Given the oft-cited "power of the internet" it is perhaps rather surprising that more hits have not resulted from internet memes, those moments of creativity that take on a life of their own via email and blogs. To date, the most famous one that did was Mad Donna's Wheels On The Bus which was transformed from a flash animation taken from an American children's website (mothergooserocks.com) into a Top 20 hit in 2002.
This week, however, we have a far bigger and better example. Nizlopi are Luke Concannon and John Parker. Both hail from Leamington Spa and over the past few years have made a name for themselves on the folk-rock circuit. Their route to the top of the charts began earlier in the year when they gathered the funds to record their first ever album Half These Songs Are About You. Lifted from the album was the single JCB Song, a cute little ditty based on Luke's memories of riding with his dad on the aforementioned digger when he was five years old, wishing they could crush all the school bullies. Released as a single back in June, it sold a few hundred copies and made Number 160.
What lived on though was a flash video made by H3omedia which rapidly became one of the most linked-to items on the net, the song coming alive thanks to the animated pen and ink line drawings of Luke and his dad holding up the bypass. Suddenly the JCB Song was one of the most famous non-hits of the year - and that spelled future chart potential.
Re-released and with a distribution deal that can actually put copies on shelves nationwide this time, the JCB Song charges to the top of the charts, outselling no less an act than Westlife by a 2-1 margin and becoming easily one of the most welcome, charming and downright cute singles to top the charts in many a long while. At a stroke, the duo are one of the most famous acts in the country and potential heroes to every aspiring chart star who has dreamed of funding their own record and seeing it turned into a hit. The power of the net was credited for catapulting the Arctic Monkeys to the top back in October but Nizlopi have managed it without anything approaching a "cool" factor.
Make no mistake, for all its appeal, the musical style of Nizlopi is as far from the mainstream as you can get. Many years ago when I was a slip of a lad, I used to revel in the cult appeal of acts such as the Senators and Fat And Frantic but always knew they would never really stand a chance of becoming mainstream. Thanks to a few creative friends and a lot of goodwill, Nizlopi have performed the near impossible - and gives us a faint hope that the Christmas Number One race still has some life in it.
So what of the runners up? They just happen to be Westlife who for their obligatory Christmas track have teamed up with a musical legend. Diana Ross' Force Behind The Power album came out in 1991 and to the surprise of many became her most successful for many a long year. Much of this was thanks to the lead single When You Tell Me That You Love Me which shot to Number 2, at the time being only her third Top 10 single in the previous 10 years. Miss Ross' 1990s revival can pretty much be traced back to that one single which reinvented her for a new audience in a way that even 1986s Chain Reaction failed to do. 14 years on she returns to the same chart position thanks to this new version on which she duets with Ireland's most preeminent boy band. In any other week this would depressingly have been an easy Number One hit - but of course, this is no ordinary week. Reduced to a mere footnote thanks to the Nizlopi hype, Westlife's Christmas Number One bolt has been shot and missed its target in a rather spectacular way. Their one consolation is the continuing success of You Raise Me Up which takes a dip this week but which still clings on to give them two Top 10 hit singles this week, the first act to do so since Elvis managed it 11 months ago.
Here's another reason for us to be thankful for Nizlopi. In any other week, when Westlife released a steaming turd of a howling cover version and Crazy Frog wound up with a Top 10 hit I would be using these pages to vent my frustration and bemoan the state of the world. This week, however, none of this really matters. Yes, it is very disappointing to discover that despite the second Crazy Frog hit Popcorn being a here today gone tomorrow Top 20 hit, the third single from the annoying ringtone character, a feeble Christmas cash-in in the shape of Jingle Bells has still managed to make Number 5 just as sales move towards a Christmas peak. This disappointment is offset by the fact that Crazy Frog has this week sold a mere 1/5th of Nizlopi's total. For every person devoid of taste or decency who picked up a copy of Jingle Bells this week, there are five who bought the Nizlopi song. Focus on that. I've found it helps.
