Be warned, this week's column could all get a bit Sam Smith heavy, but when one artist is as newsworthy as he, it is hard to get around the problem.
For a start, the British star once again finds himself at the top of the Official UK Singles Chart this week with a record that was only made available midweek but which soon raced into an unassailable sales lead. It is with a charity record to boot, a specially re-recorded version of the song Lay Me Down which originally featured on his debut album In The Lonely Hour but which is now transformed into a passionate and intense duet thanks to a new vocal contribution from no less a figure than John Legend. The occasion is the bi-annual Comic Relief charity appeal which staged its latest telethon last Friday and for which Lay Me Down served as its official anthem. The single duly becomes the second Comic Relief single in a row to top the charts, following on from One Direction's remake of One Way Or Another (Teenage Kicks) which was at the top of the charts just over two years ago. Since 2003 all but one of the singles released in aid of the charity have gone on to top the charts in the week of the charity appeal, the only gap being in 2009 when The Saturdays could only reach Number 2 with their remake of Just Can't Get Enough.
Back to Sam Smith though, and this single marks the fourth time he has topped the charts so far in his career, following Money On My Mind and Stay With Me last year and his performance on La La La by Naughty Boy back in 2013. For co-star John Legend however it is his first trip to the summit of the British charts, his previous best showing being All Of Me which peaked at Number 2 in April last year.
Even more extraordinarily, however, this is just one of two versions of Lay Me Down which Sam Smith has on the singles chart, as his 'original' version as taken from his debut album sits this week at Number 18. That fact in itself has raised one or two eyebrows as chart rules normally state that different versions of the same song have their sales and chart positions combined. On this occasion, however, the Official Charts Company have taken the line that the charity remake of the song is a distinctly different enough release to merit its own chart placing, separate from that of the existing hit. Demand for the two tracks is, after all, coming from two different versions. Whilst the John Legend duet has sold thanks to the Comic Relief connection, the solo take on the track sits in the Top 20 thanks to Smith's own performance of the song at the recent Brit Awards ceremony. Controversial it may be, but it actually does make sense to keep the two separate.
By a strange coincidence, one of the last acts to reach the Top 40 with two simultaneous but different versions of the same song also did so thanks to Comic Relief. Back in 2007, The Proclaimers featured as guest stars on the "Brian Potter and Andy Pipkin" remake of their own I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles), prompting the original version from 1988 to reappear on the singles chart to peak at Number 26 in its own right. The last act of any kind to do so, however, is Amy Winehouse who in November 2007 was on the Top 40 with two versions of Valerie, one in conjunction with Mark Ronson and the other in a live recording made for the Radio One "Live Lounge" show.
But that isn't all. To general all-around shock, the Number One album of the week is not Rebel Heart by Madonna which enters the chart at Number 2. Instead, the best-selling album of the week is none other than In The Lonely Hour by Sam Smith which once more rebounds to the summit. For those struggling to keep track, this is now the album's sixth spell at Number One, an all-time record for a record by a male soloist. In fact, just three artist albums in chart history have had more runs at the top - 21 and Our Version Of Events by Adele and Emeli Sande respectively which have had seven each to date and Bridge Over Troubled Water by Simon and Garfunkel which topped the charts on eight separate occasions. Three soundtrack albums have also had multiple runs at the top - The King And I, South Pacific and The Sound Of Music but these all came in the very early years of the market and in a very different set of circumstances.
Oh yes, and aside from the two versions of Lay Me Down in the Top 20, Sam Smith also sees his older singles line up side by side at the bottom end of the Top 40. Like I Can is at 32, Stay With Me at 33 and I'm Not The Only One at 34 to give him five simultaneous Top 40 hits. Back in 2011 we marvelled at the way first Rihanna and then Lady Gaga had four concurrent Top 40 hits, but Sam Smith is the first act since Michael Jackson in 2009 to have as many as five. At this precise moment, however, I cannot call to mind another occasion when a living and active act managed the feat. [More or les exactly two years later Ed Sheeran would render these stats meaningless].
Leaving this madness aside, for now, I guess you do have to have some sympathy for the man who was initially leading the singles chart race only to be almost totally eclipsed by the charity record by the end of the week. Step forward Flo Rida whose brand new single GDFR has to be content with a new entry at Number 3. It is the pop rapper's first Top 40 hit single in exactly a year and at the very least his highest charting single since he topped the charts in conjunction with Olly Murs on Troublemaker at the tail end of 2012. His last Top 3 single as a lead artist came just a few weeks earlier when I Cry also peaked at Number 3. GDFR is taken from his upcoming EP release My House and will quite probably also end up featuring on his forthcoming fifth album The Perfect 10 later this year. At the very least the single is an attempt to move on from the party rap formula that has dominated much of his work to date, the electric violin which dominates the instrumental sound and the trap beats making this one of the more diverting if possibly most unconventionally commercial Flo Rida hits to date.
Also making a chart return this week is Usher who lands his first hit single of 2015 with I Don't Mind and which features Juicy J on guest vocals. The single charts at Number 8 to become his highest charting single since Scream reached Number 5 in June 2012. The single is Juicy J's third chart single although the rapper remains best known for his role on Katy Perry's Dark Horse which peaked at Number 4 at the start of last year.
Finally, for this week the parade of new hits is rounded off by a slightly understated Number 20 new entry for Believe, the brand new single from Mumford & Sons. The nu-folk act have made their name thus far with a series of intensely performed but irritatingly catchy tracks dominated by acoustic guitars and banjos. The new single marks such a dramatic musical right turn it is hard to believe it is the same act, the first half of the track dominated by atmospheric synths and lead singer Marcus Mumford doing his best Chris Martin impression. Then at the two-minute mark the track explodes into life with rock guitars that sound for all the world like a soft metal act from the late 1980s. My brain shouted "Icehouse" when I heard it but doubtless others will see the inspiration from elsewhere. It is hard to criticise as the group would surely have been pilloried for serving up more of the same for their forthcoming third album, but it is fair to say that Believe is not the Mumford & Sons track anyone was expecting. The track is their second Top 20 hit single, following I Will Wait which peaked at Number 12 on two occasions in both September 2012 and February 2013.