To think charity records used to be so cool.
The concept of the all-star ensemble charity single as we know it was effectively invented by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure in 1984 with the release of Do They Know It's Christmas, the aim being to raise money for Ethopian Famine Relief after the TV reports of the humanitarian tragedy moved Geldof so much when first broadcast at the end of that year. Not only did the single race past all-comers to wind up as the biggest seller of all time in this country (at the time anyway) but perhaps most crucially it was a genuinely classic original song, one which still gets deserved airplay to this day.
Others followed in the wake of Geldof's idea, but over time the concept became watered down. Assembling a collection of chart stars in a studio to sing an ensemble chorus became a common way to raise money for a cause, but the instigators of the projects fell into the rut of producing cheap covers of already famous songs. Yes, in the 1980s acts such as The Crowd and Ferry Aid topped the singles charts with ease and raised thousands for their respective causes, but classic singles they weren't.
In recent years it has been the more innovative charity records that have captured the imagination, be in the Comic Relief series of music and comedy fusion or the handful of memorable BBC Children In Need records such as last years Peter Kay cartoon medley or the 1997 line by line resing of Perfect Day by a wide range of musical acts. It is telling that the last charity record to make a genuine sales impact and prompt widespread headlines was nothing more than the 2004 Band Aid 20 remake of Do They Know It's Christmas, a reworking you will note that has barely been aired since its original release. The first version still stands tall as the best.
Hence there were, shall we say, mixed feelings when it was announced that a Simon Cowell sponsored project was afoot, assembling yet another mass of big name stars to participate in a celebrity chorus line on a single to be released in aid of the victims of the recent Haiti earthquake. The single sadly wasn't to be a new song penned by some of the brightest songwriting talents of the moment - no, simply a by the numbers cover of REM's 1993 hit Everybody Hurts, a recording already and quite correctly elevated to classic status. Whipped up in a frenzy of anticipation by the tabloids, the British public were hardly going to ignore such a worthy cause and such a star-fest and so it was more or less inevitable that the release of the record was going to be nothing more than the biggest event of the week.
So it proved. Everybody Hurts by Helping Haiti flew out of the stores, both high street and virtual, at a rate not seen for some time. After two days onsale it was announced that the single had already sold a massive 210,000 copies and the curious lack of further sales updates during the week only served to further fuel speculation as to just what its first week total would be.
We can therefore note that whilst Everybody Hurts debuts at Number One with a still relatively enormous sale of 453,000 this does still indicate that many of its sales were front-loaded to the start of the week and that demand for the record clearly took a dip as the week went on. Hence I suspect the lack of further publicly announced sales flashes - none of them were going to be as impressive as the opening total. Yes, the sale is indeed pretty impressive - enough to make the single in an instant the highest selling single of the year to date and the first track to sell in six figures during February since Hero by Enrique Iglesias back in 2002. Nonetheless there is a certain amount of spin behind the OCC's enthusiastic pronouncements that it is the "fastest selling charity single of the 21st century", a non-existent accolade if ever there was one and one which fails to disguise the slight disappointment that the single didn't sell in quantities that were utterly spectacular rather than "pretty impressive".
Such charity records are naturally a reviewers nightmare as when charitable causes are involved the quality of the record is pretty much moot. The Helping Haiti single is reassuringly better than the karaoke whirlwinds of the two X Factor contestants charity records which have had inevitable runs at Number One in 2008 and 2009. With such a galaxy of talent, how could it not be? Whilst the usual suspects of Leona Lewis, Cheryl Cole, Alexandra Burke and Joe McElderry make their inevitable "friends of Cowell" voices heard, the single also boasts some superstar talent from the likes of Rod Stewart, Jon Bon Jovi, Kylie, Robbie, Take That and er, Miley Cyrus. As a piece of music it is as technically perfect as you are likely to get, but as a cover of a song that is already lodged in the minds and memories of a great many people the end result is ultimately rather soulless. Bravo to the huge sale and the thousands of pounds directed at the needy and deserving that will result, but the Helping Haiti single suffers from pretty much the same problem as just about every recent offering from the House of Syco in that its artistic and cultural contribution is pretty much nil.
