This week's Official UK Singles Chart

Hello there, and if I may I'd actually like to refer back to last week for a bit. Figures released during the week show that the transition is now complete. The final chart of the year has now gone from being one of the lowest selling of the year to far and away the highest. More so than ever before, in the immediate aftermath of Christmas people charged online and bought music for their newly presented mp3 players in almost unprecedented quantities. In fact in the week ending Saturday 29th December the singles chart tracked a total of almost 2.9 million units, astoundingly the highest total recorded since accurate measurements became possible in 1994. The previous record dates back to September 1997 when the presence of 'Candle In The Wind 97' saw 2.68 million units sold. The rise of the download market should also mean that once the final figures are in, 2007 will be a record year for sales of "singles", download sales alone this year have surpassed 77.6 million, the 1997 total that stands as the modern day highpoint of the singles market.

That this comes as such a surprise is due to the fact that sales at the business end of the singles chart, whilst rallying from their low point a couple of years ago, have remained stubbornly low with only two singles - Bleeding Love and Umbrella selling more than half a million and the lowest selling Number One hit Walk This Way barely getting into six figures. The fact remains that the overwhelming bulk of online sales are either back catalogue product or cherrypicked album tracks (sales of full-length albums, the industry's traditional profit engine, having taken a disturbing tumble compared to past performance). In a strange way, this is a mirror of the mid-80s CD landrush where a struggling industry underwent a welcome turnaround after a new digital format gave them an excuse to persuade people to purchase their entire record collection all over again. Sales overall shot through the roof but this was often of repurchased catalogue product to the detriment of brand new productions. Happily, once things settled down those people who had converted to CD also maintained the habit of buying music. I've long said that the pop single will undergo a revival once the online mp3 becomes a mass market consumer product. On the evidence of the last week or so, we could actually be well on the way to seeing this happen.

All of the above is, of course, a nice journalistic smokescreen to cover up the fact that very little is happening on the singles chart this week. Whilst the new year was once a golden opportunity to sneak some new music into the shops, effectively since the millennium it has been a chance for the record industry to take another week off and wait until everyone is back at work properly. So it is that Leon Jackson remains at Number One for a third week with When You Believe, his closest competition coming not from Bleeding Love as last week but Soulja Boy Tell'em with Crank That (Soulja Boy) which climbs a place to grab a brand new peak of Number 2.

Also with a brand new peak to the surprise of some is Rockstar from Nickelback which surges 15-8 to enter the Top 10 for the very first time, the single initially seeming to have peaked at Number 19 in mid-December. Not a bad chart run overall given that the track is taken from a two-year-old album and was originally little more than an American radio single over 18 months ago. Rockstar is Nickelback's fourth Top 10 hit and their first since Someday climbed to Number 6 way back in September 2003.

In the absence of any new physical singles, the future hits are the ones making most of the movement. Rihanna climbs once more to Number 12 with Don't Stop The Music, the single in serious danger of peaking both in terms of sales and chart position before its February 11 scheduled release. Making a more dramatic surge, however, is Now You're Gone by Swedish producer Basshunter whose downloads charge up the chart to Number 14. An unremarkable (aren't they all?) electro track, the single is nonetheless well placed to grab a slice of Top 10 action upon physical release next week.

Also doing well ahead of release and despite the fact that her promotional work seems to consist of mentally unravelling in front of the world's paparazzi is Britney Spears. New single Piece Of Me makes its Top 40 debut this week at Number 19. It's the second single from her Blackout album and the follow-up to surprise Top 3 hit Gimme More and doesn't actually hit the shops physically until January 14. Maybe the old saying is true, there is just no such thing as bad publicity.

The other class of singles taking advantage of the new year lull are the handful of underachieving pre-Christmas releases which now have a clear path to more respectable chart positions. Leading the charge are Scouting For Girls who could only move 33-28-26 with new single Elvis Ain't Dead whilst the holiday was in force. This week the single takes a jump to Number 17, the single now just ten places behind the chart high point of breakthrough single She's So Lovely which hit the chart in what I guess we must now start referring to as September last year.

Similarly, Pumpkin Soup from Kate Nash rises 39-23, the single having been effectively lost in the rush when it was sneaked into the shops in the week before Christmas. The track now matches the peak scaled by her second hit Mouthwash, also from September. Breakthrough hit Foundations was one of a string of singles in 2007 which sold as many and in some cases more than the records which actually topped the charts. Its five weeks in total at Number 2 helped it to sell 273,000 copies making it one of the Top 20 biggest sellers of the year. Incidentally, the biggest seller of the year not to reach Number One? Rule The World by Take That.

We should, of course, take time out to acknowledge the handful of acts who were bold enough to release new singles in the last few days of 2007. Pride of place go to the White Stripes who land themselves a new entry at Number 30 with Conquest. 2007 was the year they had their biggest hit to date with Number 2 single Icky Thump, one which ensured they had pride of place in my favourite music trivia question of the year. Seasoned chart watchers should know the answer immediately but here goes:

What do Maroon 5, Mutya Buena, The White Stripes, Lee Mead, Kate Nash and Fergie all have in common? Answer in just a few paragraphs time.

Finally, no chart commentary these days is complete without a sideways glance at the record-breaking long runners. Rehab is still around, occupying Number 48 in what is now its 53rd week as a Top 75 hit. Just ten places below it, however, a long-standing chart milestone is surpassed as Chasing Cars notches up chart week number 57. In doing so it equals the chart run clocked up by Judy Collins with Amazing Grace between 1970 and 1972. Just like Chasing Cars, Amazing Grace was a moderately successful Top 10 hit which just kept selling and selling for years afterwards. Released in November 1970 it first peaked at Number 5 in February 1971 in its initial 32-week chart run. It spent most of the rest of that year dipping in and out of the Top 50 for a week or so at a time before returning for a longer 19 week stint in April 1972 as a natural complement to an instrumental bagpipe rendition from the Royal Scots Dragoon guards which famously topped the singles chart during the same period. The renewed exposure of the song helped Collins' vocal version back up as high as Number 20. Taking nothing away from the feat of Chasing Cars in finally matching her total, but it is always worth noting that all of Amazing Graces 57 chart weeks were amassed when the singles chart only stretched to 50 places. By comparison Chasing Cars has so far managed "just" 39 weeks as a Top 50 hit single.

Oh yes, and for those who were struggling. What do Maroon 5, Mutya Buena, The White Stripes, Lee Mead, Kate Nash and Fergie all have in common? They all had singles which peaked at Number 2 behind Umbrella during the summer of 2007.


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