Well in the end that was a bit of an anticlimax wasn't it? For a time there was a glimmer of hope that the Christmas Number One race would actually turn out to be a proper contest, the timing of the announcement that Shayne Ward was the winner of the "X Factor" TV talent show meaning that his single That's My Goal wouldn't actually hit the streets until last Wednesday. In the event, it seems that the single could have hit the streets at 5pm on Christmas Eve and would still have topped the charts. Bolstered by an impressive download total, the sugary ballad shifted an astounding 740,000 copies in four days, outselling the rest of the Top 10 put together and in the process carving its name in chart history by becoming the second fastest selling single ever.
Like most of the singles chosen to introduce talent show winners to the music world, the song itself was at best a carefully calculated risk. The writers' demo of That's My Goal had actually been swimming around the offices of Sony BMG for some time, many bloggers noting with glee that the track had been put forward for Westlife to record as the official anthem for the 2004 Special Olympics, the group turning it down as being too wet even for them.
Personally, I'm annoyed. I've spent most of the Christmas weekend telling several radio shows how the whole Shayne Ward situation reflects the mind-boggling stupidity that the music industry displays at times. This is now the fourth year running that an attempt has been made to cash-in by releasing the single from a reality TV show at Christmastime. We had Girls Aloud and One True Voice in 2002, Michelle McManus in 2003 (although the timing there was cocked up and her single didn't escape until the week after the holiday), Steve Brookstein last year and Shayne Ward this. For the life of me, I don't understand why they do this. The first two TV talent contests (Popstars in 2001 and Pop Idol in 2002) both produced their winners in springtime and succeeded spectacularly in driving people to the shops in large numbers at a traditionally quiet time of the year.
Anyone with half a brain knows that people flood to record shops at Christmas but instead of being given the opportunity to buy product from the very acts who have been invested in all year and whose sales have to sustain the industry when it isn't Christmas, consumers are being encouraged to snap up large numbers of some here today gone tomorrow talent show nonentities who almost all go on to sell a few thousand albums before never being heard of again. Hey, happy Christmas Shayne and congratulations and all that, but what a waste of everyone's time your record really is.
Shall we move on to brighter things? The rest of the Top 3 consists of Nizlopi at 2 who made a good fist of things, shifting their own six figure sum of records. In the event though even if their tiny label had managed to get 900,000 copies onto the streets in time, Shayne still would have outsold them. In at an impressive Number 3 is this year's token slice of nostalgia. Fairytale Of New York was first released by the Pogues back in 1987, the single ending up at Number 2 for Christmas but since going on to become an acknowledged Christmas classic. This is the second time the single has reappeared in the Top 40 since, the track having been released again back in 1991 when it appeared on the TV special 'The Ghosts Of Oxford Street'. Back then though it was a mere four years old and could only limp to Number 31. In 2005 it is a different story, the 17-year-old hit being welcomed back like an old friend. The single has been selling in impressive quantities online for a couple of weeks now and would, in fact, have made the Top 20 last week but for the fact it was at the time chart-ineligible. This week all that changes as the physical copies hit the stores, returning the single to the Top 3. To give the track added poignancy the single has been re-released to publicise a new campaign for an investigation into the death five years ago of Kirsty McColl who has a starring role on the single and for that fact alone even a 17-year-old re-release manages to rank as the most worthy new hit of the week. The other Christmas classic selling well online is Mariah Carey's 1994 hit All I Want For Christmas Is You but as there has been no physical release it doesn't appear on the chart at all.
As for the rest of the chart, well it isn't as quiet as Christmas weeks in the past have been. There may well be some clever tactics at work here as some of the new hits weren't necessarily Christmas Number One contenders but may well be ideally placed to cash in over the next couple of weeks as record sales take their traditional new year dive off a cliff. Sliding in at Number 5 is Eminem with the appropriately titled When I'm Gone, lifted from his farewell hits collection Curtain Call (which incidentally grabs the prize as the Number One Christmas album). His decision to step out of the limelight (at least for a bit) is actually to be applauded. More so than any other acts, rappers consume material at a ferocious rate and after a while run the risk of running out of things to say. Eminem feels he has reached that point, having offended just about every member of his family and confronted all his demons along the way, so he will now just concentrate on producing for other people. If 'When I'm Gone' is to be his final single it is a good way to bow out, adding yet another to the list of Top 10 singles he has clocked up since he made his debut back in 1999. In all When I'm Gone is his 12th Top 5 hit single and marks the fourth time he has been in the Top 10 at Christmas. The previous three occasions were with singles which topped the chart in December, only to be on the way out by the time the holiday came around and you suspect he is destined to go down like Madonna, a perennial seasonal hitmaker who has never actually managed a Christmas Number One.