With the Christmas Number One race now down, it seems, to just two singles, the result is some rather big name losers who released their singles this week and have found themselves with smaller hits than they are used to. Your sympathies for Robbie Williams who follows up the Number 2 smash Tripping with the gentle but caustic ballad Advertising Space which can do little more than reach Number 8. That said, this time last year he was in exactly the same position, December single Misunderstood hitting Number 8 two weeks before Christmas 2004, instantly putting itself out of the running. Robbie's only seasonal success to date came of course in 2001, his duet with Nicole Kidman on Something Stupid making a memorable Christmas Number One that year.
It's a rather low-key end to the year too for McFly who after three Top 3 hits and two Number One singles limp in at Number 9 with their festive offering Ultraviolet/The Ballad Of Paul K. It is actually a rather unfair chart position as both sides of the track are fine singles in their own right but for whatever reason their usual legion of fans appear to have had better things to spend their money on this week. I have little doubt they will be back, but for the moment unless there is a post-Christmas rise on the cards, this will go down as their smallest hit to date.
Mariah Carey has only once been a contender for Christmas Number One. That was of course back in 1994 when All I Want For Christmas Is You found itself a narrow runner-up come Christmas week, the single at least guaranteeing her healthy residuals as it finds its way back onto radio playlists year after year. Her seasonal offering this year is the mid-tempo track Don't Forget About Us which contains little to get excited about and narrowly fails to give her a fourth straight Top 10 single.
Is it telling that despite Depeche Mode being scheduled to release a single just before Christmas, their odds (where they were offered at all) were worryingly long? Well not really I guess, Depeche Mode's second single of the year was always unlikely to scale even the Top 5 heights of their last hit Precious which made Number 4 back in October. By hitting Number 15 though, new single A Pain That I'm Used To still extends their current run of Top 20 hits to seven - stretching back to the released of Only When I Lose Myself in September 1998. They still have some way to go to match the run of 10 they managed between 1989 and 1997, that particular stretch of consistency beating even their early chart career at the height of their initial fame.
Also sneaking into the Top 20 this week is another single that at one stage was being talked up as a potential seasonal chart-topper but which ultimately flattered to deceive. With the England Cricket team having had such a spectacular summer thanks to their triumphant Ashes series win it was maybe inevitable that at some stage someone would try to talk them into the studio. The moment finally comes thanks to their charity rendition of Jerusalem on which the warblings of Freddie Flintoff et al are thankfully relegated to the background in favour of a stirring performance by Keedie, best known for her Number 2 hit I Believe My Heart alongside Duncan James which hit Number 2 in October last year. The "women's institute hymn" has only ever twice before been turned into a chart single. Fat Les 2000 released a version as the official England Football anthem for the Euro 2000 championships and made Number 10 whilst back in 1988 The Fall had their own stab at the song, hitting Number 59 although their version dispensed with the traditional melody leaving Milton's famous poem the only factor linking the tracks.
So what of the Christmas Number One race? Well if the bookmakers are to be believed then it is really down to just two records and even then it is not much of a race. As I write on Monday morning, Paddy Power are offering 4-1 on Nizlopi and an astonishing 1-10 on X-Factor winner Shayne Ward, whose single comes out this week - these odds based on the fact that retailers have placed 700,000 pre-orders for the single to ensure they can meet demand. Our one glimmer of hope for something approaching a battle is the fact that due to Shayne's victory only being confirmed on Saturday, his single won't hit the streets until Wednesday, giving Nizlopi a head start of a few days. On the downside, the independent nature of Nizlopi's release may well count against them and despite all their efforts the label may well struggle to match the sheer number of Shayne Ward singles which will arrive on the shelves on Wednesday. Add into that the fact that nine million people watched him win the contest last weekend and the sad truth is that I suspect the Xmas Number One race may well be over even before the starting gun has been fired.
So we shall see. The Christmas chart will be revealed on Christmas afternoon itself this year and I'll be back on Boxing Day to tell you all about it. Have a great Christmas.