Long Shot Baby Rockabye
Ah, how many times this year have I needed to write the words "no change at the top of the charts"? Yes, I could count them but that isn't the point. The stability of the market rears its head once more, no new songs or even existing chart hits can quite muster up the sales or streams momentum to challenge Clean Bandit at the very top of the Official UK Singles Chart and so there they remain. Rockabye clocks up a fourth week in charge and indeed does so with its highest combined sale to date, shifting a total of 82,000 copies (which include 4.2m streams) and thus matches the run at the top of the charts achieved by their second hit single Rather Be almost three years ago. Guest singer Sean Paul also equals his own best chart run, having previously spent a lunar month at the top of the charts in the company of Blu Cantrell on her 2003 hit single Breathe.
As the calendar flips over to December and it no longer becomes possible to sneer at your neighbours for having their lights up already, attention now starts to properly focus on what is still branded as the 'race' to Christmas Number One. Whilst PR attention and indeed that of the odds compilers seems focused on which bit of charity rubbish might ambush matters in Christmas week, it is fun spotting the lack of attention that is being paid to the very singles which may stand and equal or better chance - those currently hovering near the top of the market. As noted in recent weeks, it took some time for odds on the Rae Sremmurd single to be offered by any of the major bookmakers. Fewer still during the last week were giving any consideration to the possiblity that Clean Bandit would prove impossible to shift between now and the end of the month. Those who did were offering stupid odds on it, leaving Clean Bandits like me free to pounce:
Don't go looking, you won't get odds like that at the present time. They crashed to the floor the moment anyone actually placed money on it, making bookies nervous. At the time of writing Clean Bandit are best price 12/1 at Ladbrokes and as low as 9/1 with other firms. In truth though 66/1 is probably a fairer reflection of their actual odds given they have to survive another three weeks weathering all storms for a seven week total Number One run. That's a tough ask, but then again this has been a mad crazy year. When Drake's One Dance spent its fourth week at the top last spring, did anyone really expect it to still be there for another eleven?
A Starboy Waiting In The Sky
I'll come to the top of the Official UK Albums chart shortly, but for now it is important to note a record that didn't actually top the charts, nor indeed did anyone really expect it to. The Weeknd's third studio offering Starboy makes a strong if understated debut at Number 5, but in truth that doesn't tell the full story. Starboy is far and away the most streamed album of the week, a fact which has not only helped its chart placing overcome a rather limp sales performance but which also most significantly means its individual tracks are sprayed like raindrops all over the singles chart. Every single one of the album's 18 tracks can be found somewhere on the Top 100 chart - six of them in the Top 40 alone. The Weeknd has two Top 10 hits this week, as the title track leaps 8-3 (Sales: 8, Streams: 2) (its highest chart placing for seven weeks) whilst I Feel It Coming which like the title track also has Daft Punk credited as co-performers rises 18-9 (Sales: 10, Streams: 9).
Any Old Iron
The official longlist for the BBC's annual "Sound Of xxxx" new music poll was published this week, ahead of a new year countdown of the as-yet unknown acts who have been voted for by an invited panel of industry movers and shakers. Traditionallly all the acts involved are unfamiliar to the mainstream by the time of the poll, although this has until now been by accident rather than design. The rules of the poll state that an eligible act must not have featured or performed on a UK Top 20 hit single by the start of November. After that anything goes.
Hence the rather fun appearance at Number 11 this week of the act who is generally considered to be a shoo-in to top the January poll. Rory Graham from Uckfield is a performing veteran of many years experience, having first started MC-ing at the age of 15. Realising he needed to be more than just a rapper he developed a talent for acoustic songwriting and after styling himself Rag'n'Bone Man began releasing his first material in 2014. His debut hit single Human is a work of strange beauty and one of those singles which grabs your attention from the get-go and just refuses to let you free until the climax. On release since the summer but having never charted before now Human is far and away one of the most purchased singles of the week, second only to Clean Bandit in the sales tables. Its streams however are only just starting to kick into life - way down at Number 67 on that chart - which suggests this is a track which is settling in for an extended chart run - long enough for him win "Sound Of 2017" or even the BRITs Critics Choice award (for which he is also nominated) whilst having a top selling hit record. In truth his home country is rather playing catch up with the track having already swept all before it in Austria, Belgium Germany, Hungary and Switzerland. He's also 14-1 to be Christmas Number One at the time of writing - although only Coral currently have him listed in their market. That's well worth a flutter too. Stranger things have happened. In for a penny....
