We are one week away from the Christmas chart, a fact which means that this week lies in an odd no man's land where singles releases are concerned. Too late for a "normal" single to be released to gain a proper toehold on sales and public affection in time for the festive chart, it is by the same token just a little too early for any flash in the pan novelty hits to be unleashed. One week wonders need only to be released in the one week that counts to have their intended effect after all.
Whilst on the one hand then things are a little quiet where new singles are concerned, that isn't to say there is plenty going on over the singles chart itself. Indeed in their own way the Top 3 are all noteworthy in their own right.
Leading the way inevitably is Leona Lewis who is lodged firmly at Number One with Run for a second week. Whilst her prospects of remaining there another week and scoring the Christmas Number One are needless to say minimal, all eyes will be on whether she wins the "real" seasonal race and lands herself the biggest non-X Factor single of the Christmas chart. An 8-1 shot in mid-November, she is surely in pole position to be Number 2 next week, her only likely challenge coming from one of a number of neatly timed novelty releases. Good though Peter Kay is however, I'm not quite sure he has what it takes to overcome Leona's head and shoulders lead. We shall see.
At Number 2 this week is something of a pleasant surprise - Use Somebody by Kings Of Leon which motors to the runners-up slot after an epic 12 week climb which saw it start inside the Top 30 in the week its parent album was released, dip as low as Number 50 and then embark on its eventual rise to Top 3 status. The success of the single is all the more impressive given not only the sales success of album Only By The Night (up at Number 4 this week) but also the constant chart presence of predecessor Sex On Fire which is refusing to, ahem, burn out and sits prettily at Number 15 this week. Chalk up another reason to regard the band as the superstars of the moment.
The Top 3 is rounded off by the highest new entry of the week, a charity record which marks a fascinating chart comeback for the two artists involved. Little Drummer Boy/Peace On Earth is credited to "Bandaged", the name of a charity compilation album released in aid of Children In Need which features a variety of Radio 2 personalities performing new versions of famous songs with childhood appeal. The track is a remake of the famous medley originally performed by Bing Crosby and David Bowie for a 1977 television special. Made just a month before Crosby's death, the song combined the famous Christmas standard Little Drummer Boy with the new song Peace On Earth, the new lyric written after Bowie confessed he couldn't actually stand the song he'd been selected to sing. The recording wound up in such demand that it was circulated as a bootleg single for many years afterwards and much to Bowie's disgust was eventually released officially in 1982 when it made Number 3. Ever since it has become an enduring Christmas standard and indeed crept to Number 73 on the Christmas chart last year.
That isn't what makes the new version significant. Hidden behind the chart credit on the single is the fact that this new version is a duet between Terry Wogan and Aled Jones. For Wogan, it marks his first appearance on the singles chart in almost 31 years. As is well known to his fans, the veteran broadcaster had a brief chart career of his own in the early months of 1978 after he took a vocal version of The Floral Dance to Number 21, just a few weeks after an instrumental version by The Brighouse And Rastrick Brass Band had been a smash Christmas hit.
Aled Jones' own recording career was in the mid-1980s when he was the most celebrated choirboy in the country. The Charlotte Church of his day, he recorded a succession of smash hit albums before his recording career came to a halt when his voice broke. During his time as a child star, his biggest chart success came in December 1985 when his version of Walking In The Air rose to hit Number 5. Although it is Peter Auty who sings the song on the film soundtrack, Jones' version is the version everyone remembers when they hear the song. Although he has recorded many albums as an adult in the years since, his last chart appearance until today came in December 1986 when A Winter Story climbed to Number 51.
Little Drummer Boy/Peace On Earth charts exactly one year to the week since the Katie Melua and Eva Cassidy duet of What A Wonderful World charted, but whereas that charity single stormed to the top of the chart, there will be a few people slightly disappointed that this one could only make Number 3. Its challenge now is to sustain its Top 10 status to ensure it has at least a small part to play on the Christmas chart.
Whilst that may be it for big activity at the top, there are still plenty of other singles making pleasing forward momentum lower down the chart. Leading the charge is Broken Strings from the unlikely pairing of James Morrison and Nelly Furtado which soars 31-18. Take from Morrison's Songs For You, Truths For Me album it is the follow-up to You Make It Real which made a comfortable Number 7 back in October. Like so many up and coming hits of the moment, although it is released with one eye on Christmas success, I'd submit that it is nicely placed to take advantage of the vacuum that will be created in two or three weeks time when all the seasonal hits vanish from the chart as quickly as they came. Something of a lost art in recent years, the December released single that becomes a January smash hit is a very powerful weapon. Don't write this single off just yet. [Called that pretty much as it happened].
Boyzone will doubtless hope that the same applies to them. Their second post-comeback single Better is belying its title and can only squeeze in at Number 22, a long way short of the Number 5 entry of predecessor Love You Anyway back in October. As we discussed at the time, Boyzone's problem is the timing of their reunion, one which is reduced to almost an irrelevance by the Take That juggernaut. As 90s comebacks go, this one is more like that of the Spice Girls, a curiosity that will sell out some concerts but contributes little to their own musical legacy.
