And What Have You Done?
Given the large volume of publicity this one chart countdown attracts each year, the headline news of what I am about to tell you about is unlikely to come as a shock to anyone reading this. Yet it is only right that I state for the record that this is indeed the Christmas chart, the sales tally which determines which single track, in particular, has its own unique place in popular culture and which if nothing else - even in a year when we nearly had a famous chart record broken - stands head and shoulders as the most important Number One single of the year.
The battle waged long and hard. Facebook groups sprang up to enable people to hector their friends and acquaintances. Folks took to social media to get hashtags trending and to bombard celebrities with desperate pleas for endorsement of their particular cause. As happens almost year after year it seems. Yet this time around something was different. None of the above had any truly discernible effect. Instead, this was as close to a "normal" chart week as you could have wished for. Hotly tipped new hits vied for supremacy against a well-established incumbent, clearly to the bemusement of every casual music commentator expecting the unexpected.
Finally, the full sales tallies are in, the dust has cleared, and Rockabye by Clean Bandit is Number One on the Official UK Singles Chart for a seventh straight week. The official Christmas Number One 2016. And you will find few who disagree that this is utterly extraordinary.
(Incidentally, how can you not love that they've ended up posing in front of the Christmas tree at Grace's mum's house for that press shot).
Don't Think I Could Take The Pain
The problem is an entire generation has grown up expecting the annual Christmas chart to be something special. Something different, or at the very least an excitable coronation of what everyone has been told is the most important single of the year. Starting arguably in the mid-1990s with the rise of the Spice Girls, the Christmas Number One has with few exceptions been the fastest and biggest-selling record of the year. It was a big deal week and was the place for a big deal record. That trend was only exacerbated by the Fuller-Cowell axis of TV talent shows identifying Christmas week as the ideal focus point for the climax of their contests. The colossal sale which for a long time was more or less guaranteed to the newly crowned X Factor winner only served to reinforce the idea that Christmas was there for the biggest and the best only.
That's why this week seems so startling as a "normal" single tops the charts with a "normal" sale as if the Christmas race never really happened. The numbers themselves only serve to hammer this point home. Clean Bandit's combined sale this week of 57,361 makes it far and away the lowest selling Christmas Number One since the concept was invented. This is the first time the seasonal chart-topper has sold less six figures since Mr Blobby by Mr Blobby sold an estimated 99,000 copies to become Christmas Number One 1993 and I genuinely cannot tell you the last time any festive Number One sold as few as 57,000 copies in a week. Because records of actual sales figures logged just don't go back far enough.
Forget the numbers though, for in truth Clean Bandit being festive Number One should really be seen as a very big deal indeed. Those who have spent the past few years grumbling about "manufactured" TV stars getting in the way of "real music" making a stand at Christmas finally have their wish. This year's Christmas Number One is neither a talent show winner nor a tedious charity single of dubious quality and transient mainstream appeal. Instead it is an exciting, sparkling pop record by one of the most important British acts of their time. A song whose lyric tells a poignant tale of a single mother fighting against the odds for her child. A defining moment in their career and one which ensures that no matter what they do from this day forward they have achieved their own piece of immortality. As a moment in pop history this is up there with Don't You Want Me by The Human League becoming the Christmas Number One 1981, don't let anyone convince you otherwise.
If you buy into the idea that the Christmas Number One single is an important cultural touchstone, a totemic moment for any record and in truth the ultimate aim of anyone who has a record available at this time of year, then you have to hail Clean Bandit as true conquering champions, rejoice in their success and just maybe view this as the moment when true pop music fans struck back against the bullshit which has surrounded this week over the past few years. And just installed their own true champions at the top. Bloody well done.
Oh yes, still room for one further bit of chart geekery. As I noted above Rockabye becomes Christmas Number One in its seventh week at Number One. The last time this happened? 1956 when Just Walkin' In The Rain by Johnny Ray was similarly top of the final published chart before Christmas in his seventh and final week at the top. Naturally, this was almost 20 years before the concept of "Christmas Number One" had even been conjured up by the music press. He was simply top of the hit parade for the end of December. To restate the other factlet from last week - 2016 now matches 2007 in having two separate Number One singles during the calendar year which have lasted at least seven weeks at the top.
That's Where I'll Be, Where You Left Me
You may read in some outlets that there was no kind of Christmas Number One "race" this year. Again that simply isn't true, just that the race was between Clean Bandit and two other near-miss contenders. Leading the way was Rag'N'Bone Man's Human which cemented its likely status as the first new Number One single of the new year, rising to Number 2 (Sales: 1, Streams: 16) in some style. You will note it was an easy sales winner this week, held back only by a still frustrating lack of large numbers of streams. But they will come, have no doubt about that.
Also contending strongly in third place were Little Mix with Touch and which also seems destined to be one of the first big hits of the rapidly approaching 2017. They at one stage appeared to be in line for a Top 3 place but eventually surrendered that honour to the Steve Aoki and Louis Tomlinson track, settling instead for a new peak of Number 4 (Sales: 3, Streams: 10).
The one rather curious reversal is the 16-19 slump of I Don't Wanna Live Forever by ZAYN and Taylor Swift. The track finally made its way onto Spotify this week (albeit with no mention of Taylor Swift's presence on the track) and as a result, debuts at Number 20 on the streaming chart. But its sales took a dive compared to last week, sagging 5-21. Hence a rather depressed overall chart placing. To think at one point we wondered if it would end up a chart-topper.
