A Rockstar Photo Finish
Now officially his biggest ever chart single, Sam Smith's Too Good At Goodbyes notches up a third week at Number One on this week's Official UK Singles chart. Looking at the market profile of the hit single remains fascinating - he continues to be by some distance the most-purchased act of the moment but his streams remain 'good' rather than 'great'. The single literally spent three days at the top of the live Spotify listings and since then has been hovering around the Top 5 but progressing no further. In short, he is being played, but by no means to the extent that many of the other singles around him are.
This almost cost him too. This week's Number One race is one of the closest for some time with a reported 693 chart sales being all that separated Post Malone from a rather sensational surge to Number One with Rockstar. Instead, the single has to content itself with a Number 2 placing and the fact that it is in a way the bizarro world Too Good At Goodbyes. Rockstar is far and away the most streamed track of the moment but its paid for sales lag somewhat behind (it rises to a mere Number 11 on the old school sales listing this week). And as depressed as the sales market is, that remains the difference between a Number One hit and a track that just can't quite manage to get there. By strange coincidence, Post Malone's hit is the fourth different song to be called Rockstar to hit the charts and is now the third to make Number 2.
My Love Shines On
Whilst you may see plenty bemoaning a singles chart market which lacks high-profile new releases able to pop a chart placing (of which more later, perhaps) it is hard not to notice that the whole of the singles chart Top 10 has a refreshingly upwardly mobile feel to it this week. Sam Smith's hit is the only non-mover and of the remaining nine singles no less than six of them are hits that are climbing the charts. This means brand new chart peaks for the aforementioned Rockstar, Camila Cabello's Havana (Number 4), CNCO and Little Mix's Reggaeton Lento (returning to its original entry point and chart peak after five weeks) and Avicii's Lonely Together (Number 8). The remaining two? ZAYN and Sia's Dusk Till Dawn which rebounds 9-7 and James Hype w/Kelli-Leigh's More Than Friends which rebounds back to Number 10. Amusingly this gives us the sight of the Bieber/Bloodpop collaboration Friends sitting at Number 11, one place below the more than aptly titled More Than Friends. Which therefore sold mor...OK, you get it.
Albums News. Kill Me Now
Anyone would think we are approaching the fourth quarter of the year (although don't ask me how that is even possible). The market for new albums suddenly comes alive with no less than eight new entries inside the Top 20 alone. Right at the top end we are still keeping an eye out for Ed Sheeran (once more, of whom more shortly) equalling the record presently held by a certain Sam Smith for "most spells at Number One by an artist album" but thanks to the activity of new releases above him he remains stranded at Number 3. Instead, the top slot is this week taken by The Killers whose brand new album Wonderful Wonderful shoots straight to Number One and in the process helps the American group to a fascinating new benchmark. This is their fifth studio album and the fifth such release in a row to make Number One (following Hot Fuss (2004), Sam's Town (2006), Day & Age (2008) and Battle Born (2012). They, therefore, become the first ever international act to top the charts with their first five studio releases, a distinction previously reserved for British acts Oasis, Coldplay and The Arctic Monkeys. The only Killers entries on the album chart to not top the listings are 2013 Direct Hits compilation and 2007 b-sides and rarities release Sawdust. Furthermore, the Official Charts Company note that lead singer Brandon Flowers has topped the charts twice as a soloist as well, giving him a perfect run of seven Number One studio albums.
Despite some famous and fabulous hit singles in the past, The Killers are presently suffering the fate of all 'mature' acts and finding their appeal is largely confined to the diminishing audience for full long-playing albums. That said, the release of the album has kicked new life into its lead single The Man which limped to a mere Number 76 back in August but which re-debuts at Number 63 this week, a full 15 weeks after it was first released. It is joined by Run For Cover at Number 100, which is kind of fortunate as the space for their third permitted concurrent hit is taken up by the still evergreen Mr Brightside which loiters at Number 91 this week in what is now its 184th week as a Top 100 single.
Back to the singles chart and the mid-table area may lack something in terms of totally new material, but instead, continues to play host to newer singles all making steady upwards progress. So we have a 17-12 jump for 1-800-273-8255, a 20-14 climb for Hurtin' Me, and perhaps most pleasingly after three weeks shuffling around the Top 30, a 25-18 climb for Maroon 5's What Lovers Do which proves that Adam Levine et al are maintaining their habit of releasing chart hits which make steady if unspectacular progress until they reach the point where they have buried themselves into your brain. The single is now the group's 11th Top 20 hit single.
