1 TO YOU I BELONG (B*witched)
It is X-1 as far as the Christmas chart is concerned. Whoever is Number One next week will have the honour of being the best-selling single in the country for Christmas week and by definition whoever is at the top of the chart this week is in a strong position to remain there for another seven days. That particular honour goes not to Cher but to four girls from Dublin. Quietly and almost imperceptibly B*wtiched have just written themselves into chart history with their third successive Number One. For a start, they have become only the seventh act in chart history to achieve what used to be an impossible goal - reaching Number One with their first three singles. They are also only the second foreign act to do so, following in the footsteps of Aqua who finished their hattrick with Turn Back Time earlier this year. The girls have also matched the achievements of Robson and Jerome in 1995/6 by going straight to Number One with all three of their record-breaking singles. Want some more? OK, with their third UK Number One they match U2's total of chart-toppers which means Boyzone are the only Irish act to have had more Number One singles. One record they do hold is becoming the first Irish act to have three successive Number One singles, something not even U2 and Boyzone can boast. What about the single itself though - following the usual law of pop that an acts third single must be a ballad. A far cry from the exuberance of their first two releases, To You I Belong has a traditional Irish arrangement (one which calls to mind most of the Titanic score [for sure no coincidence]) and deep down is a rather lovely song. Its prospects of remaining at Number One for a second week next week look a little slim, there are still a number of big singles due for release - and to be perfectly honest the Spice Girls look unstoppable.
2 BELIEVE (Cher)
De-posed. Finally after a seven week run at the top, Believe is outsold by another single to give the nation its first brand new chart-topper since the end of October. As I mentioned last week the singles seven week run is far and away the biggest of the year and the longest since the Spice Girls' Wannabe also managed a seven week stay in the summer of 1996. Believe now has a new target - that of becoming the biggest selling single of the year. In the next couple of weeks sales of music will go through the roof as last-minute gift buying kicks in. Having already sailed past the magical one million sales mark, the 1,300,000 total of Celine Dion's My Heart Will Go On is now within easy reach.
3 SHE WANTS YOU (Billie)
Much was made of the fact that both Billie and B*witched were releasing singles head to head with each other this week. The anticipation was because both acts had already had Number One singles this year with their first two releases, both were on a hattrick and in all probability only one would be the victor. In the event it is 16 year old Billie who misses out although with the kind of year she has had so far a Top 3 hit just before Christmas can hardly be counted as a disappointment. If anything She Wants You is a far better single that her last release Girlfriend, despite the lesser chart placing. Full credit to her for breaking with tradition and not going for a ballad but instead sticking with the formula that made her first two singles such smash hits. In a way it is a shame that her age and choice of songs is limiting her appeal to a teenage market. Her album is far from the banal collection of pop tunes most have assumed it to be, it deserves to be heard with an open mind and this girl will certainly be around for a few years to come.
4 WHEN YOU BELIEVE (Mariah Carey & Whitney Houston)
[2007 X Factor winners' single klaxon] Funny to think that nobody has thought to combine the two US superstars before but the self-styled duet that the world wants to hear comes along at last in the form of this - the theme to the forthcoming animated film The Prince Of Egypt. Of course the problem with power ballads like this, joining together two famous voices, is that the record is invariably less than the sum of its parts. Whitney Houston has proved in the past that for all the records she has sold solo, teaming her up with another act never quite produces the same magic. This is certainly the case here, technically the record is brilliant but the song is rather average and the voices of the two women never quite gel, they never seem to spark off each other - they sing around rather than with each other. Never mind, as you might expect the single is duly massive, Mariah Carey's second Top 3 hit of the year and for Whitney her biggest UK hit for over five years, not since I Have Nothing in early 1993 has she had a Top 3 hit. Anyone who doubts the validity of what I wrote above should go listen to Donna Summer and Barbara Streisand singing No More Tears - then you will find out how magical a duet between two female superstars can be.
5 END OF THE LINE (Honeyz)
Not content with releasing one of the best R&B ballads of the year in the shape of Finally Found, the Honeyz do it again with their second single which gives them a second successive Top 5 hit. Oddly enough End Of The Line has not been mentioned as one of the contenders for Christmas Number One but maybe this time around the competition is just a little too intense.
