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Dance While The Music Still Goes On
Every era in pop music has its definable sound. It is generally impossible to discern or define it at the time, but when viewed from the perspective of history it is relatively straightforward to hear an 'oldie' and easily identify the rough period from which it originated. The downside of this is that it is easy for music to drift into stagnation, producers constructing tracks in the same way simply because they know that this is what "works" at present, and nobody is in any hurry to break the mould. Which I guess is all the more reason to celebrate those that do.
This also means that every once in a while the door is open for someone to do something off-trend. To make a record that is so distinctively different, so fresh sounding, that you cannot help but sit up and take notice. They don't always set new trends themselves, of course, nobody ever attempted to make a pop record just like Gotye's Somebody That I Used To Know, for example, nor should they have done. It was enough that such a track merely existed for us to celebrate its uniqueness.
That's why this week's brand new Number One on the Official UK Singles chart is such a joy to see. With Dance Monkey former busker Toni Watson has created an object of rare beauty, a compellingly different yet catchy and radio-friendly pop record which sounds utterly unlike anything else in the charts at the moment. To be able to celebrate seeing her alter-ego Tones & I at the very top of the UK charts is a very special moment indeed.
After an eight week climb which began back in August, Dance Monkey finally reaches the top of the market, the single duplicating the success it has already achieved across Europe, in Ireland for the past month and indeed most notably of all in her native Australia where she has shattered all-time chart records for a native female singer. Tones & I is notably the first Australian to top the UK charts since Iggy Azalea guested on Ariana Grande's Problem back in 2014. She's the first antipodean act to be the lead or even sole artist on a Number One single since 5 Seconds Of Summer hit the top with She Looks So Perfect, a few months before the Ariana/Iggy collaboration.
London No More
Celebrations of a changing of the guard at the top of the charts aside, there is once again a huge elephant in the room to address. Of last week's Number One single Take Me Back To London there is no sign in the Top 3, 5 or even 10. Ed Sheeran and Stormzy instead dive to Number 13, needless to say not due to an overnight collapse in the streaming popularity of the single but because after three straight weeks of decline the single is moved onto ACR at the first opportunity, the second Number One single in succession to hit the skids whilst still at the top of the charts and the second in a row to drop from the top to outside the Top 10.
Just like Senorita before it, Take Me Back To London would not have remained at the top even if the value of its streams had remained intact. Although the Tones & I track tops the chart with what is in relative terms a tiny overall chart sale of 50,000 copies, a non-ACR Sheeran/Stormzy single would have still only registered 48,000 copies. So once again there is less of a sensation here than might have otherwise have been the case. Dance Monkey is there on merit alone. Calvin Harris' One Kiss remains the last single to have its run at the top of the charts terminated prematurely as a result of prevailing singles chart rules.
There's a sparkling fresh look to the rest of the Top 3 as well, as Regard's Ride It climbs to Number 2 and perhaps most incredibly of all AJ Tracey's Ladbroke Grove finally enters the Top 3 in its 12th week as a Top 10 single although ironically just as it posts its smallest weekly chart sale (37,000) since the start of August. On the flip side, Sorry by Joel Corry enjoys a one-place decline which is actually something of a shame. Had it held firm it would have become the first single in UK chart history to spend five consecutive weeks at Number 6. Strange but true.
I Bruise Easily
Missing a place in the Top 10 by a single place is... Well, this is where it starts to get complicated. Easily the fastest-moving and most prominent "new" hit of the week is Bruises by Lewis Capaldi, but its appearance this week at Number 11 is but the latest chapter in a chart saga which has lasted the entire year so far. Bruises was the star's first single release, put out by him independently in March 2017. When Virgin Records snapped him up later that year it was released in a more official form as one of the tracks from his first EP Bloom. The heartfelt ballad (does he know how to do anything else?) didn't chart until earlier this year when Capaldi became a star for real. Bruises arrived for a wander around the lower reaches of the Top 75, a kind of companion to both Someone You Loved (which topped the charts) and Grace (which floated around the Top 30).
Bruises vanished from the chart in early May, just as it seemed to be on the verge of reaching the Top 40 for the first time. This was due to the release of the new Capaldi single Hold Me While You Wait whose appearance meant Bruises was now his fourth most-popular track and so as a result was disqualified under the rule which restricts artists to three concurrent hits. A few weeks later it was back with a vengeance, the release of the singer's Divinely Inspired To A Hellish Extent resulting in it - for one week only - becoming the third-biggest track from the album by the narrowest of margins. Bruises reappeared at Number 16 (disqualifying Grace in the process) and then promptly vanished again a week later as the two tracks swapped places.
Three weeks ago Grace finally ran out of steam and fell out of the Top 100, leaving the path clear for Bruises (which had continued to pick up its fair share of streams) to appear once more, still at the lower end of the Top 100. But this was fortuitous timing, for the now two-year-old track has finally been promoted to full single status, Capaldi and his label having released a four-track digital EP which features the original recording, a Steve Void remix, an acoustic rendition but most notably of all a full orchestral performance recorded live in a single take and for which there is also an official video. A week late (as Bruises as a whole had to haul itself out of ACR status first) the track finally surges fully up the charts and lands its highest chart position to date.
