Morning/Afternoon/Evening all. Funny how most of the talk of the pop world this week has been about a record that isn't even released for a few weeks yet. The recording and subsequent splash premiere of the new Band Aid 20 recording has made its fair share of headlines and has of course pretty much killed off any of the usual fun speculation about what will be the Christmas Number One. I'll reserve full judgement on the track until it is actually released, except to say that the hype that surrounded the track possibly led to over-inflated expectations of how good it was going to be. The original recording of Do They Know It's Christmas was a genuine snapshot of a moment in time and was a thundering statement of intent by a group of people who felt they had to do something NOW. Any attempt to recreate that exact feeling was destined to fail and the new version just comes across as a juddering corporate mess in comparison. Not that it makes it a bad record of course - but more on that in December.
Onto today and the current fractured state of the singles chart is much in evidence this week with a further five new entries inside the Top 10 and last week's Number One single from U2 suffering the indignity of becoming the second single in three weeks to drop from Number One to outside the Top 5, Vertigo plummeting to Number 7. In its place is a record from a group who finally break what was rapidly becoming something of a chart hoodoo. Yes, Girls Aloud may have confounded all expectations by developing what is now turning into a long running chart career after having been created in the glare of publicity by reality TV. After six successful singles, however, the one thing they lacked was a second Number One hit to match their debut Sound Of The Underground which topped the list for Christmas 2002. Their seventh release finally gives them a second Number One hit thanks to its association with the annual BBC Children In Need charity telethon which saw the fivesome all over the broadcast of the show - the result being one of their biggest hits so far. In a way it is a shame that it has taken a combination of a charity tie-in and a rather clunky cover of a 1990s classic to get them to this level once again. I'll Stand By You was originally recorded by the Pretenders and was a Number 10 hit for the group in April 1994. Whereas the beauty of the original lay in its simplicity (just Chrissie Hynde and minimal accompaniment) the demands of shoehorning the song into an ensemble performance for Girls Aloud has meant the sentiment of the track as it was originally written has wound up trampled and almost lost. Still, they meant well and it does at least mean we'll have to find something else to write about when the next Girls Aloud single fails to top the charts. Incidentally, the arrival of I'll Stand By You on the chart has coincided with the downward spiral of their last hit single Love Machine - the net result being the group have the strange distinction of being top and bottom of the chart, Love Machine this week dropping 21 places to land at Number 75.
The second biggest hit of the week slides in at Number 3 and boy is it good. Far and away the biggest star to emerge from the Fame Academy TV series, Lemar charts here with his fourth hit single If There's Any Justice, a single that oozes quality with every note. On the single Lemar does his best Otis Redding and the production follows suit with a single that sounds like it has stepped right out of 1960s Memphis to quite glorious effect. Far and away the best thing you will hear all week, the single returns the star to the Top 3 for the first time since his debut Dance (With U) hit Number 2 in August last year. From the sounds of it his brand new album will be well worth the listen. For the moment I simply have the single on repeat.
Next to play at Number 4 is No Doubt singer Gwen Stefani who is insisting that there is, oh dear, no doubt about the future of the band but that she felt the need to spread her wings a little and make a record outside the confines of their usual ska-rock sound. Instead for this solo release Gwen has opted for another form of musical nostalgia and gone all 1980s new wave on us. Grey haired fans of the output of British labels such as Stiff Records from 25 years ago will wonder if they have stepped back in time with What You Waiting For, a spiky song with a killer hook which sounds for all the world as if it has walked off an old Lene Lovich album. The single is only the second time Gwen Stefani has received a chart credit outside of No Doubt, her first coming when she guested on Eve's Let Me Blow Ya Mind which was a Number 4 hit in the summer of 2001. With this solo release she proves that she is a force to be reckoned with - with or without her bandmates.
