This week's Official UK Singles Chart

1 MAD WORLD (Michael Andrews featuring Gary Jules)

Oh yes. Oh yes oh yes oh yes oh yes. After years and years of depressing predictability, endless hits from Westlife and Spice Girls and naff children's records hitting the top for Christmas, 2003 ends with a bang and a genuine in yer face shock result in the Christmas Number One race. A shock that even those expecting a shock weren't er, expecting.

Here is the story then. One week ago the Pop Idols were the clear market leaders in the betting, odds-on favourites as far as the bookmakers were concerned with only The Darkness and Gary Jules anywhere near to being considered contenders. Things looked to be cut and dried and - hands up here - I boldly predicted a rather dull end to the race with few shocks in sight.

On Tuesday the first sales figures (based on Sunday and Monday sales) began to be circulated. They showed that far from being the runaway leaders, The Idols were a distant fifth and effectively out of the race before the field had even cleared the stalls. Out in front were The Darkness with Gary Jules lagging a few thousand copies behind. Odds on Justin and the boys crashed and indeed most bookmakers had closed the book by Thursday when a further set of midweek figures showed The Darkness with a lead of 4,000 copies. That still wasn't an enormous amount, especially with the weekend coming up and in the handful of media interviews I did at the end of last week I sounded a note of caution and suggested that there was still room for Gary Jules to come up on the rails. Which he did.

As for the record itself, well Mad World originally featured on the soundtrack to cult movie Donnie Darko which was actually in cinemas this time last year. Composer Michael Andrews scored the film but chose as its closing theme a brooding song originally written by Tears For Fears, their version becoming their first ever hit single and a Number 3 hit in late 1982. Andrews reduced the arrangement to a solo piano and enlisted Gary Jules to provide the haunting vocal on top. That is literally the sum total of the production, a solo piano and solo voice but it means Mad World has now become the eeriest record you will hear all year, a song that stops you dead in your tracks when you hear it. In short, nothing less than a masterpiece.

It is now of course a part of chart history, the Christmas Number One of 2003 and one which in the process has seen off not one but two "dead cert" challengers. For the first time in years some people will have made a killing on betting on Christmas Number One, for the first time in ages the charts have generated genuine mass media interest and in the light of my own predictions last week I have never, ever been so happy to be proved utterly and totally wrong.


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2 CHRISTMAS TIME (DON'T LET THE BELLS END) (Darkness)

.So what of the runners up? This was actually an obvious move for the band to make. At the end of a year in which they have become the most famous rock group in the country by taking everything that Spinal Tap satirised and playing it straight, it made perfect sense for The Darkness to do something else that you are just not supposed to do any more and make a Christmas single. Christmas Time (Don't Let The Bells End) has everything: sleigh bells, choirs of children, a video with lots of fake snow and the band unwrapping their instruments with the excitement of eight-year-olds and of course singer Justin proving that yes, his voice can indeed get higher. Heck, they even have a knob-gag in the title. The icing on this cake would have course have been Christmas Number One, making this the first single about Christmas to top the charts for thirteen years. In the event fate appears to have conspired against them and the single (for now at least) can only match the Number 2 peak of their last single I Believe In A Thing Called Love. Make no mistake they will have topped the charts before 2004 is out, but for the moment I guess they are stuck with channelling the spirit of the Sex Pistols and blaming an establishment conspiracy. I'm claiming copyright on that idea by the way.


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4 PROPER CHRIM-BO (Bo Selecta)

In the ultimate humiliation for the Pop Idols, they are not even the third biggest hit of the week, beaten to the punch by the most entertainingly naff single of the week. Bo Selecta is the brainchild of comedian Leigh Francis [this pre-Keith Lemon in case anyone is wondering], the show taking the rise out of all aspects of celebrity culture with the likes of Michael Jackson, Britney Spears and of course Craiiiiig David being sent up Francis in latex masks and with stars themselves suffering a combination of interviews and stalking by Avid Merrion, the Scandinavian in a neck brace whose broken English cannot hide the fact that he keeps Craig from Big Brother locked in his wardrobe. Here then is the Bo Selecta Christmas single which in truth exists more for its video than anything else, featuring a host of celebrity cameos including Holly Valance, Mel B, Liberty X, Davina McCall, Christine Hamilton and of course vocal performances from "Badass Michael Jackson", "Craiiiiig David" and "Britney Spears". On record alone the single is actually less than the sum of its parts but it has gained a level of exposure sufficient to propel it neatly into the Top 5. Never a contender for Christmas Number One which is perhaps something of a relief. It would have been enough to make Merrion do a sex wee.
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5 HAPPY XMAS (WAR IS OVER) (The Idols)

