Almighty Ginger Power
Four weeks ago both we in the chartwatching world and indeed if we are being frank just about everyone else stood back and watched in awe as Ed Sheeran wrote himself firmly into British chart history, becoming the first act ever to enter the charts in first and second place simultaneously. Ever since his two singles Shape Of You and Castle On The Hill have remained immovable from their debut placings, meaning as the weeks ticked away he approached yet another significant chart benchmark.
So it comes to pass this week as with nothing in the rest of the market seemingly within touching distance of the two Sheeran tracks they remain in place for a fifth week running and in the process ensuring the singer-songwriter becomes the first act in chart history to hold down the top two places on the Official UK Singles chart for five weeks running. For many years this particular record was held by The Beatles who had nailed down the Top 2 places for three weeks running on two separate occasions, first in December 1963 and again in December 1967. Then along came Justin Bieber who had a four week run in December 2015 - one which in truth might have been longer but for the interruption caused by the Christmas chart that year. Now even his achievement is eclipsed by the British singer-songwriter who appears to be writing himself into musical history with every move he makes. Some cynics may argue that being Numbers 1 and 2 on the charts is made far easier in a chart climate where simultaneous hits of any kind are commonplace and all tracks are more or less permanently available. But that's true of so many different chart records set over the last decade, facilitated by circumstance. Maybe this could become more commonplace as time marches on, who knows. But Ed Sheeran has set this particular benchmark first.
Closing The Gap
Numbers matter, though, so let's note that Shape Of You continues its slow burning decline at the top, this past week selling 41,000 copies and clocking up a still boggling 8.14m streams for a total chart sale of around 95,000 copies. This means it dips under six figures for the first time since its release and therefore opens the door to the small possibility that another Very Big Deal single might have the legs to overtake it in the not too distant future. But keep an open mind. Castle On The Hill meanwhile lands an accolade of its own, the first single to lock in place at Number 2 for as long as five weeks since Maroon 5's Move's Like Jagger clocked up seven at the end of 2011 [although that's actually not strictly speaking correct, the honour going to DJ Snake's Let Me Love You from September 2016]. It did so underneath an almost ever-changing parade of Number One hits. The last time the entire Top 2 were unchanged for five weeks in a row was back in the summer of 1994 when All-4-One's I Swear spent seven weeks unable to shift Love Is All Around by Wet Wet Wet from the top of the chart.
The air of calmness at the top of the singles chart extends further down too. Underneath the two Sheeran tracks hits from Jax Jones and Little Mix hold firm too at 3 and 4 respectively, the Top 5 rounded off by a brief rally from Rag'N'Bone Man as Human lifts back up two places, just ahead of the release of his debut album this week.
Get Your Boots On
Yet at the other end of the Top 10 it is the opposite of calm as no less than three different singles enter the lower three rungs. The charge is led by the most significant new release of the week as Big For Your Boots gives grime artist Stormzy the joint highest charting hit of his career as it crashes in at Number 8 (Sales: 9, Streams: 9). His work mostly confined to online freestyle videos and digitally circulated mixtapes, his most significant hit before today came in December 2015 when he gleefully encouraged a drive for him to gatecrash the Christmas chart resulting in his track Shut Up landing at Number 8, three months after it had first crept to Number 59. Since then the British rapper has been largely absent both from the mainstream and indeed online, his track Scary marking the start of an extended hiatus when he dropped it in April last year. His return this month marks the start of a steady march towards his first ever commercially released album of which Big For Your Boots is presented as the lead single. As a freestyle rapper, proper appreciation of his work is normally only possible through watching his spontaneous performances rather than the committed to record versions of his rhymes. But a brother has to turn a coin somehow I guess, and making an actual proper record at long last seems to be the common sense way forward.
No Safe Word Yet
With "50 Shades Darker" now having premiered ahead of general release, the hit from its soundtrack continues a slow burning growth. I Don't Wanna Live Forever now lifts another four places to take the collaboration between ZAYN and Taylor Swift into the Top 10 for the very first time at Number 9 (Sales: 6, Streams: 11). It Swift's first UK Top 10 hit in quite some time, her first foray this high up the chart since Bad Blood made Number 4 in May 2015. I'm still in two minds how to take the single and whether or not it is worthy of proper appreciation. Whilst the initial star power of the two names involved was what propelled it into the Top 20 just before Christmas it has undoubtedly been both the connection with the movie and the continuing level of airplay it has received which has been behind this steady growth, but as a companion piece to the 50 Shades franchise you cannot help but compare it to its immediate predecessor - Ellie Goulding's Love Me Like You Do. The latter was an instant classic in its own right and a deserved Number One hit two years ago. Next to it I Don't Wanna Live Forever seems almost limp and desperate. But let's not get tied up in that.
