"I'm glad they've revived the Smash Hits Poll Winners Party on TV," wrote a friend of mine recently, "except they seem to have re-titled it The MOBOs."
It was only half in jest. When the musical story of 2009 comes to be written, it will be impossible to avoid the huge mainstream chart impact made by grime and R&B stars - and most crucially most of them are British. The list of acts to have topped the singles chart this year reads like a veritable who's who of the UK urban scene - Calvin Harris, Tinchy Stryder, Dizzee Rascal, Taio Cruz and if you really must, JLS as well. [And the one thing virtually all these performers have in common? The songwriting and production skills of Fraser T Smith]. All this before we've taken note of the extraordinary way Jay Sean has barged his way to Number One in America to become the first ever British R&B act to scale the summit in the country that invented soul music. To the ranks of British stars, we can now add Chipmunk who storms to Number One in this country with his third single of the year Oopsy Daisy.
His growth in popularity kind of reflects the quality of his releases. Chart debut Chip Diddy Chip was pretty laughable, Diamond Rings was a thousand times better and very hard to resist and now this new single stands head and shoulders above the rest as the best pop record he has made so far. The heart-warming tale of romantic disaster is undoubtedly helped by the sung chorus (supplied here by an uncredited Dayo Olatunji [a 17-year-old Dyo, here making a quite celebrated debut]) but it is Chipmunk's own vocals that propel the track forward even if he does narrowly avoid the trap of being reduced to little more than a guest star on his own record. A month and a half shy of his 19th birthday, the rapper now ranks as one of the youngest male stars ever to have a Number One single with only the 17-year-old Gareth Gates and Sean Kingston respectively standing in his way as owner of the all-time record. Chipmunk's debut album This Is Chipmunk hits the shops this week.
Now for the really cute bit, for one line of Oopsy Daisy reads "now I feel like Saturdays are weaker" which just so happens to be a direct reflection of the two-way battle for the top of the charts. Trailing in the wake of Chipmunk all week and ultimately having to content themselves with second place are indeed The Saturdays who land neatly at Number 2 with Forever Is Over. It is the sixth Top 40 hit in just over a year for the four-piece girl band and is the lead single from their second album Wordshaker which also gets a release this week. With Chipmunk standing in their way it means the girls are still to add a Number One single to their list of achievements, this track almost certainly destined to go down as their second Number 2 hit following Just Can't Get Enough which fell one place short back in March. The new single sees them move beyond the pure pop of their debut to a more sophisticated transatlantic style, although the downside of this is that the producers have chosen to drown them in autotune, the overuse of which is now becoming more than a little tedious. Rumour has it that the track was originally written for Kelly Clarkson which puts a whole new complexion on the record when you listen to it in that context.
So whilst the singles chart belongs rightfully to the sound of bright young Britain, things could not be more different on the album chart. As we discussed on Chart Bite last night, top honours go to Barbra Streisand who motors to the top with Love Is The Answer. For this, you can thank her suitably fawning prime-time TV interview with Jonathan Ross a couple of weeks ago, a high profile appearance which has had the desired effect of propelling her to the top. It is the sixth Number One album for the veteran entertainer but surprisingly only her second of original solo material. She has hit the top with collections of past hits - Greatest Hits Vol.2 in 1978, Love Songs in 1982 and The Essential Barbra Streisand in 2002 whilst also reaching Number One with the A Star Is Born soundtrack on which she shared co-billing and the tracklisting with her co-star Kris Kristofferson. Her only other "proper" album to hit the top was the global smash Guilty which first reached Number One on these shores on November 8th, 1980 - almost 29 years ago to the week.
At the age of 67, she now ranks as the second oldest woman ever to top the album charts in this country - the record naturally would be hers but for the success of Dame Vera Lynn just a few weeks ago. Streisand and Lynn (who is back up to Number 5) are joined in the album chart Top 5 this week by the 68-year-old Cliff Richard at Number 4 and the 51-year-old Madonna at Number 2. The rest of the Top 10 is similarly augmented with veterans thanks to Chris Rea (58) at Number 8 and Andy Williams (81) at Number 10. With Jay-Z (39) and Muse (30 and 31) also in there, it truly means that Number 3 act Paramore (who are all in their early 20s) are the youthful gatecrashers to what is for this week a party for the chart veterans.
