I Love It When A Plan Comes Together
Just before Christmas, I was asked to fill in a quick questionnaire about the year gone by for the always excellent Record Of The Day newsletter. One of the questions was "Most Important Artist Of 2016?" to which I answered: "Ed Sheeran. Because he released nothing and left a gaping superstar-shaped void in British music".
Just a week later the man himself ended a self-imposed year-long absence from social media and teased the imminent release of new product, which even led to speculation he was going to gatecrash the Christmas chart race. In the end he was far too clever for that, and instead timed the release of new music for the traditional January dead zone, thus ensuring (if ever there was any doubt really) that he would end up the sole focus of attention as he made his chart return and began the countdown to the release of his third album.
Yet there was another twist, for last Friday the star singer-songwriter unveiled not one but two brand new singles - and released them both simultaneously. The promotional trick of releasing two brand new singles on the same day is generally believed to have first been attempted by Lush with the release of Desire Lines and Hypocrite in June 1994. It wasn't until almost seven years later, however, that a major mainstream act attempted the trick. March 2001 saw the Manic Street Preachers herald their Know Your Enemy album with a brace of single releases - Found That Soul and So Why So Sad - which the hype suggested stood a very good chance of seeing them enter the charts at 1 and 2. In the end, they fell short, but still hit the Top 10 together at 8 and 9.
In the years since no mainstream act has tried such a stunt release in this way, preferring instead to try the drip-feed method of promotional releases or the Beyonce-esque trick of dropping an entire album at once without warning. Ed Sheeran this week resurrects a neat promotional trick and in the process manages what the Manics could not a decade and a half ago and enters the Official UK Singles Chart at positions 1 and 2 simultaneously.
The two tracks in question represent what he himself describes as the "two different sides" to his music. Easily the most popular of the pair is Shape Of You, a funky R&B groove with about five different hooks and which flies to Number One to give the star his third chart-topping single as a performer following Sing and Thinking Out Loud, both from 2015.
The second of the two on offer is Castle On The Hill which is a more upbeat and anthemic track, the lyrics drawing on his talent for an elegant and poetic turn of phrase and which builds to the kind of rousing climax you can just picture entire festival crowds singing along to come the summer. If I had to pick I'd actually choose this as the better of the two, but at least for now it is "only" a Number 2 hit single.
To put this in full context, depending on how you view things Ed Sheeran is either only the sixth or the eighth act in British chart history to hold down the top two positions on the singles chart simultaneously. The Beatles pulled it off twice - first in 1963 with I Want To Hold Your Hand and She Loves You and then again in 1967 with Hello Goodbye and Magic Mystery Tour EP. In the wake of his death, John Lennon locked down the Top 2 twice in a matter of weeks - Imagine and Happy Xmas (War Is Over) at the start of January 1981 and then with Imagine and Woman at the end of that same month.
In July 1984 Frankie Goes To Hollywood had Two Tribes at Number One and Relax at Number 2 whilst 13 months later Madonna was first and second with Into The Groove and Holiday. Finally, there was Justin Bieber who in December 2015 and January 2016 had Sorry and Love Yourself alternating at the top of the charts - the fun twist being that the latter of these was co-written by one E.Sheeran of this parish. He also pulled off the unique trick back in August last year of being a guest star on the Top 2 singles of the week: Major Lazer's Cold Water and DJ Snake's Let Me Love You.
So who are the missing two? Well, they are the two performers who just like Justin Bieber last summer can also claim the honour as part of two different acts. Donny Osmond managed the double in a week in 1974 when he topped the chart as a member of The Osmonds and was at Number 2 in tandem with his sister Marie. Similarly, in 1978 John Travolta was at Number One alongside Olivia Newton-John and in the runners-up slot as a solo performer. Oh, and there are also The Shadows who in 1960 and 1963 were in the Top 2 twice - one hit in their own right and the other in support of Cliff Richard.
Most headline-worthy of all, however, is the fact that Sheeran becomes almost the first act in chart history to enjoy a new entry at 1 and 2 simultaneously. I say "almost" because at the risk of descending into a black hole of "yeahbut-ism" the first man to pull off the trick was technically George Michael, by dint of performing on Band Aid's Do They Know It's Christmas and Wham!'s Last Christmas which were new entries at 1 and 2 respectively in December 1984.
The sales and streams of Sheeran's brace of hits are, inevitably, huge. Shape Of You clocked up a combined sale of 227,000 this week, made up of 137,000 downloads and a breathtaking 13.7m streams. Castle On The Hill was purchased 120,000 times and was played 11.07m times for a total combined sale of 194,000. Both of those streaming numbers are totally without precedent, shattering the single week record of 8.9m previously held by One Dance by Drake. The shape of things to come for sure.
