[Uh-oh, the lack of sales angst is back. To put these almost semi-weekly moans in context, there was a genuine feeling amongst everyone you spoke to that the singles chart was circling the drain at this time. Downloads seemed to be what would rescue it (which is what would happen), but the industry was moving so very very slowly when it came to making that happen].
"Sometime in Q4" say the OCC when asked when downloads will be part of the official chart [they were still sticking to that narrative]. It seems a long time until then. Still, we are prepared to wait I guess.
In the meantime what we need to bring life to the singles chart is Number One singles that people can get excited about. Lola's Theme did the trick last week and I do believe we have another this week which has pulled the same stunt.
For all the hype, The Streets' last single Fit But You Know It wasn't quite the early summer anthem that it was expected to be. It was a passing novelty really, little more than that. Still at the very least it gave Mike Skinner his first ever Top 10 hit single and almost certainly helped its parent A Grand Don't Come For Free album on the way to a Mercury Music Prize nomination. What it wasn't expected to do was give birth to a similar size hit for the follow-up. How wrong we were, for nestling inside the album was something of a gem. A romantic ballad about heartbreak, a world away from the boozy, streetwise braggadocio of most of Skinner's material. The instant people heard it was to be a single, they were talking about it being a potential Number One. So it has proved to be, albeit with a few headlines made along the way when another artist crawled out of the woodwork and claimed ownership of the string sample that forms the central musical backing of the song (Skinner pointed out that the strings came from a public domain sample library and that the existence of another track using them was almost certainly little more than coincidence). It gives the street poet his first ever UK Number One hit and (if we are counting him as such) makes Skinner the first British male solo artist to top the charts since Will Young way back in December last year. The single has also given its parent album upward momentum and Skinner this week has the honour of topping both the singles and albums listings. [As I'd been saying for some time in these pages, Skinner was no rapper but instead a performance poet. And here he was finally with a Number One single with nothing less than a moving and elegant rhyme].
Mind you, if you thought that was unexpected, you haven't seen anything yet. The chart this week is a strangely calm one - just two singles enter the Top 10 this week but both are the kind of records that will make even the most cynical of jaws hit the floor - the second perhaps more so. Velvet Underground member and all round musical legend Lou Reed had only ever really had one UK hit single, the seminal Walk On The Wild Side which hit Number 10 in May 1973 (we'll overlook his Top 30 version of Soul Man from 1987 in collaboration with Sam Moore as it was rubbish and spoils the story somewhat). The closest he has been to popular culture in recent years came in 1997 when his song Perfect Da' was used by the BBC in a multi-artist project and the resultant single (featuring the man himself at the very start) topped the charts at Christmastime that year.
Then at the start of 2004, a track began circulating at the annual dance music conference in Miami. Ace remixers Dabhands had been inspired by a remix of the Lou Reed track Satellite Of Love which had gained mild appreciation the year before. They set out to do a proper job and obtained the original multitrack master tapes of the track, complete with David Bowie backing vocals. Using these they reconstructed the track almost from the ground up and in the process turned the laid back acid-trip original (which originally appeared on Reed's famous Transformer album) into a thundering, inspired club stormer. Reed himself loved the results and not only gave his full approval to its commercial release but enthusiastically agreed to help promote it.
So here it is, the sound of a musical legend reborn and in the process deflecting any snobbish criticism about what has been done to the classic track. The single flies into the charts and spookily matches the Number 10 peak of Walk On The Wild Side from all those years ago. Maybe if you are a hardcore Lou Reed fan (and there are enough of them about) then you have good reason to hate this but the rest of us will throw our hands in the air and join the rest of the planet on the dancefloor. Oddly enough the track reminds me a little of Dario G's 1998 hit Sunmachine which was itself a reworking of a track from a similar era - David Bowie's Memory Of A Free Festival from his own seminal Space Oddity album.
The next biggest new hit of the week is way down at Number 14, and in a way, it is a shame as it is worth far more than mid table. Teenage prodigy Estelle is the new kid on the block as far as UK rap is concerned and with this first single is demonstrating that she has so much talent it is almost scary. 1980 is one of those appealing rap singles that as well as being an instant lock for the 1Xtra playlist has also crept into the mainstream to become a solid pop hit - even if it appears the singles chart hasn't quite told the full story. I'm actually quite entertained by the way that Jentina was supposed to be the big new success story of the summer but the promotion of her first single was ballsed up in such a way that she is rapidly being repositioned for her next single. With little hype but with a great deal of goodwill, Estelle may actually have shown the way it should be done.
OK, with the big hits out of the way, what of the also rans? Number 19 plays host to the debut of Styles & Breeze with You're Shining, another four-minute slice of cheesy but somehow irritatingly catchy dance of the kind that All Around The World records have made their own. One-half of the duo is Darren Styles whose name appeared on the writing credits of Ultrabeat's Pretty Green Eyes which yes, really was 12 months ago.
At Number 22 are Ash with their second hit of the year, the follow-up to Orpheus which hit Number 13 back in May. A measure of how much they appear to be struggling at the moment is the fact that at Number 22, Starcrossed will wind up being their smallest hit single since Wild Surf reached Number 31 way back in December 1998. Still, they are at least one better than Marques Houston, the former US boy band member maybe having taken a little too long to capitalise on the Number 15 peak of his solo debut Clubbin' from March, his second single missing the Top 20 altogether.
The Cure can possibly be thankful for the presence of Lou Reed on the chart this week as it means they are only the second oldest Top 40 act. Robert Smith and the boys began their chart career way back in 1980 and spent the rest of that decade soundtracking thousands of student bedrooms with songs that alternated between dark moods and the flowering of utter joy. Past hits such as Love Cats, Inbetween Days, Close To Me and Lullaby all have their place amongst the best that the decade had to offer. In the 1990s, aside from a further classic in the shape of Friday I'm In Love the band kind of fell by the wayside a little. Their last album proper, 2000s 'Bloodflowers' failed to yield a single chart hit and even 2001s Greatest Hits collection (one which enraged some fans by being a one-sided romp through their most commercial moments) failed to see its token new track Cut Here climb any higher than Number 54. Strange to relate then that The End Of The World is the Cure's first Top 40 hit for eight long years. Not since the happy go lucky Mint Car made Number 31 in June 1996 have we had cause to mention them on these pages. All that changes this week and although a spectacular comeback would possibly have resulted in a slightly bigger hit, the presence of one of the UK's most enduring acts in the charts is something still to be celebrated.
Finally, Marques Houston isn't the only former boy band member with a new entry in the lower end of the charts. Matt Goss hits Number 31 with what is only his fourth solo Top 40 hit, the former Bros star having last appeared in the charts in November last year with the Number 22 hit I'm Comin With Ya. This single Fly appears following his foray into reality television where alongside fellow 1980s chart contemporary Belinda Carlisle he was plunged deep into Hell's Kitchen. Whilst the TV series and the resultant raising of his profile may not have given his recording career that big a shot in the arm it is interesting to note that the winner of the series was none other than Jennifer Ellison who spookily enough is about to see her once shelved forever second single finally gain a release - but more on that next week.
In the meantime, I remain frustrated. Suddenly pop music has become good. Really really good when compared to the first half of this year. I've been inspired to buy music again but my inclination is to avoid the trip down the shops and buy it on iTunes - only if I do that it won't make the slightest difference to one of the most famous charts in the world and one which I've spent half a lifetime championing.
Q4 2004 for downloads to be incorporated. Can we really wait that long?