1 EARTH SONG (Michael Jackson)
Michael Jackson almost died this week [so it was claimed, his collapse during rehearsals for a TV special was eventually put down to stress and dehydration]. Such a blunt and to the point statement may not be the most tactful thing in the world but could go some way towards explaining why the star has just pulled off what is without question one of the chart feats of the year. Although before this week he was the clear favourite to ultimately become the Christmas Number One, the release of the new Beatles single this week was expected to be too big a challenge to hold off. As it turns out figures released throughout the week indicated that the race for the top slot was too close to call and a final surge gave Jacko the edge. His health crisis during the week certainly caused a bit of a stir, especially given the truth behind the old adage that death is very commercial. If the reports are to be believed, at one point he was close to death, something that would have prompted an enormous surge for both album and single and blown any speculation about the Christmas Number One clean out of the water. Even so, having held off the Beatles, Jackson now has few serious competitors for the crown over the next two weeks. Certainly this week sees the vast bulk of the competition debuting far too low to mount any serious challenge. Due for release in the next week or so are singles by Queen, Corona, Robson and Jerome and of course the Mike Flowers Pops all of which could still pose a problem - it's not over yet.
2 FREE AS A BIRD (The Beatles)
Well. In the minds of some it was a foregone conclusion. For months, as soon as it was announced that the single was due for a pre-Christmas release, it was a clear favourite to be Christmas Number One. Until, that is, everyone heard it. Let's get the statistics out of the way first, this is actually their second hit single of the year, following on from the recording of Baby It's You which was lifted from the Live At The BBC album and reached Number 7. In turn it is their 27th Top 10 hit in a chart career which stretches back to 1962. That total includes no less than 17 Number One hits - a record which ties them with Elvis Presley as the all-time chart-topping champions. Hence the reason for the wild speculation and excitement that this new track would also become a Number One hit and reestablish them as leaders of that particular list. In the event they appear to have been denied, debuting at Number 2 for no less than the sixth time in their chart history. Back in the 1960's at the height of their popularity their singles would regularly debut inside the Top 10 but as distribution systems in the 1960's were not what they are today, an instant Number One was an almost impossible feat. In fact they only ever debuted at Number One once - in 1969 with Get Back. Another factor in the lower than expected sales of the single is undoubtedly the way it sounds. When the Jeff Lynne produced track was premiered the reaction was mixed and muted, although it puzzles me as to exactly what people were expecting from a group who split up 25 years ago and whose musical careers have followed widely differing paths ever since. In actual fact the musical quality of the track does not really matter. Let's face it, the Beatles could fart into a baked bean tin and it would still sell in its thousands [I've a memory of being miffed that the editors at dotmusic snipped that line at the time]. More than any other record released in the last decade, this new track is a piece of history in the making, bought more for what it is rather than what it sounds like. That fact alone has been enough to give the band at Number 2 single, with the added bonus that the track at the very least sounds better than the aforementioned metallic flatulence.
3 FATHER AND SON (Boyzone)
A surprising turnaround for Boyzone after their version of the Cat Stevens song fell back last week from its original peak of Number 4. This kind of movement will become increasingly common over the next few weeks as the number of big new hits slackens off and the existing stream of chart hits consolidate their positions in time for the big final week sales push. Hence this movement, the rebound experienced by Bjork at Number 8 this week and the surprising turnaround by Queen's Heaven For Everyone which is at Number 31 from 33.
7 THE BEST THINGS IN LIFE ARE FREE (Luther Vandross and Janet Jackson)
It's Greatest Hits time isn't it? Luther Vandross first promoted his current hits collection with a re-release of Power Of Love/Love Power, a flop hit from 1991 which just about justified its presence with a Number 31 peak about four weeks ago. Clearly the best way to raise the profile of his Greatest Hits is to re-release his Greatest Hit. Hence the remixed reissue of this track, first lifted from the soundtrack of the 1992 film "Mo Money" and which peaked at Number 2 in September of that year. It is hard to see what this new mix brings to the song which represented Jam and Lewis at the height of their songwriting talents. It was remixed to death at the time so the slightly different sound of this new version comes as no surprise and takes little away from the brilliance of the track. What is curious is what has been missed out. Back in 1992 the track also featured guest raps from, and gave full label credit to, Bel Biv Devoe and Ralph Tresvant, both of whom are clearly yesterdays heroes and irrelevant to the track's presence now - hence the single mix of this release edits out their contributions altogether.
