Before I Begin

Some meta stuff to deal with before we begin this week, as the news broke a few days ago that the hated (it says here) Ladbaby family have decided to hoy their annual Christmas single into touch and are not going to bother this year. Now whilst the cynic in me notes that this does leave the door open for them to capitulate to an imaginary level of "public demand" and release something anyway, this does mean that for the first time in many a long year the door is open for something different to become Christmas No.1.

In truth these days I greet the onset of this annual frenzy with the same enthusiasm I greet Mariah Carey climbing the charts, the idea that there is still something significant about topping the singles charts at the precise point of the year when they don't represent anything beyond how many people have stuck a Christmas playlist on their smart speakers remains a tiny bit absurd. But it is still the one moment of the year when people who feign no interest in what makes it to No.1 at any other time are somehow deeply invested about what makes it to the top at that moment. Official Charts embrace it for public profile purposes and it briefly makes for some interesting headlines. We all know it is vanishingly unlikely to be a contemporary hit single by any established stars, that ship having sailed some time ago. So it is a toss-up between one of the golden oldies (Wham or Mariah) or whichever notable cause happens to grab popular imagination during the course of that week. And of course, there will be the usual gaggle of stunt releases attempting to land a moment of glory (such as The Sidemen going Top 3 last year), all convinced their particular campaign will lead the way, even in this era of increasingly fragmented social media. What's the point of shouting about it on Twitter when all the cool kids are posting on Snargnaffle these days after all.

Cheer Up You Miserable Sod

Thanks subheading, I will. A halftime performer at the Detroit Lions Thanksgiving NFL game on Thursday, Jack Harlow as was widely expected consolidates his position at the top of the Official UK Singles chart, thus making it increasingly likely he will have the final "normal" No.1 single of the year with Lovin On Me. And yes, the lack of apostrophe in the title continues to grate.

I touched last week on the way the single is fashionably brief, barely struggling over the two minute mark. The durations of most pop records have now shrunk back to the kinds of levels we used to see in the 1950s, largely as a consequence of the demands of streaming attention causing songwriters and producers to have to mess with the traditional structure of pop songs. They have all by and large lost their introductions, bridges and instrumental breaks and will often charge straight in with the chorus - thus ensuring attention is grabbed quickly enough to persuade the listener to avoid skipping before the 30 second mark which triggers both royalty and chart credits. Plus of course if your song is short enough the listener hasn't tired of it yet and is inspired to listen again - meaning double payments and double the potential chart sales. There is method in the madness.

Out of curiosity I looked up the durations of the No.1 singles so far this year. And fascinatingly most of the year's chart-toppers have been outliers, tending towards the more traditional 3.5 to 4 minute durations of "classic pop songs". But you will note from the telling list below (compiled from declared durations on Spotify) that the Jack Harlow track is quite notably the briefest single to top the listings this year:

Escapism - 4:32
Pointless - 3:51
Flowers - 3:20
Eyes Closed - 3:14
Miracle - 3:06
Wish You The Best - 3:30
Sprinter - 3:49
What Was I Made For - 3:42
Dance The Night - 2:56
Vampire - 3:39
Paint The Town Red - 3:51
Strangers - 2:52
Is It Over Now - 3:49
Now And Then - 4:08
Lovin On Me - 2:18

Not A Horse In Sight

As the flow of new releases begins its inevitable pre-holidays slowdown the upper end of the Top 10 exhales a little after the excitement of the past few weeks. That means the way is clear for Prada to ascend into second place once again, this now the track's fifth week in total in the runner up position. But as one of the most enduring hits of the autumn it deserves a moment to be appreciated, Casso's reworking of D-Block Europe's Ferrari Horses transforming the underwhelming grime hit into a thrilling mid-90s eurodance revival track. It has been a Top 5 hit for the past 11 weeks for a very good reason. The ACR axe will almost certainly fall on it during December if not over Christmas, but that's not to say it won't be in line for a resurrection in the new year as well. People are loving this far too much for it to go away just yet.

Speaking of long-runners though, Tate McRae's Greedy has spent every one of its ten weeks on release as a Top 10 single and also returns to its chart peak this week, rescaling the No.3 position it last visited five weeks ago for what is now its fourth week in total in the Bronze Medal slot. Noah Kahan's Stick Season is the one track in the Top 5 to reach a new peak, climbing to No.4 for the first time. This is to the detriment of Water by Tyla which has now moved 5-7-5-8-5 over the last five weeks since it also peaked at No.4.

The easing of this Top 10 pressure also opens the door for Mitski to return to the Top 10 for the first time in four weeks with Mine All Mine this week's No.10. Its peak so far was the fortnight it spent at No.8 in late October.