The Pop Idol grand final was of course last weekend, Michelle emerging the runaway winner in a contest that saw many early favourites eliminated along the way. This climax came too late for the contest to cash in on the Christmas period so the producers instead borrowed an idea from the American version of the program. Back in April the American Idol contestants released back home an ensemble single God Bless The USA, this is now followed by their British counterparts (the final 12 contestants) taking it in turns to sing on a similarly vomit-inducing cover of John Lennon's Christmas classic (which itself re-entered the Top 40 last week). Make no mistake, this single was made with one aim alone - to give Pop Idol the Christmas Number One. Hence its runaway lead in the betting as far back as November and hence the widespread surprise that greeted its relative failure. Yes, the British record buying public just for once has displayed a highly developed sense of taste and far from being propelled to the top of the charts, the single is little more than an also ran. This performance has at least had one interesting side effect however, casting a few doubts on whether series winner Michelle McManus will make quite the impact with her debut single next month that both Will and Gareth did with theirs almost two years ago.
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8 LADIES NIGHT (Atomic Kitten)

With the novelty Christmas hits out of the way, there is a chance for the regular pop stars to try to grab their own moments of glory. Winners of a barely noticed Kittens/Sugababes chart battle are Atomic Kitten, here with their third single release of the year and their first ever attempt at a Christmas Number One. Never really in the running, their rather disappointing cover of Kool and The Gang's debut single (it originally made Number 9 in November 1979) does at least give them their 11th Top 10 single in 12 releases.
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10 TOO LOST IN YOU (Sugababes)

Just sneaking into the Top 10 are the Sugababes, this too being their third chart hit of the year and the follow-up to the chart-topping Hole In The Head. Too Lost In You has at least had the honour of performing far better at Christmastime than their early single New Year which (as the title suggests) was a seasonal release but which could only make Number 12 in December 2000.
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11 SIGNED SEALED DELIVERED I'M YOURS (Blue featuring Stevie Wonder & Angie Stone)

Everyone has their favourite Motown tracks and this writer is no different. One that never fails to move me is Stevie Wonder's Signed Sealed Delivered, originally a Number 15 hit for the legend in the summer of 1970. Blue appear to be making it an annual tradition to team up with a musical legend on a remake of one of their most famous hits. One year ago it was Elton John with Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word and now it appears they have landed an even bigger prize. All I can say is that their management must have some very good contacts indeed. Angie Stone also comes along for the ride and although the single has attracted some criticism for the way it strips away all semblance of soul from the original in favour of a slinky club beat, I have to confess that the new production works a treat and manages the very difficult task of putting a brand new spin on an intensely familiar track. If nothing else take heart from the fact that the track gives Stevie Wonder his first Top 10 hit for over six years - his last appearance coming in July 1997 when he duetted with Babyface on the underappreciated How Come How Long. Perhaps shockingly he has only had one solo Top 40 hit in the last 15 years, For Your Love making Number 23 in February 1995. [Those familiar with the plot of the movie Love Actually (in the cinemas at this time) was that Blue were the leading contenders to be Christmas Number One this year, going head to head with the chap we'll stumble across in a few singles time].
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12 FEELIN' FINE (Ultrabeat)

Lost in the shuffle somewhat are Ultrabeat, here with the follow-up to Pretty Green Eyes, one of the most enduring Top 10 hits of the summer with a six week run inside the Top 10 starting in August. Years ago part of the fun of the Christmas chart was picking which nascent hits would go on to take advantage of the new year lull and become one of the biggest hits of the new year. Sadly that tradition has all but died out - something of a shame as it is the kind of atmosphere in which the likes of Feelin' Fine would thrive. Still, there are two full chart weeks of the holiday season to go and it would be wrong to count this single out just yet.
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13 SANTA'S LIST (Cliff Richard)

