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An Actors Life For Me
Last week it only just nicked a victory, but this week there was never any doubt at all. The big soundtrack hit of the moment, Shallow by Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper, spends a second week at Number One on the Official UK Singles chart. It remains an exceptionally fortunate Number One single, the best of what is at present quite a weak market. Shallow increases its sales over last week, but only just, rising to just under 49,000 combined. It's the first time the Number One single has posted fewer than 50,000 sales for two weeks running since mid-June, two weeks before video streams were added to the mix and expanded the singles market.
The presence of actor Bradley Cooper at the top of the charts remains the most intriguing aspect of the success of this single. Prompted by his success on both sides of the Atlantic, the American chart watcher Fred Bronson compiled a list of what he admits is a subjective list of actors who have made the American charts. It remains a highly subjective topic, simply because of the way it has long been possible for performers to flit between performing genres. Bronson includes the likes of Donald Glover who yes, may well be an actor by trade, but who has also made several albums under his Childish Gambino persona and can quite easily be regarded as a musical performer too. He also includes a man I made a sideways reference to last week, the man who was the most notable "dual-fuel" performer of the 1970s. David Soul's primary fame came thanks to his portrayal of one half of the TV police duo Starsky and Hutch, but he was able to translate this into a surprisingly successful career as a musical performer, landing a pair of Number One hits in 1976 and 1977.
The rise of the TV starlet who becomes famous as an actor as a teenager and then grows into music has further blurred the lines in recent years. The list seems ever-growing: Miley Cyrus, Hailee Steinfeld, Demi Lovato, Selena Gomez, Ariana Grande. They were actresses and presumably could be again, but their primary living these days is most definitely music.
So, fortunately, Bradley Cooper makes life easy for us, he is an actor first and foremost and until time proves otherwise will remain so, regardless of his role in "A Star Is Born". There is also the fascinating category of actors and comedians who have made one-off appearances on chart-topping pop records - not always as themselves. Actor Neil Morrissey has never considered himself a singer but topped the charts twice in succession in 2000 and 2001 as the voice of Bob The Builder. Plus of course earlier this year we saw the sensational return to the top of the charts of football anthem 3 Lions. Performed by David Baddiel and Frank Skinner, who are comedians, authors and broadcasters. But in no sense of the word musicians.
Runners-up this week, and pleasingly so after the single dipped briefly last week, are Little Mix with Woman Like Me, the foursome (and guest) clearly enjoying the boost of an X Factor live show return, regardless of the tales of the low ratings for the new series. This is now their biggest chart hit for two years, their first Top 3 single since Shout Out To My Ex topped the charts in October 2016. Most of the attention paid to the single this week came thanks to the way it became a subject of the latest online spat between two female rappers. Cardi B reignited her ongoing feud with Nicki Minaj in a series of online posts insinuating that the latter is now picking up the discarded scraps from work she (Cardi) has had cause to reject - and that includes appearing on Woman Like Me. This was refuted by Nicki herself, and even Little Mix themselves weighed in, contributing screenshots of WhatsApp messages where they discussed how the track would only work if Nicki featured on it and would not otherwise have been a single. Finally after clearly getting their wrists slapped they issued a statement noting that both women were approached and that Nicki was chosen over Cardi. So everyone is equally a loser here. Entertaining though these catfights are, you cannot help but wish all parties would just grow up a little and stop diminishing the actual piece of music on which they are all performing.
Other than that it is a quiet week as far as Top 10 singles are concerned. The only 'new' arrival is the returning Lost Without You from Freya Ridings which is proving remarkably resilient, rising 13-9 after a fortnight away and returning to the chart peak it first scaled four weeks ago. Fascinatingly the single is being advertised on television, contributing to this otherwise out of the blue surge of interest.
Time To Say Goodbye
The Official UK Albums chart plays host to quite the story, as after a week-long battle with the A Star Is Born Soundtrack, the Number One collection of the week is Si from opera star Andrea Bocelli. His first album of completely original material in 14 years, it contains a number of collaborations with contemporary artists such as Josh Groban, Dua Lipa and perhaps most notably of all Ed Sheeran. Resisting the temptation to just bung the Perfect Symphony collaboration the pair made last year they have instead recorded a new track Amo Soltanto Te (trans: I Only Love You), which of course Ed helped to write. The collection duly becomes the first classical-themed album to top the main artist albums charts for 20 years, the first such Number One since James Horner's Titanic score topped the list in the spring of 1998. To find the last operatic tenors to enjoy a Number One album you have to go back a little further, to 1994 when the recording of the third 3 Tenors concert brought Domingo, Carreras and Pavarotti to the top of the charts. There's a neat circularity to Bocelli having major commercial success once again. Back in 1997, he sang on the most famous hit version of Time To Say Goodbye (Con Te Patiro), the song on which Jason Derulo's current single Goodbye is partially based.
