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Dancing For A Decade Now
Christmas -2 and the top end of the Official UK Singles chart enters something of a holding pattern. The most immediate consequence of that is a further extension of the Number One reign of Tones & I. Dance Monkey holds steady and is top of the charts for a tenth consecutive week.
That makes Toni Watson only the third woman in chart history to record a single which has managed a chart-topping run that stretches into double figures. Whitney Houston did it first with I Will Always Love You in 1992/3 followed by Rihanna with Umbrella in 2007. As if to prove that there is no set formula for success, all three cover a wide range of life experiences. Whitney's hit was a song about the tragic end of a relationship (not that this stops people playing it at weddings), Rihanna sang an extended metaphor about staying true to each other regardless of the circumstances, and Tones & I is a quirky memoir of her days as a busker in which she compares herself to a performing animal.
Dance Monkey is only the ninth single in the whole of chart history to spend at least ten consecutive weeks at Number One, the first to do so in almost three years, following Ed Sheeran's 13 straight weeks (of a 14 week total) at the start of 2017 with Shape Of You. The introduction of ACR rules later that year has been a major factor in preventing anyone approaching this kind of figure since, so it is entirely to the credit of Dance Monkey that it has avoided those potholes and remained at the top as long as it has - bearing in mind also that during this run it has twice sidestepped the circumstances which would have seen it relegated.
What continues to make the chart run of this single all the more extraordinary is that it has remained top of both metrics - sales and streams - throughout. Dance Monkey has topped both the download chart and the old-fashioned sales only chart for each of the last ten weeks as well. Whichever way you spin it, she has beaten the market every time.
Tones & I remains (at the time of writing) the 6-1 joint-second favourite to be Christmas Number One, however her chances of still being at the top in two weeks time are entirely dependent on whether she avoids an ACR cut in streaming points for an unprecedented third time. We are once again in the middle of the process of the single going tick-tock-tick with a consecutive three-week decline in streams. This week we've once more reached "tock" as her streams over the past seven days tumbled from 72,393 to just 68,303 this time around. Which in percentage terms is a very large fall indeed. Significantly she's now clearly coasting down the mountain. After seven straight weeks of chart sales in excess of 80,000 Dance Monkey this week posts "just" 75,000. One more week at the top of the charts will make Tones & I the performer of the most successful female-led track in chart history, bar none. But her performance next week will also determine just what part she plays in the Christmas Number One race. And at this moment I'm kind of leaning towards "none".
So Lewis Continues To Hold Himself
Present betting favourite is Lewis Capaldi, as he is entitled to be. That said for now Before You Go remains a frustratingly distant second on the charts to Dance Monkey. His sales are also, surprisingly, down even more than those of Tones & I, meaning the sales margin at the top of the charts is now 21,000 sales compared to 13,000 last week. I maintain, however, that he and his label have not engineered him into a position to be near the top of the charts with brand new material just before Christmas without some kind of plan to boost him when it matters the most. The song still doesn't have an official video, with a potential surge to come when it does so. And for all we know there's a "jump-on" version with added star power waiting in the wings to be released in a week's time. In no way can we write him off.
The same for Stormzy in fact, even though Own It also sagged a bit this week and indeed at one stage had fallen behind Dua Lipa's Don't Start Now in midweek flashes. Towards the end of proceedings it rallied slightly and so ends the week once more as the Number 3 single of the week. In Stormzy's favour is the inevitable boost in streams he will get once his new album Heavy Is The Head hits the (digital) streets - an event which will take place this coming Friday (December 13th). Exactly timed for the start of the Christmas Number One race. Back in 2015, he rallied online supporters to clickbomb his track Shut Up into the Christmas Top 10. Four years on and with an even greater level of mainstream fame, he's lining up to be even higher for more legitimate reasons.
Put On The Red Light
Arizona Zervas was tentatively flagged up in places as a contender to top the Christmas charts, although his momentum has definitely stalled in recent weeks. Still, Roxanne is more than keeping its head above water and climbs to another new peak this week with a two-place ruse to Number 5.
Call me Scrooge, but I'm one of those people for whom even the start of December doesn't necessarily mean the start of Christmas, but for the online services it is essentially the moment when they make the entirely correct assumption that festive music is all anyone wants to play. Onto the front pages go to the holiday playlists and with them comes the inevitable surge in streaming numbers for all our favourite classics. Seriously, you can set your watch by it. Christmas playlists remain the mechanism by which even the most oddly obscure holiday songs make the charts - the daily lists of Spotify's most popular hits mirror almost exactly the order of tracks on their most subscribed sequences. And because for the moment, the charts make no distinction between songs people have elected to hear and ones they get pumped to them by default, weird things start to happen.
All tracks over three years old are on permanent ACR remember, but in the case of the biggest songs, this has little effect on their chart form. Leading the pack - inevitably - is Mariah Carey's All I Want For Christmas Is You. The single surges 34 to 8 this week, in a move which almost exactly mirrors the 34-6 leap it made exactly one year ago.
