[So here it is then, the moment chart history changed forever. The digital age truly began as with one move the industry essentially sounded the death-knell for the physical CD single, clearing the way for the digital download to become the dominant medium of short-form music consumption, a position it would retain for what now seems a vanishingly brief seven years before even newer technology swept it away. It also brought an exciting new era of randomness and people power as labels by and large lost their ability to control and dictate what could make the charts and when. From this point on the people were truly the ones to decide. For better or worse].
"...from the launch of the "official" chart in the 1960s, the creation of the Top 75 in 1978, Gallup's introduction of electronic barcode scanning to replace manual diaries in 1983 through to Millward Brown plugging themselves into the EPOS terminals of the major retailers in 1994 and thus expanding the charts from a selective survey into a near 100% mirror of record sales in the UK., changes to the UK singles chart have always represented an advance in technology. This time a chunk of the market that has grown up invisible to the OCC's flagship listing is about to arrive en masse - a change that could well be as significant as Billboard magazine in the US allowing airplay-only singles onto the Hot 100 in 1998..."
I wrote those words in April 2005 just prior to the inclusion for the first time of digital singles sales in the calculation of the singles chart. Experience since then has shown us that the past two years have been a period of gradual evolution as the digital market slowly grew in importance and relevance. Now the revolution is complete as from this week on, the UK singles chart as we knew it is no more. It now becomes a songs chart, indiscriminately ranking the most popular individual tunes of the week, by whatever means they are purchased. The change has resulted in an almost unprecedented level of popular attention being paid to the mechanics of the singles chart, ensuring that the sales countdown this week will be receiving a great deal of scrutiny.
Those looking at the singles chart this week and expecting a wholesale revolution will actually be disappointed. The fact remains that although digital sales represent around 55%-60% of the overall singles market, they still represent a mere 20% of the very top end of the market. Physical sales still reign supreme as far as the biggest sellers are concerned and for now, at least, it is down at the lower end that the impact of the digital free for all will be most keenly felt.
That means no change at the top as Leona Lewis clocks up week Number 3 at Number One with A Moment Like This although as you might expect her sales have dipped significantly since the half a million plus she shifted in the week before Christmas. It leaves open the possibility of a new Number One next week, although it is worth noting that her 2005/2006 counterpart Shayne Ward achieved four weeks at the top with his X Factor-winning single. A further seven days isn't beyond her yet.
Just for a change though Take That aren't at Number 2, their place in the runners-up slot neatly taken by Eric Prydz. The Swedish producer famously topped the chart back in 2004 with his single Call On Me which was based heavily around an old Steve Winwood track Valerie and in the process kicked off the mini chart invasion of "looping house" European hits which married the hooks from 80s pop classics to a techno beat. Two and a bit years on he returns to shake off the one hit wonder tag with a single that is in many ways just as jaw-dropping. Another Brick In The Wall (Part 2) originally featured on Pink Floyd's 1979 album The Wall and when released as a single famously shot to the top of the charts to become the Christmas Number One for that year, its brooding nihilistic tone combined with the chorus of schoolchildren intoning its "we don't need no education" hook turning it into an instant classic. Perhaps most shocking of all is that Eric Prydz's remixed version Proper Education actually works. Logic tells you that it shouldn't but somehow the swirling synths and club beat combine with the original production to make what is once again a truly arresting piece of music.
Poor Pink Floyd fans (notoriously the most po-faced and obsessive in rock) must wonder what they have done to deserve this, the appearance of this single coming almost exactly three years after the Scissor Sisters took another Floyd track Comfortably Numb and turned it into a camp disco track. Maybe they are resigned to it. As seminal and deservedly famous as they are, Pink Floyd tracks don't easily lend themselves to straightforward modern day revival.
The other big new entry of the week is U2's Window In The Skies which could theoretically have charted last week but instead simply flies in to Number 4 on combined sales thanks to fans snapping up the unreleased live tracks that appear on the various physical formats. Like its predecessor The Saints Are Coming, the single a new track taken from their current Best Of collection and efficiently enough extends their run of consecutive Top 5 singles which stretches back to the release of 'The Sweetest Thing' back in October 1998. With a brand new album expected later this year, we can only expect that run to continue.