Another act for whom Christmas carries a special resonance are Girls Aloud, the seasonal week in 2002 of course marking the very start of their career as they topped the chart with Sound Of The Underground. At the very least we should actually hold them up as a shining example that at least some good can come from TV talent contests, their tally to date of 11 successive Top 10 hits is a total way beyond anything achieved so far by their contemporaries. Their seasonal offering this year is, just as it has been for the past two years, in fact, a well-chosen cover version. See The Day was in the charts 20 years ago this week, performed by Dee C Lee, better known back then for singing backing vocals on Style Council singles and better known today for being the former Mrs Paul Weller. The new Girls Aloud version neatly treads the line between updating the track whilst paying due respect to the original. It's nothing to get excited about but hard to hate as well, the only worrying sign being the chart placing. At Number 9 it is their second single in three to miss the Top 5 and (for now) their lowest charting single to date.
Also squeezing into the Top 10 are Coldplay who hit Number 10 with Talk, the third Top 10 hit from the X & Y album to mark the end of a year in which they confirmed their position as superstars, released another finely crafted album and yet at the same time became an easy cliche to use when denouncing polished corporate rock. Talk is now their third Number 10 single yet to date they have never managed a Number One. That might explain why their odds on doing so were always so long.
There is a problem with having an earth-shakingly massive hit single, especially as your debut. Most acts to have managed this will cheerfully confirm that it often has the effect of eclipsing anything else you do for the next couple of years. No matter how good the rest of the tracks on his mega-selling album are, James Blunt is for the moment the man who sang You're Beautiful and there is very little he can do about it. Hence it is easy to forget that Goodbye My Lover is actually his second single since, the follow-up to High which hit Number 16 back in October. The new single does rather better than that but in years to come people will study chart books at marvel at how he followed up a massive Number One with two token Top 20 singles. Meanwhile, You're Beautiful this week joins the elite list of chart singles to clock up 30 continuous weeks on the chart, dipping this week to Number 42 having spent the last month hovering on the cusp of the Top 40. Along with other long running singles such as Feel Good Inc and I Like The Way, continuing online business could well ensure it remains a chart fixture until the 12 month rule kicks in and the track is forcibly deleted from the listings.
As for the rest of the chart, well there is still some life there, most notably in singles which were also released as seasonal cash-ins but which haven't quite made the grade. First of all, though there is a genuine oddity at Number 21 in the shape of a record that most people can't even buy. Irish singer Brian Kennedy hasn't had a Top 40 single in the UK since 1997 but this week returns to the chart with a charity single featuring the songs he moving performed at the funeral of football legend George Best at the start of the month. Officially only released in mainland Britain on Boxing Day, for obvious reasons the single actually came out in Northern Ireland on Friday 23rd and the resultant two-day sales in the province are enough to qualify the single for the official chart. With the rest of the country catching up this week, this Number 21 peak may not be the end of the story for his George Best tribute, already his biggest ever chart hit.
In at Number 22 is a record that was at one time being offered at some startlingly short odds to be Christmas Number One, Tears In Heaven by the Choirboys. The concept is simple, get four choristers to perform a version of the already tear-jerking Eric Clapton track, sit back and watch the money roll in from grannies everywhere. Yes, at one stage this was being touted as a Christmas Number One and we can all thank the Lord (figuratively speaking) that it has managed to get nowhere near. In what has to be the funniest musical joke of the year, forgotten 90s rockers the Quireboys got wind of this and last week released their own version of Tears In Heaven as a kind of spoiler. Sadly the joke was lost on most and the single limped to Number 88.
Finally when it comes to criminally bad cash-ins for Christmas, look no further than the single at Number 30 - a cheekily altered version of Is This The Way To Amarillo here rendered as Is This The Way To Santa's Grotto as performed by, ahem, "Santa" himself. You'd think in the week before Christmas he'd have had better things to do that go promoting records. I guess he has to do something to pay the rent at the North Pole for the rest of the year. Enjoy the rest of the holiday, I'll see you in the new year.