This one is interesting. There is, as the more observant of you will have noticed, a new Number One this week. It was of course destined to be massive, Vertigo being U2's first new single for exactly two years. The result of this anticipation is their first Number One proper (we'll overlook the LMC record from the start of the year which credited them directly for their sample) since Beautiful Day hit the top in October 2000. Topping the charts isn't something they do all that often - in their 23-year chart career they have only ever done so five times but on this occasion, a Number One single was pretty much assured, Vertigo slamming to the top with the biggest first-week sale in many months. Now in a way, this is actually something of a surprise as of course Vertigo will be familiar to many as the soundtrack to the current series of iPod commercials that have been showing on TV and in the cinemas. Following on from this the track has actually been available to download for about six weeks now and has been top of just about every download chart going - including the official one where since its "release" only a novelty record has been able to dislodge it. Now given that U2 appeal to a rather more mature audience than your average pop fan is kind of follows that they would be the rather more affluent types who would own personal digital players or be in the habit of downloading things to burn to CD. Yet despite this lead in, despite the thousands of downloads that have already been made, the physical release of the CD has still prompted people to flock to the shops to purchase it. Admittedly if you are a huge U2 fan you will want to get the single for the b-side alone but despite this, Vertigo has nicely become one of the first releases to be both a smash hit download and a top-selling CD.
[Looking back, this was a phenomenally clever bit of marketing. The "Vertigo" advert was the first truly mainstream campaign for the iPod, one which turned it from a bit of geek kit into a mainstream consumer item. And as part of that transformation Apple arranged for the music in it to be an iTunes exclusive for several weeks. The only way to buy it was to either own an iPod or install the software that gave you access to Apple's music store. And yet even then the single was a smash physical hit when it was finally made available on that platform. Because the weeks of downloads were still too small to make a dent in its prospects. But you could feel the world shifting. Music retailing was on the verge of its biggest ever upheaval, and this single was one of its pivotal moments].
After last weeks frantically busy Top 10 it comes as something of a relief to see the listings settle down a little this week. Second biggest new hit of the week goes to Blue with the appropriately titled Curtain Falls. Appropriate of course as this has been announced as their last single for some time following their decision to "take a break". We can afford to be cynical as this is a well-known euphemism for "we are splitting up", designed to avoid pissing off the teenage girls who religiously buy their singles and persuading them that buying into the new solo spin-offs from the group are not a betrayal. Ask the boys themselves and they will insist that this is not the end of Blue but the recent reunion of Destiny's Child is the exception that proves the rule. All pop acts, from Boyzone to Atomic Kitten have bowed out gracefully at the end of their shelf life, never to return.
So let us instead celebrate the career of Blue who right from the very start showed that they were a cut above your average pop act, demonstrating a soulful maturity that gave their singles a far wider appeal than might otherwise have been the case. They channelled this respect into some well-regarded collaborations with music legends on remakes of their old hits, topping the charts alongside Elton John on Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word and then last Christmas charting with Stevie Wonder on Signed Sealed Delivered I'm Yours. They also reactivated US hits that flopped over here originally, topping the charts with a cover of Next's Too Close - the US chart-topping original having only been a minor Top 30 hit over here. Final single Curtain Falls also uses Stevie Wonder as an influence, sampling heavily from Pastime Paradise although of course, this is hardly a new idea, the track having formed the basis of Coolio's Gangster's Paradise back in 1995. To that end, the single is a rather disappointing swan song but does at least give them their 11th Top 10 hit from 12 releases. I will actually miss them. Few and far between are pop acts whose singles are at their very worst "disappointing" rather than "crap".
Time now to welcome back a chart act whom we feared might have gone for good. Australian actress Delta Goodrem proved in 2003 that the template of Neighbours stars making cheesy pop records did not have to fit everyone. Instead, she released an album stuffed with uplifting inspirational ballads such as Born To Try and Lost Without You which were hard to hate and very easy to fall in love with. The formula gave her three Top 10 hits and one further minor Top 20 entry before she announced that she was battling Hodgkin's disease and thus would have to take a break from both singing and acting. Happily, this is one of the more treatable forms of cancer and the stage is now set for the singer to resume her career and hopefully become an even bigger star than before. Out Of The Blue is a good start, returning her to the Top 10 for the first time in over a year and with the promise of even better things to come. Like fellow cancer survivor Anastacia, the goodwill with which her return is greeted will go a long way towards boosting her profile. Could a Number One hit be on the way?
