It will go unnoticed by the mainstream media and the people on Facebook who attempt to make pointless gestures, but this week is actually the most important of the year as far as the UK charts are concerned. Covering a sales period which straddles both the last frantic few days before Christmas as well as the sales frenzy immediately afterwards, overall purchasing volumes are amongst the highest of the year. Top the charts this week and you have done so in the teeth of the fiercest competition of the previous 12 months.
So it is entirely appropriate that at the end of the year in which he marked his performing comeback by singing either lead or co-vocals on two million-selling hits and the two biggest selling singles of the year, Pharrell Williams rounds 2013 off with a third Number One hit on the Official UK Singles chart and his first ever as a genuinely solo artist, the single selling almost 107,000 copies to obliterate all competition. On the face of it, the inexorable rise of Happy to the top of the charts here and indeed to worldwide prominence over the last month seems ever so slightly random. Although a core part of the soundtrack to the movie Despicable Me 2, the film itself came out last summer and has been available to purchase on home media for several weeks too without its accompanying song receiving much in the way of attention. The explanation is, of course, the notorious 24 Hours Of Happy video project which takes the idea of a promotional clip to absurd new heights, a day-long project featuring a seemingly endless succession of people dancing and expressing the joy inspired by the song. Pharrell Williams' Number One single somehow becomes more than just a pop record, but the repeated soundtrack to something which ranks as a genuine work of art.
Naturally enough this is all at the expense of X Factor winner Sam Bailey who dips to Number 2, her final chart placing possibly something of a surprise given the way live tracking of its digital sales suggested the single's appeal was rather more vanishingly brief. It is clear that the physical sales which failed to contribute much to the Christmas Number One triumph of Skyscraper have seemingly rescued the track this week, impulse purchases helping its second-week sale of 85,000 to be respectable rather than totally disappointing.
There is another Williams at the top of the Official UK Albums chart as Robbie maintains his crown with Swings Both Ways extending its run at the top. His nearest competition this week came oddly enough not from One Direction but instead his erstwhile Take That bandmate Gary Barlow who advances to Number 2 with Since I Saw You Last at the expense of the X Factor-created boy band. One Direction's sales this week were at least enough to ensure that overall sales of Midnight Memories finally eased past those of Emeli Sande to become the biggest selling album of the year and ensuring that 2013 avoided the ignominy of seeing a 2012 release outsell everything else released this year. Only Robbie Williams can theoretically prevent them claiming the best selling crown this year, but as he remains over 60,000 copies off the pace, the chances of him making that up in the final three days of the year are to say the least slim.
Back to what's left of the singles chart and the only new entry of note is that of Beyonce's Drunk In Love (with husband Jay-Z on co-vocals) which advances 57-29 and seems in pole position to grow into the first single hit from the Beyonce album which is still selling in healthy numbers and rises to Number 4 this week.
With good reason, this chart is known as the gift token countdown as it is shaped extensively by the redemption of pre-purchased vouchers for online stores and by people eagerly populating their brand new media player devices, stores such as iTunes traditionally reporting their highest volumes of the year on December 25 and 26. Naturally enough this is to the benefit of some of the most notable chart hits of the year, a wide variety of 2013 big sellers receiving sales burst which send them rocketing back up the singles chart.
As a result we have Roar moving 15-8, Counting Stars rising 22-10, Royals up 24-26, Wake Me Up lifting 27-17, Burn surging 38-18, Wrecking Ball swinging 42-22, Can We Dance jiving 74-35 and (perhaps demonstrating just where people's heads are at during party season) Skip To The Good Bit by Rizzle Kicks shooting 79-31 closely followed by a 109-40 leap for Jessie J's It's My Party.
Music Week magazine reports that a grand total of 4,532,613 singles were sold last week, 46% more than in the supposedly "all-important" Christmas chart before it, but despite still being one of the highest weekly totals of all time this is still 20% down on the record set this week last year when 5,696,413 singles were sold. An artificial high or true market peak? That seems set to become the developing story as we head into 2014. [2012 and 2013 marked the absolute peak of the digital download market. From this point on things fell off a cliff in a quite dramatic way].
Happy new year.