Here's a fun trivia fact for you, mailed in by attentive reader Mark Butler. Santa's List has given Cliff Richard a career first by becoming his only Number 5 hit single ever. For most other acts this would not be particularly significant but of course when you consider Cliff's tally of hit records is well into three figures and that has has had singles peak at every other position between 1 and 18 over the past 48 years, it is a strange statistical quirk that none have ever peaked at Number 5. Until now.
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16 HEY YA (Outkast)

In every Christmas chart there is always room for one intriguing movement, so plaudits this week to Outkast who reverse their decline and make a surprise six place leap to return to the Top 20 with Hey Ya. Originally released back in November, the single peaked at Number 6.
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25 I LOVE CHRISTMAS (Fast Food Rockers)

Show's over kids, please go back to Butlins. The third single from the Fast Food Rockers, following the Fast Food Song and Say Cheese (Smile Please). Not even considered by anyone as a Christmas contender, so why did they bother? [This song would be resurrected a generation later and recorded by my mates in kids TV pop group Go! Go! Go! So I hate it slightly less for that].


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26 CHRISTMAS IS ALL AROUND (Billy Mack)

This, on the other hand, is a novelty single which you can live with. Billy Mack doesn't actually exist in the real world. He is, of course, the fictitious rock star who features in one of the storylines in hit film Love Actually. Christmas Is All Around (essentially the Troggs' Love Is All Around with slightly modified lyrics) features in the movie with even the singer himself describing it as a "huge festering turd", so any suggestions that it is to be taken at all seriously are right out the window before we start. Mack is played by actor Bill Nighy whose past roles have topically enough included playing Sam Gamgee in the famous BBC Radio version of The Lord Of The Rings. To think there was a time when it seemed the Christmas single had died out forever. We may not have had one actually topping the charts this year but there are no less than seven Christmas themed singles inside the Top 40 this week with three more further down the Top 75. [In the movie's universe he was indeed top of the charts for Christmas. No prizes for guessing how much the producers would have loved life to imitate art].
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29 STUNT 101 (G Unit)

Making a refreshing break from novelty, pop and Christmas singles are G Unit. They are to 50 Cent what D12 were to Eminem, his posse from home given their own chance to shine with a little help from the man himself. Stunt 101 is their debut single that is your typical hip-hop introduce the crew track - but check out the Brandy cameo in the video.
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36 CAN'T DO RIGHT FOR DOING WRONG (Erin Rocha)

Bringing up the rear this week, and perhaps surprisingly so given the publicity that was given to its release, is the debut single from 16-year-old Erin Rocha. The schoolgirl was on work experience at a recording studio in Hampshire when she was given the chance to record Can't Do Right For Doing Wrong as a demo track, the kind that is used to pitch the song to more established artists. Instead, the recording found itself in circulation and a few plays on Radio Two later was set for a full release, with a host of record companies now bidding for the signature of the budding young star. Some startlingly short odds were given on the track being in contention for Number One at one stage but that now looks to have been a little premature. Nonetheless, there are worse places to be than as the footnote to the Christmas Top 40 and you never know this could be the start of something so much bigger. [A forgotten gem this one, be sure to take time to check it out].

With that I am out of here, the crackers and turkey etc. await. Christmas wishes to everyone who has written to me over the past year, all the dotmusic staff, the OCC staff at 100 Oxford Street and most of all you for buying the singles that we get to write about. See you in 2004.

[Little did I know that this would be the last ever chart commentary posted to dotmusic.com. The process of winding the site down and folding it into Yahoo! had proceeded with some speed during December, the forums noting that the roll call of former staff on the "about us" page grew ever longer with each passing day. Shutting the brand down was arguably one of the more short-sighted decisions of its time, a name that had been around since the dawn of the mainstream internet and with a large and loyal audience. The forum denizens took matters into their own hands and scuttled away to the number of replacement communities which sprang up in the wake of dotmusic's demise with the likes of Haven, Moopy and Buzzjack still limping on to this day.

As for me, I was kind of left in limbo. I was some way down the list of priorities to sort out, although those left running things knew that I was too valuable an asset not to carry over. Just it took a couple of weeks for anyone to communicate that detail to me].


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