It was a close run thing in the end, and to be honest much closer than anyone was expecting. Girlfriend from Avril Lavigne hit the shops for real this week, giving her the expected boost in sales. At the same time, the novelty of the Proclaimers single is starting to wear off, with the resultant downward turn in sales. The only question was, would Avril have enough legs to overtake the charity record?
In the event, she didn't and for this week at least, Girlfriend remains locked at Number 2 behind (I'm Gonna Be) 500 Miles which celebrates a third week at Number One. With Gwen Stefani and Akon holding firm at Number 3 with The Sweet Escape, we have an entirely static Top 3 for the first time since February 25th 2006 when the Top 4 singles all held their positions. Indeed the only thing that prevents the rare sight of a static Top 5 is the swap of places between The Fray and Alex Gaudino, How To Save A Life advancing to land its highest chart placing so far, this after having spent a total of 5 weeks (4 of them consecutively) at Number 5.
If the top half of the Top 10 has an oddly familiar look to it, the bottom half explodes in a flurry of much welcome new activity. The highest new entry is at Number 6 as Mark Ronson arrives on the chart with the hugely anticipated single Stop Me. The highly regarded producer and DJ has only ever had one hit single before, hitting Number 15 with the Boney M sampling Ooh Wee in November 2003. His second album Version is due out later this month and will play host to an astonishing set of tracks, most featuring radical new interpretations of some very famous songs. The lead single is a perfect example of this, taking the famous Smiths track Stop Me If You've Heard This One Before and turning it into an effortlessly smooth soul/dance crossover track thanks to some creative sampling of The Supremes. The featured singer on the track is Daniel Merriweather, an Australian born singer who has worked with Mark Ronson extensively in the past. Such is the reverence in which The Smiths are held, if you are going to reinterpret their songs then you have to have the proverbial balls of steel and get it absolutely right. Tatu managed it with their take on How Soon Is Now (tragically never released as a single here) and as far as most people are concerned Mark Ronson has with this track created a thing of wonder. I'd suggest a Top 3 placing is due, but for the fact that this initial chart placing is on combined sales.
At Number 8 we have something of a rarity, R&B King Timbaland taking centre stage on his own track for once as he enters the chart with Give It To Me. Taken from his second "solo" album, the track features vocal turns from both Justin Timberlake and Nelly Furtado who have of course both been on the receiving end of his production magic in the past. Whilst JT has never given Timbaland a direct credit on one of his singles, Nelly Furtado, of course, duetted with him on Promiscuous which hit Number 3 in September last year, making this track something of a favour returned. The single is a dig at several unnamed music stars with much speculation surrounding the recipients of the barbs. Whilst Timbaland has confirmed that fellow producer Scott Storch is his victim, Justin Timberlake's is either Janet Jackson or Prince depending on which site you read whilst Nelly Furtado insists that her verse isn't about Fergie despite many reports to the contrary. The single arrives on the chart on downloads, the physical release is coming this week.
A superstar duet of an altogether different kind lands at Number 10 this week in the form of Beautiful Liar by Beyonce and Shakira. The song was a late addition to Beyonce's B'Day album and is officially her single, the follow-up to the Dreamgirls soundtrack single 'Listen' which made what was for her a rather disappointing Number 16 just over a month ago. The duet with Shakira was born out of a need to find a suitable partner for the latin sounding track and with the two women having developed a rapport at various awards shows over the past year it was an obvious fit. Shakira, of course, is still coming off the back of last summers globe-straddling Number One hit Hips Don't Lie and she will be glad of this single to restore her chart fortunes after 'Illegal' got rather lost in the Christmas rush and made a miserable Number 34 at the end of last year. Sadly this single suffers from the same problem that afflicts many "dream team" pairings of this kind - it just doesn't work. The distinctive vocal styles of both women just don't work well together and the interplay between them on the choruses is at times quite jarring. Happily, when you have names like this involved, it seems the music itself doesn't matter. The single has rocketed up the US charts in the last week and creeps into the Top 10 here in its first week available online, physical release of the track still two weeks away. [The unusual sight this week of the next two Number One singles both entering charts simultaneously and preparing to take turns at the top].
