Now let's not beat about the bush, the first couple of months of any year are characterised by pop music being a bit shit. Sales are always down as people recover financially from holiday excesses, the grim weather doesn't help either and most people in the industry will cheerfully admit that immediately after Christmas few record companies are in a hurry to race out their best product. The start of March, however, represents the end of this period and the time when at long last things start getting good again. This may go some way towards explaining why this week we see another big clear out with no less than seven new entries charging into the Top 10 (the second time this has happened this year and no less than the sixth time there have been at least six new entries this high).
At the very top is Nelly who duly becomes the ninth new Number One single in as many weeks, a rate of turnover not seen since the final months of 2000 when ten different singles each managed a solitary seven days at Number One. The rapper chalks up a third Number One hit single and his second in recent months, My Place having hit the top back in September prior to the release of Tilt Ya Head Back which hit Number 5 at Christmas. The route to Nelly's biggest commercial successes is obvious when you consider the similar musical style of all his Number One hits to date with Dilemma, My Place and now Over And Over all playing to a laid back groove and augmented by a celebrity duettist. Kelly Rowland was on Dilemma, a largely uncredited Jaheim was on 'My Place' and now top billing on this new single is shared with unlikely collaborator C&W star Tim McGraw who appears on the UK singles chart for the first time in his long career. As to whether the single can last - well that is anyone's guess. For this week at least Nelly reigns supreme as he continues to push rap in the most unlikely of directions.
A measure of just how things are gradually starting to improve is the sight of this weeks' Elvis single making a mere Number 3 as the King is outsold for the second week running by Jennifer Lopez' Get Right'. His Latest Flame dates from November 1961 and after the MOR stodge he had been churning out since leaving the army represented a much welcome return to form for Elvis Presley. A more contemporary song, it had originally been given to Del Shannon to sing but when he passed on releasing it as a single, Elvis steamed in and proved that there was life in the old dog yet, the single becoming his ninth Number One hit. It gets even better next week with the re-release of one of his all time classics and a song which was last seen on top of the charts 12 years ago.
Back to the present day and Girls Aloud hit Number 4 with Wake Me Up, their follow-up to the charity single I'll Stand By You which gave them a chart-topper at the back end of last year. Effectively the fifth single from the What Will The Neighbours Say album (if you count the soundtrack single Jump among them) it is a return to their more raucous upbeat format, the single spoiled only by the horrible synthesised bassline that accompanies the chorus. Believe it or not, it is actually their lowest charting single to date and marks the first time in eight releases that they have missed the Top 3.
Two relatively new names hit the Top 10 next as rapper Akon marks his UK debut with the plaintive Locked Up at Number 5 [labouring under the misapprehension that Akon was primarily a rapper was something which lived with me for a while for some reason] whilst a place below as Leeds' very own Kaiser Chiefs storm the Top 10 with Oh My God. The single is their second Top 40 hit overall, November's Number 22 single I Predict A Riot clearly being just a taste of things to come. Rising stars of the so-called Britpack, their sound sits quite comfortably alongside the likes of The Killers as part of the new generation of British rock. Back to Akon for a moment though and he actually helps make this a landmark week for hip-hop, joining Nelly, LL Cool J and Game/50 Cent to give the er, spoken word, a 40% sweep of the Top 10.
The new generation are represented at Number 8 in the shape of the Futureheads who also celebrate far and away their biggest ever hit. Decent Days And Nights gave the group their first Top 40 hit back in August last year but their self-titled debut album now spawns a Top 10 single with the amazingly catchy Hounds Of Love. Their sound actually harks back around 25 years as they sound for all the world like The Jam reborn (I defy anyone not to think of 'Eton Rifles' when listening to the single) although I mean that in the nicest possible way. Yes, Girls Aloud have a Top 5 single this week but if pop is dead then the likes of the Kaiser Chiefs and Futureheads are the perfect soundtrack with which to dance on its grave.