Does Anyone Buy Albums Anymore At Christmas
Much excitement came from certain sections of the internet earlier in the week when it was revealed that Kate Bush had taken an early lead in the sales race, raising the prospect that her live album Before The Dawn could become her first Number One album in 30 years. Alas this was before a false dawn as its front-loaded sales meant it lost ground as the week progressed, charting instead at Number 4 - at the very least one place ahead of The Weeknd. It means that impressively Little Mix turn out to be no one week wonders and Glory Days retains a commanding lead at the summit, holding off the challenge from the Michael Ball and Alfie Boe album Together which rises to Number 2 and seems set to be this year's surprise package in the market.
Less of a total surprise is the way Michael Buble seems set to sweep all before him over the holiday as he comes close to having two different albums in the Top 10 this week. Current collection Nobody But Me clings on at Number 9 whilst his 2011 seasonal collection Christmas seems to have as much appeal as ever and rises to Number 11, charting naturally enough for the fifth year in a row. Fascinatingly it is the fifth most streamed album of the week, beaten only by Little Mix, Drake, The Weeknd and Chainsmokers.
Back on the main table, albums by Little Mix, The Weeknd and Bruno Mars aside, this does rather sum up the state of the festive album market and demonstrate just who is left buying long playing forms of music now. Three weeks before Christmas the most popular acts are middle of the road stars such as Ball/Boe, Buble and Andre Rieu, Mum-friendly pop stars such as Robbie Williams and Olly Murs, idols of an older generation like Kate Bush or TV performers such as Bradley Walsh (whose album Chasing Dreams lands at Number 10). Cutting edge this stuff is not.
All I Want Is A Change
Mind you Buble's five years in a row on the album chart pales in comparison with Mariah Carey's decade of domination. As the holiday fast approaches and the seasonal radio playlists are rolled out, so too the annual mini-invasion of the Christmast pop classics gets underway. Leading the charge with a grim sense of inevitability is Mariah Carey's All I Want For Christmas Is You which rises to Number 29 (Sales: 26, Streams: 34) to become a Top 40 hit for the tenth time running - every single year since the digital era began in 2007 and its downloads became chart eligible once more. For now she is way out in front - traditional fellow front-runner Fairytale Of New York languishes at Number 66 (Sales: 39, Streams: 83) - but more are on the way. Having apparently finally burned out as digital downloads these festive classics have gained a new lease of life over the past couple of years as their streams pick up thanks to people tuning in to holiday playlists on the likes of Spotify and Google Play Music. Indeed this may well be the most fascinating race of the season - tracking the streaming appeal of the songs you cannot escape on the radio or over shop public address systems.
It would be a very bold person who suggests even the remote possiblity that any could contend to top the chart at the end of the year, but once again - stranger things have happened. Amusingly not even the bookies are sure where to turn on this. Bet365 list Mariah Carey as 16/1 to be Christmas Number One, Coral have her at 50/1.
Incidentally if you want to amuse yourself at the level of chaos that currently exists in this strangest of betting markets, just bookmark the relevant page on Oddschecker. And then watch everything jump around as each midweek update comes out. Or marvel at the way Paddy Power and Betfair still have James Corden's TV advert soundtrack as low as 5/1 despite there being utterly no sign anyone is interested in either streaming or purchasing the track. Or how Ladbrokes are either being very canny or taking a huge risk, offering no price for an unnamed "X Factor Winner" but posting individual prices for all the remaining contenders in their own right.