Thirty-Odd More Rockabyes
The wait (presuming naturally that anyone is actually doing so) for another one week wonder at the top of the Official UK Singles chart will go on. Clean Bandit's Rockabye entrenches its position at the top of the market to ensure it retains the Number One position for a second week with a commanding lead over its nearest rivals. Last week I noted the unusually equal split between sales and streams of the track, meaning it reached the top of the charts despite not yet hitting what generally seems to be the sweet spot of 3.5m streams. Better news then this time around, as Rockabye tops the chart with 4.1m streams adding to its total, the single becoming the most streamed track in the nation for the very first time. Based on the way the singles market has behaved so far this year, it seems a fairly safe bet that the group and vocal collaborators will lock down the top of the charts for a good few weeks more, enough indeed to take us close to Christmas time itself.
I know, I shouldn't really use the C-word with such carefree abandon, but if lights are being turned on, shops are rolling out their festive background muzak playlists and the gingerbread and eggnog lattes are on the menu at a coffee chain somewhere near you then there seems little reason to be coy about it. Predicting just what the shape of the charts is likely to be come the holiday season proper is always an impossible ask, none more so than in this crazy wild year when all rhyme, reason and convention has been turned neatly on its head. That said, presuming the slow turnover of hit singles continues between now and the end of December it is actually entirely possible that we know 90% of the singles likely to be in the Christmas Top 40. Simply because they are there already.
Not that this has stopped the betting markets for Christmas Number One being formed already, even though placing what must be considered ante-post bets are even more of a lottery than ever before. We can ignore the Betfair exchange for now, as that hasn't truly had time to form up and indeed at the time of writing has only £852 matched on any of the prices on offer. Paddy Power on the other hand seem to have a clearer idea, although they are attempting to suck in silly money by offering short odds on random novelties. What is fascinating to note is that where once upon a time the canny bookmaker would offer odds "without X Factor" given that backing the prospective X Factor winner was akin to printing money, however short the odds, for the past few years they have formed markets including this possiblity. Naturally enough the as yet unnamed performer is automatically installed as the favourite (13/8 with Paddy Power at the time of writing) although I can tell you for nothing that the single won't be Number One for Christmas. Feel free to lay it on Betfair and watch the pounds roll in.
OK, I shouldn't be too confident but last year for the first time in ages I made a personal killing on this. I backed Justin Bieber a few weeks beforehand, cashed out at the start of Christmas week when the first midweeks came out and his odds crashed and then reinvested some of the money in the horrid NHS Choir record which by that point was trading at 8-1. Pay close attention to what people are presuming will happen and then try to oppose it. You'd be amazed what can happen.
Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now
The most interesting chart move of the week just so happens to give us the only Top 10 arrival of the last seven days, Black Beatles by Rae Sremmurd featuring Gucci Mane which rockets 36-4. The American hip-hop duo Rae Sremmurd first released the track, the third single from their second studio album, back in September to little reaction outside their core fan community. Their personal "click moment" however came in early October when a group of American students selected Black Beatles as the soundtrack for the first Mannequin Challenge YouTube video. Within days the concept had gone viral, prompting imitations from all over the world - and all of them naturally enough using the same signature musical clip as its soundtrack.
If this all sounds oddly familiar, then of course it is. These are the exact same circumstances which propelled Baauer's Haarlem Shake to the top of sales and streaming charts worldwide at the start of 2013. Much was made at the time of the way the viral success of the track coincided with the introduction of YouTube streaming data to the Billboard Hot 100, the resultant use of it in thousands of 30 second clips propelling it to Number One in America and prompting some observers to wonder if the new rules had been properly thought through. The rules remain though, which is almost certainly the reason why Black Beatles last week soared to the top of the charts in the USA.
On these shores different rules apply. Watching a #mannequinchallenge video on YouTube won't directly impact the singles chart, but making one will. After all you will need a copy of Black Beatles to do so, so most people will just run off and buy one. Small wonder the track has shot to Number 4 on the sales chart this week, although it is also impressively Number 5 on streams as well.
Nothing To See Here
We can at least be thankful for small mercies. But for Black Beatles there would be little else to note at the top end of the market as the singles chart has once more settled back into one of its customary logjams. Indeed of the other 19 singles in this week's Top 20, four are non-movers and a further eleven move just one place compared to last week. The only other single climbing is one on the rebound, James Arthur's Say You Won't Let Go jumping back a place to sit at Number 2 behind Clean Bandit, although this is entirely because it is declining slower than the Little Mix track with which it swaps places.
Further down there is more going on with Swedish DJ Nevada surging 44-23 (Sales: 33, Streams: 25) with his single The Mack. It isn't entirely a new piece of work of course, based heavily around Mark Morrison's oddly seminal 1996 single Return Of The Mack which topped the charts here and became one of the more enduring hits of its era. Mark Morrison gets a credit on this new mix as does Fetty Wap who supplies brand new vocals for a newly written verse. That aside, it is a fairly predictable tropical house reworking of the kind we were all supposed to have become bored with back in September. Nonetheless it is someone's major priority so up the listings it surges.
