Only Here For The Bubbly

There's a risk here of repeating myself as I've given the same history lesson on countless occasions in the past. This being far easier to do when there wasn't a complete archive of works to refer back to. But there's little else taking place this week and for the benefit of new readers, let's recap the strange history of the New Year chart, the one that each year covers for what for want of a better expression we can call the festive perenium.

For the longest time this chart countdown didn't exist. Back in the days when chart returns took the form of handwritten diaries committed to the post by record stores it was a more or less physical impossibility to gather data over the holidays - never mind the fact that that the relevant publications didn't actually, you know, publish for the final week of the year. There was nobody to compile a chart for. So it didn't happen, leading the original compilers of British Hit Singles to just presume the entire chart remained static for a week at the end of the year and listed everything as a non-mover, a conceit that exists in the formal archives today.

The arrival of digital technology in the Gallup era in the early 1980s meant the main obstacle to data collection was removed, and so from 1984 onwards the British singles chart became a 52 weeks of the year operation. But this was never the biggest sales week, quite the reverse in fact. Volumes of recorded music swung from their immediate pre-Christmas highs to record lows, leading at times to some distinctly odd chart moves. This was an environment which was famously exploited by Iron Maiden in December 1990 when they released a limited edition single Bring Your Daughter To The Slaughter two days before Christmas and were rewarded with an instantaneous and completely unexpected No.1 single.

It wasn't until the digital era that things began to swing in a different direction. The change was subtle at first but then became an unstoppable force. Year in and year out we saw the effect of people being gifted digital players such as iPods, along with gift tokens for the online stores. Consumed with a need to populate their new toys with content, people began spending money in a way they never had done before at this time of year. The new year chart countdown went from being the survey with the lowest sales volumes to the very biggest of all. It stopped mattering so much who was top of the charts in Christmas week. To top the pile seven days later was the biggest achievement of all.

And then the streaming era hit and people stopped needing to buy music over Christmas. But crucially they keep on listening to it. And they listen in quite extraordinary numbers. For the last five years or so we've seen a repeating pattern. Streams of tracks on the 24th and 25th, whenever they land in the week in question, contribute to a single chart almost entirely dominated by festive songs. Songs which you will note will all vanish completely from sight next time around.

Welcome then to the wildest, craziest, stupidest chart of the year. One is compiled simply because it can be, but which contains music that ceased to be relevant to people's lives a week ago.

And So To The Bestsellers

We note as a matter of record that the No.1 single is once again Last Christmas by Wham! Displaced last week by the Ladbaby single the vintage track returns to the top of the charts to occupy the same position it did exactly two years ago this week. But where once upon a time that would be a matter of some sensation, it is extraordinarily just part of the background noise of the season.

Speaking of Ladbaby, Food Aid collapses 1-85 in what is actually the biggest Week 2 chart collapse of all his charity singles to date, beating the 1-78 plunge endured by Don't Stop Me Eatin' in 2020. Last year's Sausage Rolls For Everyone "only" fell to No.29 in the immediate aftermath of the Christmas chart.

Chiristmas songs account for 34 of the Top 40 and fully 60 of the Top 75 singles in what amounts to their greatest invasion to date (a clean sweep is almost certainly on the cards within the next few years if the rules do not change). Of brand new recordings Lizzo's Someday At Christmas is the biggest, her Amazon exclusive single hitting No.8 to give the larger than life lady her third Top 10 single. There are also brand new peaks for Kelly Clarkson's Underneath The Tree (No.12) while Ariana Grande's similarly contemporary Santa Can't You Hear Me also reaches a best-ever No.34

I mentioned a few weeks ago the way Slade's 1973 No.1 single Merry Christmas Everybody has fallen to the status of a forgotten favourite in the streaming era, and indeed it continues its grand tradition of going backwards every time, this year hitting what will be its 2022 peak of No.26, down from No.21 a year ago and marking the second year in a row it has failed to make the Top 20.

As for more modern and non-festive hits the biggest one of all is - perhaps startlingly - Firebabe by Stormzy which rallies to No.5 as the only non-seasonal hit in the Top 10. Word reaches me that it was rather incongruously added to some of the Christmas playlists on some DSP services, accounting for this spike in popularity. It is near impossible to base predictions on what will happen next week on the chart positions of this one, but you have to assume the competition to be the first No.1 single of 2023 will be between this and RAYE's Escapism which languishes at No.13.

As is traditional it seems appropriate to break my personal rule about not doing "what if" charts and look at what the Top 10 would look like if no Christmas songs (whether contemporary or vintage) were present. So your "real world" chart would look something like this:

1) Stormzy - Firebabe
2) RAYE and 070 Shake - Escapism
3) Central Cee - Let Go
4) SZA - Kill Bill
5) Rema - Calm Down
6) Bugzy Malone and Teda - Out Of Nowhere
7) Metro Boomin' - Creepin'
8) Taylor Swift - Anti Hero
9) Sam Smith and Kim Petras - Unholy
10) Lewis Capaldi - Pointless

All hail the grime and afrobeats fans who kept faithful to their favourites I guess. Let's see if that persists into the new year. See you next week for something resembling normality.