The January clearout used to be a regular feature of the chart calendar, certainly from the late 80s onwards. Once everyone was back at work properly and in a position to promote new releases, the middle of January would traditionally see a rush of new singles flood the chart resulting in almost wholesale changes to the status quo. Then in the 21st century, we kind of fell out of the habit, labels having realised that there was little to gain in everyone rushing new product out all at once and the "new season" of the chart ended up a more gradual process.
This year things are slightly different as this is of course week 2 of the brave new world and everyone is dying to make their product available online, just to see how the market will respond. It isn't a dramatic 17 new entry turnover of the kind we used to get at this time of year, but the number of new songs in the Top 40 has hit double figures this week, leading to some very interesting surprises.
For all of this, however, the story of the top end was a down to the wire duel between two rather more established hit singles. With her sales gradually leaking away, speculation was rife that Leona Lewis would surrender her Number One crown to the surging sales of Eric Prydz. At one stage during the week there were reportedly less than 100 copies between the two singles. In the end, the battle is ended in conk-faces favour and A Moment Like This clocks up a lunar cycle at Number One to match the chart run of the 2005 winner Shayne Warne and his X-Factor single That's My Goal.
One has to think that this week was the final opportunity for Eric Prydz to land himself a second Number One, especially when hard on his heels is the first genuine smash hit of 2007. Lebanon born Mica Penniman (shortened to just Mika for performing purposes) topped just about every "new face of the new year" poll going, such was the buzz around him following the download only single Relax, Take It Easy which came out in the summer. The classically trained singer songwriter has eschewed the snobbish path of making "proper" music and instead has set out to become a pop star. His music somehow manages to encompass every style going, from pop to dance to funk and jazz and is performed in such a delightful, knowing manner that it is hard not to be taken in by its appeal. His first chart hit proper is Grace Kelly, a fun self-aware single where he sets out his stall by pointing out he can pretend to be anyone he likes to win approval. It doesn't take a musical genius to notice that the spirit of Freddie Mercury infuses this single to the very last note. Grace Kelly isn't so much a Queen takeoff (we'll leave that to MCR) but the greatest solo single that Freddie never made. Released online last week, the single has charged to Number 3 on downloads alone and if this isn't Number One by this time next week when physical sales are added to the equation, it will be a major, major shock.
Lining up just behind Mika is another hotly tipped new name. Just Jack is essentially the closest thing we have to male Lily Allen, a singer cum rapper with a sardonic take on modern life and relationships, all performed on just the right side of commerciality. After a well received but little-noticed debut album in 2003, he is now a major label prospect and posed perfectly for the mainstream. The single Starz In Their Eyes deals with the way that TV talent shows have convinced an entire generation that their karaoke skills are enough to turn them into superstars and the disillusionment that comes with realising the truth. Once again on downloads alone, the single has shot to Number 4 with physical sales set to be added to the mix next week. Expect this at Number 2 in seven days time.
The other Top 10 newcomer is JoJo with Too Little Too Late which moves 22-6 and which also is still a week away from CD release. The single has now beaten the peak of her last single Baby It's You to rank as her second biggest to date, but she will now have a fight on her hands to match the Number 2 peak of her debut Leave (Get Out) which was a hit in September 2004.
It is frustration, at least for the moment, for The View who were hoping for Top 10 with their third chart single after a brace of Number 15 hits last year with Wasted Little DJs and Superstar Tradesmen. For now the bubbly and entertainingly quirky Same Jeans is stuck at Number 11 but the outlook for a Top 10 placing is good, as yet again this is a download only new entry with the physical version hitting the shops this week.
So what of the biggest new physical release of the week. Any sign of that? Here it is at Number 12 as it happens, Rain Down Love by the Freemasons which leaps into the Top 40 after settling at Number 51 on downloads alone last week. This is the third Freemasons single to chart, following in the footsteps of Love On My Mind (Number 11 in September 2005) and Watchin' (Number 19 in March 2006). Whereas both their previous hits featured Amanda Wilson on lead vocals, this time the shouting duties on the single are taken by soul legend Siedah Garrett. This now marks the third time she has been a singles star as the guest on someone else's record, the singer having famous appeared alongside Dennis Edwards on the famous single Don't Look Any Further in 1984 and even more notoriously dueted with Michael Jackson on the worldwide Number One single I Just Can't Stop Loving You in 1987. Originally promoed as long ago as last summer, Rain Down Love may not have become the smash hit that was expected but it is certainly a worthwhile chart entry.
The latest members of the "2 weeks ahead of release" club are independent favourites The Klaxons who land at Number 16 this week with Golden Skans which does not hit stores officially until January 22nd. The band whose music all but defies categorization first hit the chart back in September when debut single Magick hit Number 29 on the back of some well-received festival appearances in the summer. With this rather out of this world but still insanely catchy new single they are poised for something of a mainstream breakout, assuming that is that their loyal fan base hasn't propelled this download to an artificially high placing two weeks before the CD is even available.
Triumphantly climbing to Number One on the album chart this week is Amy Winehouse with Back To Black and on the strength of this, she has no less than two Top 20 hits this week. Her last single Rehab holds firm at Number 20 whilst new release You Know I'm No Good leaps 40-18 after a CD release. If you liked Rehab then you will know what to expect from this single, a smouldering jazz-blues track that positively reeks of wild nights and morning regrets. That she sells so many albums is to be celebrated, that she occupies ten percent of the Top 20 this week is to be marvelled.
Also climbing this week are the Ordinary Boys who move 49-22 with the CD release of I Luv U. Re-recorded from the version that appears on their album, the swinging sing-along ballad dutifully becomes their third hit single in the last 12 months, albeit one whose chart position takes them back to their pre-fame 2004 days when they struggled to break out of the Top 30. Lead singer Preston generated his fair share of headlines this week by suffering a sense of humour failure on TV but I suspect that won't have sold him any more records. [This I believe was the "walking out of New Mind The Buzzcocks" incident].
Of the handful of new entries down the very bottom end of the Top 40 (among them a disappointing Number 30 for The Automatic and the re-released Raoul and Evanescence's you-wonder-why-they-bothered Lithium at Number 32) the one that may well make more headlines than any other single on the chart this week is the one that sits at Number 31.
One other much-anticipated side effect of the new chart rules is the fact that effectively bands don't need a record label at all to stand a chance of charting. As long as they make their music available through one of the surveyed online stores then they stand a chance of charting, and the first act to take advantage of this are Koopa. Whilst they technically qualify as an unsigned band, the group are hardly unknowns thanks largely to their single Stand Up 4 England which picked up significant airplay during the World Cup and which found its way onto football compilation albums. Their single Blag, Steal & Borrow is far from being the first ever self-issued single ever to reach the Top 40 ("mainstream" acts such as Marillion and Simply Red have been doing it for years) but it certainly marks the first time any act has had a hit single without first needing to invest in its pressing, promotion and distribution. For that they can only deserve our admiration, and frankly, may it be the first of many.