[A quite epoch-defining column this one, although nobody knew that at the time. Featured this week is the debut of the record which is unlikely to be beaten in any of our lifetimes as the biggest seller of the century and the much-heralded if initially misfiring introduction of a release policy which is now the default across much of the industry. Back here it was an exciting new novelty].
Just a few weeks in to 2011 and already we have no less than two acts who can boast the chart double of a simultaneous Number One single and album. Hard on the heels of Rihanna comes Bruno Mars who not only flies straight to the top of the album chart with his debut collection Doo-Wops And Hooligans but also against the odds manages to spend a second week at Number One on the singles chart with Grenade. Mars is surprisingly the first male star for some considerable time to manage such a double -a barren patch for the unfairer sex since Mika achieved the feat in the early months of 2007. Bruno Mars is the first American male to do the double since Akon way back in 2005.
Mars' continuing presence at Number One on the singles chart is actually something of a surprise given that he began the week trailing one of the bigger new releases of the week, albeit by the narrowest of margins. It was one of those races that really could have gone either way - the presence of its parent album on the market was either going to sap sales of the single or give them just the boost it needed. In the end it seems to have been the latter and Grenade breaks the six figure sales barrier for the second week running, taking its sales to well over quarter of a million as easily the biggest selling single of the year so far.
In a way this is actually rather unfortunate for the artist relegated to Number 2 as a Number One single would have been the crowning point to a rather welcome and at one time rather unexpected comeback. Flash back to early 2008 and Adele Adkins was the Jessie J of her era - recipient of the first ever Brit Awards Critics Choice award and the winner too of the Sound Of 2008 poll as conducted by the BBC. It meant that anticipation for her debut album was at fever pitch in the early weeks of the year and she delivered neatly on that promise, hitting an instant Number 2 with first single Chasing Pavements (exactly a three years ago this week as it happens) and soaring straight to Number One with her album 19. After that however everyone kind of lost interest. We had been told she was good, she was indeed rather good, but beyond that there wasn't much of a story - and what is more the headlines were snatched away from her by fellow hot young thing Duffy who went one better, topping the charts with her single and releasing an album that was somehow cooler and more with it. By late spring Adele was struggling to place singles in the Top 20 and the album had settled into a pattern of slow and unspectacular sales.
Three years on and the position appears totally reversed. Duffy's second album came out at the back end of 2010 but after discarding everything that made her first one good, received only a lukewarm reception and failed to chart its first single inside the Top 40. Adele on the other hand was going through a rather unexpected revival, all thanks to a random Bob Dylan cover she had released as a last ditch single in late 2008 and which thanks to some timely TV exposure was about to wind up as the biggest selling single of her career so far. Last week Make You Feel My Love was back in the Top 10 for the fourth time (a chart first for a single chart run) and the all but forgotten 19 album was itself comfortably amongst the bestsellers.
Against this backdrop then Adele is in the fortunate position of having some brand new product to promote - and better still some new product which has been acclaimed by everyone who has heard it as a work far surpassing her first. It is therefore with something of a triumphant flourish that Rolling In The Deep, the first single from her forthcoming album 21 storms the chart as the biggest new entry of the week to give Adele her second Top 10 hit in as many weeks. To enter at Number 2 however must be an enormous frustration, particularly given that Rolling In The Deep does so with four times the first week sale that Chasing Pavements achieved three years ago. Topping the charts would have been as good a way as any to prove that the acclaim for the new album is not mere hype. Instead for the second time in her short career so far she finds herself denied a Number One single at the death - all the more galling when you consider Rolling In The Deep started the week with a handy sales lead. Never mind - the track stands head and shoulders above everything else as the best thing you have heard this year, as indeed is its parent album which should be at the top of the album chart or thereabouts by the time you read my ramblings next week.
