Bitter rivalry or blatant publicity stunt? Either way, there is no denying that the latest and happily least deadly hip-hop war has succeeded in adding a new dimension to the battle between the two big new album releases of the week. It all started with Kanye West announcing that he was moving the release date of his new album Graduation (home of recent Number One single Stronger) so that it would go head to head with 50 Cent's Curtis. Fiddy for his part announced that if he failed to outsell Kanye West he would cease to make music, a bold statement that is right up there with Lisa Scott-Lee's "I'll retire if my single doesn't go Top 10" in terms of its potential for ridicule.
All I can say is that it is a good job 50 Cent didn't actually specify the period of time over which the sales of the two albums were to be compared. As far as the first week is concerned, bragging rights go to Kanye West on both sides of the Atlantic with Graduation easily outselling Curtis as both albums debut at 1 and 2 respectively.
Bragging rights also go to him as far as the singles chart is concerned as well, for despite being six weeks old, Stronger holds firm at Number 3 whilst 50 Cent's Ayo Technology is at Number 5. This actually is a situation which should be reversed next week as the 50 Cent single finally makes it to the shops, although with the single now competing with the parent album for physical sales, you suspect the boost it will receive will be slightly less than would otherwise have been the case.
The arrival of Ayo Technology is the only movement in an otherwise static Top 5, leaving Sean Kingston supreme for a third week at Number One with Beautiful Girls and Plain White T's holding steady at Number 2.
The hottest new physical release was Don't Mess With My Man by Booty Luv which soars 31-11. Originally just a one-off project for a promotional CD issued by their record label, the success of Booty Luv's first single Boogie 2Nite and its followup Shine has resulted in an unexpected new career for Nadia and Cherise, both of whom were originally members of Big Brovaz. The concept is simple but brilliantly effective, taking semi-obscure American R&B tracks and reworking them as party-friendly dance tracks and having heard their album I'm happy to confirm there isn't a single dud on it. Don’t Mess With My Man is actually their first single to have been a Top 40 track in its original incarnation, reaching Number 20 for short-lived R&B supergroup Lucy Pearl in November 2000.
"…and now a new entry from absolutely nowhere" used to be a common cry of chart show hosts in the 70s and 80s. Of course, even in those days, there was no such thing as a completely spontaneous hit single, everything in the shops having been released, marketed, stocked and promoted to a well-defined schedule. The arrival of the new download era in the charts, with a potential marketplace of 5 million different songs, has, of course, changed that. Since January the door has theoretically been open for any track to arrive in the bestsellers at the whim of the public at large. To date, no "spontaneous" hit single has really made long-term impact. Billie Piper's Honey To The B may have become a Top 20 hit thanks to Chris Moyles' urging but it was very much a one-week wonder. Then there are the more notorious examples of recent months, such as the Simpsons movie producing unexpected Top 30 hits for Green Day's Simpsons Theme and Hans Zimmer's Spider Pig. A single play on an episode of Dr Who sent an obscure Scissor Sisters album track into the Top 75 but my personal favourite example of a spontaneous hit is TV series Life On Mars sending Israel Kamakawiwo'ole into the Top 75 for the first time, a decade after his death.
This week's singles chart actually contains two semi-spontaneous hits which stand a better chance than any before them of becoming major chart hits. The first is of course Nessun Dorma, the first full week after the death of Luciano Pavarotti resulting in an upsurge of sales for his most famous performance, and one which was played at his funeral last week. The track moves 24-12 to officially become the highest charting "unreleased" single to date. The old cliché rings true. Death is incredibly commercial.
The other unexpected chart presence is that of Phil Collins' In The Air Tonight which rises 42-23 to become a Top 40 hit for the first time in 19 years thanks to Cadbury's Dairy Milk and their drumming gorilla commercial. In the good old days of course, the potential of the advert to generate a hit single would have been spotted and an official re-release campaign would have been underway. In 2007 this appears unnecessary and the track is climbing the chart (still with its original VS102 catalogue number) thanks to large-scale purchases as an album cut on iTunes and the like. I'm slightly doubtful as to whether this has the potential to grow further, given that a large part of its appeal is down to the viral appeal of the advert. After three weeks the joke is set to wear thin and is there really anyone left who hasn't seen the commercial and raced to buy their own copy of the track it features?
A paucity of big new releases means that once again Elvis Presley has the highest new entry of the week. The retro offering this time is Party, originally a Number 2 hit for the star in late 1957. Release schedules for the next few weeks indicate we are working our way through all his Top 5 hits from the late 50s (save for the ones that topped the charts and which were re-released in 2005) in more or less chronological order until October when for some reason the programme jumps to the early 70s and Vegas-era Elvis. Incidentally, another drip-feed re-release programme is underway at the moment with classic T-Rex singles being released one a week on limited edition 7-inch singles to mark the 30th anniversary of the death of Marc Bolan. These appear to have not quite had the intended impact, this week's offering Get It On only making Number 71.
The only other Top 20 new arrival is You Don't Know What Love Is from the White Stripes, the followup to Icky Thump which hit Number 2 earlier in the summer. In common with most second singles from acts of this kind, the track has sold precious few copies online and storms into the Top 20 now thanks to the rather more collectable nature of the physical release. One for fans only really.
Honourable mention must go to The Pretender from the Foo Fighters which has been climbing the chart almost unnoticed for the last five weeks. The first single from their new album Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace which comes out at the end of the month, it reaches a new high of Number 21 in this, its final week as a download-only single. Physical sales next week should hopefully send it soaring, but it is already their biggest hit single since Best Of You made Number 4 in June 2005. Said track has itself been a spontaneous hit earlier this year, reappearing at Number 38 in July following their barnstorming performance at the Wembley leg of Live Earth.
In case you are wondering, yes there were plenty of other new singles released this week but virtually none have made much of a chart impact. Salmon Dance from the Chemical Brothers flops at Number 27, Are You Trying To Be Lonely from Andy Lewis & Paul Weller disappoints hugely at Number 31, Bad Girl from Dave Spoon & Lisa Maffia is at Number 36, Let's Dance by Hi-Tack creeps to Number 38 whilst new singles from the Dead 60s, Puressence and Ash amongst others miss the Top 40 altogether. The less said about Baby It's A Fact from hellogoodbye and No Time by Just Jack the better. When an 80-year-old operatic aria, a 50-year-old Elvis track and a 26-year-old Phil Collins track all manage to outsell the best new music the industry has to throw at us this week, you do have to wonder just where the music industry is going wrong, and more importantly if they actually know how to put it right.