It's a tale of two singles this week, one which made the top against expectations and another which didn't despite, it seems, being specifically released for that purpose.
First to the top, and the five-week run of I Kissed A Girl as the nation's biggest seller comes to a crashing halt as none other than Kings Of Leon go straight in at Number One with their brand new single Sex On Fire. It marks a flying leap in the chart fortunes of the family group as despite having made the Top 3 with all three of their album releases to date, prior to today they had never once cracked the Top 10 of the singles market. The record that finally does it for them is that by almost universal agreement marks their promotion to fully fledged stadium rockers. Sex On Fire is a true widescreen anthem, a wall of sound flag-waver of the kind you didn't think they made any more. People who only got into them thanks to the slow burn success of the last single Fans (until now their biggest ever hit) may be in for a shock, but for those who have followed the group since they made their chart debut five years ago this is merely the next natural progression of their sound. If, as seems likely this winds up as their biggest and most famous hit single it will be no bad thing at all.
Mind you, it does have some competition for that accolade. The aforementioned Fans, originally a Number 13 hit in July 2007 made a reappearance at the lower end of the singles chart last week and now almost in sympathy has taken a flying leap, landing just short of a Top 40 place at Number 44. The gentle country-blues strummer is a world away from Sex On Fire but it appears well on its way to becoming a complimentary companion hit on its second proper chart run.
So then to the second biggest hit of the week. Any discussion of Cliff Richard must always acknowledge his place as the most long-running chart maker ever. His career stretches back to the days of Rock N' Roll and along the way has seen him run through a variety of musical styles and ever-changing fashions, building and retaining some of the world's most loyal fans along the way. The only problem really is that it is possible to pinpoint a date - around 1990 - when he stopped selling singles purely on their own merits and was reduced instead to being the man who released tired Christmas singles and other tracks reliant on a series of increasingly desperate marketing gimmicks to even get on the radio. It is as if he still feels required to prove his continuing relevance as a pop star to a world which by and large could forgive him for retiring instead and simply basking in his legacy.
Such then is the context against which Thank You For A Lifetime and its rather surprising appearance at Number 3 on the singles chart should be set. Its release marks the 50th anniversary of his very first single (Move It released when he was a fresh-faced 17 year old) and has been accompanied by a concerted campaign from his fan club to land him a Number One single not only for this anniversary but so he can complete a unique chart feat. Thanks to his lifelong chart career Cliff Richard is notable for having topped the charts in every decade since his debut - in the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s - a feat no other act can even come close to matching. To complete the set he thus needs another Number One hit before the end of 2010 and so Thank You For A Lifetime was a deliberate attempt to tick that box. Now to be fair we should at least attempt to consider the single on its own merits so I'm delighted to report that it actually is rubbish, showing promise at the start with sweeping piano chords and a plaintive semi-autobiographical lyric but which then turns a corner and launches into a cheesy singalong chorus that surely even the most die-hard Cliff acolyte can't pretend holds a candle to any of the genuine classics he has made in the past. Furthermore, the man who was once hailed as the Peter Pan Of Pop for his evergreen looks and sound now finds that every one of his 67 years flow through the microphone, his voice sounding heartbreakingly sibilant and raspy.
No, let's face it. This single (actually for the record his second Top 3 hit in the last two years) is at Number 3 less on its own merits as a piece of music but due to a failed attempt by people to manipulate some chart records and to be perfectly frank, grant their hero an accolade which after a fifty-year career and 250 million record sales worldwide he really doesn't need. Actually, if I'm being honest, I'd like him to still have one more Number One hit single at some point. If he does so he will break a record that has lasted since 1967 as the oldest living male to ever top the UK charts.
Down in the Top 20, there are no further new entries but a handful of singles making strides towards the top end. Heading the back is Ne-Yo who almost unnoticed has crept to Number 14 with new single Miss Independent, the follow-up to July's chart-topper Closer. Part of his strength is the way his music slowly but surely gets under your skin, as the eight-week climb endured by his last hit proved. Miss Independent is a worthy addition to his canon and is heading for the Top 10 in fairly short order.
