This week's Official UK Singles Chart

[A change in format here, the first since 1995 in fact. Yahoo! Launch had formatted the page as a standalone weekly blog entry, no longer as directly linked to specific parts of the chart rundown as it always had been on Dotmusic. It struck me that this was more suited to a more free-form essay format so took the unilateral decision to start presenting things this way. This wasn't universally popular with long-standing readers, some frustrated that I no longer felt obliged to cover every single new entry. In actual fact, that was part of the motivation, as at times it could be damn hard work finding something constructive to say about nondescript club records. This was also going to make my life easier but gave me room to rant when there was a particular reason to do so. And the continuing alarming sinking of the singles market over the next two years allowed me plenty of opportunities].

Few surprises at the top of the UK charts this week. Although her sales are a long way short of the millions racked up by the likes of Will Young and Gareth Gates in the aftermath of the first Pop Idol series, Michelle McManus' TV exposure has been enough to lodge her firmly at the top of the new year charts. One aspect of the single that has thus far passed without comment is the fact that All This Time now ranks as the 14th Number One single for writer and producer Steve Mac. Westlife make up half of this total, Mac having been at the helm for seven of their Number One singles. He has also been responsible for three Gareth Gates tracks, two by Boyzone and one apiece from Ronan Keating and now Michelle McManus. Compare this with 80s production legends Stock Aitken and Waterman who as a trio managed a mere 12 chart-topping singles, Mike Stock and Matt Aitken now being able to boast a total of 15 thanks to Robson and Jerome's achievements in the mid-1990s. In the meantime the rest of the media concentrates on the really important issues such as whether or not her missing teeth have been airbrushed back in on the single sleeve.

Just below Michelle, Kelis is the surprise mover of the week, Milkshake rising one place to take the runners up slot. It means that the biggest new single of the week is relegated to Number 3. Franz Ferdinand are being hailed as the first big new stars of 2004, predictions that are not far wrong on the strength of this track. If you have not heard Take Me Out yet then you are encouraged to give it a go and work out just what it is that has made people so excited about it. It isn't the first minute or so of the song which plods along in a same old same old Strokes kind of groove. No, what makes the track so spectacular is what happens next as the original melody fades away to be replaced by... well actually that will spoil the surprise and the utter joy of hearing it for the first time. Some have churlishly pointed out that it sounds suspiciously similar to an old Captain Beefheart track but that can be dismissed as mere coincidence. Just as Electric Six did in 2003, it is almost as if Franz Ferdinand have released one of the singles of the year when it is barely a few weeks old. The only fear is that they have a heck of a lot to live up to in subsequent releases.

Next up on the list of new entries are 2Play, crashing in at Number 8 with a single that proves that the Bhangra and Asian mini-invasion of 2003 was no one-off. Collaborators on So Confused are Raghav and Jucxi who were the brains behind Kevin Lyttle's Turn Me On last year. So Confused is an effortless fusion of R&B and dancehall and a worthy successor to the likes of Sean Paul and Wayne Wonder.

The surprise of the week I guess comes at Number 11 which sees Beyonce miss out on a place in the Top 10 completely with new single Me Myself and I. If Baby Boy came like a shot of saccharine after the pumped up beats of Crazy In Love then this track is like drowning in a vat of treacle as the biggest sex symbol of 2003 goes all mellow on us in this tale of female empowerment. Maybe too many people already have the album or maybe we do prefer the more booty shaking aspect of Beyonce's music, either way, this is going to wind up as her lowest charting single since Destiny's Child's single Get On The Bus could only reach Number 15 in January 1999.

Funnily enough also going down the ballad route and also finding their chart fortunes on the slide a little are Liberty X. Having stormed the clubs with Jumpin', a Number 6 hit back in November, the famous five show us just how sophisticated they can be on this lushly orchestrated tale of heartbreaks. If nothing else the single stands out for the vocal performances from Kelli and Kevin but ultimately it is the world away from the funked up pop they have made their trademark. You cannot knock them for trying to shake things up a little but changing horses in mid-stream actually isn't always the best way forward. Still, they will be back, even if this is too their lowest charting single since Doin' It peaked at Number 14 just before Christmas 2001.

The parade of epic sounding tracks doesn't stop there either as Finnish goth rockers HIM show the kids how it really should be done. Following on from Buried Alive By Love (Number 30) and The Sacrament (Number 23) in 2003, the band open their 2004 chart account in quite spectacular fashion. Guitars and strings are always a potent combination in the right hands and The Funeral Of Hearts builds to a wall of sound that is far from unpleasant to hear. Their biggest hit to date and quite rightly so.

Dropping out of the Top 20 now we come to two ladies who are most definitely in unfamiliar territory. First up is Amy Studt who is set to re-release her well received but frustratingly underperforming debut album this week. To herald it comes this more or less by the numbers cover of the track that finally launched Sheryl Crow into the mainstream back in 1994 All I Wanna Do. The official seal of approval is given by Ms Crow's own contribution to backing vocals on the track although entertainingly the original lyrics have had a slight tweak owing to the fact that a teenage prodigy can hardly be singing about liking a "good beer buzz early in the morning" with anything approaching a straight face (S Club 8 take good note). Annoyingly the single has stalled, a world away from the Top 10 placings of Studt's last singles Misfit and Under The Thumb. Having said that given that she writes such spectacularly good songs of her own, it would have been perverse to see her have a big hit single with one already made famous by somebody else.

Just below her is fellow teen prodigy Stacie Orrico whose promising singles from 2003 (Stuck and There's Gotta Be More To Life) are followed up by this track which simply cannot capitalise on the slow new year market and lands short of the Top 20. Really this should not come as too much of a surprise. Good though her last two singles were, neither really set the charts on fire and a small rethink may be in order if she is to start hitting the heights properly in this country.

Bringing up the rear this week, at least in terms of new entries are Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster who have reason to celebrate after landing their biggest chart hit to date. 2003 saw their Top 40 debut with Psychosis Safari and Chicken but this new single eases past the chart placings of both, albeit only just. If nothing else it is quite a rare thing to see the lowest Top 40 new entry of the week be as high up as Number 25. Positions 26-40 are all taken up with older hits on their way out.

Perhaps what is more eyebrow raising is the release schedule for the next couple of weeks. The schedule for this week looks equally as sparse, almost as if much of the record industry has taken January off. Things don't look likely to liven up until January 26th at which point the racks should be bursting with potentially massive new releases. Good that we have these few weeks to get warmed up really isn't it? See you in seven...