Something is clearly going on here. On the one hand we have singles sales limping along at depressingly low levels (especially when compared to a few years ago), pop bands struggling to gain the kind of mainstream exposure that was almost a given back in the late 90s and the ludicrous situation where the biggest selling single of the year to date is by a Pop Idol winner whose second release has stiffed and who looks to be out of the door before the summer is over. On the other hand the latest Now That's What I Call Music double CD (which collects together over 40 of the biggest hits of a lacklustre 2004 to date) managed to clock up a bigger single week sale than any of its 56 predecessors and is on course to become one of the biggest selling volumes to date. Clearly, the music can't be that terrible if hundreds of thousands of people will race to the shops to buy a £15 compilation of them - so why is the bottom of the singles market close to falling out?
Well, the answer is actually obvious and I am almost certainly the 300th person to point this out. Technology moves on and the way people buy music is in a constant state of change. When singles sales bottomed out in the early 1990s it was because the old 7-inch vinyl single was becoming less of a consumer product. In the long run, this wasn't too much of a problem as the music industry had a ready made replacement, the CD single having been launched several years earlier. Although a minority format, to begin with, it simply took time to catch on. A few Whitney Houston and Celine Dion mega hit singles later and the CD single was a standard purchase for any music lover.
Of course, we know what has happened since. The CD single has stopped being the good value it once was and electronic methods of music delivery have taken precedence - to the horror of an industry that dismissed the idea of downloaded music out of hand when it was first mooted and are now frantically playing catch up. In the meantime the singles chart is stuck in the past, reduced to reflecting the sales of an anachronistic format until a way to accurately audit the sale of music on legal download services can be established. Everyone is hoping that the situation can be sorted before the end of the year and the Official UK Chart can properly reflect the way individual tracks are distributed and consumed. As the Now 57 sales have shown, the problem possibly isn't the quality of the product so much as the way it is being measured. [And there, in a nutshell, is why Audio Streams were folded into the singles chart before many had woken up to their significance in 2014. There was a pressing need to avoid the situation of ten years earlier when the market had rapidly moved on but the singles chart had not, leading it to spend a year as something of an anachronism and ignoring totally a rapidly growing segment of the music market].
Well now we have poured scorn on the notion of the singles chart as it currently exists, it is time to big it up once again as the next few weeks are set to see the debut of some tracks destined to cause jaws to hit the floor. Yes, what will also help the singles chart is if it makes headlines with some genuine Holy Crap moments - and as it happens we have two of those this week.
The first of these is the single that brings McFly's two-week reign at the top to an end. "Here's what it sounds like in case you have been living under a rock for the last month" intoned Wes on the Radio 1 chart show earlier, a reflection of the way exposure for Eamon's debut hit single has been hard to ignore since it hit the video channels a few weeks ago. The selling point of the New Yorkers single is of course not really the tune itself but the fact that this gentle R&B track features one of the most profane lyrics in chart history. During the rant of bitterness towards his ex-girlfriend, Eamon uses the f-word repeatedly (albeit in such a way that it can conveniently be edited out for mainstream airplay). Most of the press coverage of this aspect of the track (none of which can be described as outraged) have taken delight in pointing out that it is still not quite the most profane track ever to chart - that honour almost certainly belonging to The Super Furry Animals and their 1996 Number 22 hit The Man Don't Give A Fuck. Of course the SFA track was by no means a mainstream hit and in terms of profanity laden tracks it is better to compare F**k It (I Don't Want You Back) to the competing 1995 renditions of Living Next Door To Alice (Who the F**k is Alice) by Gompie and Smokie/Roy Chubby Brown. Honourable mention also should go to Prince's 1992 hit Sexy MF. The resultant edits to those lyrics meant that as far as most radio listeners were concerned the purple one was singing about a "sexy mother". Happily, for Eamon, his radio edit simply mutes the rude bits without the song losing any of its meaning.
