Now here is a strange one. A singles chart whose biggest story and most eye-grabbing movements are nowhere near the top. All eyes instead will be on two of the potentially biggest single releases of the entire year - comeback singles from two female acts which have led the way with column inches and speculation but which appear to have by and large passed the interests of the record-buying public by. Hence for the moment, we need to ignore the Top 3 and concentrate on the very slight returns of two acts - The Spice Girls and Kylie Minogue.
For the benefit of those too young to remember, the Spice Girls spent the final years of the 1990s shattering chart records left right and centre. The concept of the manufactured girl group had been all but dormant since the 1960s but svengali Simon Fuller resurrected it with a 90s twist. Five girls, all with their own distinct personalities singing songs about fun, love and female empowerment. Their debut single Wannabe shot to the top of the charts in the summer of 1996 and remained there for seven weeks. After that, there was just no stopping them. They not only equalled the long-standing record of topping the chart with their first three singles but surpassed it with their first six singles all hitting Number One. In their wake came hit albums, sponsorship deals, merchandising of every description and even a hit movie called 'Spiceworld' which arrived at the end of 1997. Mel B, Mel C, Geri, Victoria and Emma all became household names and they were part of a golden age of pop music which sent singles sales soaring to levels that had only been dreamed about just a few years earlier. Things finally came to a crashing halt in 2000 when their third album Forever bombed disastrously, the girls instead outgrowing the group and becoming solo stars (each with varying degrees of success and longevity) instead.
Ever since then rumours of a reunion have been an almost annual event, particularly given that their career was never given the traditional send-off of a Greatest Hits collection. Earlier this summer, however, it was decreed to be time for the big comeback tour, with even Geri Halliwell back on board and reunited with her bandmates after walking out on them in the summer of 1998. With the great Take That reunion as a template, it seemed the stage was set for Spice mania to take hold once again after a decade.
Then there is Kylie Minogue, easily the music phenomenon of her generation. From humble beginnings in the late 80s as a bubble-permed soap star, the Australian singer has somehow rode the wave of fashion and musical tastes and styles with a career that, save for a late 90s blip, has kept her near the top of the charts for what will soon be two decades. Blessed with little musical talent of her own, she somehow became the empty vessel of choice, songwriters and producers queuing up have her perform their work so they could bask in reflected glory. It was a formula which was still producing Top 5 hits until early 2005 when her career came to a necessary halt after she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Now Kylie was making headlines of a different kind, the result being that she has hardly been out of the papers as she battled the disease successfully, convalesced and then made plans to pick up her career where she left off. No longer just "Kylie" she is now "Brave Kylie" and the attention around her own comeback single was needless to say, enormous.
All of the above makes the chart positions of the two singles (both released as downloads) this week all the more surprising. It is Kylie who runs out the winner, 2 Hearts picking up sales after a slow start to land at Number 12. The Spice Girls fare even worse however, their brand new song Headlines (Friendship Never Ends) creeps almost apologetically into view at Number 20. Now admittedly this is just after one week of online sales, but let us face facts here. These are two hugely anticipated new releases from big name acts which have received copious and favourable press attention but which have announced themselves to the world as mid-table hits. Compare that with the maligned and dare I say it, sneered at Britney Spears single Gimmie More which shrugged off the bad press to charge into the Top 3 in its own download week. Make all the excuses you want, but something somewhere has misfired for both acts.
So just what has gone wrong? In both cases, you have to argue that the singles are rather poor choices. Given that just three years ago Kylie was collaborating with the Scissor Sisters on I Believe In You, one of her best singles ever never mind of the last few years, '2 Hearts' feels like a giant step backwards. It is a boldly experimental single, a thundering electronic track first recorded by Kish Mauve and who have also produced Kylie's version. It is not that it is bad, just that it is a world away from the bright, elegant pop-dance single that would have announced to the world that she is BACK BABY and become a surefire hit from the word go.
In the case of the Spice Girls, their own problem is that they actually have gone with more of the same. With one or two honourable exceptions, much of their original material has dated badly. Songs that had such an impact in 1997 sound tired, forgettable and lacking in innovation when compared to the product of the present day. Take That potentially faced the same problem last year but overcame it with a neat updating of their sound to produce classics for a new generation. Headlines (Friendship Never Ends) is written and produced by the same team of Richard Stannard and Mike Rowe who produced their first two albums and the result might as well be a b-side from that era. Sounding for all the world like a retread of 1998 Number One Goodbye it is bland, lacking in sparkle and for all of them a colossal error of judgement.
In fairness, we should note that this is far from the end of the story for either single. Of the two, it is Kylie who has the better prospects. Sales this week will not reflect the impact of her prime-time TV special which aired on ITV1 on Saturday night and this, coupled with the addition of CD sales this week should be enough to send 2 Hearts to a respectable Top 5 place. The Spices still have another week to wait, CDs of Headlines… don't hit the shops until next week (November 19) and whilst this does give time for the single to grow on people and slowly build an audience, it also raises the possibility that the single could be classed as a flop before it has even reached the stores. In terms of their chart record, this will be an utter disaster. Nine Number One hits out of ten releases with even the one "failure" still making Number 2 is as near perfect a history as any other act before or since. To return with a single that doesn't even make the Top 10 could go down as one of the greatest blunders of all time.
