By all accounts, we are just a few weeks away from the grand day when some form of meaning is finally returned to the singles chart with the integration of downloaded sales. Predicting exactly what effect this will have is actually quite tricky as the widespread availability of a particular track online appears at first glance to have little effect on the way it performs at retail. U2 are a case in point. Their last single Vertigo could have got away with being the biggest ever download-only track thanks to its use in a famous series of adverts for iPods. Available as a download well ahead of its commercial release, it duly topped the download chart for several weeks, only to also soar to Number One when released as a single proper back in November. Now Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own arrives as a second single from the acclaimed How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb album but the impact it has had as a download has been negligible, either as a single or as an album track. Instead, it sells strongly enough as a retail single to fly to the top of the sales chart to give U2 back to back Number One hits for the first time in their long and distinguished career. In total it is their sixth Number One single but you can see how hard it is to work out what download success does to a single - U2 have now topped the charts within the space of a few months both with a single that sold thousands online and with another whose sales have almost totally been in the shops.
Moving away from the online world for a moment, Elvis single of the week is Wooden Heart and for the second week running, he fails to land a Number One single. As far removed from his original rock and roll image as it is possible to get, Wooden Heart is one single that is guaranteed to divide opinion even amongst hardcore Elvis fans. Originally taken from the soundtrack of his film 'GI Blues', the track is an English adaptation of an old German folk song Muss I Denn. The track is so quaint and quirky that his US record company decided it would only appeal in Europe and declined to release it as a single in the States only to see unknown Joe Dowell take his own version to the top of the charts instead. No such problems in this country where the track shot to the top in March 1961, staying there for six weeks and making Elvis the first person ever to top the charts with three consecutive releases. Meanwhile, on the rest of the Top 40, his previous five releases continue to stick around, settling at 21, 27, 31, 32 and 37. Thus the King sets a new record by becoming the first act ever to have six singles on the Top 40 simultaneously. The one domination record still to beat is that set by The Jam in 1982 when they had 14 singles on the Top 75 as a whole.
We can consider the whole thorny downloads/real singles issue with the next new entry on the chart - Destiny's Child's new single Soldier, the follow-up to the Number 2 hit Lose My Breath which represented their triumphant return from a three-year hiatus. Solider has also been available online for a number of weeks, both as an album track and also in an extended "single" version. That has led to the song having been resident in the Top 20 downloads for the past six weeks - but this too appears to have had little effect on its chances in the sales chart, the single effortlessly sliding into the Top 10, extending their run of consecutive Top 10 hits to a nice round 10. OK so we have done the download/sales comparison to death for this week but I'm increasingly becoming fascinated in the effect it will have on the "official" chart when the downloads are combined in a few weeks time (we hope). I wouldn't mind betting that the OCC's dummy charts have made for some surprising viewing.
Next up at Number 6 is Black And White Town by The Doves. This is the group's first Top 40 single for over two years and as you would expect anticipation for it has been high. The single crashes onto the chart to become only their second Top 10 hit ever, a chart placing second only to 2002 single There Goes The Fear which hit Number 3 thanks to some cynical marketing that saw it deleted on the day of release. Black And White Town arrived in the shops some weeks after its appearance online (January 3rd listed as its official release date in many online stores) but as a download it performed rather poorly, never once making it into the Top 10. Nonetheless, just like Vertigo it is still fascinating to see how singles by more "mature" acts can still perform well as CD releases, even after a lengthy lead-in of online availability.
Next up is Raghav's Angel Eyes, a single that hit the online stores at the same time as it did the shops so we cannot draw any conclusions. The ragga star went a long way to becoming the Sean Paul of 2004, appearing on no less than four Top 20 singles during the course of the year, only two of which were his own. The other two were thanks to his vocal appearances on the two 2Play singles, and indeed it was one of these that gave him his biggest hit of the year, So Confused' hitting Number 6 in January. His return to the Top 10 comes thanks to this ditty which bowls along in a none too unpleasant manner. He is still by no means mainstream but a strike rate of four Top 10 singles in five chart appearances is not to be sniffed at.
Just missing out on the Top 10 this week are Noise Next Door who chalk up their second hit single with Calendar Girl. With Busted having gone the way of all flesh there is a convenient void in the teen rock market which they helped to create. McFly are of course challengers for their crown but their sound is just a little too sophisticated for them to be considered absolutely successors. Noise Next Door, on the other hand, are just the ticket. For a start, they have a gimmick (triplets) and their music has the kind of wild energy to it that makes them a perfect pop act. First single Lock Up Your Daughters was clearly just the start as Calendar Girl will go a long way towards further cementing their appeal. Their failure to makes the Top 10 second time running will cause one or two furrowed brows though...
This saw the staging of the annual Brit awards ceremony, an event which celebrated the 25th anniversary of the whole concept (and don't get me started on the ridiculous Angels debate) [this was where they handed a one-off award for "best single of the last 25 years" to the aforementioned Robbie Williams track, to widespread astonishment]. It is over in the albums chart where the effect of the awards is most noticeable with Keane charging back to the top whilst albums from the Scissor Sisters, Franz Ferdinand, "urban" Joss Stone [yes, this was the year she won Best British Urban Act to all-around astonishment] and Snow Patrol also experience surges in sales and make spectacular charges up the listings. The only potential beneficiary in the singles chart is Daniel Bedingfield who duetted with his sister at the ceremony and who happens to have a new single out. Chances are though that Wrap My Words Around You would have done the same business even without the Brits as this Number 12 entry is decidedly mid-table and a far cry from his usual consistent chart form. Indeed as the follow-up to the Number 3 hit Nothing Hurts Like Love it can be considered a huge disappointment. His only other single to date to miss the Top 10 was November 2003 single Friday which only made Number 28 and which was after all the sixth single release from his debut album. Wrap My Words Around You has no such excuse.
Meanwhile, in the Top 20, a collection of pre-Christmas releases just refuse to die. Uniting Nations' Out Of Touch dips out of the Top 10 at Number 13, Jay-Z and Linkin Park although supposedly deleted make another surge back to Number 14, matching the chart peak that the single has already scaled twice before, most recently three weeks ago (Numb/Encore incidentally still a Top 10 download) whilst surprisingly Green Day's Boulevard Of Broken Dreams climbs three places back to Number 18 this week. That single has also had a varied chart run in the 11 weeks it has been available, moving 5-7-8-7-6-9-13-11-14-21-18. The only other pre-Christmas single still on the Top 40 is Lemar's If There's Any Justice which is now 13 weeks old and which seems to finally be on its way out, dropping 31-35 this week.
At the very bottom of the Top 40, there is just time to lament the continuing failure of the Beautiful South to experience anything close to their usual chart form. The ironically titled This Will Be Our Year makes an apologetic entrance at Number 36, the follow-up to Livin' Thing which made Number 24 back in October. Although it is impressively their 22nd Top 40 hit since 1989 it is now six long years since How Long's A Tear Take To Dry gave them their last Top 20 hit and longer still since October 1998's Perfect 10 became their last Top 10 hit. For so long one of Britain's greatest acts, you kind of get the feeling they are simply running on empty.