Making comedy records can be a hit and miss business. Aside from the initial challenge of writing something that is, you know, funny in the first place there is the added challenge of making sure that the funny that you have brought is capable of withstanding repeated listens. Only if the gag is still amusing after the tenth time you have heard the record have you truly achieved something.
Some of the more famous examples have topped the singles chart and gone on to become classics. Billy Connolly's take on D.I.V.O.R.C.E. has remained a joy ever since its 1975 release due to its effortless satirizing of the C&W schmaltz of the original. Spitting Image's 1986 Number One The Chicken Song also passed the test, effortlessly satirising novelty summer party hits in a manner that still rings true to this day. Similarly, the first ever Comic Relief single Living Doll by Cliff Richard and the Young Ones stands the test of time due to having created the concept of a legendary artist performing his most famous song whilst a group of comedians proceed to cause chaos around him. The fact that it was the "total and utter king of rock and roll" Cliff Richard sending himself up so gamely made it all the more special.
In contrast, I doubt that anyone has played either the 1991 Comic Relief single The Stonk or the 1993 offering Stick It Out more than a couple of times since their original release (despite the former topping the charts for a week). Although designed to be comic they committed the cardinal sin of not actually being very funny and it is small wonder that ever since Comic Relief tie-in singles have been straight down the wire covers of pop classics with little or no comedy inserts (Gareth Gates' Spirit In The Sky alongside The Kumars in 2003 being an honourable exception).
Credit must, therefore, go to Peter Kay two years ago for inventing a new twist on the genre. Covering (I'm Gonna Be) 500 Miles alongside Matt Lucas in character as their two wheelchair-bound creations Brian Potter and Andy Pipkin was a one-shot joke at best, but the record was turned into something magical by having the original artists The Proclaimers appear to sing the final verse just as the joke was getting old. It turned a piss-take into a warm and affectionate tribute to an old song and a veteran pair of performers. Number One it deserved to be.
This then is the approach taken by the second Comic Relief offering of 2009. Whilst the "straight" single Just Can't Get Enough by the Saturdays fell short of the top spot a week ago, in the wake of the charity telethon last week, the charity appeal does at least grab a slice of the action at the top as Islands In The Stream shoots to Number One. The only downside is that unlike the Potter/Pipkin single two years ago, the joke actually takes some explaining to those not familiar with the characters involved.
The record is a callback to the TV comedy series "Gavin and Stacey" and in particular an episode which saw the characters Nessa Jenkins and Bryn West (as played by comedians Ruth Jones and Rob Brydon) perform a triumphant karaoke version of the famous Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton duet. The single is essentially their performance of the track put down on record, the video painting the picture that the pair have been invited to perform at the world Karaoke championships in Las Vegas. At the end to help them sing the last verse up pops - not one or both of Dolly Parton or Kenny Rogers (which would have been magical in a 500 Miles kind of way) - but instead Tom Jones. He's Welsh you see, just like the two characters from the series. That's the gag essentially, and unless you know the series and the back story of the pair intimately then it is not immediately obvious why it is funny.
Still, you cannot knock another Number One single. Islands In The Stream is one of those singles that everyone imagines topped the charts first time around, even though it actually only made Number 7 on these shores upon its first release. Written by the Bee Gees (hence the presence of Robin Gibb on backing vocals on the new version), it ranks alongside 1976 classic Jolene as Dolly Parton's biggest ever hit in this country and until The Gambler appeared for a nostalgic chart run in 2007 was the last hit single for Kenny Rogers - his biggest chart successes coming with Lucille and Coward Of The County which were Number One hits in 1977 and 1980 respectively. The melody of the song was also used as the basis for Ghetto Superstar, a Number 2 hit for Pras, Mya and ODB in the summer of 1998.