A Time For Giving
So what then of the other contenders. The glut of worthily promoted and specially released charity hits along with the random (and not so random) catalogue products sparked back into life by people on social media either wanting to prove a point or to pay a special tribute to a recently departed idol. Well, what of them indeed. With the exception of one notable late arrival to the party (of which more shortly) they were all utter and abject failures and lie scattered in ruins down the lower end of the singles chart this week. It seems odd to be taking such careful note of where relative flops landed, but they are the singles many will be looking out for, so here goes. And you may spot a theme developing here:
Fans of 1990s heroes The Inspiral Carpets banded together this week to pay tribute to the band's recently deceased drummer Craig Gill, attempting a social media inspired buy-in of their 1994 single Saturn 5. Whilst starting with the best of intentions, their supporters did at times fall into the trap of viewing it as a "real music against manufactured rubbish" battle which as you will note is an entirely imaginary demon. Their efforts propelled the track to Number 48, 28 places below the track's original peak 22 years ago. Streams killed it here, in pure sales terms it was the 7th biggest single of the week.
Based on last years success for the Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Choir there were high hopes for the London Hospices Choir this year with their cover of the Mike And The Mechanics song The Living Years. Not even the presence of original singer Paul Carrack on the track helped it grab public attention and it slips in to the charts at Number 81 (Sales: 12, Streams: uncharted).
A promotional push for a group of Yorkshire firefighters branding themselves the Everly Pregnant Brothers and singing Chip Pan (a public service reworking of Sex On Fire) failed to catch light as it were and charts at Number 131 (Sales: 22, Streams: uncharted). The House Of Commons choir MP4 teamed up with some sympathetic musicians to record a tribute track in aid of the causes sponsored by murdered MP Jo Cox, but their remake of the Rolling Stones' You Can't Always Get What You Want limped to Number 136 (Sales: 24, Streams: uncharted). Finally, the almost relentless social media bombardment in promotion of Salford lad James Shinny Davenport and his single Christmas Number 1 appeared to be ignored by all and sundry and the single registers at Number 252 (Sales: 46, Streams: uncharted), way below the level at which the charts are published in any form.
The one track which could have made a difference arrived too late to the party to do so. Midweek the supporters of Glasgow Rangers football club hit on the wheeze of arranging a mass purchase of Glad All Over by the Dave Clark Five, a song they have been singing in tribute to goalscorer Joe Garner. This proved to be surprisingly effective and the 1964 Number One hit shot with some ease to the top of download tables on Tuesday afternoon and remained glued there for the rest of the chart week. But this was a red herring for anyone anticipating it would make a difference to the outcome of the Christmas Number One race. Its lead over the competition was just never going to be enough to overhaul the four day head start everyone else had. Add to that the fact that the track is not licensed for Spotify and it stood no chance of gaining a head of steam with streams either. So whilst this may end up as the biggest surprise of all for some, Glad All Over charts at Number 31 (Sales: 4, Streams: uncharted) - six places higher incidentally than it managed on its last chart appearance when re-released in May 1993.
I hardly need to spell out the common factor here. Under old school rules, most of these tracks would have registered a favourable chart presence. But without streams of any significance,even the most worthy of causes simply don't stand a chance. And perhaps more than anything else, that's why this year's Christmas Number One is a 'regular' hit single, and not a chart ambush.
Kiss By Candlelight
Predictions that the ever growing impact of streaming would propel some of the Christmas favourites into Number One contention proved in the end to be a little wide of the mark, although inevitably Mariah Carey's All I Want For Christmas Is You wound up as one of the most played tracks this week, helping it to Number 5 for Christmas 2016 - just one place short of its digital-era high point scaled in 2007. In all there are nine different festive evergreens adorning the Top 40, most notably Chris Rea's 1986 and 1988 flop Driving Home For Christmas which sits at Number 26 to reach its highest chart peak ever.
Only Your Gran Buys Albums Anymore
If there is one thing Christmas is guaranteed to do, even now, it is to breathe life into the sluggish albums markets. Followers of this column over the past few weeks will know however that the life force has been granted not to the hottest mainstream stars of the moment but instead to two middle of the road stalwarts. The potent combination of Alfie Boe and Michael Ball has meant their album Together has been the surprise package of the month if not the year, selling in the kind of consistent quantities week after week in a manner which has put just about everyone else to shame.
Naturally, the collection is Christmas Number One on the Official UK Albums chart this week, selling a further 109,708 (almost all of which were physical as opposed to digital or streams) to take its tally over the past few weeks to close to 500,000. Extraordinarily that is enough to make it far and away the biggest selling album released in 2016, besting the 397,000 to date sold by David Bowie's Blackstar. It also now beats two still strong-selling 2015 releases, having shifted more this year now than Coldplay's A Head Full Of Dreams and Justin Bieber's Purpose which were hitherto the second and third-biggest sellers of the year respectively. The only album in front of the MOR pairing remains Adele's 25 which was first released in November 2015 but which has still clocked up an impressive tally of over 700,000 copies in 2016 to date.
If the idea that it has taken two middle-aged crooners who only your mum or gran really likes to sell over half a million albums this year causes you some surprise and distress, just imagine how people in the music business who have for decades built their profit margins around this format must be feeling right now.
Many (Betslips) Of Horror
It would be wrong to end this festive update on a down note, so let's return to the triumph of Clean Bandit at the top. A total surprise you say? Something that nobody could have anticipated a few weeks ago? Well maybe, aside from those of us who took full advantage of high street bookmakers both not having much of a clue about how the music business works right now and not really anticipating any of this either. This is the 25th Christmas Number One I've had the pleasure of recounting to readers online and for certain reasons this has to be my favourite one of all. Merry Christmas to all Chart Watch UK readers. See you next week to ring in the new year.