The second biggest new hit of the week is less of a sensation and in truth is in line with most people's expectations. D12 are of course Eminem's mates who rode to fame thanks to his patronage but then subsequently justified this with hits in 2001 such as Purple Pills, Sh!t On You and Fight Music. After three years away they storm the charts with ease with brand new single My Band - OK so the fact that Eminem features as part of the group almost certainly has something to do with it but just like their previous singles the track holds up as a kicking rap hit in its own right. Number 2 is enough to match the July 2001 peak of Purple Pills and makes the attempts by 50 Cent to work the same magic on G Unit look rather laughable in comparison.
Just three singles enter inside the Top 10 this week but happily, they are all worthy contenders. The honour for the third goes to this striking collaboration between Libertines frontman Pete Doherty as the mysterious Wolfman whom he claims to have met in the back room of a London bookstore. Their debut single together For Lovers is nothing less than an instant classic, a heartbreakingly beautiful piano and drum ballad that most songwriters would kill to have produced. A world away from the usual sound of the Libertines (although Carl Barat is on the b-side) the single instantly soars past anything Doherty has done in the past with the band, beating by four places the chart peak of Don't Look Back Into The Sun, the biggest Libertines hit to date. Eamon will make all the chart headlines this week but For Lovers is the kind of track that restores your faith in music. The hope now is that this is more than just an Aqualung-esque one-off.
So what of the second Holy Crap moment? Well, that would be this one, the quite sensational chart debut of a brand new solo single from a reclusive star who just happens to be one-quarter of one of the most successful pop acts ever. In spite of their huge success as a unit, as solo stars, the members of Abba never really set the charts on fire. Benny and Bjorn stayed together as songwriters, most famously penning the musical Chess. The two girls Anni-Frid and Agnetha both signed as solo stars with indifferent success. In this country it was Agnetha who had the most chart success, charting three singles in 1983, the biggest of which being The Heat Is On which made Number 35. Her last contribution to the music business was a 1988 solo album entitled I Stand Alone since when she pretty much has, living a reclusive lifestyle back in Scandinavia. She laid low throughout all the 90s Abba revivals, even snubbing the launch of the musical Mamma Mia. Nonetheless, last year rumours began circulating that she had demoed some new tracks and sure enough last month WEA records announced they had signed the star, produced new publicity photos and promised her availability for interviews. Then something went wrong. The stalking problems that were partly a cause of her reclusive nature reared their head again and Agnetha pulled out of all promotion of her new album. Still, the release is going ahead and with it the single If I Thought You'd Ever Change Your Mind. Like all the other tracks on the album, this is a cover of an old 60s song, popularised by Cilla Black who took it to Number 20 in late 1969. As a 2004 single it is something of an oddity but the selling point is clearly the voice of Agnetha Faltskog, sounding as fresh and clear as it did back in the 1970s. So there we have it. More than 20 years after they finally called it a day, a member of Abba finally has their biggest ever solo hit single with a new entry at Number 11. Holy Crap indeed.
Back down to earth then and seeing as we were bashing G Unit earlier we should at least give them the credit for helping this single from Joe to this impressive chart placing. Ride Wit U features the R&B star duetting with both the rap group and 50 Cent himself on this slickly produced R&B and rap hybrid. The result is Joe's first hit single since 2002 and his biggest since 2001s Stutter - which coincidentally also featured a rap break, Mystikal helping the single to Number 7. The track also helps G Unit back into more respectable chart placings, following the rather dismal showing of Wanna Get To Know You which made Number 27 last week.