Beyonce is on the rise as well, moving 37-24 with next single Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It). Its promotion here is currently a low priority, as witnessed by her performance instead of If I Were A Boy on the X Factor final this weekend just gone, but you aren't expecting this to wind up a Top 3 smash some time in mid-January then you really aren't paying attention.
At Number 33, My Delirium is the first ever Top 40 hit for Kiwi singer-songwriter Ladyhawke. She charted earlier in the summer with debut single Paris Is Burning at Number 61 only to see second single Dusk Til Dawn miss out on the Top 75 altogether. Whilst ordinarily I'd be slightly dubious of its prospects of improving from this point, once again the possibility exists that it will wind up as a new year hit, sneaking under the wire as the seasonal offerings drop off. The same goes for Ne-Yo who has his new single Mad arrive at Number 37, his third single of the year and the follow-up to Miss Independent which made Number 6 back in the autumn.
Now to the single at Number 30, a 14-year-old recording whose presence on the Top 40 is at once a herald of what is to come next week, and the encapsulation of the most heated musical debate of the season. It isn't spoiling things too much to state that the Christmas Number One single next week will be Hallelujah as performed by newly crowned X Factor winner Alexandra Burke. Originally written by Leonard Cohen, the track has been covered by countless artists over the years although no version has ever managed to have even close to the impact of that by the late Jeff Buckley, recorded for his famous 1994 album Grace.
The track's elevation to the quiet phenomenon of 2008 came earlier in the spring when American Idol contestant Jason Castro performed Hallelujah during one of the heats. Its effect on the American public was dramatic. In the immediate aftermath, the Jeff Buckley version began selling in unheard of quantities as a download, topping the US iTunes chart at one stage and becoming a rare American example of a totally spontaneous hit single.
This is almost certainly what planted the idea in Simon Cowell's mind to select the song for the winner of the X Factor TV show to sing, a move which once the rumours were confirmed caused some people to react with horror. Not that having one of the most famously moving songs of all time exposed to an audience of millions was necessarily a bad thing (being on the 'Shrek' soundtrack didn't hurt it after all), but the prospect of a version by a talent show winner becoming the most famous one ever on these shores was more than many could bear. Hence a quiet whispering campaign began in many different sources, calling attention towards the definitive Jeff Buckley version, a prelude to alerting the public to the fact that the song exists in a form far superior to anything any of the X Factor finalists could manage. Did you wonder why the song has spent the last few weeks being used on the BBC for promotions for their iPlayer service? That is actually the main reason.
All of this seems to be coming to fruition. After several weeks just outside, this week Hallelujah by Jeff Buckley lands at Number 30 to become a Top 40 hit for the first time ever. It is entirely possible that this surge was also caused by the X Factor final itself on Saturday night. With the winning version not being released online until midnight, after the deadline for this weeks chart had passed, there is every chance that people will have enthusiastically sought out the track even whilst the show was still on air and clicked to purchase the Buckley version.
The hope was that the single would have been high enough up the chart to be in genuine contention alongside the Alexandra Burke version next week. Whilst at first glance this might not appear to be the case, early indications are that something rather special is about to happen. Keep a close eye on what happens during the week. If early sales indications from the online stores are true, and if the situation persists throughout the week then it is possible that something approaching justice will have been served, and the X Factor winner will have dragged a more famous version of her song straight up the charts in her wake.
So that at least is something to anticipate eagerly over the next week if the prospect of the final invasion of the Christmas songs is getting you down. Many of them are nicely poised, with All I Want For Christmas Is You and Fairytale Of New York at 12 and 13 respectively and Wizzard and Slade sitting pretty at 31 and 32. Alongside them, however, are an interesting selection of brand new seasonal hits. Leading the charge is Gabriella Cilmi who is at Number 29 with Warm This Winter. A remake of an old Connie Francis track (it hit Number 48 in 1962), the track is taken from the inevitable deluxe edition of Cilmi's album Lessons To Be Learned and finally gives the Australian singer her second Top 30 hit after her last single Save The Lies (Good To Me) made a rather disappointing Number 33.
[Oddly enough there was never an official video made for this, the track recorded for use in TV commercials for the Co-Operative. Hence a proliferation of fan-made ones instead].
Also on a seasonal theme is Jingle Bells (Bass) from of all people Basshunter which creeps in at Number 38. A throwaway novelty, the track was flung out as a download with the intention that it would complement his fourth single proper I Miss You. Instead, the reverse appears to have happened and whilst the novelty hit has charted with aplomb, I Miss You is limping up the rankings and can only make Number 86. Oops.
Finally, for this week at Number 40, pray welcome Status Quo who have elected to release their first ever Christmas themed single after over 40 years as a chart act. It's Christmas Time is a long way from the greatest single they have ever recorded but it does at least give them their first Top 40 hit since All That Counts Is Love hit Number 29 in November 2005. It isn't their only chart presence this week either, Scooter's single Jump That Rock borrows copiously from the Quo's Whatever You Want leading to the single sporting a joint chart credit. Although widely anticipated, it is struggling down at Number 57 this week.
See you next week for the Christmas chart.