[So here it is then, the moment that in theory, everything changed forever as the digital age makes its first foray into influencing the charts. Although as it turned out this was but the first stage in a nearly two-year process to integrate things properly and as I explain below in the original text, the influence of bricks and mortar stores meant that digital sales still had to be tied to an actual physical release].
Welcome then to the brand new world as the UK charts embrace the digital age and include sales of downloaded singles for the very first time. Whilst the mass media has been full of speculation over the last week about exactly how the singles chart will change it will, of course, be impossible to tell what kind of impact the new methodology will have on overall chart trends for a good few weeks yet. What we can do however is spot the singles that have benefited greatly from the new rules, and trust me there are some spectacular ones.
One interesting point that came out when the new chart rules were announced that was, unlike the dummy charts that have been bandied around over the past few months, the only online singles that will be allowed to chart will be ones that have corresponding product in the shops - "pre-release" downloads will still be confined to the download-only chart. In response to the anguished emails I've received during the week, all I can say is that this is really not much of a surprise. Despite the new digital age, the charts are still reliant on the cooperation of the major high street retailers for much of their data - the same high street retailers who are scared stiff that online stores are killing off their trade for good. The OCC were therefore unlikely to embrace totally the concept of singles that cannot be bought in the shops, at least not just yet. One single in particular though has exploited this rule in a very clever fashion... even if this maybe was to its overall chart detriment.
If all this change is proving too much for you to take, then comfort can be found at the top of the chart where Tony Christie and Is This The Way To Amarillo spends a comfortable fifth week at the top, its performance perhaps inevitably bolstered by its popularity online as well as in the shops [although oddly enough this wasn't reflected in the single's sales which slumped by a full 30% on the previous week, although its 69,000 was still enough to ensure it was way ahead of any competition]. This is enough to make it the longest running Number One single since the six week run of Black Eyed Peas' Where Is The Love in 2003. Amarillo also has the honour of becoming the longest running charity single since Elton John's Candle In The Wind in 1997 which also had a five week run at the summit.
Just below at Number 2 is the second biggest new hit of the week, Somewhere Else by Razorlight. Much of the speculation midweek was that the new chart methodology would benefit alternative acts whose sales do appear to have switched from CD singles to online sales and the success of this single could possibly be held up as evidence that this is the case. In truth, it will be hard to tell for a while if this is indeed part of a new trend (and all indications are that the single would have charted strongly even if shop sales only were being counted). Whilst the single is far and away (and deservedly so) the biggest hit to date for the British rock act, it is by no means their first foray into the Top 10. That honour fell to Golden Touch which saw them hit Number 9 in June last year. With other singles such as the memorable Vice and Rip It Up still in heavy rotation on alternative stations and music channels there is an argument that really it was about time Razorlight made their chart muscle felt. With this brand new single not on the the album Up All Night they have certainly done that.
The second biggest new hit of the week belongs to Ciara, 1 2 Step the follow-up to 'Goodies' which nicked a week at the top of the chart back in January and gave us all brief respite from the string of Elvis singles which were dominating top slot at the start of the year. The new single proves that this was no one-off, with or without downloads. Collaborator on this single is none other than serial "featured" artist Missy Elliott, here making her second chart appearance in the space of a few weeks, following her guest role on Tweet's Turn Da Lights Off which hit Number 29 in March. It is her second Top 10 hit in three singles after her duet with Christina Aguilera on Car Wash made Number 4 just before Christmas but best of all the Number 3 placing of this single means 1, 2 Step is her second biggest chart hit of her career. The only Missy Elliott-featured single to chart higher is I Want You Back on which she duetted with Scary Spice Mel B and which topped the charts in September 1998.
This week's Elvis single slips in at Number 4 on the new chart and brings us nicely into another purple patch in the history of the King. The turnaround in Elvis' career had come in 1968 with a live concert special broadcast on American TV. With one move he rediscovered his old magic, stopped making awful films and more importantly stopped releasing songs taken from the awful films. Instead, he started to produce A-list material and this period saw him record many singles which rank as all-time classics such as Suspicious Minds and In The Ghetto. Neither topped the charts in this country however and his only single of the era which did was The Wonder Of You, an old song originally written for Perry Como in 1959 but which Elvis made his own in a version recorded live at the International Hotel in Las Vegas in February 1970. Released as a single later that summer it spent six weeks at the top from August onwards as one of just a handful of live tracks to have topped the UK charts. It took his total of UK chart-toppers to an unprecedented 16 but would sadly turn out to be the last of his lifetime.
