Sometimes it is a matter of regret the fact that our information-driven age has consigned the traditional secrecy surrounding the midweek sales flashes to history. Now the newspapers and online news sites gleefully recount the day by day sales progress of the biggest releases of the week, and online forums are abuzz with the early predictions of how the sales chart will look come the weekend. It spoils the surprise of Sunday afternoons somewhat, but the fact is that if you want to look for it the information is easily available.
Just occasionally, however, the end of the week produces a twist. The position changes unexpectedly and we are instead left dangling without any real idea of what is to happen. Such a situation arose this week, with early figures suggesting that Leona Lewis would be the one to land herself yet another comfortable Number One - at least until Friday when the news slipped out that the Black Eyed Peas had edged themselves into the lead. Consequently, we were left hanging - just what would sales from Friday and Saturday do to the race? Just for a change, nobody could say for certain what would be Number One.
All can now be revealed, and the late-breaking twist held firm. It is the Black Eyed Peas who, thanks inevitably to a live performance on the X Factor results show, ascend to the top of the charts with Meet Me Halfway, the single hitting the summit in its sixth week on the chart. It is the third Number One single this year for the American ensemble, following neatly in the footsteps of Boom Boom Pow and I Gotta Feeling. To manage a trio of chart-toppers inside a calendar year is quite a feat in itself. Whilst the last act to do so was Elvis Presley in the early months of 2005, this was due to a special set of circumstances so doesn't really make for a proper comparison. The last acts to legitimately manage the feat during a normal pattern of releases were the original Pop Idol duo of Will Young and Gareth Gates who managed it in tandem in 2002, each having topped the charts twice as soloists and together in a duet by the end of the year. The last overseas act to have a calendar year triple were Westlife back in 2000 (a year after they went one better and had four chart-toppers in 1999), whilst the Black Eyed Peas have the distinction of becoming the first American act to pull off the stunt since Blondie way back in 1980.
The rise to the top of the single can be credited, naturally, to their performance of the track on the X Factor results show last weekend. Meet Me Halfway is now the fourth Number One single in a row to top the charts in the wake of an X Factor airing, a total that would have risen to five but for the failure of Westlife to unseat Cheryl Cole a fortnight ago. Needless to say, it is more or less an inevitability that the total will indeed rise to five next week - and you don't need any midweek leaks to be certain of that. [Meet Me Halfway is also notable as another in the long line of tracks which can claim to be directly influenced by Maps from The Yeah Yeah Yeahs. The extent of the homage here is not only the sampling of the bassline but also the extended single-note guitar figure which opened the original and which makes this single equally as compelling].
This all means that no less a figure than Leona Lewis is forced to play second fiddle to the act with which she shared the X Factor stage last week. Really Leona is one of the few acts who can really claim to be far bigger than the show, her level of international stardom now far beyond anything that any other X Factor winning act could ever dream of. Nonetheless, it was with a sense of contractual obligation that she performed new single Happy on the show last week and she could have been forgiven for assuming that a fourth Number One single was more or less in the bag. In the event she is confined to the runners-up slot for the second time in her career, eventually coming in a surprising 15,000 copies behind the Black Eyed Peas.
Part of the problem may be that she is by and large playing to the gallery with this, the first single from her forthcoming second album Echo. Happy is another typical slice of Ryan Tedder emotion, an impassioned ballad with a low key level of instrumentation that allows her crystal clear vocals to soar through as per usual. What it lacks is any kind of surprise or excitement. Without the song itself being in any way breathtaking or distinctive what we have here is "just another Leona Lewis single". With her debut album Spirit having shifted millions worldwide, you can't really begrudge her for milking the formula one last time for the follow-up but I can't be the only one wanting her to do something that is fresh and exciting rather than simply quite pleasant.
Still, fresh and exciting is at least what we get from the second highest new entry of the week. N-Dubz have during the course of 2009 managed the strange feat of being one of the most talked-about acts of the year without actually having done much of note. Most urban music fans will be familiar with the trio thanks to last years debut album Uncle B and minor hit singles such as Papa Can You Hear Me and Strong Again but the amount of mainstream attention they received at the time was negligible aside from a glowing set of reviews. In the 12 months since however, their profile has risen considerably. Singing on Tinchy Stryder's chart-topping Number One earlier in the year will have helped undoubtedly, but credit must also go to their label which has subtly planted in the minds of the mainstream press that Dappy, Tulisa and Fazer are quite rightly a major part of the wave of urban acts that have come to define the sound of 2009.
All they have to do now is prove it, which I guess they have nicely with a Number 5 entry for I Need You, the lead single from brand new album Against All Odds which hits the stores this week. It is an extraordinary hybrid of styles, somehow straddling US R&B and British grime whilst the backing track is distinctly and unmistakeably Eurobeat making I Need You a killer club track as well as being the perfect back seat of the bus soundtrack. It is the epic statement of intent they needed to justify the hype. Number One aside, it is far and away their biggest hit single to date and more than deservedly so.
Also new to the Top 10 is Britney Spears who annoyingly charts four places to low for new single 3 to live nicely up to its title. The track is a brand new recording and heralds her elevation into the ranks of artists eligible for a Greatest Hits collection with new release The Singles Collection marking her "ten years" as a recording star (this despite the fact that it actually comes a year too late with Baby One More Time first having hit American stores in October 1998). The Max Martin-penned track may not be the greatest single she has ever released but does at least return her to the Top 10 since Womanizer peaked at, er, Number 3 in December last year. It is the 20th Top 10 hit of her chart career although it is now five and a half years since she had even a sniff of a Number One single.
