Time to mention the c word, because Christmas is fast approaching. That fact alone makes this a rather quiet week for new singles, the logic clearly being that to release now carries with it the risk of peaking too early and missing out on the crucial seasonal market. It means effectively we are in a holding pattern, warming up for what the industry hopes is the big sales surge to come.
If you are old enough, cast your mind back to the summer of 1988. Leona Lewis would probably struggle, she was after all just three years old at the time. That summer the singles charts were dominated The Only Way Is Up sung by Yazz with the disc spending five weeks at Number One. Almost nineteen and a half years later Leona Lewis has now become the first solo British female since Yasmin "Yazz" Evans to spend five weeks at the top of the singles chart. The more you think about it, the more you have to admire the planning and timing of Leona's launch as a mainstream star. As I said when she first released the single, it would have been so easy to rush a quickly recorded album of bland ballads into the shops within weeks of her X Factor win. Instead the wait allowed enough time to elapse for the hype surrounding her win to fade away, but crucially was still soon enough afterwards to mean she was still remembered for her sensational performances on the talent show a year ago, even if that did mean for a brief period she managed to outshine the contestants on the current series of the show. On top of that, she has done this with Bleeding Love which remains even after five weeks an arresting masterpiece of a pop record, a song surely destined for classic status, even if I have a horrible feeling a German producer somewhere is plotting the release of a Eurodisco remake even as we speak.
Oh yes, and to stave off the pedants who have inevitably reached boiling point by now, The Only Way Is Up was indeed credited to "Yazz and the Plastic Population" but that was really just a contractual conceit to give a performer credit to producers Coldcut. All her subsequent singles and indeed parent album Wanted were credited to Yazz alone so as far as I'm concerned she topped the charts as a solo artist. For those wanting to split hairs, the last unambiguously solo British female to spend five weeks at the top was Mary Hopkin whose six weeks run with Those Were The Days back in 1968 is Leona's next target to equal.
Now in a way, I'm delighted that the record I boldly predicted would get no further than its Number 14 placing last week has in fact done quite the reverse, if only because it shows that the record buying public have more appreciation for a really excellent club track than I thought was possible. So it is that Heartbroken from T2 featuring Jodie Aysha soars 14-2 thanks to a physical release. I've made no secret of my antipathy and even outright hostility to badly made dance singles in the past, but the proliferation of American R&B that swamped the charts in the summer only helped to throw into sharp focus the lack of truly exciting British made club tracks. The T2 single may not necessarily be the start of a revolution but its presence as the second biggest selling track of the week makes for an incredibly refreshing change.
With No U Hang Up still drifting down the chart and only this week exiting the Top 20, no time has been wasted at all in unleashing Shayne Ward's followup on the market. Thanks to the almost obligatory X Factor live performance, Breathless storms the singles chart as the weeks highest new entry at Number 6 to become the fourth Top 10 hit single for the 2005 winner. The single is the title track from his forthcoming second album, arriving on a combined release ahead of the long player which comes out this week (November 26). This does, of course, mean we are set for an interesting battle of the X Factor winners on the albums chart next week with Breathless aiming to knock Spirit from Leona Lewis of its perch.
Now compare and contrast the marketing of the Shayne Ward album with that of Tangled Up from Girls Aloud. Their fourth album proper, it has of course already spawned one hit single in the shape of Sexy! No No No... and this week is the second highest new entry on the album chart, entering at Number 4. It also brings with it the second highest new entry on the singles chart as lead track Call The Shots debuts at Number 9 - albeit just as a download. Unusually the physical single will arrive in the shops a week AFTER the parent album and so is technically only released this week (November 24). The only way to buy the track so far has been as an album cut as no single bundle was released online either. It is an interesting piece of marketing, to say the least, and will mean that the performance of the track when it does belatedly become an official single next week will be worth keeping an eye on. For the moment it is at the very least their 17th straight Top 10 single.
Ah, Top 10 singles. Remember those Spice Girls? The physical release of their comeback single Headlines (Friendship Never Ends) finally helps the track towards something approaching respectability, but barely. Even with the exposure of being the official Children In Need single has hardly counted in favour of the lacklustre track and it limply rises twelve places to what will surely end up being its peak of Number 11. "Ah," will say their defenders, "but the real purpose of the exercise is the Greatest Hits album and just look at all the concert tickets they have sold". Be that as it may, Greatest Hits tumbles to Number 7 on the album chart, outsold by the superannuated Eagles and Led Zeppelin. The Spices greatest legacy was as a singles act and with this one badly realised release they have stained forever one of the best chart records of any pop act ever.
Nearly at the end of these thank goodness, Elvis single of the week is thankfully another very famous song. The little-remembered original version of Always On My Mind was recorded by Brenda Lee in 1972 but it was the King who turned it into a hit single just a few months later, the C&W ballad peaking at Number 9 on these shores in January 1973. Willie Nelson went Top 5 in America (and scraped the Top 40 here) with a remake in 1982 but perhaps the most famous version of the track is that by the Pet Shop Boys which was Christmas Number One in 1987 and is a perfect example of a cover of a classic going on to become a classic itself. The 2007 re-release of the Elvis version becomes one of the lowest charting of his current run, matching the Number 17 entry of If I Can Dream four weeks ago.
There is a little more in the way of up to date action just inside the Top 30. Dizzee Rascal enters at Number 23 with Flex, the physical release of a track that had crept to Number 57 on downloads last week. The single is his third hit of the year, following up Sirens and Pussyole (Old School) the latter having made Number 22 back in August.
Rap of an altogether different kind is just one place behind as the international smash hit Crank That (Soulja Boy) makes its Top 40 bow. The Chicago rapper has had one of the biggest hip-hop records of 2007 with his debut hit, the track spending an impressive seven weeks atop the Hot 100 during September and October. Thanks to an entertaining video that has spawned its own dance craze, the track is one of those rare hip-hop singles that just oozes crossover potential and it is poised to become one of the big hits of the holiday season. Already available online for a month, the track is now picking up a head of steam and looks set to grow and grow. Although it doesn't stand a chance, the label clearly have half an eye on the possibility of Christmas Number One, with a physical release set for December 17. With the X Factor winner a foregone conclusion, the betting is on who will be at Number 2 behind Rhydian the winner. Soulja Boy has to be worth a flutter surely.
There is a slice of good old-fashioned punk rock at Number 31 in the final new entry of the week. The Gallows make their Top 40 debut with Staring At The Rude Bois, a cover of an old Ruts track which was a Number 22 hit for the group back in 1980. The track is given an extra edge thanks to the addition of a guest rap from Lethal Bizzle, making this his second Top 40 appearance in the last two months after his own Police On My Back crept to Number 37 back in October.
So with the traditional Christmas Number One race now reduced to all but an irrelevance, chart fans will at the very least this year have one thing to fascinate them as the season approaches. This will mark the first Christmas since the download free for all was introduced to the mix, raising the possibility that selections from the vast back catalogue of seasonal favourites will make chart appearances, especially now the usual batch of "Best Christmas Ever" compilations have started to arrive on the shelves. The first seasonal hit to arrive is perhaps inevitably All I Want For Christmas Is You by Mariah Carey which leaps to Number 46. The track has been one of the biggest online sellers since sales began to be tracked properly two years ago, selling in such quantities last year that it would have been a Top 10 hit had it been eligible at the time. With the shackles of physical release removed, the track appears on the singles chart for the first time since its original 1994 release and it seems almost inevitable it will sell in even greater quantities over the next four weeks. Brace yourselves, this is just the first of many.