So with all that out of the way, what about the records that did actually sell in their expected numbers. Leona Lewis maintains a commanding lead at the very top with Bleeding Love, the single having now in just three short weeks sold just short of half a million copies to rank as the biggest seller of the year to date. It is the first single since Tony Christie's 'Is This The Way To Amarillo' to sell over 100,000 copies for three weeks in succession and easily the fastest-selling single since her own A Moment Like This did half a million in a single week in December 2006.
Below her Take That continue to be locked in place at Number 2 with Rule The World which continues to sell in quantities which for most weeks this year would have guaranteed it a place at the top. The biggest new arrival in the Top 10 is as expected Hot Stuff (Let's Dance) from Craig David which moves 19-7 upon physical release to become the 11th Top 10 hit of his career (the 12th if one adds Artful Dodger's Re-Rewind for which he supplied the vocals).
Also soaring dramatically into the Top 10 is No One from Alicia Keys' which moves 26-9. As foretold last week it thus ends her unwanted run of failing to reach the Top 10 since her debut Fallin' was a Number 3 hit in late 2001. With its CD single finally arriving in the shops this week it would be a brave person who bets against her gatecrashing the Top 5 in seven days time.
Elvis single of the week arrives at Number 13 and marks the welcome chart return of one of his most famous recordings ever. The Mac Davies-penned In The Ghetto marked the start of a new phase of the career of the King, one where he turned his powerful voice to intense passionate balladry. First released in June 1969 it became a sensation, charging to Number 2 to become his biggest hit for four years and in the process becoming a classic in its own right. Absent from the Top 40 since its first release, the re-released single storms to Number 13 to add to the string of Top 20 singles he has notched up since the end of the summer. Those tiring of these invasions will be cheered by the fact we only have another four weeks of this to go.
Also new(ish) to the Top 40 at Number 14 is Baby Love, the first solo single from Pussycat Dolls lead singer Nicole Scherzinger. The track has had a somewhat difficult birth, having been available online for several weeks without ever really catching fire. When first released it appeared at Number 39, moving 34-39-50 where it ended up last week. CD sales finally propel the track to a more respectable Top 20 berth. Really there is nothing wrong with the track, save for the fact that as a solo single her voice is pushed to the fore, exposing it as perhaps just a little to thin to fully make the song her own. [This first faltering attempt at a solo career was airbrushed away when she was re-launched a few years later].
Meanwhile the steady progress of Hate That I Love You from Rihanna continues with the single breaking into the Top 20 with an eight place rise to Number 16. The single finally arrives physically this week which should give her another Top 10 single. Other US superstars aren't faring so well, most notably Kanye West who it seems has now become an albums act. Whilst Stronger was a Number One hit, followup single Good Life has struggled. Its download sales peaked at Number 33, the single last week dropping out of the Top 40 altogether. Physical sales propel it back, but only as far as Number 23.
To that list, you can also add a Canadian - Celine Dion. Absent from the charts since 2003, the stage was set for her return to recording with brand new single Taking Chances. Even a performance on the X-Factor hasn't made this one catch fire sadly, and after charting at Number 58 last week despite a physical release it limps to Number 40 from where it looks set to progress no further.
One more rather startling Top 40 new entry is the single which climbs to Number 37 this week. As has previously been mentioned, the success of Mark Ronson's Valerie which features the vocal talents of Amy Winehouse has had a strange effect on another rendition by the singer, this a more acoustic take on the track that she originally performed on the Radio One show "Live Lounge". Released as a b-side earlier in the year, it has been hoovering up sales of its own, most of which have been put down as mistakes by people who have searched for 'Valerie' and failed to realise it is not the version they have heard on the radio. Its surge in sales this week is largely thanks to a new "Platinum Edition" of her Back To Black album which adds a second disc of bonus tracks, one of which is the acoustic Valerie. It means she becomes the second act this year to reach the Top 40 with two different recordings of the same song - emulating that of the Proclaimers who at one point had Top 20 hits with both the 2007 Comic Relief and original 1988 versions of I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles).
The most curious back catalogue seller of the week is End Of The Road, a 1992 Number One hit for Boyz II Men. Now reduced to a trio, this week saw the release of their first album for new label Decca, Motown Hitsville USA landing at Number 8 on the albums chart. As a spoiler, their old label Motown has reactivated their 2001 Greatest Hits collection Legacy which itself reappears at Number 42. As a knock-on from this their biggest ever hit single reappears on the chart at Number 43, joined at Number 94 by 1994 Number 5 hit I'll Make Love To You. A re-recorded acapella version of End Of The Road is one of the tracks on their new album but although it too is selling, the track doesn't even register on the iTunes Top 100 at present.
Finally, it has been a few weeks but it is worth noting the continuing chart run of Chasing Cars by Snow Patrol which this week celebrates a 62nd week in total as a Top 75 hit. It is now officially the third most charted single in history, having now surpassed the 57 week total of Relax by Frankie Goes To Hollywood'. In its sights now is the 67 week total of Amazing Grace by Judy Collins. It is also worth noting that although 'Chasing Cars' total is made up of two different chart runs, it has of course been an ever-present on the chart since January this year. This week is thus its 45th consecutive week on the Top 75 which in turn is the third longest consecutive run in history. The only records to have bettered it? Stranger On The Shore by Acker Bilk with 55 weeks and Release Me by Englebert Humperdinck with 56 weeks. Those totals are still some way in the distance of course, but the possibility now exists that a 40-year-old chart record is in danger of being toppled. Needless to say of course that we are not comparing like with like, both Bilk and Humperdinck having set their records back when the chart extended to just 50 places.