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The Christmas Poo
As I noted last week, only two acts in the long history of the British charts have managed to make Christmas Number One two years running. The Beatles did it first in the 1960s, followed over 30 years later by The Spice Girls. Both acts actually managed a hat-trick of seasonal chart-toppers, a fact which isn't relevant right now but also slightly worrying if you believe precedent counts for anything.
This year the ranks of those acts are swelled by a third. Exactly 52 weeks after YouTube vlogger Mark "Ladbaby" Hoyle first conducted a remarkable smash and grab raid on the Official UK Singles chart with a novelty charity single he does so once again. I Love Sausage Rolls, a comic rewriting of I Love Rock And Roll (as popularised by both Joan Jett and Britney Spears in the past) utterly obliterates the competition with a quite phenomenal chart sale of 92,896. That's even more than the 75,000 he achieved with last year's offering We Built This City and the highest total achieved by any Christmas Number One since the Lewisham & Greenwich NHS Choir in 2015.
I was amongst those who were cynical. From the moment he announced the existence of the single he was installed as the all but odds-on favourite by the bookmakers, thus ruining weeks of patient studying of form and prospects. Could lightning really strike twice? Would the British public really go for the same tiresome joke by the same protagonists two years running? But in the absence of anything else resembling a runaway chart leader or an alternative common cause behind which everyone could unite, Ladbaby was the popular choice by default. The single took a commanding lead right from the very first midweeks and unlike last year when he had to come from behind at the death, the destiny of the 2019 Christmas Number One single was truly never in doubt.
Just as last year the audience profile of the track is an anomaly. A one-off release for Christmas, it appeals more to the general public than it does regular music fans - and as a direct result engages with those who still believe that purchasing a download is the way people consume music. So inevitably this was a single bought in its thousands but not actually listened to. I Love Sausage Rolls tops the chart with its sales skewed dramatically in favour of downloads, a full 85,000 of its total sale coming as a result of digital purchases. Its audio streams were negligible, most of the digital plays it is credited with having come from YouTube watches.
But of course, this was never about the music. Making a song is a means to an end here. Mark Hoyle's aim once more was some profile-raising charity work, all proceeds from the single once more going to the Trussell Trust. At times this week the relentless hectoring of this point became annoying, the blogger embarking on vein-popping rants at anyone who dared question his motives or disparage the product. Regular readers of these pages will know that I'm weary of charity stunt records, reducing as they do works of art (music) to the equivalent of dropping your spare change in a jar on the counter. Yet again the Number One record at Christmas time is not something consumed enthusiastically by people appreciating someone's creative talents. The Christmas chart is hijacked by those who care little for it at any other time, simply to generate money for a good cause. And as it is in a good cause, so we're told, we have absolutely no right to criticise.
Heavy Hearted Loser
There was always hope - a faint one - that someone else would present a challenge to Ladbaby. That burden this year fell on Stormzy. With immaculate timing, his second album Heavy Is The Head was released this week, and once you waded through the swamp of Christmas hits it was clear that he was the undisputed King of streaming over the last seven days. It all meant a surge of support for his latest single Own It and so the three-way dance between the rapper, Ed Sheeran and Burna Boy this week made a dramatic reversal of its sales decline, and holding firm to remain Number 2 for Christmas week. Its audience profile is the exact reverse of the single above it, paid sales are negligible but its streams are through the roof. Rather fascinatingly Own It and I Love Sausage Rolls were actually neck and neck for video plays during the week. Make of that what you will.
Stormzy also lands the two highest new entries of the week, with many of the album's other tracks peppering the rest of the sales tables, although they are "starred out" of the main chart by the rule which restricts acts to three simultaneous chart hits at once. They are Audacity at Number 6 and Lessons at Number 9. For one act to manage three Top 10 hits at once is quite he feat. For Stormzy to do so at Christmas in the teeth of competition from festive hits is more impressive still.