Just outside the Top 10 now and this will count as a rather disappointing new entry for V, the boy band charting here with You Stood Up, their third single to date. Now, of course, the marketing for boy bands has to carefully straddle two camps these days, both to the teen market but also to the sizable gay audience who logic dictates will lap up the sight of a group of pretty boys posing in tight t-shirts. This is of course hardly a new thing - the homoerotic overtones of most of Take That's early material being a case in point. However, V took this to either new heights or depths (depending on your point of view) a few weeks ago by performing the single on Top Of The Pops whilst being drenched with water from strategically placed shower heads. It made for a wonderfully arresting spectacle, which was of course none more gay. Let's not knock it, it seems to be working. V records haven't exactly stood out thus far but with a two Top 10 hits, they must be doing something right, even if this single has fallen a little short of the target. In a way, it is a marketing dream, a group who potentially can appeal to both the girl growing out of My Little Pony and her older brother with Star Trek posters on the wall. [This was one of the last truly notable performances in the history of Top Of The Pops and was such an extraordinary spectacle that I'm glad it is up on YouTube to share here].
Injecting a much-needed note of credibility into the chart is the next new entry from Dizzee Rascal, Dream being his second single release of the year to follow up Stand Up Tall which hit Number 11 in September. This does mean he is still without a Top 10 hit after six single releases - but then again the number of recent Mercury Music Prize winners with a Top 10 hit can be counted on the fingers of one hand.
Next to play is a single which has charted slightly lower than many were expecting. An idea so naff it is brilliant. Eye Opener's Hungry Eyes is a typically cheesy Euro-disco cover of a record that was never a hit but somehow is ingrained into the DNA of everyone who was a teenager in the 1980s. For years now we have lived in a world where of all the singles from the soundtrack of cult movie Dirty Dancing, Patrick Swayze's She's Like The Wind was a Top 10 hit whereas Eric Carmen's Hungry Eyes did not even reach the Top 75 (it was a Number 4 hit in the states). Despite this everyone knows the song, either from the film or due to the fact that the soundtrack album was one of the biggest selling since Saturday Night Fever. 17 years on the song finally becomes a hit, albeit not quite in the form you would expect. Yes, it is a naff Euro-dance hit of the kind that is little more than chart pollution but because of the song that has been used, it will mean more to many people than would otherwise have been the case.
Also sneaking into the Top 20 at Number 18 is Nas, the rapper making his first chart appearance since I Can was a Number 19 hit in April 2003. This seems an appropriate moment to mourn the passing of ODB which was announced today. The short and rude life of many rappers almost makes you immune to the news that another has died, but in the case of ODB this doesn't appear to have been a violent end, nor anything drugs related, just a sudden death for medical reasons at a time when he was about to launch a comeback. It is a very sad loss.
This week's big newcomers are the first of two New Zealand acts on the chart this week and bizarrely the second new entry to be iPod related. Yes, before the U2 adverts there were the commercials featuring animated posters spontaneously breaking into a dance when someone with an iPod walked past. The soundtrack to those was Walkie Talkie Man by Steriogram and now the catchy guitar riff breezes its way into the Top 20. A more energetic hit you will not find this week and in truth, they can be disappointed with this rather underwhelming new entry.
Just nicking into the Top 20 as well is jazzman Jamie Cullum with a single which has managed to divide opinion just everywhere it has been aired. Everlasting Love is his own unique take on the classic 60s song which was originally a Number One hit in 1968 for Love Affair. Familiar to just about anyone (as I will explain shortly), Cullum's version is not so much a cover as a reinterpretation as like the best jazz musicians of old he virtually disregards the original tune in favour of crooning his way through the words, effectively making the song his own. Those that love the original song will curse his name on hearing this, others will see it as a huge affirmation of his talent. The track becomes his second Top 20 hit to date, following on from These Are The Days which hit Number 12 back in March. Those who heard the notorious b-side to that track, his take on N.E.R.D's Frontin' will almost certainly not have been surprised to hear what he did to Everlasting Love.
Perhaps the most astounding fact about Cullum's new entry is that it is no less than the 8th version of Everlasting Love to make the charts, reaffirming the song's status as the second most covered track in UK chart history (only Unchained Melody with nine versions can beat it). Since Love Affair hit the top alongside Robert Knight's US original in 1968 there have been chart covers by Rex Smith & Rachel Sweet, Sandra, Worlds Apart, Gloria Estefan and, ahem, The Cast From Casualty - this latter version, strangely enough, the only other version to go Top 10.
Just three more new songs scrape into the bottom end of the listings. Not even the presence of R Kelly on guest vocals can prevent So Sexy from becoming the smallest of Twista's four chart hits to date at Number 28. Just below him is Mase making his chart return after no less than five years away, his last single being Get Ready which hit Number 32 in July 1999. Finally at Number 31 are the second New Zealand act to enter the chart this week, the Finn Brothers with their second single from their current album, Nothing Wrong With You landing at pretty much the same level as Won't Give In which hit Number 26 in August.