With such competition above it is small wonder that acts such as McFly have struggled to compete. So it proves as the fourth single this year from the boy rockers becomes their smallest yet, Room On The 3rd Floor winding up as their first to miss the Top 3. Still, it would be wrong to knock a Top 5 single from a group who have already had two Number One hits this year. Bringing up the rear in the Top 10 is JoJo whose first single Leave (Get Out) was removed from the shelves in fairly short order after it made Number 2 in September so as to clear the decks for this second release. Surprisingly Baby It's You benefits rather than suffers from the genre-straddling inclusion of a rap from Bow Wow to make it a worthy successor to her first hit. She remains of course disturbingly young and intimidatingly talented.
Just outside the Top 10 at Number 11 are comeback kids Embrace with their second hit single of the year, following up Gravity which made Number 7 in September. These hits represent their first back to back Top 20 singles since late 1999 and early 2001. I used to champion Embrace when I worked on the radio in West Yorkshire back in the mid-90s and to see them still have hits seven years on is quite something let me tell you.
At Number 16 are the White Stripes with the second cover version to chart this week - and you know what the truth is if anything this deserves to be Number One instead of Girls Aloud. Next to I Will Always Love You, Jolene is perhaps one of Dolly Parton's most famous hits. The tale of the woman begging her best friend not to steal her lover originally made Number 7 in 1976 and in true bizarro world fashion has long been a favourite of Jack and Meg's concert performances. This live single release was recorded at their gig in Blackpool's Empress Ballroom in January this year and is taken from a new DVD of that concert due for release soon. Part of the problem with the White Stripes is that their recordings never really managed to match the energy of their live shows - and with a live single they have solved that problem nicely. chalk this up as the latest in a series of incredibly good new singles this week and indeed their third Top 20 hit single. Also run out and tell your cynical friends. On the basis of this week's chart, pop music has suddenly got really good again.
Speaking of really bizarre covers, at Number 18 is Paul Weller with one of the standout tracks from his Studio 150 album which is stuffed full of covers. After Top 20 hits already this year with renditions of Gil Scott-Heron's The Bottle and Rose Royce's Wishing On A Star, Weller tackles Thinking Of You, originally recorded by Sister Sledge in 1979. Strangely enough the original version had to wait five years before becoming a hit single in its own right, the track eventually making Number 11 in 1984. Just like Weller's last single Wishing On A Star, he has chosen a track which has been the subject of many different reinterpretations over the years. First up was Bomb The Bass singer Maureen Walsh who hit Number 11 in 1990 with a slow-n-sultry version whilst in 2000 a ragga version from Curis Lynch Jnr crept into the lower end of the Top 75. Weller's version is therefore the fourth to chart, the third to make the Top 20 and you know what? Perhaps one of the best.
Beyond that we go all downhill a little so let us gloss over many of the also-rans. The Top 30 is noteworthy mostly for a trio of new entries from acts whom one would reasonably expect to be charting much higher. Instead they are stuck with what for most of them are the naffest hits of their career. Just three singles in and 411 have gone from Top 5 status to a Number 23 entry with Teardrops which is not a good sign [their third and final hit as it turned out]. OK so the album came out this week but even so. Maybe if they had called themselves 118? Similarly Avril Lavigne. Last single My Happy Ending was a Number 5, new singles Nobody's Home directly translates as "nobody rushed down the shops for this one" as it charges in at Number 24 to beat even 2003's Losing Grip as her smallest single to date. Finally there is Anastacia who has also gone from Top 5 to Top 30 in the space of one single although for her this is not totally unexpected. Both of her first two albums also contained a brace of larger hits and then two more which tickled the lower ends. Her startlingly vociferous fans will be clogging up messageboards with anguish about this as I speak but as far as she is concerned this is almost certainly no big deal.
Oh yes, and the other news of the week was of course the reshuffling yet again of the Radio One chart show duties. So long Wes we hardly knew ye. Not that it is good to kick a man when he is down but even though I thought the appointment of Wes Butters to the post was actually a phenomenally good idea (he is after all young enough to still relate to its single buying audience) he suffered from not quite having the authority that someone recounting the biggest music news of the week required. Whether JK and Joel are the best way to solve that problem remains to be seen (enforced local radio wackiness is more of a Hit40UK thing after all) but next year should make for some interesting listening. Andy Parfitt doesn't have my number anyway.