Comic Relief week is upon us once again, or at least it was - Red Nose Day having taken place last Friday. Originally conceived as a one-off famine relief fundraiser in 1986, the Comic Relief charity has now evolved into a biannual televised appeal, each year featuring the cream of British comedy and one or two entertainment stars as well. Also part of the tradition is the concept of an official single promoted by the event which sees all proceeds going to the charity. Originally these singles had a comic theme to them but for the past few years, the Comic Relief singles have been little more than colour by numbers cover versions of classic 80s hits, done by some of the biggest acts of the time. Thus in 1999, we had Boyzone doing When The Going Gets Tough, Westlife covering Uptown Girl in 2001 and most recently in 2003, Gareth Gates brought a comedy element back to proceedings by teaming up with The Kumars on Spirit In The Sky. All were good enough pop records in their own right (all topped the charts), but all were ultimately rather forgettable.
Thus it is actually a welcome sight to see the 2005 Comic Relief single not only topping the charts once more but doing so as much on its own merits as because of the exposure given to it as part of the appeal. McFly's fifth single is double-sided. First track All About You is easily their most mainstream yet, a gorgeous ballad available in both acoustic and orchestral mixes that deserves to catapult "Busted-lite" into the mainstream in a big way. On the flip side is yes, OK, a cover but a cover version of rare quality - a sensitive remake of James Taylor's You've Got A Friend. The song was actually written by Carole King and appeared on her famous album Tapestry but it was her close friend Taylor who had the hit single, topping the US charts and hitting Number 4 in this country in 1971. The song was revived in 1997 by the Brand New Heavies but their version could only reach Number 9, McFly thus finally take the song to the top of the charts 35 years after it was first written. It is their third Number One single in all, following Five Colours In Her Hair and Obviously which both charted in 2004.
All About You/You've Got A Friend is the sixth comic relief single in a row to top the charts and the seventh overall, counting back from the original 1986 single which saw Cliff Richard and the Young Ones team up for a remake of Living Doll. Despite the presence of All About You, McFly's single still contains a cover. The last completely original Comic Relief single was the 1997 offering by the Spice Girls - although only a true cynic would suggest that Mama/Who Do You Think You Are would have topped the charts even without the Comic Relief connection.
[Let's also add some contemporary commentary here, because All About You was easily Tom Fletcher's finest ever moment as a songwriter, a deceptively simple two and a half-minute pop ditty which someone became one of the greatest love songs of the decade. And this was also significantly the only McFly single ever to not be a five-minute wonder on the charts, lingering in the sales rankings for several weeks after its release. This was their one and only truly enduring hit, and for that fact alone is actually worth celebrating].
So now to the Elvis single of the week which reverses his recent decline and slips nicely into (an admittedly distant) runners up slot. Good Luck Charm was the King's second release of 1962 and was part of his last brief flowering of stardom before the Merseybeat boom reduced him to little more than an irrelevance. For the moment, however, there was no stopping him and every one of his singles that year soared to the top of the charts. Good Luck Charm spending five weeks at the top as his 11th Number One single. Back to the present and this release means that Elvis has had 10 Top 3 hits in 10 successive weeks.
Onto the Number 3 single now and this is where it starts to get a little complicated for it is to all intents and purposes identical to the record at Number 6. The problem all stems from an unseemly row over the sampling rights to Boy Meets Girl's Waiting For A Star To Fall which has resulted in two different versions of the club remake floating about - one by Cabin Crew which charted last week and one by Sunset Strippers which lands on the chart here at Number 3. Working out which came first would take the best part of a month but suffice it to say much of the overseas buzz about the track came from the Cabin Crew version which originated down under. Their problem was they did not have clearance for the sample from the original - that is owned by BMG records who had authorised its use by Brighton trio Sunset Strippers (the same names behind the Lost Brothers remix of Cry Little Sister which was a hit in December 2003). As a result we now have the strange situation of the Sunset Strippers version claiming to be the "original" as it is the only one that samples the original single whilst the Cabin Crew claim theirs is "original" as they had the idea first over 18 months ago but who are stuck with a version that doesn't sample the, er, original but instead features re-recorded vocals by none other than Boy Meets Girl themselves.