So what of last week's Number One hit Dance Monkey? As predicted Tones & I takes a tumble, this thanks to the application of ACR rules to the long-running hit as its streams are halved in value. It duly becomes the third single in a row to fall to ACR whilst still at the top of the charts, hard on the heels of Senorita and Take Me Back To London. Intriguingly it is also the third in a row to have been destined to have fallen from the top regardless of chart rules. Even with all its streams intact Dance Monkey would have plunged to Number 5 this week, wilting in the face of just too much competition and suffering a 6% decline in chart sales as it finally runs out of steam. In the event its actual tumble is far greater, the single dipping 1-10 and fascinatingly avoiding the fate of a complete fall out of the Top 10 which befell its two predecessors. Opening your career with such a global megahit can be a burden which gets the better of many artists. We watch with interest to see what Tones & I comes up with next.
As expected the rest of the singles chart is clogged up with festive songs, most of them streamed casually and indiscriminatingly by smart speaker users, thus rendering all attempts at chart analysis moot. The top classic for Christmas is Last Christmas by Wham! which enjoys popularity far in excess of any others - even All I Want For Christmas Is You. This is perhaps explained away by the availability of a limited edition vinyl re-issue which has benefitted the track to the order of a few thousands real sales or so - enough to give it the edge over the competition. Even so, once the final tallies were in the single fell back from its midweek high point, charting at a "mere" Number 5. The Mariah single actually slips back a little, relegated to Number 8. They are - perhaps reassuringly - the only golden oldies in the Top 10 this week, although this is entirely down to the rule which locks older track permanently onto ACR status. Under ordinary circumstances Wham would be at 2, Mariah at 3, The Pogues at 6, Shakin' Stevens at 6 and Elton John at 10.
Over on the Official UK Albums chart, an intriguing cross-generational battle developed. New albums from Harry Styles and Stormzy duked it out midweek with festive offerings from Rod Stewart and Robbie Williams. This week however the streak of consecutive new Number Ones is broken as Rod The Mod retains his crown for the second week in a row. You're In My Heart, his collection of orchestral re-recordings of classic hits is the Christmas Number One album for 2019. It is the second time in his career he has not only topped the charts for Christmas but also closed out the decade with a Number One album. Exactly 40 years ago a more conventional Rod Stewart Greatest Hits collection ruled the roost over the festive period.
With Stormzy's album at Number 2, Harry Styles has to be content with a landing at Number 3 for his second solo album Fine Line. This too has had a positive effect on his showing on the singles chart. Although last week's final teaser track Adore You can only slip back a place to Number 12, Watermelon Sugar reverses its decline of the past few weeks and shoots 47-18, grabbing a new peak along the way. The 1D star is also at Number 39 with a new entry, album cut Falling.
A Moment To Remember Him
There's one other Top 40 chart move of note - the continuing posthumous success of Lucid Dreams from Juice WRLD which soars 51-27, mainly as a result of the single returning to SCR status following the initial surge of interest in the track a week ago. That's much easier to do that in used to be following a tweak of the rules in the summer which lowered the threshold from a 50% week on week rise in streams to a mere 25%.
Ladbaby wasn't the only person attempting a smash and grab raid on the Christmas charts, but as experience shows there is generally only room for one novelty for people to get behind. Notwithstanding their constant presence near the top of the live download charts during the week, none of the other possible contenders make any kind of chart impression. The one exception is Jarvis Cocker's Running The World. A solo single made by the Pulp frontman turned broadcaster in 2006, a mini social media campaign sprung up over the weekend suggesting a purchase of the single to ram it into the charts to make a somewhat mean-spirited statement about last week's General Election result. Cries of "we can still do this" were ringing out as late as Thursday, but in the end, the track makes a mere Number 48. That's still as a result of over 12,000 downloaded copies - second only to Ladbaby in terms of "old school" record purchases. I did see one wag suggest a Jeremy Corbyn-led cover of Every Loser Wins might have stood more of a chance. Of other contenders, from songs about Radio X's Chris Moyles to cute records recorded by children, there is absolutely no sign on the Top 100.
And so that was Christmas 2019. My thanks to all Chart Watch UK readers and correspondents, be they Twitter followers, Facebook fans, mailing list subscribers, book purchasers, Ko-Fi donaters, Patreon supporters or just regular casual readers. Your presence here is why I do this week in week out and I will never be backward in showing my appreciation of this. Please eat, drink and be merry and return here in seven days time for the most absurd chart of the year. Sales and streams, mostly streams, recorded between the 20th and 26th of December, a period when the nation does little else but listen to Mariah Sodding Carey. This ain't going to be pretty.