It's the big Christmas chart.
Except really it isn't as the vagaries of the calendar and the need for the marketed "Christmas Chart" to be the last one published before Christmas Day itself mean that this countdown covering sales on 12-18 December is the official festive chart, when naturally next week's countdown covering sales 19-25 December will be a better reflection on musical popularity during the Christmas period. Let us not split hairs though, if you staked money on what would be Christmas Number One then this is the chart that actually counts and the one on which all attention has been focused.
In 2010 foregone conclusions are back in vogue as the newly crowned X Factor winner Matt Cardle storms to Number One with his coronation single, handed to him as the most immediate prize for his victory in the television talent contest. He is the fifth X Factor winner in seven seasons of the show to see his single fly straight to the top of the charts for Christmas in this manner, the sheer marketing power of the show and naturally the fact that millions had invested support in him already with telephone votes meaning that there was little to stand in his way.
Matt Cardle's choice of song was however something of a revelation. Not for him a syrupy ballad drenched in resonance about the endless struggle of victory. Instead his single When We Collide is a re-titled cover of Many Of Horror originally performed by Scottish rock band Biffy Clyro on their 2009 album Only Revolutions. It is perfectly acceptable to be grumpy about the fact that the X Factor winning song is once again a cover version (only once in seven years of the show has the winning contestant been handed a completely original song to sing) and yet for the sheer breathless cheek of commandeering a supposedly credible rock song for this purpose and as a pleasing swerve from the comfortable X Factor song choices that have started to characterise the show, this single would score on points even without its inevitable large sale.
Oh yes, the sale. When We Collide hit the ground running and never really looked back, shifting 439,000 copies in the six days that it was on sale. Intriguingly this is actually slightly less than the 450,838 sold by Joe McElderry this time last year and indeed continues the steady downward trend of first week sales for X Factor winners singles since the 740,000 copies sold by Shayne Ward in just four days in 2005.
As we saw two years ago with Alexandra Burke's Number One version of Hallelujah, the use of someone else's song for the X Factor single can often prompt a surge of interest in the original. So it proves as the Biffy Clyro version of Many Of Horror storms back onto the chart at Number 8, beating easily the Number 20 peak it scaled during a 10 week char t run when issued as a single back in January. The band have reportedly watched the use of their composition with wry amusement, any discomfort they may feel surely assuaged by the fact the track is now one of their biggest hits of their career, second only to the Number 5 peak scaled, as it were, by Mountains back the summer of 2008. Sometimes we all need a little bit of luck to push us forward, and if the When We Collide/Many Of Horror chart race has introduced even a few more people to the work of this most consistent of British rock groups then this is surely no bad thing.
The Christmas Number 2 single has an X Factor connection of its own, as Rihanna's high profile contribution to the final, dueting with Matt Cardle during the show and performing in her own right in rather less than the usual amount of clothing helps her single What's My Name to a brand new peak of Number 2, selling well over 100,000 copies in the process. Extraordinary this is the second time in the space of two months than Rihanna has stalled at Number 2 despite selling in six figures, Only Girl (In The World) landing the runners up slot with a sale of 126,000 back in November. Whilst we can't rule out a further chart climb for the track if its sales persist through to the new year, for the moment this does mean Rihanna now has 8 Number 2 hits to her name since the start of her chart career. She is well on course to match the record of 11 clocked up by Cliff Richard between 1958 and 2006. Although David Guetta's Who's That Chick has now dropped out of the Top 10, Rihanna's previous single Only Girl (In The World) clings on at Number 7 to give her a 20% domination of the Christmas Top 10. Rihanna reappears lower down the chart as well, with her 2006 Number 2 single Unfaithful back on the chart at Number 31, this the song on which she dueted with Matt Cardle and which helped him on his way to the winners' podium. With the Eminem single Love The Way You Lie still clinging on at Number 39, Rihanna thus takes lead or co-vocals on no less than five of the current Top 40.
Naturally enough after last year's farcical scenes when an online campaign to persuade people to mass -purchase an alternative single led to the Joe McElderry record to stall at Number 2 on the Christmas chart itself it was inevitable that several groups of people would attempt to capture lightning in a bottle and repeat the trick a year later. With the chart rules now a little more robust than they were a year ago and now capable of trapping purchases from people attempting to hype their favourite song up the rankings rather than buying it for legitimate reasons this was always going to be a tough ask. With numerous different groups of people also all wanting the boost to their egos by being the "brains" behind such a campaign this also meant that the opposition to further X Factor chart dominance was fragmented to the point where failure was almost certainly guaranteed.