9 THE GIFT OF CHRISTMAS (Childliners)
Charidee time again. Ever since the original Band Aid record in 1984 a conglomeration of stars united for a particular cause has been a regular Christmas money-spinner. So much so that a charity record is these days no great sensation and many find themselves lost amongst all the other shmaltzy singles that get released at this time of year. Full credit then to this track, featuring the stars of many different chart acts such as East 17 and Boyzone [and also the likes of Danni Minogue and a pre-fame Peter Andre fact fans]. The beneficiaries of this record are Childline, the charity behind the freephone number for children in trouble all danger. The charity was launched in 1986 by television personality Esther Rantzen and she has remained one of its leading campaigners ever since. In fact it has been the recipient of the receipts of more charity singles than any other. The first Childline single was Wet Wet Wet's version of With A Little Help From My Friends which made Number 1 in 1988. This was followed by You've Got A Friend by Big Fun and Sonia which reached Number 14 in 1990.
18 IF YOU WANNA PARTY (Molella featuring Outhere Brothers)
They may be relegated to a side billing this time but this is still very much an Outhere Brothers record. The pair make their fourth chart appearance of the year, one which has seen them become unwittingly some of the biggest pop stars around with two Number One hits in the shape of Boom Boom Boom and Don't Stop (Wiggle Wiggle). The release of the track coincides with the release of their new 'party' album. This release is the culmination of a frantic re-positioning of the pair who were originally promoted as a pair of cheeky rappers a la 2 Live Crew. This strategy was blown out of the water when the singles became such massive pop hits in their edited versions and so the album which contained the more explicit mixes stiffed completely. For the new release many of the vocals have been re-recorded to make them proper party hits. Quite what the pair think of all this is not yet documented.
21 LAST CHRISTMAS/BIG TIME (Whigfield)
Oh dear. Oh dear. Oh dear. Throughout this year Whigfield has defied speculation, proving that Saturday Night was not a one-off and has scored a string of Top 20 hits. Now it is Christmas and so it is time we had a Christmas hit from her. She has chosen to cover what must be considered one of the archetypal Christmas hits. Last Christmas was written by George Michael and was released as a Wham! single in 1984. It was fated to end up stuck behind the Band Aid single for the whole of the Christmas period but this did not stop it selling in its thousands, becoming the first single ever to sell a million but never reach Number One. In 1985 it was back again to become Top 10 for Christmas for a second time in the wake of George Michael's victory over the publishers of Barry Manilow's Can't Smile Without You who alleged that it plagiarised their hit - a claim that was emphatically rejected [well the claim was settled out of court, although George Michael retained the sole songwriter credit]. In short, the song is part of the lives of many people, but crucially not the current singles-buying generation. Sad to say then that they are likely to grow up identifying the song with Whigfield's version, which is faithful enough but still not a patch on the original and only just avoids ruining it for good. Maybe it is just me being sentimental for the days when I was 11 years old and the original was in the charts.
22 REMEMBERING THE FIRST TIME (Simply Red)
Now here is a surprise. Fairground was a massive Number One and certainly one of the biggest selling singles of the year. It's chart burnout was quite protracted as well, making its last appearance in the Top 40 only last week. Thus it is something of a surprise that the followup from Simply Red should debut at such a lowly position. Maybe it is the competition from above as Christmas approaches, or maybe just the quality of the single itself, either way this is likely to come as a major disappointment. Closer examination will reveal, however, that Fairground was actually the exception to the rule. Most Simply Red singles only ever achieve minor chart positions - Fairground was only ever their 5th Top 10 hit.
23 NATURAL WOMAN (Mary J Blige)
Mary J Blige rounds off her most successful chart year to date with her fourth hit of the year. After having covered Rose Royce, Marvin Gaye and the Mary Jane girls, she turns her attention to Aretha Franklin in a startlingly faithful cover of her classic soul hit. The original track was first released in 1967 and made Number 8 in America but no version has ever become a hit in this country until now.
24 SLEEPING IN (Menswear)
The end too for a successful year for Menswear who have gradually climbed up the rungs of respectability and scored a succession of hits. Sleeping In is probably one of the best so far but has become swamped by the Christmas market and so charts a fair way behind the Number 14 and 16 peaks of Daydreamer and Stardust.
25 MERKINBALL (Pearl Jam)
The second minor Top 40 hit of the year for Pearl Jam, following on from Not For You which made Number 35 way back in February.
