How Many Sleeps Is It Now?
We are now officially in Q4. The end of the year, that final sales period when more so than ever label executives are looking at their balance sheets for the year and hoping for a fantastic Christmas to rescue anything that has not performed as it should.
That also means the end of Q3 which meant the Official Charts Company took the opportunity to officially update the world on the biggest selling singles and albums of the year to date. For anyone who grew up in the era when you had to wait until the special Radio One show on New Years Day to find out what the year's best sellers were, this kind of regular information is pretty mind-blowing. Although in truth so is the information they contain.
Unsurprisingly One Dance by Drake takes pride of place as the biggest single of the year to date, with a combined sale of 1.69m copies - this made up of 504,600 downloads and 119m streams. What is more intriguing is that the official Number 2 single of 2016 thus far 7 Years by Lukas Graham has actually been purchased more times. 613,000 downloads of the track have been made in 2016 (it was already available at the end of last year).
Try this on for size though, only five of the Top 10 biggest singles this year are Number One hits. The rest of the list is made up of tracks that either stalled at Number 2 or peaked even further down. Cheap Thrills is at 4, This Is What You Came For at 5, Lush Life at 6, Work at 7 and Fast Car at 10. The Zara Larsson single only made it to Number 3 yet is still 'bigger' than all but five of this year's other hit singles.
Mind you it is the album table which is even more intriguing. The biggest selling album of 2016 to date just happens to be... *tense drumroll* 25 by Adele. Yes, the album which outsold everything else LAST year is the album which has outsold everything else in this. And that my friends is why Q4 is so important. It has now become the be all and end all of record company balance sheets, with every big name who has material in the can lining up to release just in time for the Christmas rush. Whether any of those will even surpass Adele though is open to question. Literally the only man with any prospect of doing so is Ed Sheeran, and despite being one of the worst kept secrets of the year, his album doesn't even officially exist yet never mind have a release date.
Then again maybe it is James Arthur who is the saviour of 2016. I'm only hearing good things about the songs on his own forthcoming album and its single Say You Won't Let Go appears entrenched at Number One. Its second week at the summit means he is now effectively the most successful British act of the year, the only other UK act to top the charts was ZAYN who could only last a week with Pillow Talk. James Arthur is the first British star to spend more than a single week at the top of the er, British singles charts since Adele at the tail end of 2015. Before anyone responds, yes Kyla Reid was credited for all 15 weeks of One Dance's Number One success, but as I never tire of pointing out this was thanks to sampled vocals from a track she recorded in 2008. Her credit was a contractual obligation rather than reflecting any new creativity on her part.
James Arthur has a commanding lead at the top. Finally top of the streaming table as well as the sales one he's a good 27,000 combined sales ahead of Starboy from The Weekdn and Daft Punk who ascend a place to Number 2. That rise is however enough to ensure the single is now the biggest ever chart hit for the Canadian singer/songwriter, eclipsing the Number 3 peak of The Hills and Can't Feel My Face.
Taking A Different Direction
Succuming to the fad of releasing singles on a Thursday for maximum impact, at least in publicity terms, the debut solo release from One Directioner Niall Horan landed the honour of being the Number 100 single last week thanks to his one day of availability. A full week of sales and streams behind it means This Town surges to Number 9 this week to become the only new arrival inside another frustratingly becalmed Top 10 hit. Beyond that detail it is hard to get too excited here, their superstar status notwithstanding there is a genuine air of "so what" about solo chart singles from any of the members of One Direction. No marketing in the world is going to extend their appeal beyond the still hopeful and still rather shrill fans of the group. Although there is much fun to be derived from appreciating the irony of singers who failed their X Factor auditions as individuals belatedly being pushed as the solo stars they always aspired to be from the start.
Light Me Another
The highest true new entry of the week lands at Number 24, and wouldn't you know it its another hit single for the Chainsmokers. Just a fortnight after tumbling from Number One the duo return to delight us once more with All We Know, this time featuring American singer-songwriter Phoebe Ryan duetting with Andrew Taggart and thus handing her a chart debut. Strange but true, it is the first Chainsmokers track to debut inside the Top 30 in its first week on sale. With the song serving as an effective sequel to Closer there is a kind of logic in releasing the two tracks in relatively close proximity. With Don't Let Me Down still holding its own at Number 15 the Chainsmokers have three different singles inside the Top 30. Still no formal word on an album though.
