It is the final week before Band Aid. Effectively the final week of the year where it is open house on the top of the charts. This has led to singles releases from a number of acts all hoping to sneak in and grab a quick spell at the top before the holiday period, all of whom have quite surprisingly fallen some way short. It leaves the trio of Girls Aloud, Destiny's Child and Lemar to all hold on nicely to their chart positions. For Girls Aloud it is their second week at the top, I'll Stand By You becoming the first single since Call On Me to last more than a week at the summit. Perhaps even more impressive though is the performance of Lose My Breath which clocks up a fourth straight week at Number 2. Unusual though this is, the track is actually the second this year to manage the feat, Kelis' Milkshake having had a similar chart run back in January.
The biggest new hit of the week thus slides in at Number 4 and let's be honest here. Did anyone really expect to still be seeing solo hits from former members of the Spice Girls as we reach the dawn of 2005? Although undoubtedly one of the stronger characters in the group, Geri was never exactly the best singer but she was always able to turn her personality to her advantage, especially when promoting herself as a solo star. This led to a very successful first solo album which in 1999 and 2000 spawned four hit singles and no less than three Number One hits, Mi Chico Latino, Lift Me Up and Bag It Up. Expectations were therefore high for her second solo set which was released in 2001 but despite another Number One hit with the Bridget Jones soundtrack hit cover of It's Raining Men, the next two singles (and indeed the album itself) disappointed. She effectively bowed out in December 2001 with the Number 7 single Calling. Now, however, she is back with another new figure, a new record deal and an urgent need to succeed in a world where most of her former bandmates are musical has-beens and where 'former Spice Girl' is by no means a fast track to chart success. This has meant weeks of frantic promotion for new single Ride It with acres of tabloid coverage, endless sets at G.A.Y. and effectively the kitchen sink having been thrown at this single, all to get it as high up the charts as possible. In the end, it is a Number 4 hit which isn't bad. It is no disaster certainly but having lost out to three other singles (including one which is a month old and whose parent album hit the shops this week) there is a genuine feeling of could have done better. I was actually always a huge Geri fan, complete with signed copy of her first album and was even one of the few who bought the disappointing second. The most successful Spice comeback recently was that of Emma Bunton who did so by doing something radical and surprising with her musical style. It is a lesson that Geri would do well to learn from.
In at Number 5 is Nelly with another superstar collaboration as the follow-up to the smash Number One hit My Place. His partner on Tilt Ya Head Back is no less a figure than Christina Aguilera who helps the single to a Top 5 position. Throughout his career so far Nelly has managed to attract guest singers who are a cut above the usual semi-anonymous session types. Kelly Rowland, of course, joined him for the chart-topping Dilemma in 2002 whilst Justin Timberlake helped Work It reach Number 7 in March 2003. This is only the second time that Christina Aguilera has guested on another person's hit single, her last collaborative effort coming in March 2001 when she handled the female part on Ricky Martin's Nobody Wants To Be Lonely which hit Number 4. For Nelly, it is his ninth Top 10 hit single since his chart debut back in late 2000.
The trio of new hits is completed with former Westlife star Brian McFadden's second solo hit at Number 6. Irish Son is the follow-up to Real To Me which topped the charts for a week back in September. As a solo star McFadden has turned his back both in musical style and personal image on his old boy band persona. Gone are the cheesy harmonised ballads and gone is the rather tubby lad, replaced by a new trimmer figure, designer stubble and a focused attitude, an image marred only by the rather public breakup of his marriage to wife Kerry which appears to be being played out on a weekly basis in the gossip magazines. Still, that shouldn't affect his ability to make music and Irish Son is a raw emotional track that once again moves him towards becoming a 'proper' adult artist - Ronan Keating with an edge if you will. You never know, he may just pull it off.
One last single sneaks into the Top 10 at Number 10 and it is the first single in over a year for Shania Twain. Party For Two is taken from her new Greatest Hits collection, her first album since 2002 release Up which suffered from both having to follow up the global phenomenon that was Come On Over and also from featuring a series of tracks which redefined the word 'chirpy'. Yes OK, it produced three Top 10 hits with tracks such as I'm Gonna Getcha Good and Forever And For Always but none quite had the impact of earlier classics such as That Don't Impress Me Much and Man I Feel Like A Woman. Here is where it gets complicated as of course Shania Twain singles have always appeared in two versions, "country" for the US market and in "pop" remixes for the rest of the world - part of the reason she has always crossed over so successfully. New single Party For Two actually appears twice on the US version of her hits collection in "country" and "pop" versions but only once on the European release. This European version is of course pop, featuring a guest vocal from Sugar Ray frontman Mark McGrath and yes indeed it is full of rock guitars, beats and indeed enforced chirpiness. Want to know a secret? The "country" version (with Billy Currington on guest vocals) is actually better.