10 I LOVE THE WAY YOU LOVE ME (Boyzone)
On Wednesday 9th December 1998 a letter was published in The Times newspaper which sparked national headlines and brought the singles chart and its compilation to the attention of a great many people. The row was over the Boyzone single No Matter What which had been released in August, had spent 3 weeks at Number One and had sold over one million copies. It was still selling healthily three weeks ago when the new Boyzone single I Love The Way You Love Me was scheduled for release. Polydor records were keen that the chances of the new single reaching Number One should not be harmed by the continuing presence of its predecessor on the chart - a view taken many times in the past by lots of different record companies. The normal strategy is to delete the older single, thus removing it from sale and leaving the way clear for the new single to chart. This time Polydor took a different route and reduced the dealer price of No Matter What to £1.78, one penny below the threshold imposed by CSC rules. Thus No Matter What, despite still being available in the shops, was considered no longer eligible for the Top 75 and vanished from the listings.
Hence the letter from no less distinguished individuals as Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd-Webber, the latter of course one of the authors of No Matter What. They took the opportunity to blast the record company for their blatant manipulating of the singles chart and the industry as a whole for the way it treats singles as a mere promotional tool for the sales of albums. Now I would not for a minute want to dismiss out of hand the views of these two gentlemen. Regardless of your view of his music, Andrew LLoyd-Webber is after all one of the country's leading composers and Tim Rice as well as being a well-respected songwriter was also one of the people who virtually invented my job/hobby and has doubtless forgotten more about chart facts and trivia than I have managed to pick up in my lifetime. Nonetheless I was surprised at the force of their ire and still struggle to understand the point they are trying to make.
Of course record companies have a huge influence on what goes in the chart. They decide what product is released, what formats it comes in and how soon they release a single to radio stations to build up airplay in time for its release. By the same token they can decide when to take a record out of circulation. I've made it plain many times that I think the enforced deletion of a single before its sales have petered out is nothing short of a disgraceful piece of cynicism so you might argue that Polydor were behaving as honourably as they could by disqualifying the single from the chart whilst still keeping it available. Sadly the "good old days" were no better, hands up who can remember when the charts were complied by handwritten diaries, easily suceptible to fiddling, whilst singles were accompanied by "free gifts" that were worth more than the price of the records themselves. Some bands would release as many as 10 different versions of singles to persuade fans to buy multiple copies of a track. Today the only problem people have with the chart is that it is possible to promote an unknown 16 year old in such a way that her first single enters the chart at Number One. Strange then how even in this climate singles sales are still climbing through the roof and there is a bigger buzz about pop music than at any time in the last decade.
Maybe if you are in line for songwriters royalties on a deleted single or if you are keen to see if it can break the record for the longest- running chart hit from a stage musical (something the Boyzone single was in line for) then you have a case for venting your anger in a letter to the newspapers. Maybe to some it spoils the magic of a ranking table of which songs are the most popular in the country when record companies can pick and choose how they want the singles to behave. It may not be to your taste but it does not make it wrong.
[I'd completely forgotten both this row and the minature rant I went on in response. The letter itself is reproduced below, although it is interesting that the pair sign off by bemoaning British music's worst American chart week for 25 years given that just a few weeks earlier everyone had been marvelling at the British invasion which had led to pop acts such as 5ive and Cleopatra swarming the Hot 100].
12 ALWAYS HAVE ALWAYS WILL (Ace Of Base)
After two successive Top 10 hits this year with Life Is A Flower and Cruel Summer, Ace Of Base hit the party trail with the third single from the album flowers. Once more they prove that they can adapt to any musical style you care to name by falling back on the old favourite - Motown. Many acts have attempted to ape the classic Motown sound in the past but I suspect few have managed to do so with as much love and untrammeled joy as the Swedish stars have here. A more derivative piece of music you would be hard pressed to find as the single takes the opening rhythm track from Baby Love, the bassline to I Can't Help Myself and the chord sequence from Needle In A Haystack and combines them all for what is certainly one of the best tributes to be produced for a long time to Berry Gordy's original sound. Of course it is cheesy and hardly original but the fact remains that an unrestrained Motown stomp is the one thing guaranteed to kick start any party which makes the appearance of this single in the Top 20 just prior to Christmas all the more appropriate. Deservedly their 9th Top 20 hit.
16 DUMB (Beautiful South)
After the radio-saturation and best for years Number 2 peak of Perfect 10, the Beautiful South come back down to earth slightly for their seasonal offering. In an album full of extremely clever songs, Dumb is one of the best, a typically ironic song of self-loathing sung by Paul Heaton accompanied by the rest of the band doing their best doo-wop for the hook. Not a contender to be Christmas Number One but at the same time it could hardly fail, and whilst they may feel slightly disappointed with their chart placing it is yet another memorable hit single for one of the nation's best-loved groups.
