[So finally, after months of slog and what turned out to be some rather fraught behind the scenes negotiations, the winds of dramatic change finally begin to blow across the UK singles chart].
This week genuinely marks the end of an era. The big day has been put off once already but despite some continued grumbles from independent labels next week will see one of the biggest changes in the singles chart for a generation as online downloads will be factored into the main chart listing for the first time ever. Sure, different formats have come and gone in the past - we have gone from tracking the sales of 78rpm shellac records through 45rpm 7-inch singles, the 12-inch extended mix, the cassingle and the varied forms of the CD single - but all of those were a simple widening of the scope of the survey. Never before has a new means of music distribution been invented, popularised, belatedly regulated and compiled into its own rundown prior to finally being acknowledged by the "official" singles chart.
Most of the most significant changes in the 50 year history of the singles chart have been technical, from the launch of the "official" chart in the 1960s, the creation of the Top 75 in 1978, Gallup's introduction of electronic barcode scanning to replace manual diaries in 1983 through to Millward Brown plugging themselves into the EPOS terminals of the major retailers in 1994 and thus expanding the charts from a selective survey into a near 100% mirror of record sales in the UK. This time a chunk of the market that has grown up invisible to the OCC's flagship listing is about to arrive en masse - a change that could well be as significant as Billboard magazine in the US allowing airplay-only singles onto the Hot 100 in 1998.
Having said all that, the impact of d-day next week may not be all that significant. In spite of all the hype, download sales remain a tiny, tiny chunk of the overall singles market. Whilst CD singles may not be the mass market consumer product they once were, the MP3 download most definitely hasn't replaced it - at least not yet. Let us not forget though one of the primary reasons the record charts exist in the first place - they are a damn useful marketing tool for the record industry. Now that we are about to have a sales chart that can properly track the online single we are likely to see a big increase in the way they are marketed. A single available through iTunes or Napster or wherever can be promoted much more effectively if its sales are reflected in the singles chart.
Who knows, this may also have a knock on effect on chart rundown programmes themselves if the singles chart takes on meaning again. The BBC has had to downgrade shows such as Top Of The Pops and the Sunday afternoon Radio One show in the wake of falling interest. The new singles chart from next week may help to reverse that decline - and it can also only serve to assist alternatives such as Hit40UK and the forthcoming chart show on podshows.com.
Anyway, with that said we still have a singles chart this week to deal with, but it is almost as if nobody can really be bothered this week, an air of stagnation hanging over not just the Top 40 but the Top 75 as a whole, just 11 new singles making their debut on the entire chart. The result is a fourth week at the top for Tony Christie Amarillo now only the second single in the last year to spend a full moon cycle at the summit, the first since Do They Know It's Christmas at the turn of the year. The chances are good for the single spending a fifth week there next week as well, Tony Christie's track set to benefit from the boost online sales will give, the track this week spending another seven days at the summit of the download-only chart.
Biggest "new" hit of the week is this week's Elvis Presley track - Crying In The Chapel. A Number One hit in June 1965 it was a genuine oddity at the time, the now classic ballad having been an outtake from the 1960 sessions that produced Elvis' gospel album Your Hand In Mine. Modern accounts suggest its release was delayed so that Colonel Tom could negotiate away the publishing rights but as far as Elvis fans were concerned its appearance was like a breath of fresh air. After watching their idol churn out bad movie after bad movie and going into the recording studio almost as an afterthought to record the soundtrack, Crying In The Chapel was a fine example of how good he can be. Sadly it took the artist himself another three years to work it out and there would be an unprecedented five-year wait for his next Number One single. Lucky us, we only have to wait seven days to find out what it is.
The absence of any other new songs in the Top 5 this week gives a useful leg up to some older records, 50 Cent's Candy Shop leaping a place to match its Number 4 entry point from a fortnight ago, whilst Will Smith's Switch leaps 8-5 on its third week on the chart to land its highest placing yet. Switch is also the Number 2 download this week and it may well consolidate its position as a bestseller in seven days time.