Adele's single is but one of a sizable number of new singles to arrive in the Top 10 this week as the music industry's throat clearing is finally over and they get on with the important business of exposing us to some exciting new product. The second biggest new hit of the week is Coming Home which flies to Number 4 for Diddy Dirty Money featuring Skylar Grey. The track is the second hit single for the P Diddy fronted group, one which comfortably outdoes the Number 22 peak of Hello Good Morning in July last year. Both tracks are taken from the group's album Last Train To Paris which finally gets a UK release this week more than a month after it first hit the shops in the United States. Although he will try to insist otherwise, the album is effectively Sean Comb's fifth album and his first since 2006 release Press Play, an album which featured the Number 4 hit Come To Me a chart placing he has subsequently failed to match until today.
If that isn't your thing then try the Number 5 single this week Traktor which gives grime star Wretch32 a slightly unexpected smash hit. Tottenham born Jermaine Scott had his first taste of critical acclaim for his work as part of the Combination Chain Gang collective, graduating quickly to making his own mixtapes under his numerical pseudonym. A series of awards followed and now with a deal with Ministry Of Sound records under his belt he has been launched effortlessly towards chart stardom. Traktor may not be the most immediately appealing single you will hear this week but if you are 15 years old it might just sound like the greatest record ever made, which let's be honest is precisely its purpose.
Completing a three in a row of new entries is the eagerly anticipated new single from Britney Spears Hold It Against Me which lands comfortably on the chart at Number 6. Her first single since 3 made Number 7 in November 2009, the single is her 21st Top 10 hit in a chart career that now stretches back over 12 years - but that actually isn't the real talking point about the track. What is all the more curious is that there was absolutely no intention for it to be released at this moment until overwhelming public demand intervened.
Hold It Against Me premiered worldwide just a couple of weeks ago in a co-ordinated release to radio stations across the globe. In most territories it was followed by a full digital release of the track, its presence at the top of most digital countdowns within a few days of this premiere giving her label and instant and pleasing indication of its popularity. Imagine then the widespread shock that greeted the decision of Jive/RCA records in the UK to play the waiting game, slating the single for a mid-February release during which time they assumed everyone would be more than content to sit back and listen on YouTube or on the radio. Quickly however it became clear that this approach was not only anachronistic but commercial suicide given that the UK was just about the only territory in the world (apart from Germany oddly enough) which hadn't rushed the single on sale. I've been ranting for ages about the almost ludicrous lead time between US and UK releases of big selling singles and it is pleasing to note that just for once common sense prevailed. The label tore up their original plans and released Hold It Against Me to iTunes last Monday morning, leaving Britney to chart in the UK just one week behind the rest of the world.
The minor flap surrounding the single was particularly topical thanks to the announcement this week that two of the biggest record labels in the country - Universal and Sony - were about to abandon a decades old release policy and move to a more 21st century model of On Air On Sale - releasing records to the public at the exact same time as they delivered them to radio stations. This is a total reversal of the policy that has been pursued ever since the 1990s, when it was seen as advantageous to get radio playing records as much as six weeks ahead of their actual release, thus building up a huge demand for a single which would then be in a good position to land that all important first week chart position. Clearly in 2011 this simply doesn't work in practice given the multitude of other ways the determined consumer can obtain a copy of a new track from the radio, not all of them totally legitimate of course. A series of studies have shown that demand for a track tends to peak a fortnight into airplay rotation, useless if your release only comes after four weeks - and after studies showed that not being able to legally buy a track you can hear on the radio is one of the major consumer frustrations it is hardly surprising that after much soul searching the two big labels in question decided to act - a policy which others are almost certain to follow.
For many singles, first week sales remain incredibly important. Note that of the 35 singles that made Number One in 2010, no less than 23 of them did so immediately upon release and after a carefully built pre-release campaign. Now we are going to see singles left to their own devices, unleashed into the wild as it were with their promotion trailing afterwards in their wake. This will to say the least be incredibly fascinating to watch.
