David Bowie has a new entry on the UK singles chart this week. That fact in itself is more notable than it might first appear - but read on, I'll come to that later.
All good things come to those who wait, even pop stars. Five weeks after it was first released, during the course of which it was never out of the Top 3, Scream And Shout by will.i.am and Britney Spears finally fulfils its destiny and finally ousts James Arthur from the very top of the official UK singles chart. The track is thus the third Number One single in a row for will.i.am, his first (naturally) of 2013 hard on the heels of both This Is Love and Hall Of Fame by The Script on which he provided guest vocals. Overall it is his fourth as a solo or guest act and the ninth of his career overall taking the five Black Eyed Peas chart-toppers into account.
For guest star Britney Spears, the track marks quite an impressive chart comeback. When Scream and Shout first charted at Number 2 it was already her biggest UK chart single for five years but it now returns her to the top of the charts for the first time in an astonishing eight and a half years - Everytime back in June 2004 her last visit to the top of the charts. Overall it is her sixth Number One single in this country, although it is her first release of any kind where she has been the featured rather than lead artist on a single. If only she'd thought of doing it before.
Just behind at Number 2 is Taylor Swift with I Knew You Were Trouble, the single easily the best performer of the new year lull. The track now beats the Number 5 peak of We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together to match the chart peak of her 2009 debut Love Story as her highest charting single to date. Meanwhile, James Arthur slumps to Number 3 but as predicted is now certified as a million seller whilst Rihanna moves up to Number 4 as Stay reclaims the chart peak it first occupied on the Christmas chart.
Completing a Top 5 of rather unusual significance, Calvin Harris and Tinie Tempah advance ten places to Number 15 with Drinking From The Bottle. Harris' album 18 months can thus boast no less than seven Top 10 singles amongst its tracks, the six credited to Harris himself plus Rihanna's We Found Love which also features. Although Katy Perry's Teenage Dream album also recently spawned seven Top 10 hits, the final two were taken from the special edition re-release. To find an album with as many as seven top tenners amongst its original tracklisting you have to go as far back as 1991 and Michael Jackson's Dangerous.
So to David Bowie who surprised the world last week when out of nowhere and on his 66th birthday he not only released a brand new single but revealed his first album ten years was set for release in March. A tender and rather heartbreakingly gorgeous track, Where Are We Now was swiftly one of the most downloaded singles in the land, yet those of us seasoned chart observers knew in advance the surprise news which greeted the midweek chart update - the single was almost certainly chart ineligible.
The problem was the old promotional stunt - the instant gratification offer whereby advance purchasers of the album were 'donated' the track ahead of release. This was enough to disqualify it from the singles chart - a fate which had befallen singles from the likes of Coldplay, Oasis and most recently Madonna and which had previously passed without comment. However this time it was different. The prospect of a major new single from a musical legend and which was set to become his biggest seller in decades absent from the singles chart on a technicality would have been a major PR own goal. The Official Charts Company was upfront about the issue - data they received from Apple did not discriminate between sales of people purchasing the single and those downloading from the instant grat promotion. Resolving this was the only barrier to a chart appearance.
So all credit to David Bowie. Without meaning to he created the urgency to resolve a technical issue which has festered for over five years, for after what I understand to be several days of high-level talks, mountains were moved, software was tweaked and Where Are We Now was cleared to take its place on the chart. The single is his first Top 10 hit in almost 20 years, 1993 release Jump They Sayhaving peaked at Number 9. To find a Bowie single climbing higher than that you have to go further back - to 1986 and his theme to the movie Absolute Beginners which peaked at Number 2. For a man who was amongst the first to explore the possibilities of online exploitation of his music to see his first release of the digital era become his most successful single in decades is actually rather gratifying.
Over on the still becalmed album chart, Emeli Sande bounds back to Number One yet again with Our Version Of Events, sales of the album spurred on further by the appearance of her new single Clown at Number 23 on its way to being another guaranteed smash, but the highest charting new release of the way is rather amusingly the original cast recording of Les Miserables which lands at Number 5 to coincide with the release of the musical film. That's a higher placing than the Mamma Mia cast recording which peaked at Number 12 in 2008, higher than the Phantom Of The Opera movie cast recording which limped to Number 40 in 2004 and by my reckoning the best chart placing for any cast recording of a musical film since the Evita soundtrack topped the charts in the first few weeks of 1997. Musical soundtrack have a noble place in the history of the UK albums chart, the first decade of its existence dominated by the seemingly never-ending chart domination of South Pacific, West Side Story and The Sound Of Music.
None of the single tracks from Les Miserables have made much of a chart impact, the only one to register being Anne Hathaway's rendition of I Dreamed A Dream which lands at Number 80, making her the third person to chart with a version of the song. Susan Boyle's take on the track made Number 37 in December 2009, a few months after Patti Lupone's version from the 1985 stage cast recording reached Number 45 in the wake of Ms Boyle's original TV performance.