When the story of this year comes to be written, I've a feeling a large portion will be dedicated to the success of solo US male artists. Eamon and Mario Winans have already had lengthy runs at the top and now it is the turn of Usher to clock up a second chart-topping single of the year. His last single Yeah spent two weeks at the top back in March and now the follow-up (the still catchy but somehow slightly inferior) Burn shoulders McFly out of the way to give him the third Number One single of his career. Counting DJ Casper as well, Burn is now the fifth single by a US male star to top the charts since January. The only comparable strike rate in recent years came in 1997 when LL Cool J, R Kelly, Michael Jackson, Puff Daddy and Will Smith all topped the charts between February and August. Music over the last decade or so has been characterised by women being the dominant force in pop and in a way it is good to see a fightback by the less fair sex.
Speaking of girls though, they ran Usher a close second this week, the second biggest new hit of the week going to Girls Aloud who charge in at Number 2 with The Show. This is a crucial period for the Popstars created group as they embark on the promotion for their second album, mindful of the fate that befell their predecessors Hear'Say when their own fifteen minutes of fame expired in fairly short order. Girls Aloud, however, have the advantage of still being white hot as far as the charts are concerned, every one of their singles having gone at least Top 3 [not to mention now being the exclusivel playthings of Xenomania who would craft them a series of near-legendary pop epics from this moment on]. The Show may not be the best single they have ever released (indeed in truth it sounds to these ears distinctly naff compared to the majesty of some of their past singles) but as their fifth hit single it follows in the footsteps of their last release Jump by peaking at Number 2. I'll be interested to see exactly where they go from here as by their very nature as a manufactured pop band their shelf life is far more finite than your average act [just wait son, you haven't seen anything yet]. It may be that The Show was their best chance to have a second Number One single, I fancy you will see their next release chart slightly lower down.
Mind you, one act we have written off time and time again is Kylie and she is still around to prove us wrong. The follow-up to Red Blooded Woman, Chocolate glides into the Number 6 position this week to extend her unbroken run of Top 10 singles to 10 - a run that stretches back to the release of her career shot in the arm Spinning Around back in July 2000. It means she is now within an ace of equaling the run of hits with which she opened her career back in the 1980s which lasted for 13 Top 10 hits between the release of I Should Be So Lucky in 1988 through to Shocked in June 1991. The single that broke the run was Word Is Out which made a startlingly low Number 16 in September of that same year. Chocolate is now her 35th Top 40 single of which only one (1997s Some Kind Of Bliss) missed the Top 20.
What to make then of George Michael who it appears continues to delight and frustrate in equal measure. His last single Amazing, a Number 4 hit back in March was widely acclaimed as a terrific return to form, a record which I described as George having pulled his head out of his backside musically speaking and reminding us all just why he is acclaimed as one of Britain's biggest musical stars. For this follow-up he has gone for what almost seems like the laziest option possible, performing a rehashed version of a track that was a hit just over two years ago. Flawless was originally performed by dance collective The Ones and reached Number 7 in October 2001, ultimately the only hit single the group have managed to date. George Michael has taken the track, which was effectively an instrumental with the occasional spoken interlude and put new lyrics to it. Yes OK, any idiot can do that but you do have to acknowledge that in George's hands the track takes on a whole new life. At the end of the day the words of the song are all his own and taking the backing of an older hit in its entirety is really only a step removed from basing your own track around a sample from another. Listening to it, you have to consider how fortunate George was in outing himself when he did. After all, doing a new version of the gayest record ever to make the charts hardly leaves any room for assumptions.Number 9 sees a second Top 10 hit of the year for Blue, Bubblin' following up the luscious Breathe Easy which was a Number 4 hit back in April. All credit is due to the lads as despite their reputation as party animals they have maintained a consistent run of hits for over three years now, something which will be to the envy of many of their chart contemporaries from 2001. This single is now their 10th Top 10 hit, their only failure to date being the Christmas single Signed Sealed Delivered which despite the presence of both Angie Stone and Stevie Wonder could only make Number 11.
The Black Eyed Peas can be forgiven for cursing their bad luck this week as the fourth single from the album Elephunk misses out on a place in the Top 10 - albeit only just. OK so this may have been suffering from being the fourth single from an already successful long player but being their weakest single to date can hardly have helped.
There is a curiosity at Number 14 as Basement Jaxx, struggling somewhat to recapture their consistency of a few years ago find themselves given an unexpected leg up by a certain football tournament. After hitting Number 22 with Plug It In back in April they were scheduled to release Cish Cash as their next single. Then the BBC stepped in and chose their earlier single Good Luck as the theme to their coverage of Euro 2004, the opening titles of their programming using an instrumental burst from a newly remixed version of the track. Not wanting to pass up a golden opportunity, Basement Jaxx elected to reactivate the single which of course was only released back in January, hitting Number 12 first time around. The newly remixed version of Good Luck (complete with single that never was Cish Cash on the flipside) creeps back into the Top 20 and they can actually be disappointed not to see the track at least beat its original peak. This is actually the second time running that the BBC have used a new mix of a previously charting single as their theme to a major football tournament, the 2002 World Cup having been soundtracked by Faithless' Tarantula although Rollo et al elected not to re-release the track on the back of its TV exposure and its Number 29 peak in December 2001 remained its only chart appearance.
One act deserving of their celebrations this week are the Ordinary Boys who finally get themselves a sizeable hit single on the back of some frantic plugging by the likes of Zane Lowe. Talk Talk Talk follows their April single Week In Week Out into the charts but beats the Number 36 peak of that single by a country mile. "Next big thing" acts appear to be ten a penny but the Ordinary Boys deserve every bit of the support they have been getting from the music press and it is good to see that finally paying dividends.
Believe it or not, the most incongruous cover of the week is not the George Michael single. He does, after all, make a good fist of Flawless and the song appears to fit him perfectly. No, save your jaw dropping for the latest release from Ryan Adams whose bid for UK stardom has now taken him down the rocky road of covering Oasis songs. Not any old Oasis song of course but one which is easily their most famous and essentially one of the defining moments of their career. Written as a love song for Noel's first wife Meg Matthews, Wonderwall appeared on 1995's (What's The Story) Morning Glory album and was released as a single in December that year, hitting Number 2 and denied a chance at the top by Michael Jackson's Earth Song. Entertainingly enough Ryan Adams is not the first person to cover the track, the original version having been raced up the charts by a competing and rather more tongue in cheek rendition by Mike Flowers Pops which also made Number 2. Ryan Adams' version is, I'm sad to say, little more than a passing curiosity, possessing neither the raw soul of the original or the sense of humour of Mike Flowers' version. At the very least it gives him his second hit of the year and a second Top 30 hit but the big smash hits his small band of press devotees keep wishing for appears to be eluding him. Maybe if he had enough of a sense of humour to cover Summer Of 69.
Finally, with Greece having beaten Portugal 1-0 during the course of my writing these words, it is worth reflecting on the way both sporting and chart success sometimes go hand in hand. A Top 3 single while England were still a part of the Euro 2004 championships, the fate of 4-4-2's Come On England was sealed with those two missed penalties. One week after that quarter final match the single takes an ignoble tumble from Number 8 to Number 37. I'm tempted to ask who were the few thousand shoppers with the Schadenfreude to buy an England football record while the rest of us were still smarting over Beckham's failure to hit the proverbial cow's nether regions...