This week's Official UK Singles Chart

It's a shame really. The commanding lead the X Factor charity single had over the rest of the market meant that its status as Number One for a second week running was never in any doubt, still purchased of course by people who don't ordinarily buy singles and who are being given no motivation to buy any others at the same time, but we made that point last week so it is time to let it slide for now.

It is a shame because the big singles race of the week thus became less of an event than would otherwise have been the case, given that the spoils to the winner were only ever going to be a Number 2 single. November 2nd and 3rd 2008 between them effectively became "diva day" as no less than four superstar female singers all released long-awaited brand new singles at the start of the week. The one question on everyone's lips - just who would outsell the rest in this ultimate music catfight?

The answer lies at chart position Number 2. Diva 1 officially is Beyonce who eclipses the rest with her brand new single If I Were A Boy. It is her first chart single in just over a year, her last musical offering being the Number 12 single Green Light in August 2007, itself the follow-up to the Number One smash Beautiful Liar. With her status as a superstar as high as ever, she was always going to be a strong contender but on a purely musical point of view it is a little surprising that her lead over the opposition was so commanding. If I Were A Boy is a magnificent and powerful single but by no means the most immediate pop record on offer this week. This is a record you have to pay close attention to, appreciating the subtleties of its lyric and the stripped to the bone beauty of its production. That it has wound up the biggest single of the week is something of a tribute to the musical tastes of the nation.

Diva 2 is Britney Spears who can be found at Number 4 with her brand new single Womanizer (damn those Americans and their inability to spell). Her ability to sell records in the most extraordinary of circumstances was nicely illustrated by her 2007 "comeback" album Blackout. Recorded and released at a time when most of the headlines were about her own personal problems and emotional meltdowns and with the barest minimum of promotional work undertaken by the star herself, it still spawned three hit singles, two of which Gimme More and Piece Of Me went Top 3 with a third Break The Ice creeping into the Top 20. As I wrote at the time, whilst her press clippings tell the story of an artist and a person at rock bottom, her chart records paint a picture of an artist at the height of her powers even after a four-year break. The contrast could scarcely have been greater.

With that in mind, the return of a Britney Spears apparently firing on all cylinders again, both creatively and emotionally, is quite an exciting prospect. Brand new single Womanis... oh ffs Womanizer is far and away her best record for years. Admittedly it leaves something to be desired on the lyrical front (just how many times can you say the W word within one chorus anyway) but it is a sparkling, exciting and above all fun track which all but demands you clear space in the living room to dance to it. Being able to hear a Britney record without wondering just how many drugs she had been fed just to get her to stand up straight is quite wonderfully refreshing and it is in short a joy to see her back again. The track is the 19th Top 10 hit of her near ten-year career, and I am pleased to say there are plenty more to follow.

Diva 3 also lands in the Top 5, Leona Lewis charting with brand new single Forgive Me. Much was made during the week of the fact that the other three combatants effectively had a head start over her, their singles released online on Sunday with Forgive Me not appearing in the stores until the Monday. Even with 24 hours fewer sales to her credit, she still sneaks into the Top 5 with what is, lest we forget, only her fourth official chart single. In marked contrast to her previous offerings, this is an uptempo R&B inspired pop track, almost certainly made with one eye on the American market she captivated so effortlessly earlier in the year but clearly with enough appeal to ensure she has another smash hit back home.

The only black mark against the single is that it is a completely new track, not from a brand new album but from that well-known 21st-century consumer blight, the "special edition" re-release. Yes, that's correct, the 2 million people (officially) who have bought her debut album Spirit since its release a year ago are all incredibly stupid. If only they had waited until next Monday then for the same money they could have obtained not only the original 14 tracks, but three additional ones such as Forgive Me and Misses Glass that first appeared on the American version and her previously unreleased Live Lounge rendition of Run. Needless to say if you are one of the 2 million who already own Spirit but also want the new songs you are left with little choice to pay more money, either for digital copies of the three additions or if you are the physical type, a whole new copy of the album for which you have already paid. A rip off? Of course it is, and don't let anyone try to persuade you otherwise, no matter how many "free bonus DVDs" come with the special edition. [This was something of a bugbear for me at the time and an issue I'd refer back to several times. Ten years on and album tracklistings are moveable feasts with tracks added and removed on the whims of the artist].

