It is reckoned by most informed sages on the matter that Country & Western was the genre of music that first came up with "the answer record". Let's face it, any type of music that lends itself to songs about the women running off with your cousin and taking the dog with her was ripe for enterprising songwriters to riposte from the point of view of the woman who could thus talk about how cousin George had the bigger plough and that the dog actually got tangled in the wheels of the cart very sorry about that etc. That hasn't stopped other musical genres getting in on the act of course although occasions, when such tracks become mainstream hits rather than underground novelties, are few and far between.
Famous modern day examples include Lydia Murdock's Superstar performed to the beat of Billie Jean and told from the point of view of Billie Jean herself - the track reaching Number 14 in September 1983. More recently it was the turn of Sporty Thievz with No Pigeon', a 1999 Number 21 hit made as a direct response to TLC's No Scrubs. This week the concept reaches its absolute zenith as an answer record replaces the song that originally inspired it off the top of the charts.
Suggestions that the singer Frankee who sings F.U.R.B. is the actual woman with whom Eamon had the disastrous affair documented in his own I Don't Want You Back have been widely discredited but still the tale of the wronged woman using the man's own song to put across her point of view is instantly and deliciously appealing. So it is that after several weeks in which it bubbled around the lower end of the chart on import, Frankee's record storms to the top of the charts, shunting Eamon himself down to Number 2. The equally profane F.U.R.B. follows the usual tradition of answer records by being based on the song that inspires it but Frankee's track takes this to new extremes. This new single is essentially the same song with a different lyric. Everything else: structure, rhythm and production is the same or at the very least a spookily accurate facsimile. Don't say it too loudly but the register of the song actually works well with a female voice and it is not too wide of the mark to suggest that that track has not simply flown to the top of the charts on novelty value alone but because it is also a track of equal quality to Eamon's original.
So there it is, just when you thought that the singles chart was sliding towards mediocrity, mundane performances and a loss of all credibility, along come two records each worthy of headlines and in combination giving us the most entertaining chart story of the last five years. The CD single may be in trouble as a consumer product, but as we have discussed before, the ability for a single track to make cultural waves appears to be as strong as ever.
Just for a change the second biggest new hit of the week is also one that has the capacity to generate headlines. First, though a short history lesson for we need to take a moment to look back to the 1980s. 20 years before The Darkness and 10 years before Oasis were feted by all and sundry as the best band on the planet there were The Smiths. The very epitome of jangly mid-80s "indie" music, the influence of the Manchester band can be felt to this very day. What set them apart from their peers was the delightful collision of musical approaches. Johnny Marr was the guitarist with an ear for a catchy tune and a way of crafting three and a half minutes of perfect guitar pop. Balancing him was the lead singer and lyricist Morrissey who wrote wordy songs about teenage angst, political strife and vegetarianism. Combine the two and you have instant magic and a group who never really had many big chart hits but who had a large cult following. When the group dissolved acrimoniously in 1987 appetite was whetted for the promised Morrissey solo career - but this is where the frustrations began.
Most will agree that when Morrissey was good (Suedehead, Everyday Is Like Sunday, We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful) he was superb. When he was bad (You're The One For Me Fatty, Pregnant For The Last Time) it was painful. Despite a large fan following who could rival those of Michael Jackson for their capacity to be in denial when he did anything wrong, in the 1990s Morrissey's career launched from disaster to disaster with band albums, dubious political statements and woeful live performances. His last musical output was back in 1997 with a poorly received album Maladjusted and a singles collection released by EMI records who had given him the elbow two years previously.
As it turns out, however, really what he needed was time away to recharge his batteries and come up with some better material. Few and far between are the acts who have the luxury of vanishing for seven years and return with their fan base largely intact. Morrissey it appears is one of those for the anticipation of his first new material in that time has reached fever pitch of late. Best of all, he does not disappoint. Lead single Irish Blood English Heart can possibly rank as one of his best solo singles ever. Where it does rank is in the Top 3, his first Top 10 hit in ten years and his highest charting single ever. Not everyone will get him even now (and I confess the whole cult of Steven Patrick Morrissey always passed me by) but those who remained fans throughout the wilderness years, as well as a potential whole new generation of devotees, have a great deal to cheer about this week.
