It was, if the ever more breathless accounts from the Official Charts Company were to be believed, the most important chart accolade of the year and a true benchmark for the ages. Just what was to become the UK's 1000th ever Number One album?
The rather murky history of what now passes for the Official UK Albums chart has meant its history has been revised on a couple of occasions in the past, the chart originally having been presumed to have started in 1958 by Record Retailer before the addition of some old Melody Maker charts ten years ago to take the canon back to 1955. Then there was the three-month stoppage during a postal strike in 1971 which the original Guinness chart books accounted for by repeating the same chart throughout until again it was decided to substitute Melody Maker listings from that period to flesh out the details.
Nonetheless, the chart canon as it stands means that by hitting Number One last week Lady Gaga's Artpop became the 999th different album to reach the top of the charts, meaning that whoever replaced her would set the benchmark as the 1000th. As it turns out this wasn't much of a contest. Outpacing the market by some distance is Robbie Williams' Swings Both Ways, the effective successor to his 2001 release Swing When You're Winning which sees him once more take on both a series of classics and a handful of new songs performed in Big Band style. Whereas the original album was released at the very height of his fame and remains to this day his best selling work the new collection opens in slightly less spectacular fashion but is still at the very least the 11th Number One album of his solo career and his third in a row following last year's Take The Crown and 2010 hits collection In And Out Of Consciousness. And of course the 1000th Number One album.
It seems almost churlish to note that despite this accolade Swings Both Ways isn't actually the biggest selling album of the week. That crown goes to Volume 86 in the Now! That's What I Call Music series which debuts comfortably at the top of the compilations chart to mark the 30th anniversary of the series. Banished to their own ghetto since 1989, compilations were once a part of the main chart listing, meaning that Now! 3 can claim a benchmark of its own as the 300th Number One.
Over on the singles chart, we have something of a first. There have been countless examples in the past of acts having huge hits with b-sides and random bonus tracks, but for an act to top the charts with what is essentially the wrong record is pretty much unique.
To explain, this week was supposed to mark the big musical comeback for Lily Allen. After four years away she has returned in typically brassy form with brand new single Hard Out Here, in typical fashion a take no prisoners lyrical assault on her bugbear of the day, in this case, music industry sexism and the need for female stars to conform to a certain physical ideal. There is a nagging feeling that the intent of the single misfired a little, the lyrics wrapped up in clever metaphors rather than her usual trademark directness whilst its sarcastic video ended up generating a mini row all of its own with allegations of unintentional racism having to be tactfully sidestepped. This week Hard Out Here debuts at a strong if rather understated Number 9, the ninth Top 10 single of her career - yet it isn't actually the biggest selling Lily Allen single of the week.
Instead, it is her TV commercial song, the cover of Keane's Somewhere Only We Know which benefits from the continuing airing of the John Lewis advert to climb to the top of the charts after debuting last week at Number 2. It is thus Lily Allen's third Number One single, her first since The Fear spent a month at the summit in February 2009 and marks the second year running that a John Lewis advert soundtrack has topped the charts, hard on the heels of Gabrielle Aplin's take on The Power Of Love last year. Yet that isn't really the story. What matters is that it will be hard not to spend the week quietly sniggering at the fact that Lily Allen has reached Number One with a single which until a few weeks ago she was denying even existed in the first place.
Yet this too is a shame, for it means that the most intriguing, nay, extraordinarily conceived single release of the week has to be content with a debut at Number 2 despite an early week chart performance which saw it in strong contention to become the first ever Number One single for the band in question and indeed which only felt short of the Number One position by the small matter of 660 copies, the smallest margin of the year. Since they stormed to Number 2 with the still exciting sounding Pompeii back in March, Bastille have struggled to match that chart success. Follow-up single Laura Palmer stalled at Number 42 in the summer and whilst Things We Lost In The Fire returned them to the Top 40 back in September the single failed to progress beyond Number 28. So just what is the single which from nowhere has catapulted the group back into contention?
Well, it is a cover version, the re-release of a very early single which attendees of their concerts will recognise as a genuine crowd favourite. Of The Night is a song which children of the 90s will recognise under its full title as Rhythm Of The Night, one of the defining moments of mid-90s Europop as originally released by Italian producer Checco Bontempi as Corona and which also reached Number 2 in this country in September 1994. As left-field as it may seem, Bastille's remake of the song continues a rather long-standing tradition of rock groups performing unironic cover versions of famous dance hits. Just a few months before the original version of Rhythm Of The Night charted, Scottish rockers Gun had one of their biggest ever hits with a reworking of Cameo's funk classic Word Up whilst back in 2007 The Klaxons reached Number 13 with their frantic cover of the Grace hit single (It's) Not Over Yet. Whilst Of The Night primarily concerns itself with a new account of the Corona song, the eagle-eared will notice that the Bastille track also begins with the opening bars of another 1990s classic - Rhythm Is A Dancer which had an extended run at the top in 1992.
Poor Gary Barlow then. Absent from the singles charts as a solo performer since 1999 and having fought his way back from personal and professional rock bottom, the Take That revival seven years ago, his work on the Commonwealth Band jubilee project last year along with his continuing role as lead judge on X Factor has helped to rehabilitate him to the point where a brand new solo album was a viable project. So it was that last week he performed his new single Let Me Go - easily his best personal work for years - on the X Factor results show and then sat back and watched it too fight its way into contention to be Number One. I described it during the week on Twitter as Mumford and Sons performing a Train song in the style of The Searchers, so utterly derivative and yet so amazingly fresh sounding is the track. Let Me Go debuts at Number 3, discounting the Commonwealth Band track Sing and the Robbie Williams duet Shame from 2010, his highest charting solo single since Love Won't Wait topped the charts back in 1997. And yet it is still only the third most interesting singles chart story of the week.
One other Top 10 story of note - last week's Number One single Animals by Martin Garrix dips 1-6 this time around, the time in as many weeks the chart-topping single has fallen five places at a stroke. Oddly enough its immediate predecessor at the top Look Right Through by Storm Queen arrests its fall and dips just one place to Number 7. Oh, and in case you are wondering yes, One Direction did indeed release no less than three different new tracks over the course of last week - but as Instant Grat singles they are all ineligible until next week's chart.
Far and away the most successful group ever to be spawned by The X Factor, JLS recently announced that after four years and three successful albums they were to split, their departure marked by a Greatest Hits collection Goodbye and one final single. Whilst the album debuts at Number 6 this week, hopes that their fans would give them one final chart hurrah with farewell track Billion Lights are dashed somewhat as the single makes a rather miserable appearance at Number 19, for now, their lowest charting single to date. Still, they have at least fared rather better than the act who once upon a time were competing head to head with Gary Barlow and Take That for top chart honours. Continuing the comeback which began two years ago, Boyzone return to the Top 40 this week at a most impressive Number 39 with Love Will Save The Day, the single charting from their forthcoming 20th-anniversary album. Only their last single, 2010 release Love Is Hurricane which limped to Number 44 has ever charted lower.