Back on the singles chart and the most extraordinary story of the week is the continuing rise of What About Now by Daughtry which makes a flying 39-11 leap. As we mentioned last week, despite being one of the few (in fact make that the only) American Idol runners-up to ever be promoted fully in this country, the band (named after their lead singer and former Idol contender Chris Daughtry) had until now never had a UK hit single. Both their albums have charted in the past, their self-titled debut made Number 13 in 2007 whilst this year's follow-up Leave This Town made Number 53 when released back in July. What About Now is taken from that first release and was made into a single in America in the summer of 2008. Its belated UK success can be put down to two not entirely coincidental factors. The first is its use as a suitably emotive backing track on the X Factor TV series, a use which continued during last weeks final elimination shows. The second is almost certainly down to the reliable rumours that a cover of the track is set to be Westlife's next single, slated for release in mid-November. With that particular track unavailable for the moment, it isn't too great a leap of logic to assume that this has served to further stoke demand for the Daughtry original. Although what that will do to the potential sales for the 'loife's single is anyone's guess.
New in at Number 12 is a track for which we can finally say "about bloody time". For the first time in almost exactly seven years, Whitney Houston can boast a UK chart hit as her long-awaited new single Million Dollar Bill debuts at Number 12. Regular readers of these pages will know that I've been scratching my head for some time at the bizarre marketing logic that saw her comeback album I Look To You released in the USA and throughout Europe at the end of August yet delayed on these shores until this month. Happily, the wait is now over and the release of the single is just the start of a protracted promotional campaign which will see the lady herself all over TV and radio in the coming weeks. Million Dollar Bill may not be the greatest comeback single of all time, but it still beats the Number 13 peak of her last single Whatchulookinat to become her biggest UK hit since the Enrique Iglesias duet Could I Have This Kiss Forever hit Number 7 in October 2000. It has been over ten years since her last Top 5 hit single, namely My Love Is Your Love which made Number 2 in the summer of 1999. Here is hoping the wait for the new album was worth it. Once again I'd be very wrong to condone the illegal downloading of a piece of copyrighted music, but if you are a hardcore Whitney fan who didn't see the need to wait for the UK release, I can't personally blame you if you did so.
Also racing up the Top 20 is You're Not Alone from Tinchy Stryder which races 32-14. With the single Stryder is aiming for his third Number One of the year, following in the footsteps of Number 1 and Never Leave You, both of which still occupy Top 75 berths at present. If pedigree was all you needed, then this single has it in spades as You're Not Alone heavily samples the identically named track which was a Number One hit for Olive back in 1997. Given the level of competition set to hit the chart over the next few weeks, I can't quite see it emulating its predecessors, which is actually a bit of a shame. It is about time we added to the small list of Number One hits that directly sample a previous chart-topping track.
Now when was the last time a genuine acoustic folk track made the UK Top 40? Wonder no more, for at Number 24 this week is Little Lion Man from Mumford & Sons who despite their folk and bluegrass roots have been commanding their fair share of both mainstream attention and airplay (despite its "I really f**ked it up this time" hook in the chorus). Hailing from the same scene as the likes of Laura Marling and Noah and the Whale, Mumford & Sons make few concessions to modern-day instrumentation, taking to the stage with little more than banjos, double bass, piano and guitars. Their debut album Sigh No More arrives on the chart at Number 11 (if only they had been 50 years older!) and this hit single rises up the chart to become one of the more unusual if extremely welcome hits of the week.
For all the fun we have had this week, this is really just the calm before the storm. Next week, as well as the release of 'talkSPORT - Legends and Anthems' which is the most essential compilation purchase of the year (ooh, I feel so dirty now) we hit peak time with a bang as some of music's biggest guns are wheeled out ready for the forthcoming holiday season. At the risk of spoiling any surprises already, we've a chart battle ensuing between Alexandra Burke and a returning Robbie Williams, not to mention Michael Buble with his best song ever plus the arrival of the live X Factor shows which are set to do weird things to the lower end of the chart - and that is before the potential impact of the sudden death of a certain boy band member is taken into account. Get ready, this ride is about to take off in some style.