At Number 9 is the ever consistent (read: samey) Usher as the song that has already given him two Number One hit and a further Top 5 single in the last year now calls itself Caught Up. Yes, it is the first time he has had four Top 10 singles in a row but frankly, I'm unexcited and underwhelmed.
A cute oddity sneaks in at a frustrating Number 11 this week. Teeny hip-hop starlet Verbalicious is in real life Natalie Keery-Fisher from Leeds. As an actress, she has notched up a number of TV roles (most notably in dire sitcom All About Me) and also appeared in radio soap The Archers as vicars daughter Amy Franks. It is however as a rapper that she appears set to make the biggest splash, her musical talents coming to fore when she took part in an 8-mile-style MC battle run by BBC 1Xtra. At the age of just 16, she now has a Top 20 single with the bubbly Don't Play Nice that makes up in sheer exuberance what it lacks in coolness. In a way, it is a shame not to see the single make the Top 10 but you cannot complain about a Number 11 hit. As the third rap new entry of the week, it is a world away from the slick sound of Nelly but is brash, bold and British and all the better for it. Plus she grew up around the corner from where I used to live in Shipley. Extra points! [Yes, this is indeed the artist one day to be known as Natalia Kills, landing what remains her biggest ever British chart success whilst a teenaged rapper. And this is still an extraordinary single whose legacy she needs to learn to embrace].
Sick of hip-hop yet? Tough, there is more to come as the re-invigorated Snoop Dogg scores the follow-up to Drop It Like It's Hot which gave him his first ever Top 10 single back in December. The second single from his R&G album, Let's Get Blown is his third in a row to feature a vocal take from Pharrell Williams, the Neptunes star having also popped up on 2003 single Beautiful. LL Cool J may be the longest serving rap veteran on the chart this week but Snoop Dogg runs him second, his 11-year career dating back to the g-funk era when all you needed was a few George Clinton samples to make a hit.
The big new hits just keep coming (no less than 12 singles enter the Top 20 this week, the 8 survivors from last week all coming from last weeks Top 10). The tenth is clubland's best showing this week as Reflekt's Need To Feel Love lands at Number 14. The duo are better known under the own names, Seb Fontaine and Jay P being the brains behind the track. Female singer Delline Bass is a name to watch for the future too, the singer songwriter apparently set for a chart career of her own later in the year. [Nope, me neither].
At Number 16 are Idlewild, Love Steals Us From Loneliness marking their chart comeback after two years away to record a new album. The Scotsmen began their chart career six years ago but this is only their fourth Top 20 single to date. Their biggest hit came in May 2002 when You Held The World In Your Arms sneaked to Number 9.
The 12th new entry of the week is from XFM darlings Maximo Park. Hailing from Newcastle, the band have a nice line in snappy Britrock and although they risk being lost in the maelstrom of one of the busiest chart weeks ever, a Top 20 debut for Apply Some Pressure is the acorn from which greater things can grow.
Heck, I wish I had more time and column inches to delve into the rest of the chart, as a further six new singles chart lower down as the Top 40 experiences a near 50% turnover. Solo women make a stand at 28 and 29 in the shape of the first Top 40 singles for the much talked-about KT Tunstall and Keisha White. In a similar vein, Charlotte Hatherley charts at Number 31 with Bastardo, her second Top 40 following Summer which made the same chart peak back in August 2004. Finally, the 80s rears its head both with Number 33 entry We Close Our Eyes by the Groove Cutters, a dance remake of Go Wests' 1985 classic and sneaking in at the wire the returning Tears For Fears. Closest Thing To Heaven is the first Top 40 single in over nine years for Kurt and Roland who have been silent since the 1995 album Raoul And The Kings Of Spain. There were hopes that the new single would make the same kind of impact as previous comeback hits such as Sowing The Seeds Of Love but alas t'was not to be and you suspect that this latest return will turn out to be a big a disappointment as it was back in '95. Some you win.