Leaping 35-18 is Handlebars from Flobots, the debut hit single for the Florida group who appear to have a winning formula on their hands with an apparently effortless fusion of alternative rock and hip-hop. Handlebars is hard to hate and all to easy to love and one which scores points on the originality scale for having an instrumental break which features an incongruous but somehow perfectly delivered jazz trumpet. I'm keeping an open mind as to whether it has Top 10 potential, but check it out anyway.
Coincidentally also on an alt-hop tip are Californian duo Iglu & Hartley who have avoided success at home but who were the subject of a brief bidding war amongst British labels who immediately spotted their potential. Their debut single In This City is now rocketing up the singles chart, moving 80-21 this week to agonisingly miss out on a Top 20 place, a situation which I have no doubt will be corrected in seven days time.
Now for something you don't see every day - a McFly single entering the chart not at the dizzy heights of the top but at an apparently lowly Number 23. As you might expect there is actually a perfectly feasible explanation for this, as new hit Lies marks the first time the group have released a single digitally in advance of a full physical release. Needless to say as one of the few acts whose first week sales tend to be around 80% physical this has put the initial chart prospects of Lies at something of a disadvantage although given that they regularly get a rightful kicking in these pages for their unrepresentative and all too brief chart performances, it will do them no harm at all to have a single for once that starts slowly and grows. In truth, I hope it does as Lies is the kind of single they left their label to be able to make, a lovingly constructed anthem drenched with an epic brass section and showcasing the kind of effortless but sparkling songwriting skills that they have demonstrated in the past. Just for once I'm declaring a moratorium on McFly bashing, as when this rockets to the Top 3 next week I'm going to be celebrating.
Speaking of celebrating, given that the new Basshunter single Angel In The Night has wimped out at Number 24, is it now acceptable to admit that it is something of a relief to not have to make an effort to like one of Mr Altberg's tracks and find something to appreciate about it? Good.
Also just inside the Top 30 and making rather surprisingly slow progress is Just Stand Up which rises 39-26. Credited to "Artists Stand Up To Cancer" the record is as you might have guessed an all-star charity collaboration recorded for a cross-network American charity telethon that aired at the start of September. Its slow burn in the UK may well be in part due to its corresponding lack of exposure which is actually something of a shame. Quite aside from the fact that it is raising money for a very good cause, the track is a cut above most other charity collaborations and is performed by an all-star cast list featuring the likes of Mariah Carey, Beyoncé, Mary J. Blige, Rihanna, Fergie, Sheryl Crow, Melissa Etheridge, Natasha Bedingfield, Miley Cyrus, Leona Lewis, Carrie Underwood, Keyshia Cole, LeAnn Rimes, Ashanti and Ciara. R&B legends LA and Babyface reunited to write and produce the track and if you need me to say any more to sell the concept to you, you probably aren't paying close enough attention.
There is actually so much activity in the lower end of the singles chart that we could go on all week, so let's step aside the thorny issue of Queen treading on the memory of Freddie by finally releasing a single with Paul Rodgers on lead vocals and also pay a quick acknowledgement to Elbow's Mercury Music Prize win and the sympathetic reappearance of On A Day Like This at Number 35, thus beating the Number 39 it crept to when first released back in June. [The briefest of mentions for the early life of Elbow's most famous hit single, one which would take a full four years to finally achieve its full potential].
The final chart single of note this week is the record at Number 40, one which has been flagged up as a potential Number One for well over a year but which even now on its second full release seems destined never to be a proper hit. Sonny J's Can't Stop Moving first came to popular attention in early 2007 when even as a White Label it was gaining radio airplay and being tipped as a smash by everyone who heard it. It subsequent failure to reach even the Top 75 was, therefore, a crashing disappointment. Further Sonny J singles followed but all suffered the same fate, so this re-release of that famous first single is effectively a last-ditch attempt to breathe life into the project - one which it seems is still destined for failure given that the single can barely limp to Number 40. Really the problem is that it keeps being released at the wrong time. Can't Stop Moving with its happy go lucky groove and sampled soul vocals that sound like the Jackson 5 (although it actually isn't) is the perfect summertime smash hit, one that soundtracks perfectly the even lengthening days in June and the feeling that there are several months more of outdoor living to come. Pitched into the market in a damp and miserable September it just feels pointless and at times a sick ironic joke. Timing is everything and for some reason, Sonny J keeps being promoted at completely the wrong moment. For shame.