Ghostly Goings On
The passing earlier this year of XXXtentacion continues to resonate amongst the people who knew him, the highest new entry of the week yet another posthumous tribute to the singer. I remind you this remains intriguing, his death in the spring following in the wake of revelations about his prior criminal acts and acts of violence towards his girlfriend. They were seen as so problematic that the week following his death Radio One declined to play his posthumous hit singles on the Friday afternoon chart show, despite one Sad! reaching the Top 10. Within the last month alone we've seen the Lil Peep collaboration Falling Down reach Number 10 and Lil Wayne's Don't Cry chart briefly at Number 28. Now the parade of XXXtenacion's beyond the grave chart appearances continues with the arrival of Arms Around You at Number 14. XXXtentacion's vocals were first recorded in 2017, the track originally a duet with Rio Santana and forming part of the sessions for his ? album but ultimately discarded from the tracklist. Seeking to record his own tribute, Lil Pump sought permission from the late star's mother to rework the unheard material and so added new vocals of his own, with verses from Columbian singer Maluma and rapper Swae Lee also added to the mix.
Adding your own vocals to those of a dead man remains a morbid way to make pop records, yet once more the effect here is quite haunting. As massive an arsehole as he was in life, XXXtentacion remains a compelling listen, and the three men have honoured that vibe nicely to make Arms Around You the latest in a long line of startlingly worthwhile hit singles.
As is normally the case, with such a multi-artist performance we have to break down the way this fits into the chart history of all four men, or at least three of them for Columbian performer Maluma is here making his UK chart debut. It is XXXtentacion's fourth Top 20 hit of the year - none of which he has been around to see. It is Lil Pump's second hit in quick succession, following on from his Kanye West collaboration I Love It and indeed the two singles are side by side on the charts, the older hit resting at Number 13. Arms Around You is now the second Top 20 hit in as many weeks for Swae Lee, this hard on the heels of his guest turn on the Post Malone soundtrack hit Sunflower which dips 7-11 as the only single to exit the Top 10. Extraordinarily he's back later on as well.
Nobody Ever Flopped With Ed
We should note the continuing chart form of Jess Glynne and the way that just like Lil Pump she this week she lands herself the cute sight of consecutive chart singles. That's thanks to All I Am diving to Number 17 and the enormously popular Thursday finally starting a chart climb with a five-place rise to Number 18. The track's visuals are being drip-fed to us it seems, Thursday last week being granted a "Spotify vertical video", a single take portrait shot of the singer miming to the song. Then just as this column was being penned she dropped another visual treat, a black and white recording of her performing the song acoustically with the accompaniment of its co-author Ed Sheeran. This is Jess Glynne we are talking here. Britain's brightest and best female star. Of course, she is going to continue to do extraordinary things.
Hold It There
Speaking of extraordinary things, note the way Ay Caramba from Lizzy, Fredo and friends is lodged at Number 32 this week. That's its fourth week in a row locked in place, equalling what is generally regarded as the benchmark record for consecutive weeks as a non-mover outside the Top 10. It is the first single to do this since two pulled off the trick in 2017 - Future's Mask Off (four weeks at Number 22) and Lil Pump's Gucci Gang (four weeks at Number 27). The all-time record for lower-position non-movers is held by Take That. Their 2007 single Rule The World spent five weeks at Number 83 during its chart decline early the following year. The record books also credit Looking For Clues by Robert Palmer has having spent 5 weeks at its chart peak of Number 33 at the end of 1980, however the fifth of those was during the final week of the year in a period when no charts were compiled between Christmas and New Year and the records simply repeat the listing from the week before. That means everyone was a non-mover and the Palmer single holds the record on a mere technicality.
Oh, and the all-time non-mover record for singles outside the Top 3? Set at the very dawn of chart history when Let's Walk That-A-Way by Doris Day and Johnny Ray spent seven weeks at Number 4 in 1953.