The underlying theme of the Top 10 could almost be "With A Little Help From My Friends" as duets or featured stars are the flavour of the month. Only Avril Lavigne, The Fray and the Kaiser Chiefs go it alone in the upper reaches, the other seven singles all making use of invited guest stars to give them a chart leg up.
After the fuss comes the consolidation. One year on from making headlines with their debut album 'Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not' the Arctic Monkeys now have to prove that the impact they made was no one-off. It is time for that "difficult" second album which you get the feeling is either going to make or break their career. Just ahead of the release of Favourite Worst Nightmare comes the single Brianstorm, a bold choice of lead track as it is deliberately devoid of a chorus, instead building to a high impact guitar led crescendo. Having shot straight to Number One with their first two singles it will raise a fair number of eyebrows that Brianstorm debuts at a rather lowly Number 11 after its first week available online. I'm not sure if it is so much a reflection of the popularity of the track so much as it is an indication that there are plenty of people prepared to sit tight and wait for the album to arrive at the end of the month. Whilst they don’t need to sell lots of singles to boost their album sales, a huge factor in the impact they made at the end of 2005 was the way the singles I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor and When The Sun Goes Down shot from nowhere to the top of the charts and established themselves as modern day classics in the process. The Arctics need hit singles to cement themselves as a great band - just ask Oasis.
Also new to the Top 40 at Number 13 are My Chemical Romance whose new single I Don't Love You charges up the listings after reaching Number 43 last week. The fact that it has had to wait until physical release to become a sizeable hit suggests that this is really just a release for the die-hard fans rather than any casual buyers, as you would probably expect from the third single release from the album. Not that this is a bad track, of course, an intense rock ballad which even has the band reverting back to their traditional clothing and hair colouring in the video rather than wearing their Black Parade costumes. Even if this single fails to progress further, it will still mean that Welcome To The Black Parade has given them the three biggest hits of their career to date.
Also on the rise after a physical release is Ciara with her brand new single Like A Boy. Following three Top 10 hits (including a Number One) in 2005 it would not have been too much of a stretch to expect similar progress for this brand new hit. Alas, it is not to be. The track had reached a respectable Number 28 last week on download sales but the arrival of the CD single this week has only served to propel it to Number 16 from where I suspect it will go no further.
Two more chart comebacks make their presence known inside the Top 30 this week. The first of them arrives at Number 21 in the shape of the first Erasure single for almost two years. The gap follows singer Andy Bell's attempt to launch a solo career, an adventure which produced just one Top 40 hit in Crazy which crawled to Number 35 in October 2005. The new Erasure track suffers from the same problem that has blighted their entire output for the last decade and a half - the very style that made them masters of their genre and the creators of some inspired pop records in the 1980s now serves to make them sound tired and dated and somehow desperately irrelevant. You cannot knock I Could Fall In Love With You as a bad record, quite the reverse in fact, but propped up in the chart next to the likes of Calvin Harris who demonstrates how to make 80s synth pop relevant for the 21st-century Erasure just sound like relics of a bygone era. Number 21 on physical sales will be as far as they get.
The other "remember me?" single arrives at Number 25 as Natasha Bedingfield arrives with the online sales of her new single I Wanna Have Your Babies. The absence of Daniel's little sister from the charts for the last three years has been thanks to her efforts in breaking America, undertaking a hectic promotional campaign and even securing herself slots on US radio stations with the express purpose of playing her own records. It is a set of activities that have won her enormous praise from the industry but at the same time has meant she has risked throwing away the impact her debut album had here in 2004 by failing to follow it up until now. We keep out fingers crossed for I Wanna Have Your Babies though as it deserves a Top 10 placing at the very least. Her distinctive voice sounds as good as ever, and once you overlook the rather creepy obsessive stalker theme of the lyrics the track is as breezy and appealing as past hits such as Unwritten and These Words.
Other future hits lower down include download arrives from the likes of Ne-Yo and Linkin Park, and as expected Mika's new single makes its Top 40 debut this week, Love Today rises to Number 38. Tipped as a future Number One it still doesn't come out until April 23. Get ready for yet another one to watch come back next week - Gareth Gates hits our shores in seven days time.