Quiet here isn't it? Welcome to 2005 and of course as is traditional a singles chart that sits unattended and unloved. The reason for this, of course, is simple. Just as every other business in the country takes two weeks off for the holiday period, so too does the record industry. In any event trying to promote music at this time of year would be pretty pointless. Radio stations are too busy filling their holiday schedules with listener surveys or year end retrospectives to be in the business of actively promoting, you know, new music whilst at a consumer level the pennies in record shops are more likely to be spent on discounted winter sale copies of Greatest Hits collections and back catalogue (one glimpse at the albums chart this week will show just how true that is).
In actual fact, things never used to be even this quiet until a few years ago. In 1999 with nobody really quite sure whether any Millennium Bug chaos was going to hit, the record industry effectively shut down for three weeks, thus cancelling what had become a traditional rush to cash in on the new year quiet period. When this had no noticeable effect on sales or the ability to pick things up once everyone went back to work for real, they pretty much stopped bothering.
All of this makes the one big new release that did happen over the Xmas period even more of a standout. Steve Brookstein began his Christmas by being crowned the winner of X Factor, the latest attempt to squeeze more life out of the talent show format, the concept this time being that there were no restrictions on age or the kind of act that would emerge victorious. In that sense, the series can only be judged to have been half successful as whilst Brookstein is no spring chicken in music terms, he is still another middle of the road male balladeer and represents no more of a musical step forward than the original Fame Academy winner David Sneddon did exactly two years ago.
Still, MOR ballads play rather well at this time of year so the release of his debut single was still going to be an event. Released in Christmas week itself (and so just slightly too late for the Christmas chart), his cover version of Phil Collins' 1984 Oscar-nominated ballad Against All Odds charged Ronan and Yusuf out of the way to land the Number 2 slot behind Band Aid. Seven days later and this week sales of Do They Know It's Christmas inevitably took a post-season tumble, leaving the way clear for Brookstein to ascend to the very top of the charts.
His is actually the second version of Against All Odds to hit the top, following nobly in the footsteps of Westlife and Mariah Carey who teamed up for a painful version which still rode the Westlife bandwagon to spend a fortnight at the top in September 2000. Phil's original version could only reach Number 2 when first released, thus giving Against All Odds the strange honour of topping the charts twice in two different cover versions but never in its original form. The only other modern track to share this honour is Lady Marmalade which has been taken to the top by All Saints (in 1998) and the all-star Moulin Rouge version (in 2001) whilst Labelle's 1975 original could not even make the Top 10. Finally, Steve Brookstein's track also has the notable honour of being officially the 998th Number One single since the birth of the UK charts in 1952, thus giving the music industry a wonderful peg to hang its new year rebirth on - just what record will go down in history as number 1000?
One record that it won't be but which deserves an honourable mention anyway is Pow (Forward) by Lethal Bizzle which was also boldly released in Christmas week. The single sneaked in at Number 11 and fell back this week to Number 14. Lethal Bizzle is a collective of some well-known names on the underground "grime" hip-hop scene in the UK, the track featuring vocal contributions from Fumin, D Double E, Napper, Jamaki B, Forcer, Flowdan, Neeko, Ozzy B and Demon [well that's utter bollocks, and clearly a case of conflating Lethal Bizzle (who is a bloke) with the rest of the More Fire Crew of which he was a part before setting out solo]. The track was first heard blasting out of sound systems at the Notting Hill carnival back in the summer and after months on white label sneaked out commercially. Pow (Forward) is designed as a kind of rallying call to the whole grime community to push its connotations with violence to the background and to literally move forward (although entertainingly possibly apocryphal tales emerged that the track found itself blacklisted in many East London clubs for provoking crowd reactions that were just a little too energetic for nervous security to deal with). Hey, it makes for a good story and for an underground rap track to make Number 11 in Christmas week is no mean feat.
On that note, big up 2005 from me and everyone else at Launch. I'm out of the country for the big flood of new entries on the chart next week so be patient...