[Now for one of the most extraordinary chart weeks you will read about on this site. Michael Jackson passed away on Thursday, June 25th. And over the next three days sales of his music went utterly beserk, resulting in the chart rundown described here. For the first time it was necessary to devote an entire column to the hits of one single artist].
It doesn't require me to point out that time and time again the cynical industry view that death is the best career move an artist can make is proved perfectly correct. Deaths of superstars in the past such as Elvis Presley, John Lennon and Freddie Mercury have instantly resulted in surges of interest in their work and vastly increased sales for recordings which all of sudden have become must-own, despite being available for years and having sold countless millions already.
Back then it took time to get the extra product into the shops to capitalise on this demand. Not so in the new digital age, and so, as a result, the death of Michael Jackson last Thursday could hardly fail to have a dramatic impact on charts around the world, so much so that most of the other hits of the week are reduced to little more than a footnote.
As you might expect, it is on the singles chart that the impact is felt the most. The news broke too late in the week for these posthumous sales to have too dramatic an impact on the upper end of the chart, but his sales were strong enough to ensure that the mourners download of choice Man In The Mirror storms to Number 11. It is an appropriate but nonetheless surprising choice of track for people to focus on. The fourth single to be taken from his Bad album, despite topping the American charts with ease, the track was a rather surprising chart failure here, failing to climb higher than Number 21 when released here in February 1988. When the program of dualdisc re-releases of his old hits sent a string of Jackson hits back into the charts back in 2006, Man In The Mirror was not one of them and indeed its only other chart outing since then was a brief Top 75 entry at the back end of last year following the celebrated Diana Vickers rendition of the song on X Factor. To further add to the puzzle, it was one of just two tracks on Bad that Jackson himself did not have a hand in writing, the song penned by Siedah Garrett and Glen Ballard. Nonetheless out of all his hits, the song's message about making the world a better place one step at a time by improving yourself seems an appropriate way for fans to express their love for the fallen star.
Man In The Mirror is joined on the Top 40 by Thriller (Number 23), Billie Jean (25), Smooth Criminal (28), Beat It (30) and Earth Song (38) thus giving him six concurrent hits and a hugely significant modern-day record. Technically the record for most complete domination of the Top 40 belongs to Elvis Presley, who during the course of two weeks in November 1957 was listed in no less than seven different places on the NME chart. This total was however inflated by the presence of three b-sides which had been given chart runs alongside their respective lead tracks. Hence his seven hits actually consisted of just four different records. Four Top 40 hits at once has until now been the modern day record to beat, a total achieved by John Lennon in 1981, The Jam in 1982 and Oasis in 1996, a record now well and truly shattered by Michael Jackson.
In all there are sixteen different Michael Jackson singles occupying places in the Top 75, their numbers swelled by three further Jackson 5 oldies (I Want You Back leading the way at Number 55) and one further Jacksons track (Blame It On The Boogie creeping in at Number 75). That makes for no less than 20 of the 75 biggest selling singles in the UK this week which feature Jackson either as solo or lead singer. Whichever way you look at it, this sets a brand new record. It eclipses the previous benchmark of 13 set on February 5th 1982 when The Jam had a 17.33% share of the Top 75 following a mass re-release of their entire catalogue following their split.
As you might expect, the Jackson clean sweep of the album chart is a little less pronounced, by and large, due to the less than prolific nature of his later recording career. Nonetheless, he does top this chart, 2003 compilation Number Ones leaping to the top of the pile, its first appearance at Number One since its original release five and a half years ago. Lower down he also has Thriller at Number 7, King Of Pop at 14, Off The Wall at 17, The Essential at 20, Thriller 25 at 45 and Bad at 59 for a grand total of seven chart albums. Although an impressive number, this is still a long way short of the grand total of 12 Top 40 albums charted by Elvis Presley on September 10th 1977 just after his own premature demise.
As one final aside, it is worth noting that the presence of so many "golden oldies" on the singles chart has had the effect of skewing the average age of the recordings it contains to make this far and away the "oldest" list of current hit singles ever. Four of the charting Jackson singles are former Number Ones, and adding to that the presence of 2009 chart-toppers by Lady Gaga (2), Calvin Harris, Tinchy Stryder, Dizzee Rascal, Pixie Lott, Black Eyed Peas, David Guetta and naturally this weeks debuting chart-toppers La Roux it means that no less than 13 of the Top 75 singles this week are either current or former Number One hits.
It seems almost inappropriate to talk about more contemporary happenings in the same posting, so a full account of the "real" hits of the week will appear here shortly. Finally, for those interested, I've dug into the archives for every word I ever wrote about Michael Jackson singles between 1992 and 2003, and you can find the collected musings here. Enjoy your memories of the man who, love him or hate him, was one of the biggest global superstars the world has ever seen.