It's funny really. The one musical act making all the headlines in the UK this week is actually nowhere near the charts. The man, of course, is Prince. Last original Top 40 hit - 1997. Last time he released an album to widespread critical acclaim - 1995. Yet he is currently the most talked about man in the country thanks to the deal he signed to give away his brand new album with copies of a national newspaper. No vouchers, no forms to fill in. You buy the Mail On Sunday (price - £1.40), you get a shrink wrapped copy of Planet Earth. As a musician, Prince hasn't been a genius for a decade. As a marketer, he is a master. Just as he arrives in the UK for an extended series of dates, taking up residence for a week at one of the biggest concert arenas in the south of England, with one deal he's ensured that a copy of his new work is in the homes of three million people with all promotion and distribution being paid for by the newspaper. When asked what was wrong with a man who doesn't need the money giving away his music and so leaving people with the spare cash to spend on music by new and up coming artists instead, a representative for the music retailers association claimed that people only have so much time in a week to listen to music and that they wouldn't buy another album if they were busy listening to Prince. To think people wonder why I think the music industry is run by idiots.
Really that is the biggest story of the week in or out of the charts. There is, of course, no change at the top of the singles chart. For a ninth straight week, Rihanna and Jay-Z outsell every other track on the market and ensure that Umbrella takes its place as one of the most enduring Number One hits of all time. Although it has only been a year since the last nine week Number One, it is still worth putting this in context. Umbrella is only the 16th single in the entire 55-year history of the singles chart to spend as long as nine weeks at the top. Even if it falls from the top of the charts next week it will still be only the tenth single ever to have a nine week Number One run with only six other singles having made it into double figures since 1952.
What will cause many a furrowed brow is the fact that Umbrella has made it this far with what is regrettably one of the smallest ever total sales. Whilst I've often pointed out that you can only beat what is in front of you, Rihanna's sales have remained sluggish, to say the least. Umbrella's biggest weekly sale to date was the 60,000 copies it sold in Week 3 when it first hit the shops physically and in recent weeks the single has barely sold half that, yet still managed to be the Number One record of the week. Is it right that the record books of the future will list the single alongside celebrated pop hits such as Two Tribes or Mull Of Kintyre as one of the greatest ever Number One hits?
Actually, I think it is. Whilst 'Umbrella' may not have sold in the same quantities that nine week Number One singles of the past have done, it has sustained its position at the top of the chart in the most crowded marketplace in history. Let me put it this way. If I fire up iTunes with 79p burning a hole in my pocket I have a selection of around 5 million different tracks to choose from, compared to the 70-80 I might have done walking into a record shop ten years ago. Umbrella has outsold every last one of those 5 million tracks consistently for nine weeks. That is not something you can lightly dismiss.
Whilst Umbrella has sat supreme at the top of the singles chart, five different tracks have lined up as the Number 2 single behind it. This week we can add a sixth to that total as Fergie's Big Girls Don't Cry leaps six places into the runners up slot. This is enough to ensure the single becomes her biggest solo hit to date, beating the Number 3 peak of London Bridge from last year and it is also worth pointing out that she herself is no stranger to long running chart-toppers, having sung on Where Is The Love by the Black Eyed Peas which had what was at the time a spectacular six week run at Number One back in 2003.
Timbaland's The Way I Are continues its steady trek upwards, moving 6-4 this week. Originally scheduled to have hit the shops last week (July 9th) on Interscope records, plans for its release were suddenly shifted with the single now set to be released through parent label Polydor on July 23rd. This, of course, causes chaos on the chart database and indeed on the charts themselves with the result being that the single version of The Way I Are now becomes a brand new product and on some chart listings registers as a "new entry" at Number 4 despite having been listed at Number 6 last week. This is actually an area where the OCC rules need tweaking. Despite insisting that the charts track "product" and not actual songs, we now have a situation where individual songs can register on the chart before formally becoming "product" and can end up with two separate chart runs because the first listing was technically incorrect. I suspect most rundowns will apply common sense and list the single as a climber rather than a new entry. [The Official Charts website presents the single as having an uninterrupted chart run and ignores this minor wrinkle, which seems sensible].
Anyway, back on track with the countdown proper and there are two other new arrivals in the Top 10 this week thanks to the now physically released Fluorescent Adolescent from the Arctic Monkeys and Teenagers from My Chemical Romance. The Arctics track soars nicely to Number 5, admittedly their smallest hit to date but when your five chart-eligible singles so far have all gone Top 5 you really don't have to worry about details like that. The achievement of MCR is far more noteworthy. The fourth single from an album which came out last year, it should really have succumbed to the law of diminishing returns but instead as befits its status as one of their most commercially appealing singles ever (and I include Welcome To The Black Parade in that list) it is hoovering up mainstream airplay and crossover exposure in a quite enjoyable manner. Moving 16-9 this week it is just one place behind Famous Last Words as their second biggest chart hit ever. [It was something of a culture shock to see Gerard Way with black hair again. But Teenagers is the MCR song it is OK to like if you really cannot stand Welcome To The Black Parade. Discuss].
Also on the move are Mark Ronson and Lily Allen who creep 20-12 with Oh My God. Physical sales get added to the mix this week (July 16) which should send the track nicely towards the Top 5 next time out. One place behind are Kings Of Leon with Fans, the second single from their album Because Of The Times. This single has had a good old fashioned chart run, making a barely respectable Number 54 on downloads by last week but now taking its rightful place in the Top 20 with the single hitting the high street. A far more appealing track than last single On Call, it now ranks as their biggest ever hit single, beating The Bucket which took them to Number 16 in November 2004.
Also new in the Top 20 is a single which has "future Number One" written all over it. With the second single from their well-received album Soundboy Rock, Groove Armada look set at the very least for one of the biggest hits of their distinguished career so far. As you might guess from the title Song 4 Mutya features the former Sugababe Mutya Buena in a high profile guest vocal slot on a song that is in truth up there with anything she ever made with her former band. Not released until July 23, the single is already in a strong position, leaping 37 places from its Number 53 berth last week. Mutya Buena's last single Real Girl was one of the tracks that lined up at Number 2 behind Umbrella. Wouldn't it be so appropriate for the follow-up to be the single that finally ends its reign at the top?
New in at Number 19, and in truth not quite achieving all that was expected of it, is club smash Bigger Than Big from Super Mal. The big selling point of the single is the lead vocal from Luciana whose impressive pipes were last put to use on Yeah Yeah by Bodyrox which peaked at Number 2 at the back end of last year. With two well-received club hits under her belt, it could well be that the solo career of Luciana Caporaso is finally set to take off. A former child actress, she first attempted a musical career at the age of 14, releasing three singles in 1994 of which only one If You Want reached the Top 50. She was even parachuted in as a replacement member in girl group Crush (alongside fellow teen actress Donna Air) who famously spent most of 1996 failing to have hits only to watch as the Spice Girls took the girl band concept to heights nobody had ever dreamed of.
As for the rest of the chart, there are new entries for Bloc Party (Hunting For Witches at Number 22) and Travis (Selfish Jean at Number 30) but with both having shot their bolts with physical releases they stand little chance of progressing further. Some amusement can be wrung from the spectacular way last weekends Live Earth concerts have failed to have any significant effect on the singles or albums charts, at least not at the top end. The one exception is a mini chart comeback for the Foo Fighters who performed at the little watched Wembley gig. With their new album not released until the autumn, the net result is at Number 38 appearance for their 2005 Number 4 hit Best Of You and a Number 58 entry for Times Like These, dating from 2003 and originally a Number 12 hit single.