Anyway, back to the Top 10 for we are far from finished there. The fifth new entry into the upper reaches is the new Aggro Santos single Like U Like which lands at Number 8 as the follow-up to Saint Or Sinner which peaked at Number 9 in September last year and one which gives him his second Top 10 single after Candy reached Number 5 in May 2010. Both Candy and this new hit have the name Kimberley in common with Ms Wyatt providing guest vocals on the former and now Girls Aloud star Kimberley Walsh offering support on Like U Like. The track thus marks her first chart appearance away from her bandmates and she follows Cheryl Cole in becoming the second Girl Aloud to score a solo Top 10 hit. This must be all the more galling for erstwhile colleague Nadine Coyle whose decision to release her solo album as a supermarket exclusive last year backfired badly. Her single Insatiable stalled at Number 26 in November 2010 whilst the album of the same name made a brief appearance at Number 47 a week later before vanishing from the charts for good.
It is a link she seems at pains to play down, but it was a TV talent show which first introduced the world to the artist who lands herself a new entry at Number 14. The unloved series 2 of Pop Idol back in 2003 saw a young singer by the name of Jodie Connor participate in the early stages, coming fourth in her heat before finally being cut from the series in the wildcard round. Since then she has refused to give up and has doggedly worked to make a name for herself in the music business on her own terms. Clues that this was bearing fruit came last year when her name appeared on the writers credits for the Roll Deep single Good Times - her vocals being those on the bridge and chorus of the track in between the raps. Now Jodie Connor strikes out as a solo star in her own right, storming into the Top 20 with her debut single Now Or Never, a track on which Roll Deep star Wiley returns the favour by contributing a guest rap of his own. In a sense it seems unfair to land her with the Pop Idol label given that she was before now a minor footnote in the story of that series and her chart success and reputation has come entirely through her own hard work. Nonetheless it should give hope to every talented nearly made it who has ever passed under the eyes of Simon Cowell and co. All good things come to those who wait.
Keep an eye out next week for Tinchy Stryder who has been motoring up the singles chart with his next hit in waiting Let It Rain for the past couple of weeks. The track jumps 38-25 ahead of its promotion to full single status, although as the fourth official single to be taken from his acclaimed Third Strike album it can be forgiven for having a slightly less spectacular chart run than some of his previous singles. Guest singer on the track is Canadian singer Melanie Fiona whose 2009 album The Bridge didn't quite make the kind of waves here that it did in other territories across the world. With her new album The MF Life set for release later this year, a bit of chart exposure alongside a hot British star will surely do her no harm at all.
Would that her fellow countrywoman Avril Lavigne could have that kind of help. The first single from her much delayed new album Goodbye Lullaby is What The Hell and in marked contrast to opening gambits from her releases in the past, this single makes an almost unnoticed chart debut at Number 29, despite its resolute "stick with what you know" continuation of the cheerleading vibe of past smashes such as Girlfriend. Anyone hoping for a second week wonder from the star seems set to be sorely disappointed as well as the single shows no sign of catching fire on any of the online stores. An instant Top 20 hit in the USA, her 12th Top 40 hit on these shores seems set to wind up as one of her smallest.
Finally then to the Glee Cast, who may only have snatched a Top 40 place at the very basement this week, but simply by hitting Number 40 their version of Britney Spears' Toxic gives them their 20th Top 40 hit single in a little over a year. That is far and away the shortest time in which any act has raced to that particular total, snatching the crown away from - who else - Elvis Presley whose 20th Top 40 single I'm Left, You're Right, She's Gone charted in January 1958 just 88 weeks after Heartbreak Hotel became his first. For those keeping count the single is also their 50th Top 75 entry in 13 months. Until now the fastest act to 50 chart entries of any kind were The Shadows who took almost 8 years to notch up the total - and even their speed was entirely down to appearing on Cliff Richard singles contemporaneously with their own releases.
Incidentally, the 51st Glee Cast Top 40 hit is their take on Paramore's The Only Exception which charts at Number 45. In its wake it brings the original version kicking and screaming back onto the chart, Paramore finding themselves nestling at Number 52, nine months after they first peaked at Number 31 with the track taken from their Brand New Eyes album.