More About Him
Lewis Capaldi remains far and away the biggest new discovery of the year, now with (almost) three Top 10 hits to his name and a debut album which hasn't exited the Top 10 since it's release back in May. His former Number One single Someone You Loved refuses to die, consistently one of the Top 10 most-streamed tracks week in week out and as a result still a near-constant presence in the Top 30 despite having been relegated to ACR some 16 weeks ago. This week the track rebounds once more and is back in the Top 20 at Number 19 in its 38th consecutive week as a Top 40 single, every single one of those spent at Number 29 or higher. Capaldi maintains his permitted complement of chart hits with Hold Me While You Wait also rising, back up to Number 41 this week.
The biggest new album of the week (an important qualifier there for reasons we'll come to shortly) was D-Block Europe's second mixtape of the year PTSD which makes its debut at a comfortable Number 4, their second Top 10 album in quick succession. In the process it spawns another brand new hit for the group, Playing For Keeps with a guesting Dave in tow is the highest new entry for real and makes its bow at Number 21, hard on the heels of Top 20 hit Nookie which also features on PTSD and which perhaps surprisingly drifts to Number 32 this week.
Just Milling Around A Bit
The dawn of the streaming era and the move away from what I always termed the Week 1 mindset meant that the music industry had to learn some creative new tricks in promoting singles, the more innovative of which have been responsible for some of the bigger hits in recent years. But then there are also the tracks which stubbornly refuse to play ball. The singles which it is clearly possible to get into the charts but which nobody has yet worked out how to get them to climb. So we occasionally get situations like we are witnessing at present, the lower end of the Top 40 kind of clogged up with some terrific pop records, many of them staples of the Capital playlist, but which are just milling around either waiting for their chance to shine or for the ACR axe to finally swing. Until then they aren't going anywhere.
So let's pay brief homage if nothing else to the slow but steady chart run of Normani's Motivation (up to a new peak this week after over a month moving 30-35-33-34-32-30-27). In the process, it has now bypassed its spiritual twin Harder from Jax Jones & Bebe Rexha which appears to be sinking fast, down to Number 32 after a Top 40 run which has seen it move 36-30-25-24-23-25-26-26 over the past two months.
The arrival of its music video sees Buss Down by Aitch gain a second wind. The track rebounds to Number 25, three weeks after it first charted at Number 21.
Teddy And Cami And Cardi
We call the chart regulation restricting acts to three concurrent Top 100 singles the "Ed Sheeran rule" and so once more it seems only appropriate to note that the man himself is affected by it once again. Former Number One I Don't Care finally departs the singles chart this week, not because it has fallen out of the Top 100, but simply because it is no longer one of the three most-popular of his tracks. Its place is handily taken by what is now the fifth cut from Number 6 Collaborations Project to reach the singles chart, South Of The Border featuring both Camila Cabello and Cardi B. One of the more popular cuts from the album it was a theoretical Number 7 in the week of its release but has been disqualified from appearing ever since. This week for the first time South Of The Border is no longer starred-out and enters for real at Number 40. I say "handily" because the track has now been duly promoted to be his next official single with a full video finally made available just hours after this chart was published. Given that Cabello's own Liar is just five places above (another single which has made the charts but showing little sign of climbing them), we wait to see which one of the two wins this particular race. My money is on the Ed one somehow.
In The End The Love You Take
As the demographics of music consumption shift and once-dominant forms of music retreat ever further into legacy niches, it is all too easy to fall into the trap of making wild assumptions. Such as "oh it is only older people who buy albums these days". Yet this week, and not for the first time in recent years, we have the spectacle of the Number One album of the week being a re-released version of a veteran classic. Hence the appearance at the top of the Official UK Albums chart this week of Abbey Road by The Beatles, this on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of its release. The last music they ever recorded together (although the penultimate album of theirs to be released), the album first topped the charts upon release and would ultimately spend a total of 17 weeks at the top. Making this its 18th. Entertainingly it is the second re-issued Beatles album in the past two and a half years to return to Number One, Abbey Road following in the footsteps of Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band which returned to the top for its own 50th anniversary in June 2017. This trend for returning golden oldies was arguably kicked off in 2010 by The Rolling Stones who saw their own Exile On Main Street return to Number One, 38 years after it first hit the top.
The Beatles this week set a new chart record, Abbey Road now boasting the longest-ever gap between appearances at the top of the charts. It was last on top in the week of January 31st 1970, a full 49 years and 252 days ago. The previous record-holder? The aforementioned Sgt Pepper which endured a 49 year and 125 day wait to return to the top of the charts.
Rather curiously the two re-issued Beatles albums haven't counted as "new" Number One albums and are regarded by the OCC as simply inheriting the chart runs of the original editions. This is in marked contrast to the aforementioned Rolling Stones release whose special edition was regarded at the time as a "new" release. A clarification of the rules since then means that Special Editions no longer count separately. Hence the Stones are credited with 12 Number One albums including the re-issue, but The Beatles remain on 15, not counting their own special editions which seems more than a little unfair.
An Awkward List
Finally this week, given we are now in the semi-mythical Q4 of the year, the Official Charts Company released another quarterly update on how the table of the biggest hits of the year is progressing. You can read the full thing here, along with my usual caveat that in an era when each new release simply adds itself to a growing library of available tracks and nothing ever truly stops being played such tables inevitably skew towards those tracks which have been available all year long rather than just a few months. The "biggest sellers" of the year is no longer a reliable guide to the biggest hits of the last 12 months and a more creative approach to the statistics is perhaps needed. Meanwhile, on the albums table, Lewis Capaldi was rightly hailed as the man with the "biggest album released in 2019". The reason for the qualification? His is still only the Number 2 album of the year. Number One is awkwardly still The Greatest Showman. First released in December 2017.