Indeed the same is true for many other hardy perennials. This time last year Last Christmas moved 52-14, this week it jumps 43-13. Fairytale Of New York 66-18 last year, 71-22 this time. And so on. Of more recently-made hits, we presently have Ariana Grande's Santa Tell Me at Number 33, Leona Lewis' One More Sleep at Number 43 and Kelly Clarkson's Underneath The Tree at Number 49. A possible new arrival to the party, again simply because it is prominently placed on the more popular Christmas playlists, is Sia's Santa's Coming For Us which is new at Number 56 this week after having climbed as high as Number 24 last year. Significantly the Sia single is only two years old, having been first released on October 30th 2017. That means it is subject to standard chart rules and should soar up the table next week after having automatically extricated itself from ACR status.
New contemporary hits? Well actually yes, we have them. Modern-day soul man The Weeknd has been absent from the scene since 2018 (although he made a cameo on Gesaffelstein's Lost In The Fire which made Number 9 back in January) but now he is back with no less than two side by side hits. Leading the way is Heartless which charted at Number 64 thanks to a late-week release last time around but which now charges to Number 10. It is followed in short order by fellow new hit Blinding Lights (the soundtrack to the current Mercedes-Benz commercial) which charts at Number 12, the singer not quite managing the early week form which seemed set to hand him simultaneous Top 10 hits. Both tracks are taken from what remains, for now, his unannounced fourth studio album. Releasing new material of this magnitude at exactly this moment is a very bold step to take, particularly given the competition for chart places which results from the Christmas songs wave, but even if these hits vanish from view over the next fortnight they are almost certainly primed to bounce back to prominence the moment the new year arrives. Which I suspect is entirely the plan.
Near A Tree By A River
A common theme on these pages in the last year has been bemoaning the inability of the once-mighty Ellie Goulding to enjoy large hits. Her two singles this year Sixteen and Hate Me were of the highest quality, but both wimped out far below their true potential with peaks of 21 and 33 respectively. But this week she turns things around - kind of - with a 57-14 jump for her latest single River, a cover of a Joni Mitchell song which first appeared on her 1971 album Blue. The performance of the track is even more impressive when you note that the single is exclusive to Amazon, only available to purchase or stream from the retail giant (hence even the video didn't make it to YouTube until a couple of days ago). At a stroke, the Christmas-themed track becomes her highest-charting single for three years, just short of the Number 11 peak scaled by Still Falling For You in October 2016.
Shake Your Ass Come Over Here
The imminent arrival of Stormzy notwithstanding, the albums market is all about gifting right now. Hence a two-way tussle at the top of the Official UK Albums chart between two veterans of very different eras. In the end, it is Robbie Williams who has the beating of Rod Stewart, with the result that his festive album The Christmas Present climbs to Number One in its second week. That's incredibly his 13th Number One as a solo artist, this out of 15 albums he has released in his career, putting him level with Elvis Presley as the all-time most successful solo artist. The act with the most Number One albums of all remains The Beatles with 15.
But Robbie hasn't always been a solo artist. He has also topped the chart four times as a member of Take That to take his personal total to 17. The only other performers to exceed that tally of Number One albums? Members of The Beatles, naturally. Paul McCartney boasts 22 in total, John Lennon 18 and George Harrison 17.
To date, the only Robbie Williams albums never to reach Number One are 2003 release Live At Knebworth and 2009 studio album Reality Killed The Video Star. Both peaked at Number 2. His odds for having the Christmas Number One single were ludicrously low at one point, but for the moment he seems in pole position to be enjoying the biggest album of the festive season. Which isn't bad going.
Your Starter For 2020
The latest track to emerge into the sunlight following exposure on Tik Tok is Falling by Trevor Daniel which duly pokes its nose over the horizon at Number 40 this week. It is perhaps destined to sink out of sight briefly thanks to the festive tsunami, but don't be shocked to see this rebounding and emerging as one of the most significant hits of the new year in due course. Alas, we've still got three weeks of this madness to wade through before that happens.
Cowell Over. Film at 11.
Finally this week the proof that you should never be fooled by things taking place on the live download charts. A glance at the old fashioned iTunes table in the week would have led some to believe that the all-star charity rendition of Run as performed by the cast of the recently concluded Celebrity X Factor series was set to be one of the biggest hits of the week. Its final chart placing? Number 87.
Say what you will about the origin of Christmas streams, they certainly give a huge boost to the singles market year in year out. This week the total number of chart sales logged overall rose above 20 million for the first time ever. We have redefined the "single" out of all recognition over the past few years, but the popularity of music in whatever form has quite literally never been greater. Sales of tracks continue to hover around the 570,000 weekly mark. The bet of them falling below half a million before the holiday is still on. And you can bet your life it will happen in the new year at the very latest.