Busted Your Party
Potentially the most interesting new releases of the week are singles which due to circumstances (read: sod all streaming momentum for now) make lowly new entries. Having moved on from the rather confusing McBusted mash-up, with the return of Charlie Simpson to the fold the original line up of turn of the millennium teen stars Busted are back together and last week dropped a surprise and in truth rather well received new single. On What You're On makes no attempt to return to the cheery sixth form pop that characterised their work at the height of their 2003 fame. Instead it is a rather mellow and very subtle single very much in the same vein as Coldplay's Magic. A rather large number of otherwise rather cool commentators were quick to admit that the single was a worthwhile return, although its Number 60 new entry does rather demonstrate just how hard the stars of the old order find it to work their way into the charts. Long gone are the days of entering at the top, now they have to find a way to push beyond the last remaining Busted acolytes who downloaded the single for old times sake. Leaving aside the McBusted single Air Guitar from 2014, this is the first "true" Busted single to chart since Thunderbirds/3AM hit the top in the summer of 2004. Which you have to admit is a heck of a long time ago.
Extraordinary fact of the week: It is almost 25 years since Robbie Williams first made the UK singles charts, the second Take That single Promises having crept into the Top 40 in November 1991. Furthermore it is 20 years this summer just gone since he began his solo career with the sledgehammer-emphasised point of a cover of George Michael's Freedom '90. The point here I hope is obvious. Robbie is a veteran act, a man on the verge of middle age and a performer whose two decade legacy commands attention that is way beyond his ability to have hit singles in this bold new streaming chart era. So we shouldn't really be too shocked at the way his new single Party Like A Russian, the first fully released track from his forthcoming eleventh studio album Heavy Entertainment Show, limps into life at Number 68. He may well have been on top of the charts as recently as four years ago. But that was in the dying embers of the old order. When Lady Gaga (her again) cannot manage a Top 40 hit with a shelf life of more than a week, what chance does Robbie Williams stand really?
Now I will freely admit that here I'm talking very much in the Week 1 mindset which I keep insisting it is important to move past. But to grow a hit beyond Week 1 requires work. Getting on TV and Radio, forcing your way onto curated playlists and basically expending a great deal of effort. Albums from Robbie Williams and I guess Busted are going to sell to a core fanbase regardless of what hits they contain. Is it really worth anyone making the effort? Robbie even performed Party Like A Russian on the Jonathan Ross show last weekend. Did the single no favours at all you will notice. In an old school sense the two singles didn't actually do too badly. The Busted single is Number 24 on sales, Robbie one place higher on 23. But it all about the clicks where singles are concerned. And these two veteran acts just don't play to that particular demographic.
This "sales matter not" dilemma is also visible when considering the fate of Famous, the latest single from former Wanted frontman Nathan Sykes. That too sold in reasonable numbers, hitting 31 on the sales table. Lack of streams however relegates it to Number 93 overall, lower than the Number 56 scaled by his last single Give It Up back in May.
Does Anyone Buy Albums Any More
And yet there is a way back for anyone, whether you are Robbie Williams, James Arthur or even Craig David. Those who have followed the British charts from the start of 2016 will know half the story already. The man who shot to stardom as a teenager, dominated both singles and album charts in 2000 and was feted as the greatest talent of his generation was all but washed up less than a decade later. Through no fault of his own Craid David's personal talent was all but eclipsed by a damaging TV caricature putting him in the impossible position of being unable to be taken seriously no matter what he did. Yet slowly but surely this year he has fought his way back to something approaching stardom. Picking his moments carefully, making records with Big Narstie, Blonde and Sigala, above all becoming a worthwhile listen again. That process now reaches what must be seen as its climax as David's sixth studio album, his first in six years, Following My Intuition debuts at Number One on the Official UK Albums chart. It is only his second Number One album. The first? His debut Born To Do It a full 16 years ago. His last Top 10 along was back in 2005.
Yes, it took more to top the charts back then. We all know the story. But who on earth would want to take this triumph away from him with details?
Did I mention it was Q4? Every one of this weeks Top 4 albums is a new entry. Craig David is at the top followed by Bon Iver at 2, The Shires at 3 and Van Morrison at 4. Few are likely to sustain these places in subsequent weeks, but The Shires at least deserve this week's final note. Selling 14,500 copies that's enough to make this the fastest selling country album by a UK act ever. Although that's surely not saying much is it?