Back to the chart, and next we have a lady who wasn't considered one of the "4 divas" of the week but who has interrupted the flow and gatecrashed the Top 10 anyway. Alesha Dixon began her musical career as one-third of urban girl group Mis-Teeq who had 8 Top 20 hits between 2000 and 2003. After they disbanded she struck out as a solo artist but when her second single Knockdown flopped in 2006 her label cancelled plans for the release of her already recorded album, handed her the master tapes and wished her good luck in her future endeavours. Her career revival came thanks to a star turn last year as one of the contestants on the BBC show 'Strictly Come Dancing'. The road to her eventual victory was such a sensation that bookmakers even installed her as favourite to be last year's Christmas Number One with a rendition of the show's theme, this despite no such single being planned or even existing!

The only surprise really is that it has taken so long for her to capitalise on her newfound fame and reactivate her musical career, but then again all good things come to those who wait. So it is that Alesha rockets into the chart at Number 8 with her new single The Boy Does Nothing. Want to know something? As a pop record it knocks the other four diva singles out of the park. Based on a mambo rhythm (something even explicitly pointed out in the lyrics), the track is a playful party record that recounts the domestic shortcomings of her man (although "running off with a Girls Aloud reject" doesn't appear to be one of them). I'm not sure which is the greater joy, the way the record sounds or the fact that it represents the musical comeback of a lady who proved to the entire nation last year that she had far too much charm, personality and talent to be cast aside as a faded girl group star.

So then to the lady who was officially Diva 4 but whose single lands a surprisingly long way behind all the others. She is none other than Christina Aguilera who after the jazz throwback of last album Back To Basics appears to be finding it rather harder than she imagined to return to R&B pop. Not that new single Keeps Gettin' Better is a bad record, far from it, but the fact that it can only make Number 14 first week out is something of a shock to everyone who rated it one of the best singles of the week. Not that this is the end for it of course, and I've a sneaking suspicion there is much more to come from this record, but given especially that this marked the first time that she had released a record head to head with former childhood co-star Britney Spears it is Christina who has very much wound up the loser in this headline grabbing chart race.

Three other new singles arrive in the Top 20, two of them naturally by the same man. Akon continues who dual existence with the Kardinal Offishall single Dangerous on which he guests moving 21-16 and his own Right Now (Na Na Na) rising 23-19. One place behind are the Pussycat Dolls who are steadily climbing the ranks with new single I Hate This Part. The follow up to Top 3 single 'When I Grow Up', its progress may be slow and unspectacular for the moment but you can all but guarantee it is on its way to maintaining their 100% strike rate of Top 10 hits.

We mentioned it in passing last week but it has kept on selling. Let Your Love Flow from the Bellamy Brothers makes its first Top 40 appearance in 32 years as it rises 18 places to sit at Number 30. Revitalised after use in a TV commercial, it is another enjoyable example of a classic old single finding a whole new modern day audience thanks to some well placed television exposure.

Not that this is always a guarantee of success. Just ask Will Young who was the guest of honour on the X Factor show the weekend before last and who got to perform new single Grace on the results show but who can only watch as the track limps to Number 35. This is not a good sign. His only single to date to miss the Top 10 was 2006 release 'Who Am I', and even that still made Number 11. Whilst the possibility of the single having had a late start can't be ruled out, the fact that even an appearance on one of the biggest promotional platforms going could not even help him breach the Top 30 makes the prospects for this single look rather grim to say the least.

Actually it seems that last weekend the X Factor show temporarily lost its ability to have any kind of effect on the singles chart, the only "disco week" performance to impact the sales of the songs performed was that of Call Me which results in the old Blondie single sneaking in at Number 91. I'm still smarting from the loss of Laura from this weekend just gone. When the most talented singer in the whole contest is binned through tactical voting from the judges and tuneless twerps such as Hornswoggle remain safe, you have to wonder what the point of it all is.


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