The other "new" arrival in the Top 10 the most high profile track to benefit from the revised chart rules, as after an absence of six weeks, Chasing Cars by Snow Patrol reappears on the chart at Number 9. First released in July last year, the single was one of the true slow burning hits of 2006, steadily growing in appeal as weeks went by to eventually rise to Number 6 in early September. Rumours abounded that the single was going to be deleted by a nervous record company but in the end, the trigger was not pulled until November when the follow-up Set The Fire To The Third Bar was due to chart. Under the old rules that meant the single was chart ineligible but with that restriction lifted it magically reappears to land its highest chart placing for three months. If it wasn't enough that the brooding, melancholy but still achingly romantic track was already regarded as a classic, it now has the honour of becoming the highest profile re-entry of the new singles chart era.
The next new entry is another single which under the old regime wouldn't be here. Too Little Too Late by JoJo doesn't get a physical release until January 15 which used to mean that its online sales would not count until next week's chart. Not any more and digital sales of the track, taken from the teenage star's second album Take The High Road have propelled it to Number 22. Her first album in 2004 spawned two Top 10 hits in the shape of Leave (Get Out) and Baby It's You which bodes well for the continuing chart prospects of this new hit.
Also entertainingly weird is the appearance at Number 32 of You Don't Know by Eminem, 50 Cent and Lloyd Banks. Taken from the album Eminem Presents The Re-Up which features the allegedly retired performer giving a helping hand on new tracks by his friends and some new discoveries, it was released as a CD single on December 11 yet was barred from the chart due to a free sticker which broke packaging regulations. That was at the time enough to debar the online sales of the track as well, but not anymore. Consequently the single makes a somewhat belated appearance, albeit one that will ensure it goes down as a rather smaller hit than its original popularity would have merited. If you are thinking that all of this is exposing the old chart rules as incredibly flawed, then you would be absolutely correct. The 2006 rules are widely regarded as having been a balls up of a compromise that only served to wreck the role of the chart as a marketing tool. Discarding them is the best move the industry has made for years.
So what of the other re-entries of singles that now find themselves eligible for the chart again. Well, two former Number Ones are in there, Crazy by Gnarls Barkley reappears at Number 30 as does Maneater by Nelly Furtado at Number 38, the two singles having barely left the Top 40 on pure sales rankings since release but which have been barred for months following the deletion of their CD equivalents. More curious is the re-emergence at Number 33 of Monster by The Automatic. First released back in June, the powerful single shot to Number 4 but was deleted after 10 weeks when it was just outside the Top 20. A constant seller ever since, the single makes a welcome return. Their earlier hit Raul is due for a physical re-release this week and should theoretically be on the chart already, but of that single, there is simply no sign.
Finally for this week, what of the other chart phenomena that the media has speculated we will see thanks to the new chart rules?
First of these is the spontaneous return of golden oldies. Well in the Top 75 there are two. At Number 58 is Gary Jules' Mad World, the Christmas Number One from 2003 and last seen on the chart in April 2004. It's downloads have never been chart eligible until today. Also newly returning is Numb/Encore by Jay-Z and Linkin Park. First released just over two years ago, the single peaked at Number 14 three times during an extended chart run in early 2005. Never formally deleted, the single fell foul of the 52-week rule in December 2005 but now triumphantly appears once again. The oldest single in the Top 100 is I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles) from The Proclaimers, first released in September 1988 and which is officially the 92nd best selling track in the UK this week.
The second predicted phenomenon is that of particularly popular albums spawning multiple simultaneous singles hits. Well, one album has managed that this week, oddly enough the High School Musical Soundtrack. Its two formal singles so far are still floating around, Breaking Free moving 52-37 and We're All In This Together moving 66-60. They are joined by album cuts Stick To The Status Quo at Number 74 and the entirely appropriate Start Of Something New which lands at Number 90. I couldn't have said it better myself. [That's a lovely trivia question by the way, what was the first album to see cherrypicked cuts appear as digital downloads on the singles chart? The High School Musical soundtrack].