There will probably be a collective sigh of relief emanating from somewhere in the region of Camp Sugababes this week after new single About A Girl debuts at a rather creditable Number 8. The nerves are thanks to the rather unexpected opprobrium heaped upon the band thanks to their recent decision to shuffle their lineup once more. This single therefore marks the official debut of Sugababes Mark IV and with the replacement of Keisha by Jade Ewen means that the group now bears absolutely no resemblance to the one which first charted under the name back in 2000. The late reshuffling of the pack did, however, have the consequence of throwing plans for the release of new album Sweet 7 into chaos. The disc had already been completed with the Mark III lineup, and indeed Get Sexy had already been released as the lead single and had hit Number 2 back in September. The original plan was to swiftly re-record the vocals with Jade's voice added and release the album this month as planned, but this was apparently too much of a technical challenge. Consequently, Sweet 7 will now appear in the spring and About A Girl now serves as what I guess is both the first AND second release from the project. Nonetheless, there is something rather odd about the record. It is only once she is absent that you notice the distinct contribution that the mewing vocals of Keisha Buchanan made to the overall Sugababes sound. Without her, they sound soft, more mellow and dare I suggest it entirely unlike any Sugababes that have gone before. A Top 10 new entry for the new track proves that there is life in the project yet, but there will be much interest in the fate of the new album when it finally appears the other side of the holiday.
It wasn't just the singles chart that turned into a two way battle by the end of the week. At the top of the album chart, two massive new releases were tussling neck and neck for the top honours. In the end, by a narrow margin, JLS emerged the winners with their self-titled debut album, a small consolation for seeing their run at Number One with Everybody In Love brought to a close after just a week. Playing second fiddle therefore is none other than Robbie Williams who charts at Number 2 with Reality Killed The Video Star, his first chart album since 2006's Rudebox. Failing to hit the top of the charts first week out with an album is something of a new experience for Robbie. To date all but one of his studio albums have debuted at Number One - the exception being 1997 debut Life Thru A Lens which started slowly and did not top the charts until April 1998, a full six months after release. To date, his only album to have failed to reach Number One is 2003 release Live At Knebworth - its Number 2 peak something which Reality... looks to be about to emulate.
Not that it is all bad news for Robbie. With lead single Bodies having had a characteristically in and out chart performance, attention switches to the planned next single from the album You Know Me. Ahead of its formal release, the track arrives on the singles chart at Number 17 having been the cherrypickers download of choice during the last seven days.
Down inside the Top 30 the two most notable movers sit back to back on the chart. First, at Number 25 is Cry Me Out from Pixie Lott which moves 45-25, the singer also looking to add to her own account of two Number One hits already this year. The new single is a lavish ballad, clearly designed to show off the power of her voice to the fullest effect, although I can't help but think it actually exposes her more than it intended. Whilst she has quite a bellow on her, at the very top of her range she lacks the timbre and control that a true diva such as Leona or Whitney has. Great singer though she is, uptempo pop is more her forte I'd suggest. [Ooh that was harsh. As the next few weeks will demonstrate, I mellowed considerably towards the track. Plus, how can you not love the opening couplet of the lyrics?]
A more diverting experience awaits at Number 27 with the thirteen place rise for You've Got The Love by Florence and the Machine. As you may have guessed from the title, the track is a cover of the famous Candi Staton track whose dance remix has been a hit in many different guises at regular intervals since 1991. Long a live favourite of the group, their studio version first made an appearance at the end of 2008 on the b-side of their second non-charting single Dog Days Are Over. Public demand led to its availability as a standalone download in the new year, however, the track did not chart until last August in the wake of the release of their debut album Lungs. Now officially a single proper, You've Got The Love finally appears to be taking off and this week makes the Top 30 for the very first time. It is already a bigger hit than their last release Drumming Song which staggered to Number 54 in September.
Down at Number 36 is a new entry for a single which in a sense can be considered something of a failure. I've Got Nothing is the long-awaited release from the Chartjackers, a group of enthusiastic YouTubers who came together to participate in a BBC-sponsored musical project. Their aim was to write, record and release over a ten week period, a single using resources provided by other people online. Hence via a specially created YouTube channel, they have solicited everything from the song itself right down to the clothes they wear in the (donated) video. Their stated aim was to reach Number One with the single, which as you can see is a target they have fallen a long way short of. Their supporters online have been quick to play down this rather lacklustre charting, pointing out what an achievement it has been to get even this far without much in the way of mainstream airplay, an argument it is hard to counter directly. Nonetheless this stands as a shining example of how all the goodwill in the world isn't going to guarantee mass public support and so setting out a defined aim (such as a Number One single) which fails to take into account this one final variable will inevitably result in a small sense of "failure" when the true reality of reality TV finally kicks in. [Notable amongst their number: Alex Day, who would take the concept of virally-inspired random hits to new levels over the next couple of Christmas periods].
Finally this week you will notice a curious lack of unexpected hits resulting from the "movie week" performances by the X Factor contestants. Indeed the only Top 75 hit that arrives as a direct result of the TV show a week ago is Purple Rain by Prince and the Revolution which charts at Number 62, 25 years to the week since it last appeared on the Top 75. Next week the singles chart is set to yet again have an X Factor connection, as it is with an eerie sense of foreboding that we note the release of this year's ensemble charity single which for good or ill can't help but be huge.