Both versions of the track were originally scheduled for release on the same day which would have been even more confusing. Instead, the Sunset Strippers arrive on the chart seven days later and for the moment appear to have won the battle, hitting Number 3 compared to the Number 4 entry point for Cabin Crew last week. Mutliple versions of the same club hit hitting the chart at the same time isn't actually totally unheard of. The most recent example came in March last year when the chart supremacy of DJ Casper's Cha-Cha Slide was briefly threatened by a spoiler cover version by MC Jig which fortunately stalled at Number 33. The last time two versions of the same club track were in the Top 10 together came back in 2000 when Zombie Nation's Kernkraft 400 went head to head with Azzido Da Bass' Dooms Night, both singles based around the same New Order bassline, although neither track had as much in common with each other as Falling Stars and Star To Fall do today.
Spookily enough our next new entry is by the act who inspired such a cover battle - New Order themselves. Krafty is the lead single from a brand new album from the chart veterans, their first since 2001s Get Ready. Appropriately enough the new single charges nicely to Number 8, matching the peak of Crystal which heralded their comeback after an absence of a decade four years ago. Whereas in 2001 the return of New Order to the charts was a huge event, this time around the anticipation has been more muted but Krafty shows that even after 25 years of making records the group still sound as good as ever. Some will bemoan the fact that the story of the chart this week is dominated by charity records and cover version battles rather than an impressive new single from one of the most important acts of all time but hey, for years that was New Order all over - making inspiring records almost without the mainstream noticing.
Rounding off the parade of Top 10 new entries are Phantom Planet, a five piece from California whose 2003 debut album won them many plaudits on the other side of the pond but which failed to make a chart impression over here. All that changes with California which charges into the Top 10 almost from nowhere. As far as the mainstream is concerned they will take some getting used to, a cross somewhere between U2 and Led Zeppelin, but the noise they make is far from unpleasant.
At Number 13 is a genuine jaw-dropping oddity. About five years ago the advertising agency behind the building society disgracefully turned bank The Halifax hit upon the idea of using genuine members of staff to sing in their commercials. A series of in-house auditions turned up Howard Brown who was bald, bespectacled but who could actually sing - and pretty soon he was all over TV screens singing "Extra Extra" to the tune of Tom Jones' 2000 hit Sex Bomb. Other members of staff followed him onto the screen but Howard remained an icon, appearing in several more commercials and becoming something of a minor celebrity on the back of it - his image even becoming a cartoon for later commercials. Now Howard is a genuine chart star on the back of it, crooning his way through a rather lifeless cover of the classic Barry White track You're The First The Last My Everything. What makes this all the odder, however, is that the single still exists as a marketing exercise for the bank. Any publicity for the release has been done through their marketing department, the single even appearing on HBOS records - HBOS, of course, being the Halifax Bank Of Scotland group which owns the brand - and even Howard himself it seems. Yes, whilst Howard Brown has indeed achieved his dream of becoming a real life pop star he is still little more than a marketing tool for his bosses which has to make this one of the strangest chart hits ever. Next time you see him at a public appearance, ask him why he can have a Top 20 hit single yet it still takes his colleagues nearly a week to clear a cheque.
Onto better things and a real life singing star next at Number 16 in the shape of Tyler James. The 22-year-old was one of the last "real" signings made by Simon Cowell before reality TV distracted his attention, James having been signed in 2002 and then given two years to come up with material. The wait paid off with his first single Why Do I Do hitting Number 25 in November last year and now the very catchy Foolish giving him a foothold in the Top 20. A tour with Natasha Bedingfield and a debut album are set to follow in short order.
Stateside rock makes another chart incursion at Number 19 with I'm Not Okay (I Promise) from My Chemical Romance. The single is taken from their second album, the follow-up to their 2002 debut which saw them gain a following on the US independent scene. Is this the same background I've just written for Phantom Planet? Well quite possibly, but those who have been waiting for ages for an exciting new US rock band will hardly complain that two have turned up at once. I prefer the MCR track in truth.
Down in the lower reaches of the chart, there is a frustrating new entry for Ocean Colour Scene who make their first chart appearance in over a year with Free My Name. The Number 23 entry of their new single is a darn sight better than the Number 40 peak of their last hit Golden Gate Bridge but their mid-90s days of instant Top 10 hits seem a long way off. Another familiar name returning after an absence is Tweet, a Top 5 hitmaker with Oops (Oh My) back in May 2002 but who failed to set the charts alight with her follow-up Call Me. Collaborator on Turn Da Lights Off is none other than Missy Elliott who thus has her first chart hit of 2005, making this effectively the follow-up to Car Wash on which she appeared with Christina Aguilera back in November and making Tweet just the latest in a long long line of artists with whom she has collaborated. I'd count them all but I only have a week until I'm back here...