28 TOO MUCH FOR ONE HEART (Michael Barrymore)
Ladies and Gentlemen please be upstanding for the first example of the season of 'Naff Record Syndrome'. This is a complaint that afflicts the charts every year as a consequence of the flood of people that pour into record shops and snap up some of the more MOR offerings. As a result the chart sometimes gets clogged up with 'adult' singles such as this. Michael Barrymore is one of the countries foremost television entertainers having built himself up from lanky comedian in the 1980s to the presenter of several top-rated TV shows. He has also seldom been out of the newspapers over the past few years amid rumours of exhaustion and wasting diseases which culminated in his dramatic declaration of homosexuality earlier in the year. For a mainstream entertainer to do so is still extremely rare but rather than put the knives out for him most people were content to sit and see if it harmed his career in any way. Far from it, he is as popular as ever as this single release shows. On it he shows off his singing talents in a rather naff ballad which will be loved by your Granny but will not progress any further on the chart. Thank God.
30 WANNA BE WITH YOU (Jinny)
Back in July and August as the nation sweltered under the hottest summer for years, one track stood out on the radio as the anthem for the moment. That track was Jinny's Keep Warm, in actual fact a 4 year old record which had been reactivated and was undoubtedly one of the dance hits of the year, despite the fact that it only reached Number 11. Now the lady is back with a followup hit in time for Christmas. The new single is adequate enough, a typical piece of Euro-pop much like the last hit. Without having had four years to mature, however, it manages to come across as a bit flat and lifeless. Still, I must not complain as her current round of promotional visits to plug the single has proved that she actually is a lovely person to talk to, but she can make better records than this. ['She' being Sandra Chambers who didn't feature on Keep Warm but who was subsequently recruited to sing on further Jinny hits].
33 THE TUNE (Suggs)
From his Christmas EP no less, Suggs pops up briefly with his third solo hit of the year, a chart run that coincides nicely with the short series of concerts that Madness are performing this month.
35 THE CORONATION STREET SINGLE (Various Artists)
Coronation Street is easily the most important show ever broadcast on British television. The thrice-weekly soap made by Granada television last week celebrated its 35th birthday with a special hour-long episode and now rounds this off by charting an EP of songs all performed by various members of the cast. There have been Coronation Street cast albums in the past, all featuring pub singalong versions of well known hits but this is the first time a single has been lifted from an album and has made it into the charts. Its merits as a piece of pop music are really neither here nor there and it merely stands up as yet another example of the way music buying encroaches into a far wide demographic spread at Christmas. There is no doubt that there is a mass audience for this kind of easy listening but the records are only actually promoted, and consequently the audience only wanders into record shop at Christmastime - hence the glut of them at the bottom end of the chart at present.
36 CHRISTMAS IN BLOBBYLAND (Mr Blobby)
[Michael Barrymore, Coronation Street and Mr Blobby on the same Top 40 chart together. Classic days]. It scares me to think of this but it was actually two years ago that the whole Mr Blobby phenomenon exploded. The pink latex character was originally created for Noel Edmond's TV show 'House Party' as a device for winding up celebrities. Before long he became a strange cult phenomenon, at times in danger of eclipsing Noel Edmonds as the star of the show, had tow different theme parks dedicated to him and inevitably the performer on his own hit single. The eponymous track pulled off an even greater feat by shooting to Number One in December 1993 and holding off none other than Take That to become the Christmas chart-topper. A followup hit was immediately planned (threatened?) but for some reason it never materialised. Now a second hit single for Blobby (actually actor Barry Killerby playing the role of his life) has emerged but this time the circumstances are different. Mr Blobby is yesterday's joke, kids have moved on to other idols and the TV show is no longer the runaway ratings success that it was. All of this has conspired to make the new single less of a smash and more of a damp squib. At least it means he won't be the subjec of endless cultural analyses in the Sunday supplements this time around.
38 RHYTHM OF LIFE (Oleta Adams)
To prop up the bottom end this week comes a curiosity. Following the Number 22 success of Never Knew Love back in October, Oleta Adams surprisingly chooses to follow it up with a reissue of the title track from her 1990 debut album. The album was launched in a blaze of publicity, promoting her as a major new soul talent but it was not until Get Here became a sentimental hit during the Gulf War in early 1991 that she managed to have a hit single. Rhythm Of Life has been released as a single on a least one occasion before but has never charted until this week. As is so often the case with singles this far down the chart this week is also likely to be its last. Time may be running out but there are still a number of new singles due for release this week, all of which are hoping to win the battle for chart honours over the festive season. Christmas -2. And counting.