for me to thank you for being such an attentive audience over the last 12 months and to wish every dotmusic reader a very Merry Christmas. See you next week for the final chart of the year.


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