Elvis again. We may have been spared an unprecedented three in a row last week but for the moment at least there is no stopping the relentless march of Elvis singles all queuing up for a crack at hitting the top for the second time. With this release, we have moved into the early 1960s phase of Elvis' career. His US army service ended in March 1960 and upon being demobbed, Elvis was raced into the studio to record new material, his presence in the charts for the previous two years having been maintained by a dwindling stockpile of older recordings. His manager Colonel Tom Parker was determined that the post-army Elvis would appeal to as wide an audience as possible and so shockingly the bad boy of rock and roll was steered firmly towards the middle of the road.
Hence It's Now Or Never, a reworking of O Sole Mio with new English words added. In pure chart terms, this single was actually Elvis' most successful one ever, spending no less than eight weeks at the top of the charts in November 1960. Its release was actually delayed for several months in this country owing to copyright wranglings and anticipation for it had built up to such an extent that its original American b-side A Mess Of Blues had been released as a single here instead. Back to the present day and as well as making Number One for a second time, It's Now Or Never gives Elvis the honour of having three out of the last four Number One hits, a strike rate only matched by John Lennon in the weeks after his murder when Just Like Starting Over, Imagine and Womanwere only interrupted by a one week run for, ahem, There's No-One Quite Like Grandma
Quite where we go from here is anyone's guess. There are still several months worth of Presley re-releases to come although word has it that the record company has seen the folly of its plan to release the singles as limited editions and will be upping the pressing run for future releases. This could be a double edged sword of course as whilst it may alleviate the first week rush of collectors to snap up the new releases (a large factor in their strong chart showings and subsequent rapid declines) there will of course be more copies to go round, raising the prospects of the Presley releases keeping pace with the rest of the chart as sales rise up from their traditional January slump.
Just as last week, the main challenge to Elvis' crown comes thanks to a US R&B star. This week, however, Ashanti fails where Ciara was triumphant and her new single Only U has to make do with second place. Whilst nobody will pretend the single is her greatest ever piece of work (it is actually a messy, drum-laded dirge that she is required to whine over rather than actually make the best use of her voice) it nonetheless becomes far and away her biggest hit single to date, beating the Number 4 peak of her debut hit Foolish from July 2002. She came within a whisker of being Number One this week but you know what, in spite of the way it is rapidly turning the singles chart into a joke, I prefer Elvis.
Next to play at Number 4 is the One World Project. The success of the new Band Aid recording at Christmas has of course suddenly made charity collaborations fashionable again and when news of the Asian tsunami disaster broke it was almost inevitable that some form of charity record would emerge. Several projects have been mooted but the biggest to emerge is bizarrely that of the One World Project. I say bizarrely as the assembly of stars on this record doesn't so much represent a who's who of the pop world but instead stands proud as the biggest collection of relics the industry has to offer. Members of The Who, The Beach Boys, The Rolling Stones appear on the song along with the likes of Steve Winwood, Boy George Rick Wakeman and er, Russell Watson. The main selling point of the song is the appearance of Robin and Barry Gibb who perform on record for the first time since the sad death of their brother Maurice. Oh and Cliff is on there as well. The reason the single hasn't quite set the world on fire is apparent when you hear it for Grief Never Grows Old is a wonderfully pompous four-minute dirge that sounds just as you would expect from the cast lineup - a bunch of old men desperately trying to sound cool. Ordinarily I'd feel bad about shovelling dirt onto a record released for such a worthy cause but this smacks of a record made for all the wrong reasons. The original Band Aid was a record made in an attempt to focus world attention on a disaster that might otherwise have slipped under the radar. The tsunami on the other hand has been at the forefront of people's minds ever since it happened. Spontaneously and without prompting the public dug deep to raise millions in aid. Making a charity record - especially one as bad as this - actually adds little and serves more as an ego trip for those involved rather than the altruistic gesture that was intended.
Time to move on to better things and new in at Number 6 is Shine by Lovefreekz, the new alias for dance veteran Mark Hadfield. His career stretches back to the early 1990s when he contributed mixing skills to live tours by the likes of SL2 and The Prodigy. His first chart records came as a member of Loveland who notched up four Top 40 hits in the mid-90s, the biggest of which was Let The Music Lift You Up which hit Number 16 in April 1994. In the late 90s he reinvented himself as a trancemeister and was behind the three Lucid hits (including I Can't Help Myself) which charted in 1998 and 1999. His last chart incarnation was in 2003 when as Lovebug he hit Number 35 with the track Who's The Daddy and in keeping with the theme has now become Lovefreekz. The single itself appeared in clubs as a breath of fresh air over Christmas, despite being something of a throwback to the "mutant disco" sound that dominated the start of the decade. Shine is based heavily on ELO's 1979 hit Shine A Little Love, its chorus having been ripped out and turned into the heart of this club stormer. Yes, it breaks no new ground and yes, it is based heavily on a tried and tested disco tune but a club track that makes you break into a huge grin even when it just appears on the radio (see also Lola's Theme) is a joy to experience and frankly this knocks the rest of this week's new offerings out of the park.