That Justin Timberlake should have become the first member of 'NSync who achieve solo success wasn't too much of a surprise given his public profile thanks to being the other half of Britney Spears at the time. Nonetheless, he was not the most obvious choice as a solo star on the basis of his overall contribution to the group. The closest they had to a lead singer was JC Chasez who handled more than his share of vocals and in a way, it is only just that he finally makes the breakthrough himself as a solo star, even if Some Girls isn't much to write home about. Like Justin's music, however, it is all about the overall sound than the melody and as funky R&B breakdowns go this certainly has its moments - and of course, his voice is instantly and comfortingly familiar. Number 13 is probably a fair showing. In fact, this is his second chart appearance in the last month, the US star having made a vocal contribution to Basement Jaxx's Plug It In.
Number 15 is the surprisingly low entry point for Janet Jackson's new single, her first release in almost two years. once upon a time her superstar status would have meant an instant Top 3 place for a brand new single, particularly one as catchy as Just A Little While. Time, however, appears to have dimmed her appeal somewhat - how else to explain this incredibly disappointing chart showing. In fact, this is likely to wind up as her lowest charting single since Twenty Foreplay hit Number 22 in April 1996. For the record, it is worth pointing out that nobody in this country batted an eyelid when her nipple appeared for a microsecond on television although in some ways that is a shame as it might have explained why nobody has bought this single.
The final new entry in a busy Top 20 is at Number 18, the second single for actress turned chart star Hilary Duff. Come Clean isn't quite the rousing pop song that her debut So Yesterday (a Number 9 hit back in November) was but is good enough to justify her continuing existence as a recording star.
Down into the lower end of the chart and there are two disappointing showings from acts who under normal circumstances you would expect to do better. First up are Snow Patrol, following up the soaring Run which hit Number 5 back in February. This latest single (their third chart hit overall) Chocolate admittedly isn't quite as anthemic as its predecessor but after a well received mainstream Top 5 hit the band and their fans can be forgiven for feeling that this chart showing is a frustrating step backwards. Still, at the very least they are in good company. Two million copies of the album Life For Rent on and it appears nobody is that interested in buying Dido singles releases. As a result the third single from the album Don't Leave Home limps rather nervously into the Top 30, a far cry from the Top 10 success of White Flag and Life For Rent which both charted at the back end of last year. Nobody is too surprised at this as for an MOR like Miss Armstrong, singles are only useful in helping the exposure of a slow burning classic (like her debut album). Come the second album and pretty much everyone who will like it is aware of its availability already. First single White Flag was part of its initial promotion in September, Life For Rent charted at Christmas and helped remind people that the album was available in the run up to the holiday but this third single actually serves little useful purpose - hence Number 25 isn't actually quite the surprise it might have been.
Just below at Number 26 is a single from the "good grief do they still have a deal?" file. Bellefire are the female creations of Boyzone and Westlife svengali Louis Walsh, his attempt to create his own version of The Corrs with a touch of Wilson Phillips stirred in - and it helps that two of the three girls are sisters. A great deal of effort was put into promoting them at the turn of the decade. Debut single Perfect Bliss hit Number 18 in July 2001 but it was not until a year later that their second single charted, a cover of U2's All I Want Is You which frustratingly made Number 18 again. Such was the lukewarm response to the girls that the industry joke was that their only use was as a tax writeoff for their manager who needed a lossmaker to offset the millions he had made off his more successful male charges. In spite of the sneering though it seems neither Bellefire or Walsh are prepared to give up just yet and so Say Something Anyway duly hit the shops last week. Yes, it is a pretty track, well produced and in its own way quite charming but at Number 26 it is still closer to a tax writeoff than the record that will turn the girls into stars.
At the very bottom, it is worth mentioning the debut at Number 31 for the Beta Band who have yet to turn their copious column inches into something resembling mainstream success. Assessment is in fact only their second ever Top 40 hit, this arriving close on three years after Broke/Won gave them a Number 30 hit on their debut. If at first you don't succeed...
Next week should be very interesting indeed. The most obvious highlights in a rather sparse release schedule are sophomore hits from Franz Ferdinand and Maroon 5 - but could it be that we are due another Holy Crap moment in the shape of a hit single from the most unlikely of sources?