Not that it stopped people having a go. Hence the otherwise random arrival in the Top 3 of Surfin' Bird by The Trashmen, an otherwise obscure surf-rock novelty single dating from 1963 and which was a Number 4 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 at the time but which sank without trace over here. Decades later the track maintained a cultural resonance, first after its use on the soundtrack of the film "Full Metal Jacket" in 1987 and then more recently in an episode of the animated comedy series "Family Guy" when its purchase and endlessly repeated play were central to the plot of an episode. The "Family Guy" connection even prompted the single to appear on the UK charts for the very first time back in May 2009 when it appeared at Number 50 in a brief chart run.
Despite lacking anything approaching the mainstream press attention of certain other idiotic chart campaigns, the drive to push Surfin' Bird up the charts managed to be the most successful of all of them, the single arriving in the Top 5 of sales flashes at the start of the week and never leaving right until the end. With the commanding lead of the Matt Cardle single even after one day it was clear right from the start that any attempt to buy-in the novelty record in the hope of displacing him was doomed, leading to some quite hilarious scenes online of the organisers of the campaign group spending the week in denial about the size of the task ahead of them and quoting made up chart figures to attempt to keep the faithful hoping until the weekend, despite the attempts of saner voices in the chart watching community to point the facts out. In the end, Surfin' Bird sold just 68,000 copies which probably translates into around 10,000 obsessives buying multiple copies from as many different stores as they could. Hardly the huge anti-X Factor vote it was supposed to be.
Still, as a brief interlude of chart subversion and despite the obstacles now in place to prevent chart cheating, getting to Number 3 is an achievement in itself, however much of a failure it represents for the campaigners. Given that Surfin' Bird had the wonderful effect of putting the noses of some of the more self-righteous campaigns out of joint and as a neat resurrection of the almost forgotten tradition of a token novelty record appearing in the Christmas chart, the presence of the Trashmen in the Top 3 isn't actually a bad thing at all.
It is with even greater joy that we note that the anti-X Factor single that garnered the most mainstream press attention in the run up to the race turned out to be one of the biggest non-factors of all. Cage Against The Machine was the high-concept promotion of a new "recording" of the achingly pretentious 4'33 from composer John Cage, a supposed work of art that is four and a half minutes of total silence. Enlisting the support of a series of big names who we are led to believe turned up the studio and performed nothing, this was supposed to be the credible alternative to the X Factor single and with the proceeds from people buying what is effectively nothing all going to charity. As I've said many times in the past, a bad idea doesn't become a good one simply by attaching the word "charidee" to it and in the event so few people cared that the single limps to a mere Number 21 with sales of barely 14,000 copies, its novelty value diminished still further thanks to having been released in the wake of the Royal British Legion 2 minutes silence record which managed to make Number 20 with an identical concept back in November. The irony of appeals for everyone to buy a record of nothing falling on deaf ears is one to dwell on at leisure and committed opponents of idiotic chart campaigns can derive a great deal of pleasure from watching this particular idea die on its backside.
Whilst the aforementioned calendar issue means that sales of the records will actually peak over the next week, it is still worth noting the progress of Christmas singles old and new on the seasonal Top 40. Coldplay lead the way with Christmas Lights although that single suffers a surprising reverse and tumbles to Number 17. Fairytale Of New York is the biggest selling golden oldie at Number 19 (one place below the Number 18 it occupied on the 2009 Christmas chart) with All I Want For Christmas Is You taking a small tumble to rest at Number 25. A further "seasonal" offering makes up the final new entry on the Top 40 this week with X-M@s, a solo offering from Slipknot frontman Corey Taylor sneaking into the lower reaches at Number 37.
Whilst most of the Christmas chart focus is inevitably on the singles market, it is albums that truly set the cash tills ringing for beleaguered record stores as CD sales reach their annual peak ahead of a bout of gift giving. Take That are inevitably the biggest selling act of the season, Progress notching up a fifth week at Number One to become the seasonal champion. As I mentioned in Chart Bite earlier, the surliness about the constant X Factor domination of the Number One position at Christmas is thrown somewhat into relief when you note that members of the Take That project have been Number One for Christmas on the album chart for pretty much the whole of the last decade.
Robbie Williams' imperial phase as a solo artist meant that he was Number One for Christmas 2001 with Swing When You're Winning, 2002 with Escapology and 2004 with Greatest Hits. The four piece Take That followed this burst of domination by being Number One in 2006 with Beautiful World and in 2008 with The Circus. Meaning that 2010 marks the sixth time in the last ten years that Robbie, Gary, Mark, Jason and Howard have had a stranglehold on the Christmas market, whether separately or all together.
Christmas Number 2 on the album chart? Well inevitably that is Rihanna with her current album Loud. Did you really expect that she wouldn't get a look-in?
Happy Christmas chart fans. See you on Boxing Day for the post-Christmas chart that covers pre-Christmas. If you can't make it, Matt will still be Number One, so Happy New Year.