Whilst not on the same kind of scale, there is another comeback of sorts at Number 5 as Avril Lavigne storms the Top 10 with the first single from her forthcoming second album. Debut album Let Go gave the teenager four chart singles in 2002 and 2003, the biggest, of course, being the soon to be classic Complicated which hit Number 3 here and broke airplay records all over the globe. The buildup to her new release has been, er, complicated by a split from production team The Matrix who helmed the first release and who since have taken great glee in pointing out that their contribution to the first album was rather more extensive than Avril 'all my songs come from personal experience' Lavigne liked to pretend. Still, by the sounds of it she has either learned to write a song on her own or found herself some collaborators who are equally up to the task. Don't Tell Me represents no great progression in her sound but is comfortingly familiar for those who enjoyed the angst driven verse and rocking out chorus structure of her earlier material. The track returns her to the Top 10 with ease and indicates that she isn't going to vanish quite as quickly as some cynics were expecting.
The fourth new entry inside the Top 10 is It Can't Be Right, 2Play and Raghav's follow-up to the Number 6 hit So Confused which charted in January. Vocal collaboration this time is provided by rapper Naila Boss, and just like the first single, this is a highly entertaining fusion of R&B, ragga and garage. A cut above your average crossover dancehall hit, and well deserving of a second successive Top 10 single.
Just outside the Top 10 are two new entries from well-established rap artists. First up is Jay-Z, bouncing back after the comparative disappointment of Change Clothes which could only make a derisory Number 32 when released at the height of the Christmas rush. Picking a consistent path through Jay-Z's chart form is tricky at the best of times thanks to his extensive list of collaborations with other artists. Whilst he enjoyed three Top 10 hits in 2003 (his best chart performances ever), only 03 Bonnie & Clyde can be counted as one of his own singles although his contribution to Beyonce's Crazy In Love at least gives him the honour of appearing in the record books as a participant on a Number One single.
A collaboration of rap stars crashes in at Number 17, Method Man teaming up with Busta Rhymes for What's Happenin'. Of the two it is possibly Busta Rhymes who has the highest profile in the UK thanks to his tongue in cheek adverts for mobile phones although this did not help him just before Christmas when even the presence of Pharrell Williams could not help Light Your Ass On Fire climb any higher than Number 62. Still, at least he had a Top 10 hit last year alongside Mariah Carey and indeed it is with female stars that Method Man has always had his biggest hits, his last chart appearance coming in September last year alongside Mary J Blige on Love @ 1st Sight which made Number 15. This Number 17 hit gives the Wu-Tanger his biggest solo success since the Number 10 success of I'll Be There For You/You're All I Need To Get By from 1995 - which coincidentally was also a collaboration with Mary J Blige.
Joss Stone makes it a brace of Number 18 hits to open her career as she enters the chart with Super Duper Love as a follow-up to her marvellous take on Fell In Love With A Boy which charted back in February. This track is also a cover, albeit a lesser known one, the song having first been recorded by Willie Garner. Perhaps more familiar is the b-side, her take on It's A Man's Man's Man's World which is taken from her contribution to last year's James Brown tribute concert.
Two more comebacks sneak it at Nos. 22 and 23, Alanis Morrissette sneaking in first with her first single for two years. Boy does she need a Morrissey level comeback hit. Also new are the Charlatans, Up At The Lake the first single from a forthcoming new album, their first of new material since 2001. Finally at Number 32 is a solo single proper from Pete Doherty, the release of Babyshambles coming just a few weeks after he charted with Wolfman on the rather better single For Lovers.
Finally, before we finish, a word about the Eurovision Song Contest. The build-up to the event has at least arrested the decline of James Fox's UK entry Hold On To Our Love which climbs a place to Number 36 this week. As predicted in these very pages the single never stood a chance of winning, the decision to put the selection process back into prime time apparently misfiring as the weakest song of the lot ended up being our offering. Shockingly enough I actually backed the winner for a change as for all the "Xena Warrior Princess" jokes, Ukraine's Ruslana had far and away the best song of the night and stormed the show with the most energetic performance of the lot. Package her up as the East European Shakira and you can make her a star in the west, no question at all.