Newly Dumped

We need to pivot back to Tate McRae for a moment though because she has this week's highest new entry as well, her new track Exes storming to No.12 to give her simultaneous Top 20 hits. It is another teaser single for her album Think Later which is boldly scheduled for release in two weeks' time. I'll keep hammering the point though, releasing a single now is not an exercise in promoting it to climb the charts now, but merely to ensure it is around to win the battle for turkey-stuffed ears from December 27th onwards.

Jangle Jingle

Christmas songs watch: 2 in the Top 20 (Last Christmas at No.14, AIWFCIY at No.16) with three more joining them in the Top 40. And it is worth noting that these are artificially depressed chart placings due to the holiday hits being on ACR. The two aforementioned hits are 2 and 3 on the unfiltered streaming chart (only Jack Harlow has more plays for now) and would occupy equivalent places on the singles chart if they were free to do so). Leading the charge of the rest of the pack for now is the curiously increasingly popular Rocking Around The Christmas Tree by Brenda Lee which seems destined to reprise the journey it has made into the Top 10 for the past two years running. A newspaper journalist asked me in the week about why a single from 1962 should rank as one of the more popular Christmas songs at streaming. I noted that the festive playlists are by and large put together by Spotify staff in New York and are very much made from an American perspective and whose festive music tastes largely stalled 60 years ago. Hence Jingle Bell Rock by Bobby Helms, currently No.44 and also inevitably destined for the Top 10 a few weeks hence.

So where was I? 2 festive hits in the Top 20, 5 in the Top 40, 15 in total in the Top 75. Only two are newly released tracks, Sam Ryder's You're Christmas To Me creeps forward to No.50 while Jorja Smith's cover of the 1994 Christmas No.1 Stay Another Day by East 17 lands at No.75. The latter isn’t actually a Christmas song in any sense of the word but it gets lumped in anyway so who are we to argue. Both are part of this years' batch of exclusive Amazon Originals and so have both an inbuilt advantage and disadvantage by being exclusive to that platform. Missing for now is the third of them, Anne-Marie's new composition Christmas Without You but you suspect it is on its way shortly.

Quacking Hell

But wait, *rubs eyes* we also have a string of also-ran new entries, ones that are likely to vanish without trace in short order unless they are exceptionally lucky. But here they are anyway. It has been a good few weeks, so here is Drake with another new single. You Broke My Heart is one of several new tracks added to a "Scary Hours Edition" of his For All The Dogs album, and it winds up comfortably the biggest as a new entry at No.26 as his 12th chart hit single of the year.

Chris Brown's Angel Numbers/Ten Toes isn't a double a-side (as if such a thing is possible) but the lead track from his 11:11 album which came out two weeks ago. Having debuted at No.41 last week as an album cut the track this week enjoy a nine place climb into the Top 40, his first such hit single since he participated on Metro Boomin's Superhero (Heroes And Villains) which enjoyed a brief post-Christmas chart run earlier this year.

Heading West

Kanye West may spend his time behaving bizarrely in public these days but that doesn't mean his catalogue still can't work for him. Originally a minor No.56 chart entry in 2010, Runaway (with a co-credited Pusha T) still became one of the rapper's more iconic moments of the decade thanks to its use as a cultural reference point, inspiring a short film of the same name, and its celebrated ballerina-drenched video. It now belatedly becomes a Top 40 hit more than 13 years after release as it arrives at No.34, this following his own reworking of the track in a viral Tik Tok video where he altered the lyrics to address his divorce from Kim Kardashian. At least he kept his arse put away I guess.

From the "all good things…" pile also comes Lil Boo Thang from Paul Russell which was first released back in the summer after his homebrewed performance of the track online landed him a major label deal. The cut didn't chart here until just over a month ago but it now finally shifts into the Top 40 for the first time with a rise to No.36. And once more, if it vanishes next week then we really cannot judge too harshly, there is just no telling if it will reappear in January again.

Nutty Train Delayed

Finally to albums, and given they are one of the great singles acts of their time, it is perhaps not such a shock that until today Madness have never had a No.1 studio album. Not that they haven't come close before, with their early career classics such as One Step Beyond and Absolutely both having peaked at No.2. But the stats do not lie. Madness topped the album charts with early hits collection Complete Madness in 1982 and career retrospective Divine Madness in 1992 but only now do they enjoy a No.1 record with a set of brand new recordings. The album in question is latest comeback set Theatre Of The Absurd P'ts C'est La Vie and with 18,000 sales to its name it does what the last few big name arrival have failed to do - eject Taylor Swift from the top of the albums countdown. Although I can't help but think she'll be back.