The next new entry is a triumphant return for Garbage who see Why Do You Love Me crash in at Number 7. It is almost ten years since the band had their first hit, their original selling point being the presence in their lineup of Nirvana producer Butch Vig and lead singer Shirley Manson who had previously headed up Scottish group Goodbye Mister Mackenzie. Their biggest hit came in 1996 with the Clash-sampling Stupid Girl which peaked at Number 6 whilst their highest profile moment came in November 1999 when they sang the theme to the Bond film The World Is Not Enough and were rewarded with a Number 11 hit. The atypically upbeat Why Do You Love Me triumphantly becomes their first Top 10 hit in over six years, and indeed their biggest hit single since Stupid Girl over nine years ago. Now that is a comeback.
It is also come back ahoy for Melanie C who seems set to beat former Spice Girl bandmate Geri to a third album. Mel C has had an up and down solo career thus far. Always regarded as the most musically talented of the famous girl group, her solo debut Northern Star came out in 1999 and after a (literally) rocky start found an audience thanks to some well-placed dance remixes of its cuts. Sophomore effort Reason came out in 2003 but aside from Number 7 hit single Here It Comes Again was largely considered a disappointment and suffered still from the Spice Girls backlash that had seen its release delayed to try to avoid, the result being "end of record deal". Hence this brand new single has taken the "self-funded by her management" route and has at least justified the spend by creeping into the Top 10, but although the sparky pop-rock track has elicited favourable comparisons with her celebrated 1998 duet with Bryan Adams When You're Gone it still doesn't set the world on fire. Incidentally the single also gives weight to the argument that online stores don't feature the fringes of the market properly - without the backing of a major label you'll search long and hard to find a store selling Next Best Superstar.
In at Number 12 this week is the breezy sound of I Bruise Easily, the fourth hit single for Natasha Bedingfield and the follow-up to the gospel-tinged Unwritten which was a hit at Christmas. Easily one of the standout tracks from her debut album 'I Bruise Easily' was always a candidate for a single and nicely reflects the effortless way she switches between styles from track to track. Another single will I suspect be a release too far (this is after all her first single to miss the Top 10) but it is enough to make me look forward to a second album which if she has any sense will appear without too much delay.
It is second single time for Feeder who follow up January's Top 5 smash Tumble And Fall with new single Feeling A Moment which slides in at Number 13. They can be forgiven for being slightly disappointed with that performance as the single gave them their best chance yet to have a second successive Top 10 hit - something that has thus far eluded them in their eight-year chart career.
The only other new entry in the Top 20 this month sees Kelis take something of a chart tumble. After a run of three Top 3 hits in 2004, she has to watch In Public land at the comparatively low position of Number 17. For guest star Nas, however, the single is an improvement on the Number 18 peak of his last single Bridging The Gap which charted in November last year.
Down the bottom end of the listing there are new entries for the Bees, The Others and Departure at 28, 29 and 30 respectively and most surprisingly Elton John whose new single Turn The Lights Out When You Leave can't even replicate the Top 20 peak of All That I'm Allowed which came out in November last year. In truth, of course, we shouldn't be too surprised as his last smash hits were old songs (the Alessandro Safina duet on Your Song which hit Number 4 in 2002 and the chart-topping re-release of Are You Ready For Love in 2003). The last time he made the Top 10 with new material was way back in 2001 when I Want Love sneaked in at Number 9. Legend, diva and national treasure he may be but he's made some crummy records of late.
So that is it for the old style Top 40 and let us raise a toast to the new. It has been a long time coming and personally, I'm inspired and excited by what may develop in the coming months. A glance at the lifeless US charts, clogged up with R&B and hip-hop (50 Cent with four Top 10 hits, oh please) is enough to remind you that the UK music scene is still the most varied and vibrant in the world. Pretty soon we may have a sales countdown that reflects that once again and I cannot wait.