[The new year chart from the 2009/2010 crossover. And we're still arguing at length over the Christmas Number One debacle.]
Forget the hype and fuss over last week's "Christmas chart". Due to the variances of the calendar, as far as the record industry is concerned, the sales that were tracked for this weeks chart survey were the really important ones - featuring as they did purchases of music in Christmas week itself and perhaps even more crucially sales on December 25th and 26th, the so-called Gift Token days in which the online stores traditionally do record levels of business as everyone cashes in gifts and populates their brand new mp3 players with music.
Inevitably this means a sense of normality is restored to the singles chart as with the silliness out of the way The Climb can take its intended place at the top of the charts, as X Factor 2009 winner Joe McElderry climbs a place to Number One, shifting a further 195,000 copies, more than double his nearest contender which we shall refrain from naming for a moment. Thus the TV series retains its perfect record of guaranteeing each of its winners a Number One single. Indeed in the ten years since the music reality show was invented, the climax of every single show has resulted in the winning act taking pride of place at the top of the charts. Complain all you like about predictability and inevitability, a talent show win guarantees at least short term sales every time - a longer musical career is naturally something else altogether.
Nonetheless despite last weeks unsavoury and unwelcome affair, the whole "prevent X Factor from getting to Number One" stunt does highlight certain issues that the show would inevitably have to confront the longer it progresses. Popular though the winner singles may be, the fact remains that they are rapidly becoming something of a cliche. Yes, the audience expects some kind of power ballad with lyrics that are tangentially related to winning a struggle or reaching for ones dreams, but the formula is now starting to wear thin. Given that a winning song is a guaranteed big seller, it probably could not hurt to push the boat out a little and play with the format. The show has changed hosts, judges and structure over the past few years - why not the final release as well.
It is also worth noting that the initial singer from the winner themselves is fast becoming an irrelevance in the big picture of their potential career. Whilst in the early days of the talent show concept, the big release in the week after the final was the be all and end all and with subsequent releases being little more than an afterthought, the template created by Syco for Leona Lewis in 2006 and 2007 proved that taking a step back from X Factor itself and grooming the new talent properly with a carefully tailored release can actually reap far more benefits than what even Cowell himself admitted were the production line covers albums that the likes of Michelle McManus and Steve Brookstein raced into the shops within months of their win.
Even American Idol, the most directly comparable international series, has pretty much moved on from the idea of the coronation song being the exclamation point at the end of the journey. Whilst the early series winners did indeed have their singles charge to the top of the Hot 100 with unexpectedly large sales, for the last few years the Idol final has simply resulted in a low key download release for the winning song and one which normally makes a brief Top 20 appearance before vanishing. The initial hit simply does matter - what counts is what the winner does with their album when it hits the stores at the end of the year.
I still can't knock the kind of sales X Factor is able to generate. Despite deluded shouts from below that "Rage Against The Machine proves that the public are tired of X Factor and tired of its chart domination" The Climb has still sold almost 600,000 copies in the two weeks it has been on sale, and not for nothing is Alexandra Burke's take on 'Hallelujah' the fourth biggest selling single of the decade. Nonetheless, despite triumphantly climbing to Number One and despite outselling the rest of the market in the biggest sales week of the year nobody will be pretending that it is Joe McElderry's greatest hit single ever or a true reflection his potential as a singing star. Indeed if, as befell Leon Jackson two years ago, The Climb turns out to be the high point of Joe's chart career, he won't be the only one feeling very deflated indeed.
One place below on the singles chart are indeed - Rage Against The Machine. Bold predictions that sales for Killing In The Name would collapse overnight did indeed prove to be wide of the mark as the 1993 single still continued to sell off the back of the publicity it garnered last week and shifted enough units to remain one of the week's biggest sellers. The irony here is that the week the single falls from the top of the chart is the one week it is actually in the charts on its own merits, the purchasers of the song being either individuals who missed the boat last week and are buying it now to make an increasingly irrelevant point or most likely those who are now aware of the music thanks to its chart presence and are commendably buying it because they actually like it. Always the most famous Rage Against The Machine hit, Killing In The Name was never actually their biggest in this country, peaking at a mere Number 25 when first released in February 1993. Their biggest hit single until last week was actually Bulls On Parade which shot to Number 8 in April 1996 although inevitably this will evermore be overshadowed by its now far more notorious predecessor.
For whatever reason the events of last week will go down in singles chart notoriety, although with every passing day more details emerge of the rather bizarre sales patterns registered for Killing In The Name. As more questions are raised over the legitimacy of many of its sales the more dubious the claims for it to have topped the chart for genuine reasons becomes. Then again as I said in the podcast last week, the chart rules are structured to ensure that record labels find it extremely difficult to hype the charts and declare bogus figures - at the present moment there is nothing in the rules to prevent a subset of the general public from doing it instead.
The true shock of this post-Christmas chart comes on the album chart where the biggest selling long player during Christmas week was surprisingly not Susan Boyle with I Dreamed A Dream but instead Michael Buble with Crazy Love. The gap was a narrow one, just 8,500 sales separated the two records, but the end result was that the talent show star lost her crown for the first time since her record was released whilst her Canadian rival landed himself his first ever Number One album. As for why that should be, well take a guess. I suspect Susan Boyle's vast sales during November and December may have finally caught up with her - and if your mum had already picked up a copy of the CD, what better alternative present was there than an album by an equally easy on the ear middle of the road star.
As for the rest of the chart, things are pretty much as you were. The final hurrah of the Christmas classics sees Fairytale Of New York reach a new peak of Number 12, closely followed by All I Want For Christmas Is You which rebounds to Number 18. Indeed you kind of have to feel sorry for the only contemporary seasonal track on the chart, George Michael's December Song (I Dreamed Of Christmas) which actually takes a tumble down to Number 32 from its Top 20 peak last week and lands just two places above Last Christmas which is his true seasonal pension plan. Never mind, even some of the hardiest Christmas favourites only turned into classics years after their release. Chris Rea's Driving Home For Christmas was a flop when first released in 1988 but has received copious airplay ever since and often returns to the charts at this time of year, the single ranking at Number 40 this week. Elton John's Step Into Christmas was a semi-forgotten Number 24 hit from 1973 until just 11 years later when it was one of the tracks gathered up for the first ever Now That's What I Call Christmas album and was instantly elevated into a seasonal favourite. There is hope for George yet.