Just below that hit Dua Lipa is Number 10 for the second week running although this time it is with her own Be The One which rises to Number 10 (Sales: 4, Streams: 26) after the Sean Paul track No Lie on which she duets dips to Number 13 (Sales: 15, Streams: 15). Her chances of simultaneous Top 10 hits are still good thanks to the continuing upward momentum demonstrated by Martin Garrix' Scared To Be Lonely (guest singer: Dua Lipa) which is advancing strongly and sits this week at Number 14 (Sales: 16, Streams: 17). You haven't read that incorrectly by the way, her highest charting single is for the moment the one with both far and away the highest sales and lowest streams.
The Official UK Albums chart continues its role as a home for acts who have no need nor it seems even a chance of a hit single as much beloved veteran smooth rockers Elbow land what is only their second ever Number One album with Little Fictions. Their seventh studio album since their 2001 debut, it follows in the footsteps of 2014's The Take Off And Landing Of Everything in hauling itself to the top of the charts. I only mention the numbers involved as a public service to be a journal of record you understand - the album selling an awkwardly miserable 39,643 copies. Panic not boys, Ed Sheeran will soon be along to sell in numbers closer to the glory years and paper over the cracks once more.
Most eyes this week will have been on the performance of Lady Gaga's catalogue following her Super Bowl half time performance on Sunday next. Yes, she was at the season climax of what is still a niche interest here and yes, it was after all broadcast here at 1am, but the inevitable media coverage could not help but have a positive effect on her British sales. So it proves. Her current album Joanne takes a stadium-sized 88-11 jump this week whilst her 2009 debut The Fame re-debuts on the chart at Number 38, its first Top 40 placing since October 2011. Over on the singles chart the effect of her brief show is rather more limited and you have to study the listings carefully to spot Million Reasons sneaking back in at Number 85 (Sales: 37, Streams: uncharted). Those last two figures demonstrate the fascinating way high profile performances can still spike sales but for now just don't seem to register strongly enough on the much slower moving streaming market.
Bloody British Rail
To be a fan of San Francisco rock band Train is to be blessed with eternal patience. It is not that they don't release albums on schedule comparable with other acts in the record-tour-promote-write cycle, just that their always fascinating gaps between hits give the impression of an act happy to take their time over things. The group have to date managed just three Top 40 singles, all spread out over just over a decade. Nine years elapsed between 2001 hit Drops Of Jupiter (Tell Me) and 2010s Top 20 hit Hey Soul Sister. This all made the mere two year wait until their last hit Drive By seem swift by comparison. Largely absent from the mainstream since then, after a wait of almost another five years they are finally back with a track which looks as if it is about to join their past hits in the pantheon of memorable classics. Debuting at Number 47 last week Play That Song lifts itself to Number 25 (Sales: 7, Streams: uncharted) this time around, their highest charting single since the aforementioned Drive By. Its only challenge is going to be finding its voice on the streaming tables - Music Week reports that its total streams this week of just over 391,000 are smaller than any other Top 40 single this week. For whatever reason the generation who have most readily switched on to consuming their music online are fans of electronic and urban music. A traditional roots-rock act who can trace their origins back to the early 1990s have the knack of making impressively catchy and memorable rock tunes (and the callback to do-wop standard Heart And Soul within Play That Song is quite inspired) but which I kind of suspect with an appeal entirely confined to those left who still download their music. Not often I get the chance to say this - but watch this one frustratingly underperform.
Don't believe me? Just trace the fate of Believer, the new Imagine Dragons single. That's languishing just outside the Top 40 at Number 42 this week, its chart placing entirely down to its 19 on the sales chart and with little to do with streams where it languishes at 69. Watch with interest the progress of James Arthur's new single Safe Inside which also arrives on the Top 40 this week at Number 34 (Sales: 18, Streams: 51). Its predecessor Say You Won't Let Go was a comfortable Number One hit in October last year and shot up the charts after a slow start. Does this follow-up also have the legs to go higher or has his appeal retreated back to some fiercely loyal followers from his reality TV days?
Katy Perry week next week of course, but don't expect her to go challenging Ed Sheeran any time soon. Early indications are she's flagging.