Biggest dance hit of the week is Uniting Nations' Out Of Touch which follows what I guess must be termed the Eric Prydz formula to the very letter. Infectious club track? Check. Hook lifted from famous old single (in this case Hall and Oates' 1984 hit Out Of Touch)? Check. Saucy video (game of strip poker featuring various blonde babes)? Check. All in all it is actually a rather good record, it is just that the air of heard it all before that hangs around the whole concept appears to have lessened its commercial impact somewhat. Uniting Nations are Paul (a Scotsman) and Daz [Sampson, inevitably] (an Englishman), hence the name.
[And now a genuine moment in pop history as one of the most famous genre-hops of its era and one of the most enduring hits of the early years of the download era takes its bow. And thank goodness I noticed at the time just how significant it was]. The worlds of metal and hip-hop collide to a quite delightful effect at Number 14 as Jay-Z and Linkin Park link up on Numb/Encore. Numb of course began life as a Linkin Park single in its own right, hitting Number 14 in September last year but here is transformed thanks to the addition of Jay-z's rap of his own track Encore. The track stems from the MTV show 'Collision Course' which throws together artists from disparate musical genres to create their own impromptu jam sessions - effectively a live mash-up which is precisely what this track is. OK so it is an exercise in commercialism rather than true creativity but in truth, the single actually works quite well. Rock/rap collaborations, of course, are nothing new, just witness Run DMC and Aerosmith colliding on 'Walk This Way' in 1986 but this is arguably the most extreme example since Public Enemy enlisted Anthrax for a 1991 remake of Bring Tha Noise.
At Number 18 is the appropriately named This Is The Last Time, the fourth (and probably last) single to be lifted from Keane's hit Hopes And Fears album which of course was one of a number of releases cited in news reports last week for having led the music industry to one of its best years ever for album sales. You cannot help but laugh when reading those reports as this of course is the same music industry that has spent the last two years bleating about how illegal downloads were about to represent the end of civilisation as we know it, proving once and for all that record labels' predictions of their own impending demise (which incidentally have been ongoing since the 1970s) should never be taken seriously. Back to Keane though and although one of their best singles yet, This Is The Last Time becomes their first to miss the Top 10 completely. Put it down to fourth single syndrome and the fact that thousand have bought the album and not just downloaded it. Or maybe the music business is doomed, I forget.
Dropping out of the Top 20 now and at Number 21 is another new entry for the astonishingly consistent Status Quo who this year of course have rolled back the years with what are now two Top 40 new entries. You'll Come Round hit Number 14 back in September to become their biggest hit in 14 years and now they follow it up with Thinking Of You. The new single actually harks back to some of their best party classics of old, a worthy companion to the likes of Burning Bridges and Marguerita Time but their sheer lack of coolness that was once their trademark now prevents anyone but die-hard fans from taking them seriously. In all honesty I quite like this, but it just seems so wrong to do so.
Down at Number 23 is Lisa Scott-Lee, the former Steps star having seen her solo career come to a halt for a moment so she is stuck with collaborating with others. Get It On is the third Top 40 hit for Intenso Project, their first since Your Music hit Number 32 in July 2003. Their biggest was the Number 22 peak of Luv Da Sunshine which charted in August 2002. For Lisa Scott-Lee this is her first chart appearance since her brace of Top 20 hits Lately and Too Far Gone from 2003.
Down amongst the rest of the also-rans at Number 27 is I Love You More Than Rock And Roll the first Top 40 hit in over six years for Thunder, their first hit since their cover of Play That Funky Music made Number 39 in June 1998. In 14 years of hits, they have only ever once cracked the Top 20 - 1993 single A Better Man which made Number 18. The Delays are just one place below with their third hit of the year whilst at Number 29 are 2Play who return with the most horrible cover of George Michael's Careless Whisper imaginable. The track was first aired on the radio several months ago and for a time we all thought good sense had prevailed and that it had been decided not to release it. Alas. Better news comes at Number 31 with the always welcome return of oddity merchants Lemon Jelly. Stay With You is their first single since Nice Weather For Ducks hit Number 16 in February 2003. It borrows copiously from Gallagher and Lyle's 1976 hit single which was also covered by Undercover in early 1993.
With that, I'm out of here until next week. I've got seven days (OK make it six looking at the time now) to work out how to upset the most people at once with a description of the Band Aid track.