Just two weeks to go now before Christmas, and you know what, I've yet to speak to anyone who has the faintest clue just what will wind up being Christmas Number One. Sure the bookmakers have the X Factor winner (whoever they may be) installed as the clear favourite but most people are keeping an open mind over this, just in case the performance turns out to be rubbish [looking back that seems an extraordinary statement, but after Steve Brookstein didn't exactly shift superlative numbers of records the year before, there was a genuine feeling that the era of phenomenal sales from reality shows had been and gone. Two weeks later we were all left breathless]. Nizlopi have been backed in to become second favourite but rumours abound that the tiny label releasing the single will struggle to get enough copies on the streets in Christmas week itself.
For the moment then we are left holding our breath with the singles that are available now. The Pussycat Dolls clock up a second week at Number One with the drippy Stickwitu, debut single Don't Chah having had a three week run at the summit back in September. Oddly enough the second biggest seller of the week isn't the Sugababes (who knocked the Dolls off the top back in the Autumn) but instead Madonna who sees Hung Up recover after its chart dip last week to clamber back up to Number 2. Said record is already far and away the most enduring hit single Madonna has had in over a decade for believe it or not, the last Madonna single to spend as long as 5 weeks in the Top 3 was Like A Prayer way back in March 1989. Even Vogue, her longest running Number One single dipped to Number 4 after its 4 weeks on top.
So to the biggest new hit of the week which sees the Sugababes neatly follow up the chart-topping Push The Button with Ugly, also taken from the Taller In Many Ways album. Like its predecessor, the single is a miniature pop masterpiece, this time a gentle mid-tempo track which in its full version has more than a touch of the E Street Band about it, although that is before you consider the acoustic version of the track which also features on the CD single. If there was any justice then this would have been an easy Number One but it is enough I guess that it will be a Top 10 smash for Christmas. Fascinating fact of the week about the Sugababes: assuming Ugly gets no further it will be their first Top 5 single not to top the chart.
Before we go any further can I just say a very loud RAAASSSSPPPP to everyone involved in the fiasco that was the Record Of The Year show which despite yet another tweak to the voting process still wound up as a "which boy band has fans with the most phone credit" contest rather than a genuine popularity poll. By no stretch of the imagination is the insipid cover version that is Westlife's You Raise Me Up the "record of the year". Heck, I could have lived with McFly winning the vote. Their song was at least penned and performed musically by the group and thus actually contributed something musically. Meanwhile, the Westlife track itself shows some quite uncharacteristic staying power, holding firm at Number 4 this week, this after spending a fortnight at the top and a further three weeks at Number 3. No Westlife single has ever spent as much as seven weeks in the Top 10, never mind the Top 5. Such unprecedented longevity is almost certain to result in the band landing two simultaneous Top 10 singles next week with their Christmas offering When You Tell Me That You Love Me set to chart in seven days time. Kill me now.
Straight from the "things you never thought you'd see" file next is the first ever Top 5 hit for the Strokes. Their first single in over a year, Juicebox boldly takes the New York rockers where they have only once been before, into the Top 10 to become their biggest hit single to date. Like all their best singles, the track is stubbornly impenetrable for the first few listens until the melody finally hits you making the whole exercise worthwhile. Hitherto their only Top 10 hit was 12:51 which was a Number 7 single back in October 2003.
Just for a refreshing change, we have a club track making the Top 10 next as DHT and Emdee slide into Number 7. Sadly the track represents everything that has gone wrong with dance music in 2005 as it is little more than a rather lazy cover version of an 80s pop classic. The track in question is Listen To Your Heart, originally a 1990 hit for Swedish rockers Roxette. Not that the DHT single is a bad record of course, but that really has everything to do with the strength of the original (here devoid of what emotion it possessed in the first place) rather than this new production. This isn't the first time this year that the Roxette back catalogue has been raided by clubland, Dancing DJs having scaled Number 18 back in August with a remix of Fading Like A Flower which sampled the original extensively and resulted in a co-credit for Roxette on the sleeve.
Happily, the better side of clubland is represented by the Number 11 single I Just Can't Get Enough by Herd & Fitz featuring Abigail Bailey. A smash hit in the clubs almost since the end of summer, this gorgeously infectious track can consider itself unfortunate not to have made the Top 10 and is a welcome throwback to the days when a bassline and a vocalist who could actually sing were almost a pre-requisite for a smash hit single - back indeed to 1989 when Kariya was filling up dancefloors with Let Me Love You For Tonight, the track on which the Herd & Fitz track is based.
Sliding in at Number 13 are Franz Ferdinand who are discovering that when you reach the point where your album is a must-have purchase in the first week, second hit singles are harder to come by. Thus where Do You Want To easily made Number 4 back in October its follow-up Walk Away can only land at Number 13. It isn't quite as bad as the Number 17 peak of Michael from August 2004 but those who backed them at 66-1 for Christmas Number One are onto a bit of a loser.
Also sadly out of the running (and maybe surprisingly so) is Charlotte Church whose third single from the Tissues And Issues album falls some way short of the Top 10 peak of its predecessors. Even God Can't Change The Past is the obligatory nod back to her classical days and an appropriate choice for a seasonal single but it is neatly undermined by her hard work turning herself into a ball-busting mainstream pop star. It isn't a bad record, just the wrong record for her now. Never mind. One more look at the Call My Name video and I'm happy to forgive her anything.
The bottom half of the Top 40 this week contains an impressive nine new entries this week. Although none were by acts with even half a prayer of topping the chart for the festive period, there are still one or two big name casualties in there. Paul Weller won't really complain about hitting Number 21 with Here's The Good News but seeing Kanye West only reach Number 22 with new single Heard Em Say is something of a shock given the Number 2 peak of his last hit Gold Digger. The real shocks, however, come even lower down.
Having reached Number 5 and hung around the chart for longer than is polite with the admittedly gorgeous Nine Million Bicycles, the equally gorgeous Katie Melua could be forgiven for expecting a similarly sized hit single to follow it up. Instead, her second release from her second album Piece By Piece becomes her smallest Top 40 single to date, I Cried For You limping apologetically to Number 35. At one stage the bookmakers considered her to be in the running for Christmas Number One but with this chart performance, her odds have now dropped at the time of writing to a rather pointless 100-1. The failure of the single is actually even more of a shame considering the fact that it is a double A-side with her extraordinary cover of Just Like Heaven. Taken from the soundtrack of the forthcoming Reese Witherspoon film of the same name, Katie turns the classic Cure track into a gentle love song to a quite brilliant effect. Yet it is a forgotten Number 35 single. That seems so unfair.
Finally speaking of female singer-songwriters your sympathies for KT Tunstall who deserved a big follow-up to the infectious Suddenly I See which hit Number 12 back in September. Sadly she too is rather underwhelmed with sales this week. OK so Under The Weather is the fourth single from the album but she is still a rather forlorn sight at Number 39. You can't even get odds on her being Christmas Number One, even if you did have the money to waste.