Here's a secret for you (even though it isn't). 90% of chart watching is based around precedent, noting how a single is expected to behave in the sales market, based on the way similar singles have moved in the past. As satisfying as it is to watch a record do exactly as expected, it is even more fascinating when a single moves in a way that is utterly unexpected and better yet if this is almost totally without the aforementioned precedent.
Step forward then Madonna whose single '4 Minutes has spent the past month bouncing around the Top 10 as a popular but unremarkable download track but which this week blasts away all competition to make a three-place leap to Number One, dethroning Estelle's American Boy one short of its record-setting five-week target in the process. What makes this all the more remarkable is that Madonna's sales surge has come without the benefit of physical sales, 4 Minutes only this week (April 21) becoming available on CD. No download-only single has ever climbed to Number One after such a long period in the market, particularly when at one point it had fallen as low as Number 8. Plenty of others may well do just that in the future, but all will be following the benchmark of sales growth that Madonna (and of course JT) have this week established.
All this is before we have even noted that this is, of course, another Number One hit for Madonna. It is her 13th in total, a figure that keeps her in sixth in the all-time table and requiring just one more to draw level with Cliff Richard and Westlife who share fourth place with 14th chart-toppers apiece. It is her first Number One single for just over two years and ensures that her forthcoming new album Hard Candy will be the fourth of the five albums she has released in the last decade to have its introductory track top the singles charts. Her list of Number One records now spans almost 23 years, dating back to the arrival of Into The Groove at the top in August 1985. No other female act in history can claim such a span of longevity. Even Kylie, her most currently active challenger can only claim a 15-year span of Number One hits, her last chart-topper having been four and a half years ago.
We should of course not overlook the co-credit on 4 Minutes for Justin Timberlake who can thus also claim a Number One hit. It is his third credited appearance on a chart-topping single albeit now the second as a featured guest star. He was last at the top exactly a year ago this week on Timbaland's Give It To Me, his only chart-topper in his own right being Sexyback which had a week at the summit in 2006. Such is his deep-rooted association with a certain superstar producer, it seems almost a needless aside to note that all three of his Number One singles have had Timbaland at the helm.
Finally, for those whose taste in chart facts leans to the quirky side, it is worth noting that 4 Minutes is the second single in just over a year to feature a numerical digit in the title, hard on the heels of charity single I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles) which hit the top in April last year. Although a rare occurrence, such numerically titled singles do seem top the chart with reasonable regularity. In the last decade we have had 5 Colours In Her Hair by McFly and 3AM from Busted (both 2004), Mambo No.5 (twice thanks to Bob The Builder in 2001 and Lou Bega in 1999), 7 Days from Craig David in 2000 and 9pm (Til I Come) from ATB once again in 1999. One could also argue the case for Three Lions 98 to be included but as the number was merely there to indicate the date of the remix rather than being part of the title of the song it probably does not count. Incidentally, only one Number One hit has ever been known by a number rather than a name, said track being 19 by Paul Hardcastle from 1985 which I'm fond of pointing out ranks as the shortest ever title for a hit single given that it actually contains no letters at all.
As predicted on these pages last week, three of the big physical releases of the week make Top 10 inroads. Already around was September's Cry For You which duly advances four places to Number 5. Hard on their heels are Usher and Young Jeezy with Love In This Club, the single surging 14-6 after three weeks as a Top 20 hit based on download sales.
The biggest climber of all, however, is The Age Of The Understatement from the Last Shadow Puppets which surges 24-9 to give the group a Top 10 hit on their debut almost from nowhere. The level of interest is perhaps less surprising when you consider the personnel behind the name, the group being a side project of Alex Turner from the Arctic Monkeys and Miles Kane from The Rascals. It is the culmination of a friendship that stretches back to 2005 when Kane's old band The Little Flames supported the Arctics on tour. The Age Of The Understatement is an epic sounding single, drenched in orchestration and layered guitars and with the voices of the two men combining gloriously in a mid 60s-esque harmony. Side projects work best when they afford the participants the chance to make music that just wouldn't fit with their usual style. The music of the Last Shadow Puppets is as far removed from the Arctics sound as it is possible to get and you cannot help but feel that the world would have been a poorer place if we had never had the chance to hear it.
Making moves in the Top 20 are Scouting For Girls who are still climbing with the fully available Heartbeat which is now up at Number 14. Britney Spears looks on the verge of having her smallest ever chart hit after the physical release of Break The Ice can only stagger to Number 15. Before today she has only ever had two of her singles miss the Top 10, the smallest being I Love Rock And Roll which limped to Number 13 in late 2002.
Hottest download only track of the moment (aside from Madonna) appears to be will.i.am's Heartbreaker which rises 29-18 this week, still some weeks away from its planned May 5 release. The early success of the single is a rather curious state of affairs simply because it is being promoted on the basis of a version that isn't yet available for purchase. Initially a track from his Songs About Girls album, the UK release of the single is set to be a remixed version featuring a video and minor vocal contribution from Cheryl Cole of Girls Aloud [which amusingly was how she was seen and defined back then, this single the first stage in the process of turning her into a solo star]. Whilst the video for the single (in which she appears prominently) is in rotation already, the remix will not be available for purchase until its official May 5 release date. Thus all sales of the track to date have been for the Cole-free album version, making Heartbreaker yet another example of a single becoming a hit in the wrong version several weeks ahead of schedule. See also Something Good 08 and most notably Kelly Rowland's Work which made the Top 40 in January even before the single remix had hit the online stores.
Not every physical release this week managed to hit the heights. Goldfrapp make a rather disappointing Number 25 with Happiness but the biggest shock of the week is reserved for Kanye West's Flashing Lights which became a physical single this week but which has only limped to Number 29 on the singles chart.
Down at the bottom end of the listings, the most extraordinary performance of the week is that of 2007 American Idol winner Jordin Sparks. The first "Idol" winner since Kelly Clarkson to have her singles promoted in Europe, she is already making slow but sure progress with American Top 10 hit Tattoo which rises to Number 50 this week. Few expect it to be a huge hit, simply because it has been released as a download-only single and will not be granted a physical release. Combine that with the vocal chord problems which have forced her to cancel a whole string of performances back home and you can perhaps understand that the UK market is not the highest priority for her people at the moment. What makes her chart presence more extraordinary this week is the unexpected appearance of her current American single No Air which arrives on the chart at Number 58. A duet with Chris Brown (and in truth a single with far more chart prospects than Tattoo), its surge in sales is almost certainly down to the screening here of her performance on the Idol results show a week ago. This is the sort of thing that causes record labels to have kittens. Whilst Tattoo was a low-key way to introduce her to the British public, No Air is pencilled in for a proper release later in the summer when there is every expectation that the Chris Brown factor will turn it into a major hit. Here it is as a chart single already, treading on the toes of her existing release and at a time when she is physically unable to promote it anyway. Who'd be a marketeer? [Both singles would take turns to reappear later in the year when the time had come to promote them properly].