Nobody ever said the same about Band Aid.
Now remember last week when I said that the Glee Cast were due another breakthrough chart hit to accompany the seemingly evergreen Don't Stop Believin rather than the smattering of minor chart entries that normally result from the weekly release of soundtrack songs? Well it turns out I was correct, although the hit in question wasn't their cover of Somebody To Love which slips back to Number 33 this week. Instead the stage is reserved for the two "mash-ups" as the latest episode would have you believe (actually they are two-song medleys but that's the Americans for you), one as performed by the male members of Glee club, the other by the girls. I forget who won the day in the episode in question, but in chart terms the bragging rights belong to the females as their fusion of Beyonce's Halo and the Katrina and the Waves 80s classic Walking On Sunshine debuts strongly at Number 9, joining Don't Stop Believin at Number 5 to give the TV show concurrent Top 10 hits. They very nearly made it a trio as well, only for the boys to let the side down and enter instead at Number 14. The male medley takes a more contemporary angle, merging Bon Jovi's It's My Life with the Usher track Confessions Part II in a manner which is equally as diverting as the girls' song but which maybe deserves its place as the lower of the two hits.
The two singles take the total of Glee related Top 75 hits to 10, all of which have charted in just the last five weeks. With the series set to run to a grand total of 22 episodes by the time it finishes later this spring, it seems more or less a given that the TV cast will shatter the record for most chart singles in a calendar year. For now, just keep counting or speculate just which will be the next song to make a proper chart impact. The smart money is still on My Life Would Suck Without You which makes an appearance in episode 13, the last to have aired in the States to date.
With everyone having sensibly stayed out of the way of the Helping Haiti single, new hit singles are hard to come by but that is not to say one or two others don't make some interesting moves. Making a strong 10 place leap to Number 10 is Rihanna with Rude Boy, the second Top 10 hit to be taken from her latest album Rated R and the follow-up to Russian Roulette which made Number 2 back in December last year and which still has life in it, dipping to Number 37 this week. All told it is the 12th Top 10 hit for the Barbadian superstar. Every one of the previous 11 has made at least the Top 5, with nine of them going all the way to the Top 3. Keep an eye out for this one.
As if by a carefully planned coincidence there is a Top 75 debut for her former squeeze Chris Brown, the singer making his second chart appearance since his now notorious assault on his then girlfriend. As if in contrition his new single is entitled Crawl, the follow-up to I Can Transform Ya which made what for him was a rather uncharacteristically lowly Number 26 last November. Crawl debuts at Number 42 this week, like its predecessor lifted from his third album Graffiti.
No stranger to man troubles herself is Cheryl Cole who not only features on the Number One single this week but also makes a Top 40 debut with Parachute. Widely viewed by fans as one of the better tracks on her solo album 3 Words, it duly becomes the third track from the album to reach the Top 40, hard on the heels of both the title track and last years Number One single Fight For This Love.
The album chart this week plays host to an all-static Top 3 with Alicia Keys narrowly holding off the challenge of Andre Rieu to ensure she remains at Number One with The Element Of Freedom. The most talked about release of the week lands at Number 4 in the shape of Soldier Of Love, the brand new album from British soul legends Sade. Technically a "they" rather than a "she" although the focus is inevitably always on Sade Adu herself, the album is only the group's sixth studio release and their first since Lovers Rock way back in 2000 although the live album Lovers Live made an appearance in 2002. By charting as high as Number 4 the album becomes their most high profile hit since 1988s Stronger Than Pride. Although the title track was promoted as a single in advance last December, it failed to chart and Sade have remained absent from the singles chart since King Of Sorrow crept to Number 59 in March 2001.
Next week should in theory be quite intriguing as battle is set to be joined between two different Haiti charity singles. Hoping to unseat Everybody Hurts is the all-star American remake of We Are The World, the original Stateside famine relief charity single that topped the charts worldwide back in 1985. That said, the fact that at the time of writing the single is struggling to penetrate the iTunes Top 20 is not a good sign. More in the podcast midweek.