Fall In Love In Mysterious Ways
We apparently have to wait until March for the release of Sheeran's new album, entitled ÷ to continue the arithmetically-themed naming convention of his releases so far. For now, this has meant renewed interest in his existing catalogue and the extra streaming attention has propelled many of his older classics back onto the singles chart, chief amongst them Photograph at Number 45, Thinking Out Loud at Number 49, The A Team at Number 52 and Don't at Number 70. In all, he has 17 hits dotted around the Top 200. This week it is Ed Sheeran's world and we are just living in it. But it is a superstar-shaped one and with 2017 barely underway he's already filled a very large void.
Stick around a bit, though, for there is plenty more to talk about. A combination of refreshed playlists and the revised chart methodology has helped to clear some more of the winter cobwebs and no less than three other new singles arrive inside the Top 10 this week (the first time since the summer of 2015 that at least 50% of the Top 10 singles have turned over). Leading the charge as expected is the steadily pushed September Song from JP Cooper which flies 16-7 (Sales: 5, Streams: 13) swiftly followed by Call On Me by Starley moving 26-8 (Sales: 8, Streams: 11) and finally You Don't Know Me from Jax Jones & Raye which jumps 33-9 (Sales: 7, Streams: 12). Jones is no stranger to the top end of the charts, having been the featured star on Duke Dumont's I Got U which grabbed a week of glory at Number One in March 2014. This is, however, his first chart appearance since which makes you wonder just what took him so long. Singer Raye (19 year old Rachel Keen) is enjoying her second hit single in a matter of weeks, also popping up on Jonas Blue's By Your Side which dips to Number 25 this week. She's also co-writer of the Snakehips single discussed below.
50 Streams Of Grey
The fun saga of the ZAYN/Taylor Swift duet of I Don't Wanna Live Forever continues to take exciting new twists. You may recall this single entered and appeared to peak at Number 16 just before Christmas, its lacklustre chart performance attributable to its absence from the core streaming service Spotify thanks to Ms Swift's ongoing boycott. With the single subsequently added (albeit lacking any metadata to link it to TayTay it still failed to catch alight, dropping to Number 36 in the admittedly festive-clogged chart of a fortnight ago. But this is another single for which the new chart methodology has worked in its favour. Still selling well and slowly but surely climbing the streaming rankings it rebounds for a second week, shifting 23-17 (Sales: 24, Streams: 16) to now sit just one place below its initial entry point. And the film on whose soundtrack it is taken still isn't out yet either.
Ice Ice Baby
Kicking off a trio of further new Top 40 arrivals is Bad Things from Machine Gun Kelly featuring Camila Cabello. The rapper (real name Richard Baker) has progressed from the world of mixtapes and a well-regarded 2012 debut album Lace Up to being positioned on the verge of proper mainstream success. This beguilingly melodic new single (driven, it must be said, by the crystal clear vocals of guest singer Cabello) is his first UK chart single and after a slow start appears to now be on the verge of becoming one of the first big new debut hits of the new year. This week it is at Number 23 (Sales: 14, Streams: 35). Worth checking out for sure.
All My Lies Are Wasted
Also finally sparking into life it seems is Sean Paul and Dua Lipa's No Lie which caught the eye during an initial chart run back in December during which time it sold respectably but was undermined by a lack of streams, peaking apparently at Number 44 in Christmas week. Once more it seems to be benefitting from the 100/150 shift in streaming weights and this week makes the Top 40 for the very first time with a rise to Number 28 (Sales: 19, Streams: 39). There's room for one more new hit this week - Don't Leave which at Number 33 (Sales: 20, Streams: 50) at a stroke becomes the third Top 40 hit single for Snakehips following last winter's Top 5 smash hit All My Friends and the rather less well received Cruel which limped to Number 33 in the summer despite the presence of ZAYN on guest vocals. Invited contributor this time around (although notably with an '&' rather than 'featuring' billing) is MØ who now has a fourth chart hit to her name following two appearances on Major Lazer singles and her own Final Song which reached Number 14 last summer.
Mix It Up Guys
Little Mix have spent the past couple of weeks being on the verge of scoring three simultaneous Top 40 hits. This week they fall short once more, as the Charlie Puth duet Oops holds firm at Number 41. It means they remain represented by former Number One Shout Out To My Ex which dips 9-16 to drop out of the Top 10 for the second time and their latest official single Touch which more than holds its own, dropping just one place to Number 5 despite the two huge singles entering the chart above. Meanwhile, the album from which all three tracks are taken Glory Days continues its days of glory at the top of the Official Album Chart. This is now its fifth week in total at the top of the charts, making it the longest-running Number One album by an all-female act for over 20 years - since the Spice Girls' debut Spice landed a fifteen-week run, way back in 1996.