Also on the bound, another single flagged up here a few weeks back, Glorious by Macklemore featuring Skylar Grey. It rises 31-23 to reclaim the chart peak it initially scaled four weeks ago - this surge almost certainly down to the new availability of the rapper and poet's album Gemini which debuts on the album chart at Number 13.
Flatline More Like
As I noted above, despite what is becoming an ever-growing disconnect between the sales and streaming market, there is still a symbiotic relationship between the two. You need the perfect balance between sales and streams to become a 'proper' hit single. This is neatly demonstrated by two well-regarded singles from established chart acts which are rising and yet still floundering this week. A strong online push for Craig David's latest single Heartline makes it Number 13 on sales but a mere Number 28 on the official chart - because streams. Faring even worse is Crybaby from the ever-lovely Paloma Faith. Browsing the iTunes charts in the week you will have seen it manage the requisite 5,000 or so copies a day to be comfortably one of the Top 10 biggest sellers, a performance which sees its surge to Number 7 on the purchased singles table. On the official chart? A mere Number 36 as it fails to find its way onto playlists or into the hearts of the streaming generation.
Part of the problem can well be attributed to the streams:sales ratio which was reset to 150:1 at the start of the year in order to rebalance the relationship between the two tracked markets. But the problem is that in the ten months since the gap between the two has widened. The singles chart is tracking 20% more streams than it did back in January whilst the proportion of the market they account for has climbed from 84% to around 91% each week. There is maybe an argument then to adjust further and re-balance things once again, but given the paid for market is so weak - Sam Smith sold just 16,000 copies last week, Paloma Faith barely half that - you wonder if there is any point in continuing to paper over the cracks and maintain the facade that it is in any way relevant. The only problem remains the way singles that are 'hits' at retail only such as the Paloma Faith track continue to have a visibility and allow people like me to call attention to them. A browse of the archives of this site shows that in 2008 we hit the point where physical singles ceased to have any relevance when major high street retailers ceased to stock them. The true watershed for paid for singles will surely similarly come when a major player decides an online singles store is no longer profitable or worth maintaining the infrastructure for and pulls out. I've been anticipating this for some time, admittedly. But you know it is coming.
Bring Me Fresh Meat
The summertime rule changes may well have helped to de-clog the upper end of the singles chart (the proliferation of climbers this week is proof of that) and blocked single-artist dominations off the back of hotly anticipated new collections, but the thorny problem of turnover still remains. Hot new big new entries in the past month or so from Taylor Swift or ZAYN notwithstanding, the Top 40 remains largely bereft of large amounts of new material. So to celebrate this week's biggest new entry we have to wander as far down as Number 30 as Man's Not Hot from Big Shaq makes its debut. The performer is the alter-ego of actor and comedian Michael Dapaah, one of a number of characters he plays on his one man YouTube channel Somewhere In London. The single has exploded into life thanks to his performance of it on 1Extra, the BBC's own video of the moment going alarmingly viral and bringing him to public attention for the first time. This is almost certainly a one-shot deal for the novelty hit, but it has still outsold and outperformed all other new singles released this week. So you do kind of have to doff your cap to it.
The other most notable new Top 40 hit of the week? Hate to break it to you but it has to be Perfect by Ed Sheeran. One of the most popular tracks from the all-conquering Divide album, it was always earmarked as a potential single. The only question really was when it would be promoted to this kind of status, and you will note that aside from the opening pair of hits, plus Galway Girl which was a kind of accidental single thanks to its viral success when the album was released in March, there has been no attempt to promote the album with any further single releases until now - simply because it hasn't been necessary. However, with the nights drawing in, it makes perfect sense for the track which was always seen as a natural successor to the classic Thinking Out Loud as Sheeran's next great love ballad to be pushed to both radio and the public. Having been forcibly ejected from the singles chart back in the summer when the three-and-out rule kicked in, Perfect re-entered the Top 100 a fortnight ago when it became eligible once more. The track's dramatic 79-34 jump this week is almost certainly down to its streaming ratio being reset from the 300:1 accelerated calculation back to the standard 150:1 - and given there is no evidence that it has jumped dramatically in terms of overall popularity in the last week this may well be the first high profile example of a manual reset - where the label has specifically requested a track be returned to full chart form in order to be pushed as a single. The only question really is just what will contstitute a "success" in terms of the new chart run for Perfect, given that technically (and indeed actually) it has already been a Top 5 smash, charting at Number 4 back in March in that infamous week when every single track from the album swamped the Top 20.
One final Top 40 arrival of note: reigning Hot 100 Number One hit Bodak Yellow from Cardi B which sits at Number 37 after a seven-week climb. But more on that when it rises still further (as it surely will, given its pedigree).