At Number 8 are Freefaller whose debut single emerges just in time to potentially fill the gap left behind by the demise of Busted. Yes, they are another rock act aimed firmly at the teen market, Ollie, Dean, Gary and Rich having been pushed as much as sex symbols as they are musicians. Lead singer Ollie is no stranger to the screaming girl market having once been a member of Point Break who had a run of hit singles back in 2000. Yes, they are as manufactured as the chair you are sitting on right now but that doesn't stop Do This Do That having the same kind of charm that makes you sit up and take notice. If Busted left behind one legacy it was the reinvention of the concept of a pop act who played real music rather than miming to backing tapes. If Freefaller are the result of that then it wasn't all in vain.
Making his first chart appearance in almost three years this week is rapper Xzibit who storms a busy Top 10 at Number 9 with Hey Now (Mean Muggin). It is only ever his third ever chart single and far and away the biggest, soaring past the Number 14 peak of his debut track X which charted in March 2001 and which incidentally holds the record for the shortest ever title, being as it is just a single letter. My reaction to this track takes just two letters. Eh.
Yet again this week the record is equalled as no less than seven new singles enter the Top 10. The last one arrives at Number 10 in the shape of a comeback for some none more 90s child stars. The three brothers of Hanson made their name as long-haired teenagers in 1997 with the release of the instant classic Mmmbop which charged to the top of the charts all around the world and became an airplay staple for years afterwards, even if nobody could ever work out what they were singing about. Two more Top 10 hits followed in the shape of Where's The Love and seasonal ballad I Will Come To You and whilst they weren't bad singles overall they never managed to recapture the magical sparkle of their debut. Two comebacks followed in 1998 and 2000, their last chart single coming almost five years ago when If Only limped to Number 15. Now eight years on from their debut and with the albatross of Mmmbop little more than a distant memory the boys (or rather deep voiced adults as they are now) return with a brand new single and their first Top 10 hit since those heady days of 1997. Penny And Me is chirpy and catchy enough and strays just on the right side of the line marked "country" to work as a pop-rock single. They aren't going to break any sales records with this comeback but in a way, it is a nice feeling to see them still having hits. They once made what can still rank as one of the best pop records of the 90s and deserve more than to have people sniggering behind their hands at the way they looked.
Just missing out on the Top 10 is Ashlee "miniature Jessica" Simpson with her second hit single, the follow-up to Pieces Of Me which made Number 4 back in October. La La is actually quite the reverse of what you would expect, a raucous rock track that comes across as Avril Lavigne with washed hair and makeup if you take my meaning. Surprisingly inoffensive and a record that makes you fear the inevitable music career of Jamie Lynn Spears just a little less.
In at Number 15 is Mylo with Destroy Rock And Roll (hey, it would mean no more Elvis if nothing else). Again this is the second hit for the man from the Isle Of Skye, thfollow-upup to Drop The Pressure= which made Number 19 back in October. Destroy Rock And Roll was the single that first brought him to people's attention two years ago, Mylo boasting that the original version was mixed on nothing more sophisticated than Protools Free. The track is based around a processed vocal sample from a female preacher denouncing the likes of Duran Duran and Michael Jackson as the work of the devil. No mention of Darius strangely.
Say farewell to Phixx as I suspect that this will be the last we see of them. The boy band made up of the male rejects from Popstars - The Rivals in 2002 have tried their hardest but after four singles they are no nearer to matching the Number 10 peak of Hold On Me, their November 2003 debut. That they never really took off is something of a shame as the concept of a boy band performing in the style of various 80s legends was a good one. Strange Love is actually their best single since the aforementioned Hold On Me and had it been released in 1986 would have been massive. Quite why the sound of the 80s doesn't work when we have a recording from 1960 at the top of the charts this week is something that it is best we don't dwell on too much.
A better prospect, despite being two places lower, are Lemon Jelly. This is their second hit single from the latest album from the twisted pair, the followup to Stay With You which crept to Number 31 just before Christmas. The Shouty Track is a typical four minutes of drift away and dream loops and nicely becomes their biggest hit single since Nice Weather For Ducks gave them what is, for now, their one and only Top 20 hit when it made Number 16 almost exactly two years ago.
To wrap things up this week, lets us consider the track at Number 23, Attention by Commander Tom. The German mixer has until now never had a UK hit single but charges the Top 30 thanks to this remixed version of a track he first released way back in 2000. The vocals from Attention are actually lifted from Superstar, a 1998 hit single by fellow countryman Novy. Oh yes, and the video features a gyrating woman (fully clothed for a change). What more could you wish for? [An unclothed gyrating woman. Every time].
Next week's Elvis track - 'Are You Lonesome Tonight'. All the world's a stage remember.