It is Tom Jones who has the most to celebrate from the success of the single. Despite a long and productive chart career stretching almost up to the present day, Islands In The Stream is his first credited Number One hit single since The Green Green Grass Of Home was the Christmas Number One in 1966 - a gap of 42 years and 2 months. This would be a new record, but for the small fact that he was one of the prominently featured vocalists on the all-star rendition of Perfect Day which topped the chart in late 1997. Making the distinction between singles the artist sang on and singles for which he receives a direct chart credit is something of a minefield so for the moment it is perhaps best to note that the undisputed record is still held by George Harrison who had My Sweet Lord return to the top in early 2002 in the wake of his death exactly 31 years since it was first at the summit. Tom Jones can now at least claim an impressive span of chart-topping singles as it is exactly 44 years to the week since he was first at Number One with It's Not Unusual. This means he overtakes Cliff Richard into second place in the all-time table, only Elvis with his 47-year span of Number One records. Oh yes, and there is one record he has effortlessly broken with this single - at a little over 68 years and 9 months old he beats a record that has stood since 1968 and becomes the oldest living act ever to have a Number One single in the UK.
For the next biggest new hit of the week, look no further than Number 10 as Oasis arrive with new single Falling Down. The third single to be lifted from the Dig Out Your Soul album, it returns them briefly to the Top 10 after previous hit I'm Outta Time could only reach Number 12 back in December. Nonetheless, this doesn't hide the fact that for this album at least, Oasis releases have stopped selling to anyone other than long-term fans and collectors and anyone who doesn't believe this single will plummet down the charts from next week onwards is probably not paying proper attention.
New at Number 14 is September with her new single Can't Get Over, the second chart single for the Swedish singer following Cry For You which made Number 5 in April last year. As with her previous hit, the UK are coming rather late to the party where her hits are concerned, Can't Get Over having been a Top 10 hit in her native Sweden back in 2007 and in many other European territories early last year. This UK release comes with a new remix to bring the production a little more up to date but in truth appears to lack something of the sparkle of her previous hit. Nonetheless, she appears to have some very enthusiastic fans in many quarters, so it would be a bold man who writes this one off just yet.
Fastest mover on the Top 40 is Beyonce who soars 20 places to see Halo rest at Number 20. Co-written by Ryan Tedder, many have noted the track's similarities to Leona Lewis' Bleeding Love thanks to its thundering handclap rhythm and slow build to an emotional climax. The word is that the song was indeed written with Leona in mind but she either turned it down or missed her chance to record the track - thus handing Beyonce what looks to be another major smash hit.
Also new to the Top 40 at Number 27 is Katy Perry's latest hit Thinking Of You. The song has been charting since late January but now gains a head of steam and breaks into the upper reaches of the chart for the first time. Her third hit, it appears it will have the benefit of being free from the distraction of competing against its predecessor, Hot N Cold now well on its way out and dipping to Number 34 this week.
Watch out as well for Shake It from Metro Station which arrives at Number 37 with high hopes the single will duplicate its Top 10 success in the States. The pop-rock group's main claim to fame are the family connections of their two frontmen. Trace Cyrus is the older brother of Miley Cyrus whilst Mason Musso is similarly the sibling of fellow Hannah Montana star Mitchel Musso. So I'm told anyway, my friends are under instructions to kill me if I'm ever caught watching the Disney show.
Finally for this week, as one veteran star sets new standards at the top, another act with a long and venerable chart history makes a welcome return. Annie Lennox scores her first Top 40 hit since 1995 with Shining Light which enters at Number 39. The track is taken from new hits collection The Collection which debuts at Number 2 on the album chart, just failing to shift U2 from their perch at the top. Just like her last Top 40 hit Waiting In Vain 14 years ago, her new single is an unexpected take on an unusual choice of cover version Shining Light was originally a Number 8 hit for Ash in 2001, their third and final Top 10 hit but in truth one of their greatest moments on record. Annie Lennox takes the rousing turn of the decade indie anthem and turns it into a rousing inspirational pop record in a manner that is actually something of a joy. Despite the nostalgia rush caused by the album, her days as a hitmaker appear long behind her, but it is always good to be reminded of just how good she can be.