Party All Night
Edging its way into the lower end of the Top 40 as a hit in waiting is When The Party's Over from Billie Eilish. She's a precociously talented 16-year-old singer and songwriter who achieved some measure of fame in America two years ago when her song Ocean Eyes became something of a viral hit, spreading from Soundcloud to other streaming platforms and clocking up what presently stands at over 142 million Spotify streams. Inevitably a major label deal has followed and this single is the result, heralding a full album in the not too distant future. When The Party's Over fits neatly in the current vibe of gentle and melancholic hit singles, although it is for all that a unique production featuring little more than piano and gospel backing singers lifting her own crystal clear vocals to the heights. The most diverting thing you will hear this week for sure.
Friend To The Stars
Billie Eilish also wins points for having a completely solo credit on her single. Even those who once did things alone it appears can no longer be allowed out without supervision. The final Top 40 new entry of the week falls into the categories of both "unlikely multiple collaboration" and "that man again". Close To Me is performed by the trio of Ellie Goulding, Diplo and Swae Lee. Which means another single where we have to pull the assembled stars apart before we can worry about what it sounds like. It is Goulding's first chart single in over a year, her first to register since her contribution to the Kygo track First Time which limped to Number 34 in May 2017. Diplo appears here as part of his third act this year, hard on the heels of participating in hits as a member of LSD (Thunderclouds) and Silk City (Electricity). Meanwhile, I warned you Swae Lee would be popping up again. Already present on two hit singles inside the Top 30 the singer and rapper enjoys his third simultaneous hit of the moment, a strike rate which appears to be rapidly establishing him as the man of the moment, even if he does look a tad overexposed.
So what does Close To Me sound like? Well a huge hit record, if we are being honest here. Ellie sounds as magnificent as ever, appearing to be on the verge of tears during the quiet moments as usual whilst demonstrating she has the vocal chops to drag the song to its inspiring chorus. It's a Diplo production for sure, you will know this the moment you hear it and even Swae Lee's token verse, whilst a trifle unnecessary doesn't grate and is out of the way in fairly short order. We can add this to the queue of damn good singles which are at present edging their way slowly but surely from the lower to the top end of the Top 40. After a few weeks of stagnation, we need some fresh blood. But as ever be patient, it takes some singles time to see their streams crank up to full power.
Mopping Up The Rest
It's worth noting a couple of the other singles that didn't quite make the grade this week and just how they missed out. Just shy of a Top 40 place at Number 43 is Pink with her take on the Greatest Showman song A Million Dreams. It is shortly to form part of The Greatest Showman: Reimagined, a new album which sees most of the songs from the film reworked as contemporary pop hits. This may well mean this is a single which does have the potential to climb further, and it is not insignificant that the Pink single was the 6th most-purchased track of the week this week. But without any streaming numbers of note, its chart placing was always going to be hammered. The album also contains a new version of This Is Me, on which Keala Settle is joined by both Kesha and Missy Elliot. Now intriguingly because the same lead artist features, that means it should inherit the chart history of the original soundtrack version with sales and streams of the two ending up combined. 44 weeks old, the single is still floating around just outside the Top 40. Watch it shoot back up when the new album is released in two weeks time.
Also amongst the Top 10 biggest sellers this week was an older hit, Tom Walker's Leave A Light On. The Top 10 hit from earlier this year returned to public attention this week when he released a new acoustic version of the song as part of the Stand Up To Cancer charity appeal. The 7th most-purchased track of the week, it also jumped to Number 63 on the streaming table but was held back by the fact that it has been on ACR for some time. As a current (ie less than three years old) chart hit, it is eligible for a return to SCR which will happen next week, although by then the immediate impact of the charity performance will have ebbed away.
As we edge closer to Christmas, the rule which restricts singles over three years old to permanent ACR will start to rear its head more and more. We can already see the impact of it this week as circumstances have meant a larger than usual smattering of golden oldies showing up in sales and streams returns. Queen's evergreen Bohemian Rhapsody was the 39th most played track of the week and the 23rd most-purchased - all thanks to the much-delayed release of the Freddie Mercury biopic with which it shares its name. ACR rules mean that only translates to a Number 53 chart entry, something that would have happened even under the old rules. However, unlike the Tom Walker single it isn't eligible for automatic promotion next week as a result of this dramatic sales boost.
It's the same story for Michael Jackson's Thriller, the most popular of the ghost-themed singles which always resurface at this time of year as the soundtrack to Halloween parties. Number 29 on sales and Number 44 on streams. It is officially only Number 63, a far cry from the surprise Number 34 it made exactly one year ago. Alan Jones notes in Music Week that without ACR it would actually have beaten this position and reached Number 31 - Thriller having also posted enough sales last week to have passed the 50% increase threshold and qualified for a chart return under the previous chart rules.