I'd tell you that there was no change at the top of the singles chart, but you are probably bored of hearing me say that by now. For the second week in a row, Duffy does the double with the Number One album and Number One single, which of course means that Mercy clocks up a fifth week as the biggest selling single in the UK. It is the second single in a row to notch up a five-week stint at the top, matching the run of its predecessor Now You're Gone. Although a string of long-running Number Ones recently has meant such a slow rate of turnover at the top is by no means unprecedented lately, Now You're Gone and Mercy are the first back to back pair of five-week chart-toppers since Whitney Houston's ten-week run at the top with I Will Always Love You was followed by a five-week run for No Limit by 2 Unlimited at the start of 1993.
This week, however, Duffy faced her stiffest challenge yet for her crown, the close-run race being entirely down to the strong performance put in by Leona Lewis with her double-sided single Better In Time/Footprints In The Sand which ultimately had to settle for a Number 2 "debut" albeit trailing by the small matter of just a few hundred copies. Of course, every Leona Lewis release since her debut has been something quite extraordinary and her third single is no exception, being responsible for something almost unique in chart history.
The single doubles as the official anthem of the BBC telethon Sport Relief and in that respect succeeds Some Girls by Rachel Stevens and Don't Stop Me No' from McFly in 2004 and 2006 respectively. That alone would be enough to make it notable but by no means extraordinary. Its uniqueness stems from the fact it has been released and promoted as a good old-fashioned double a-side. Double-sided singles are an old-school marketing technique, dating from the good old days of the vinyl single. Instead of regarding the second track of the single as a lesser "b-side" it is promoted as an equal to the first track and thus is given equal prominence on both the sleeve and crucially in the charts.
The rise of the CD single rendered the concept somewhat archaic although it still worked well for marketing purposes, suggesting to purchasers that both tracks 1 and 2 of the disc were worth paying attention to. It is only in the modern day download era that problems began to arise, given that each individual track is available for separate purchase and theoretically its own place in the charts. Until now this hasn't been an issue, most of the double-sided singles that have charted since January 2007 have also been available as e-single bundles, thus providing ample financial incentive to buy both "a sides" in a manner which results in only one chart position registering.
This is where the Leona single is pretty much unique, as the tracks have not been made available as a bundled e-single. The "single mix" of Better In Time is indeed listed as a separate release, but to buy the equally well-promoted Footprints In The Sand, online purchasers can do nothing more than buy it as a single track from her Spirit album. The direct result of this is a freak chart occurrence. As the nominated lead track, online sales of Better In Time are linked with the physical sales of the CD single. Thus the download of Better In Time which had climbed as high as Number 23 last week vanishes from the chart and contributes to the Number 2 placing of the 'Better In Time/Footprints In The Sand' single. Footprints In The Sand itself is extended no such privilege, and after ranking at Number 62 last week finds its download sales cast adrift and so instead rises to its own chart placing at Number 25.
Hence the uniqueness… Footprints In The Sand by Leona Lewis is officially only the second recording in the entire history of the singles chart to occupy two simultaneous chart positions - Number 2 thanks to sales on CD and Number 25 through online stores. The only other song in history to manage such a feat was the infamous Je T'aime, Moi Non Plus by Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin which in October 1969 was deleted by original issuer Fontana records and in the same week re-issued by the Major Minor label. The two singles were deemed separate products, resulting in the last available copies of the Fontana release charting at Number 16 and the Major Minor issue debuting at Number 3. Theoretically, there has been nothing since to stop this happening again, chart rule 4.3 stating "When the same record (or combinable variant) is available on UK release from two different companies, sales will not be combined except at the request of both companies."
All of the above possibly makes the rest of the chart a bit of an anticlimax, but there are at least one or two other talking points. Significant Top 10 activity is confined to the movement of two March 17 releases which are already Top 10 ahead of their release. The first is Low from Flo Rida featuring T-Pain which rises 9-7 whilst the second is, to the delight I'm sure many an old skool raver, Something Good '08 from Utah Saints which moves 13-9 to occupy the same position it did in its first week on release in June 1992. Its target now is the Number 4 peak scaled by its first incarnation, a placing it would be very foolish to rule out.
In contrast, most of the singles on the physical release schedule for last week struggle to make more than a minor impact. The Timbaland magic appears to be wearing a little thin as despite Scream featuring the talents of Keri Hilson and Nicole Scherzinger, its physical appearance only lifts it to Number 12 this week. Also new physically were The Beginning Of The Twist from the Futureheads which moves 30-20 and 'Cassius' from Foals which despite plenty of enthusiastic reviews only appears at Number 26. Honourable mention must go to Grounds For Divorce from Elbow which had a combined online and shop release and which debuts on the chart at Number 19, the first chart appearance since 2005 for the Manchester group. By an amazing coincidence, the single is now their third Number 19 hit, the peak also scaled by Asleep In The Back/Coming Second in 2002 and Fallen Angel in 2003. They have yet to have any release chart any higher.
Also new out were Young Love from Mystery Jets (Number 34) and I Shall Overcome from Hard-Fi which at least gives them another Top 40 hit by charting at Number 35, this after their last single Can't Get Along (Without You) crashed out at Number 45 at the back end of last year. Finally, spare a small thought for the unfortunate T-Pain who is riding high in the Top 10 thanks to a guest role on the Flo Rida single but who sees his own single Church limp to a depressing Number 42 despite a physical release.
It is left to other future hits to populate most of the Top 20. Leading the pack is Nine In The Afternoon from Panic At The Disco which lands at Number 13 after a week of online sales, the physical single arriving in the shops this week (March 17). The track marks the latest stage in their evolution from intense emo rockers to fun-loving entertainers, the new single an incredibly appealing pop record drenched in sixties harmonies and blessed with an intoxicating feelgood vibe. At a stroke it has become their biggest hit to date, their first ever Top 20 entry after none of their three previous hits in 2006 managed to climb higher than Number 23.
I'd make a bold prediction for instant Top 10 status for PATD next week, but for the fact, they are facing some stiff competition. Both Denial from the Sugababes and Can't Speak French from Girls Aloud spend their last week as digital only tracks this week and rise once again to 15 and 16 respectively. Of the pair it is Girls Aloud who have the most consistent chart record, the Sugababes having in the past proved particularly susceptible to fickle public tastes, seeing hotly tipped singles fall short of the Top 10. Nonetheless, it is a foolish fan who predicts anything less than at least one more rise for both tracks as their CD singles arrive in stores this week.
Finally, for this week, there are some strange goings on at the bottom end of the Top 75 that once more demonstrates the power of TV shows to ignite interest in old songs. Celebrity Ice Skating show Dancing On Ice is causing spikes in sales of the tracks used by the contestants for their routines and this reaches a new high this week with the appearance of Livin' On A Prayer by Bon Jovi at Number 70 despite the routine resulting in the elimination of popular favourite Gareth Gates. Perhaps more extraordinary is the Number 74 appearance of Jeff Buckley's legendary rendition of Hallelujah, the track charting for only the second time in its history after a Number 65 appearance last June to mark the 10th anniversary of his untimely death. The renewed interest in the song is thanks to a performance by American Idol contestant Jason Castro on the third semi-final show two weeks ago. Enough people caught the ITV2 airing of the show to check out the version that inspired his performance and send it back into the singles chart. In America, the reaction to the performance has proved to be even more extraordinary with the Jeff Buckley track leaping from nowhere to the very top of the iTunes chart [planting the seed of an idea in the head of Simon Cowell, which would come to fruition at Christmas]. Even the biggest music market on the planet isn't immune from spontaneous surges thanks to some very random performances.