Grow Up And Move The Needle
Speaking of priorities, those who kept an eye on the live sales tables during the week will have spotted some entertaining efforts to move the needle on behalf of some names who, as I've discussed many times on these pages, are arguably too big to see their singles wither and die. Leading that particular charge is Olly Murs who reaps the benefits of some heavy promotional work (most crucially his now-obligatory X Factor Results Show performance) to see current single Grow Up rocket 61-25 to finally become a Top 40 hit single after no less than six weeks on release. I noted when it first charted that if this single was allowed to wither and die it would be seen as a tacit admission that he's no longer a mainstream singles start. And interestingly that hasn't been allowed to happen. What has helped too is the release of his fifth studio album 24 HRS which dutifully out-jumps the competition to debut at Number One on the Official UK Albums chart - although only just after he spent the entire week trailing the Michael Ball and Alfie Boe collaboration. His fourth chart-topper all told this rather amusingly puts him level with One Direction in terms of album chart success, making the two acts far and away the most successful long-playing market performers to emerge from X Factor. And it hardly needs noting that neither of them won.
Get Up From An All-Time Low
Also probably too new to fail is former Wanted performer Nathan Sykes who landed a brace of hit singles in 2015 (Kiss Me Quick and Over And Over Again) but rather fell between the cracks earlier this year when his third single release Give It Up stalled at Number 56. With his debut album finally ready to roll after a lengthy delay a further chart hit was clearly more or less mandatory only for Famous to appear to bomb at Number 62 last week. But let us once more remove ourselves from a Week 1 mindset and note that further stops were pulled out, a performance on the X Factor results show last weekend coinciding with some heavy discounting of the digital single during the week. The result is a surge in sales and a 62-28 leap for Famous to coincide with the perhaps slightly muted Number 11 entry point of his Unfinished Business album. Place your own bets as to whether this degree of effort will result in him ever making it to a second.
And then there is Robbie. Number One on the album chart last week for sure but almost entirely lacking in hit singles. So down went the price of Love My Life and up up up goes its chart position, all the way to er, Number 33. At the very least that's now his first Top 40 hit single since Go Gentle made Number 10 exactly three years ago this week.
There's something rather extraordinary about all of this though. All three men - Olly, Robbie and Nathan - have improved their chart fortunes based entirely on spectacular download sales rather than streaming impact. Olly is Sales: 13, Streams: 52. Nathan is Sales: 7(!), Streams: 91 and Robbie is Sales: 8 but doesn't register AT ALL on the streaming chart. The old faithful tricks of promoting your single to a casual mainstream middle of the road audience still work, but all they do is cause you to spike in an ever dying market. Prime Time TV audiences either don't know how or don't want to stream. But without that you cannot have 'true' hit singles.
Down And Down
So now we know. Once upon a time it was very easy to correlate a TV appearance with an upsurge in sales/interest for a track, but it no longer works that way. This column has frequently credited an appearance on BBC One's Graham Norton Show with helping to break certain tracks, but rather curiously that didn't happen this week. The track performed last weekend was Coldplay's Everglow, an epic piano ballad which was presented as more or less a solo Chris Martin performance ("thanks for popping by" chortled Norton to guitarist Jonny Buckland who arrived on stage for the final 30 seconds of the track). It debuts on the singles chart at a lowly Number 64 (Sales: 35, Streams: 96) and it is only my proud lack of a Week 1 mindset that prevents me suggesting it will grow no further. Mind you, it won't be the second Coldplay flop of the year if it doesn't. Back in the summer the rousing and anthemic Up And Up was heavily pushed for a while and found its way onto many radio playlists. Yet it was all but abandoned and allowed to wither and die at a lowly peak of Number 71, thanks largely to the continuing and extended chart success of Hymn For The Weekend which remained a Top 40 hit long after its February release and was doing all the work needed to keep sales of the group's A Head Full Of Dreams album alive.
There Are Twelve Days Of Christmas And None Of Them Are In November
Much was made of last week's unveiling of many of the big budget Christmas TV commercials for a number of major brands. Chief amongst them was naturally enough John Lewis whose annual festive promotions have for most of the last decade also spawned attendant hit singles for the sensitively re-recorded pop songs that form their soundtrack. This year the tale of Buster The Boxer and his love of trampolines is accompanied by a rendering of One Day I'll Fly Away as originally recorded by Randy Crawford but on this occasion performed by The Vaults. However all the exposure in the world doesn't help if nobody consumes the track in numbers that count for the charts. The single release of the track debuts at a rather lowly Number 53, but just like the male trio already mentioned this masks a quite stellar purchased sales performance wrecked entirely by an almost total lack of streaming. The single is the 14th most purchased song of the week but fails to register at all on the streaming Top 100.
Those studying the aforementioned Christmas Number One market may be startled by the appearance of James Corden as one of the contenders. This is entirely down to his vocal presence on The Greatest Gift Of All, the song accompanying the epic three and a half minute animated commercial that allegedly promotes Sainsburys supermarkets. That single is for now absent from the charts, largely thanks to the way it was a little promoted Spotify exclusive last week. It apparently hits Apple this week which may improve its prospects slightly.