17 THE GREATEST LOVE YOU'LL NEVER KNOW (Lutricia McNeal)
A year ago this week, Lutricia McNeal's first single Ain't That Just The Way was floating around the lower reaches of the Top 20, a position it would maintain well into the new year. 12 months later and she appears just in time for Christmas with her fourth single, and yes you guessed it - it is a ballad. Not a bad single by any means but the fact that this is destined to become her first single so far to miss out on a Top 10 placing may well suggest that it doesn't always pay to swim with the tide, despite what the members of B*witched may tell you.
21 NAUGHTY CHRISTMAS (GOBLIN IN THE OFFICE) (Fat Les)
This is such a shame. Back in the summer the unholy trio of Keith Allen, Damien Hirst and Alex James managed to tap perfectly into the mood of the nation when they released the world cup single Vindaloo, a raucous singalong that was as appealing as it was simplistic. Whilst the tournament was in progress the single stuck firmly at Number 2, losing out in the end to Three Lions but doing enough to be regarded as one of the all-time great novelty singles. Encouraged by this success, the team behind Fat Les immediately announced they would be making a Christmas single and even gave it a title - The Official Christmas Single. As it turns out the single is neither official, nor particularly Christmassy and, sad to relate, not really much cop either. Whereas Vindaloo was the perfect inane singalong track, the followup Naughty Christmas merely manages to sound like a tired pub rock band idly going through the motions. What humour the song contains is largely confined to the video, the single itself seems devoid of any novelty whatsoever. It all seems such a shame really and the poor chart showing reflects the lack of impact the second Fat Les single has had. It gets a footnote in history for being the only brand new Christmas song to chart this year, but as a novelty comedy record that is neither novel nor particularly funny, it is otherwise best forgotten. [Video included here for historical significance, but it is hard to understate just what a crushing disappointment this single was after the inspired piece of work that was Vindaloo].
26 LOTUS (REM)
The followup to Daysleeper creeps into the chart just in time for Christmas and immediately proves that any further big hit singles from the current album are going to be hard to come by. Not that this is a bad REM song, certainly more upbeat than their last single, just a far cry from the commercial appeal of past releases. At the very least it has crept into the Top 30, the 21st such hit of their career to date.
29 WHITE CHRISTMAS (Bing Crosby)
Bing Crosby first recorded this song in 1942 but the most commonly used version is a higher quality re-recording produced in 1947. Exact sales figures for these early days are hard to come by but the common consensus is that White Christmas is far and away the world's biggest selling Christmas song. Curiously enough it has only ever charted twice in the UK. The first time was as late as 1977 when it reached Number 5 as a tribute to the great man shortly after his death. A re-release in 1985 could only stagger to Number 69. Despite being available on just about every seasonal compilation album going the single has been made available once more, this time in a special gift sleeve that you are supposed to fill in and post to a friend. This gimmick has proved enough to lift the classic single into the Top 40 for the first time in 21 years. Novelty records like Fat Les notwithstanding, genuine Christmas singles have been thin on the ground over the last few years and so it is entirely appropriate that one of the all-time greats should register a presence on the chart just before the festive period. This incidentally Bing Crosby's first Top 40 single since his duet with David Bowie Peace On Earth - Little Drummer Boy made Number 3 for Christmas 1982, a full five years after his death.
31 HOLLY HOLY (UB40)
Nobody was realistically offering odds on UB40 being contenders for the Christmas Number One slot but the performance of this new single is surely a disappointment, especially as their last single Come Back Darling returned them to the Top 10 in October. There may be a great deal of affection for the veteran reggae stars from the British public but only, it seems, when it suits them.
36 IT'S ALL YOURS (MC Lyte featuring Gina Thompson)
A brief chart appearance for this well-recived single, MC Lyte's laid- back rap is accompanied by an acoustic guitar and the vocals of Gina Thompson. It is the first Top 40 appearance for the veteran female rapper since she charted two singles in 1997, the biggest of which was Cold Rock A Party which reached Number 15 in January of that year.
39 TROPICALA (Beck)
From his new albun Mutations comes this single from Beck, typically eclectic in its choice of instrumentation and melody, are these Brazilian influences on the single? Maybe it has come at the wrong time of year as any chance of major chart success has been scuppered by the flood of Christmas releases. Don't write off his chances of having more singles in 1999, even if this is his worst performing single for two and half years.