Prior to this week, there was speculation that the new singles chart would prove unfavourable to dance records, whose sales are almost completely confined to the shops (many club tracks also appearing on the smaller labels who have protested loudly that they are frozen out of the online market). Proof that this may not totally be the case comes at Number 9 as the Freeloaders' So Much Love To Give makes a comfortable chart appearance. It wouldn't be a commercial dance hit without a complicated story behind it and this is most certainly the case here. So Much Love To Give began life as a track by Bangalter and Falcon and is credited with kicking off the whole "looped house" craze that has given us tracks by the likes of Eric Prydz and Sunset Strippers. The base for this is the rather more obscure Love's Such A Wonderful Thing, originally a Number 33 hit for the Real Thing in 1977. Clearance for the original was not forthcoming, hence this knocked off remake by Freeloaders which carries the Real Thing seal of approval - hence their co-credit on the track. Other than that the single isn't anything we haven't heard already and in truth lacks the sparkle that made the likes of Falling Stars so appealing.
Back to the whole "impact of downloads" issue then and the truth is that whilst online sales of singles have been shooting up, they are spread over a far wider range of product that the shop market whose sales are logically enough confined to whatever the retailers choose to give shelf space to. As a result, the biggest selling downloads are still not doing enough numbers to seriously impact the upper reaches of the charts. Mid-table, however, it is a slightly different story and it is my guess that the introduction of downloaded singles has had the effect of arresting the decline of some older singles.
Hence the slight upward mobility of singles outside the Top 10 this week. Gwen Stefani's Rich Girl marches 11-10, Studio B's I See Girls also moves 14-13, Natalie Imbruglia's rather underrated Shiver goes 15-14 but most significantly of all Jem's They moves 19-15. As we move further down the impact becomes even greater. Basement Jaxx move 31-27 with Oh My Gosh, the single would have been at 45 without downloads. Similarly the Stereophonics' Dakota, officially the biggest selling download of the year. The former Number One stays solid at Number 34 this week instead of dropping out of the Top 40 as it was due.
Still, all of these moves pale in comparison compared to the stunt pulled off by Gorillaz. Gorillaz are the band who don't actually exist, the brainchild of cartoonist Jamie Hewlett and musical collaborators such as Tina Weymouth and of course Damon Albarn. The characters of 2-D, Murdoc, Russel and Noodle released their self-titled album in 2001 and scored with memorable singles such as Clint Eastwood and 19-2000, each complete with an innovative animated video. Just for once the ecstatic reviews were spot on as the whole project was a genuine work of art that just happened to have some great music attached to it too. Anticipation has been rife for a follow-up and now in 2005, our patience is to be rewarded.
Now, remember that rule which stated that online singles only counted if they had a shop equivalent? Well, the new Gorillaz single Feel Good Inc was indeed available in the shops, in a limited edition run of just 300 copies (I spent most of Sunday night fighting to get a copy on Ebay) which meant that ordinarily the single would have ranked at around Number 197. Add in the downloaded sales which thanks to those 300 copies are chart-eligible and the single rockets in at Number 22. Yes, that actually is rather poor in relative terms as you would expect such a long-awaited release to go Top 10 in an instant - but why should the world's first virtual band work with such outdated concepts as the CD single? Indeed it will be interesting to watch where Feel Good Inc lands on the chart next week given that all its sales will be as a result of online purchases.
I think overall we can judge this week's chart as one of the most fascinating for a while, certainly justifying the press interest it has generated. The effects of the new methodology will take time to be properly felt at the top end but as the download market continues to grow it is inevitable that the changes will come thick and fast. In the meantime just content yourself with the very lower end of the Top 75 as older singles from the Kaiser Chiefs, Bravery, Chemical Brothers, U2, Eminem and Athlete make chart comebacks as if from nowhere.