It's Christmas! And as you may well be aware, the Official Singles and Albums charts in the UK this week take on a significance in the minds of some, often way beyond even the music it contains - but we will come to that shortly.
As far as the albums market was concerned, there was indeed a genuine battle for seasonal honours - two acts battling it out side by side to appear in the most Christmas stockings over the next week. In the blue corner the young pretenders of One Direction, their album Midnight Memories already one of the fastest sellers of the year but hoping to cement their current status as the most in-demand mainstream pop act of the moment. In the red corner the hardy veteran, Robbie Williams who has competed in more Christmas charts than he cares (or probably is able to) remember and aiming to duplicate his 2001 success of being on top at the end of the year with a novelty album of swing music. Throughout the week there was literally nothing to separate them.
In the end, it was Robbie who had the edge, the entire Top 5 albums remaining static from last week to ensure Swings Both Ways is the biggest selling album in the country at Christmas. The ultimate seasonal master, this is now the fifth time that Robbie Williams has had the Christmas Number One album. He pulled off the trick in 2001 with Swing When You're Winning, 2002 with Escapology, 2004 with Greatest Hits and was a member of Take That for their 2010 album Progress. No other artist in the modern era can boast that level of end of year consistency.
The singles chart battle was marginally less exciting, the presence in the market of the annual X Factor winners single meant that any speculation as to what would be Christmas Number One was rendered pretty much moot from the very first day. Step forward then Sam Bailey, the first winner in the "over 25s" category since Steve Brookstein was victorious in the very first series of the show in 2004. The veteran cabaret singer was earning her living as a prison guard but is now the owner of a Number One single and the first X Factor star to have the Christmas Number One since Matt Cardle back in 2010. The four who didn't have this honour, due to release timing or other factors - Brookstein, McEldery, Little Mix and Arthur - of course all topped the charts outside of the festive week itself.
For all the hype that surrounded her march to victory on the show, making her the anointed winner almost from the very start, the reception to Sam Bailey's single has actually been rather more muted than usual. Almost uniquely for an X Factor winner she failed to maintain her lead at the top of live download charts until the end of the week and whilst her overall sales are still far in excess of anything else in the market this week, her grand total of 149,000 singles sold actually makes this the lowest selling X Factor single since Steve Brookstein opened on 127,000 copies in 2004. Whatever success she goes on to have, it seems unlikely it is as a mainstream pop star and her chances of duplicating James Arthur's million-selling feat of 12 months ago are pretty much nonexistent.
Part of the problem was the choice of material. Although cover versions are now par for the course for winner's singles, the source for the material can sometimes be less than inspiring. Sam Bailey's Number One single is thus her take on Demi Lovato's Skyscraper and whilst her rendition is pleasant enough it is hard to escape the raw fact that the original version was only belatedly a UK hit less than three months ago, its journey to a Number 7 peak ironically enough inspired by its use as both backing music and a boot camp audition piece by X Factor itself. It should be noted that the song has been on the radar of the producers for some time, Skyscraper also having been recorded by 2012 contenders Union J as their potential winners single only for the group to be eliminated at the semi-final stage - the track subsequently turning up on their debut album which was released a few weeks ago. It actually gives one cause to regret that runner-up Nicholas McDonald didn't top the public vote instead, his coronation song of Superman (It Ain't Easy) (originally recorded by Five For Fighting) would have been a far more welcome Christmas Number One and dragged a previously underrated song into the charts in the process.
Still, Sam Bailey has at least spiked the sales of the original version of her song, although not quite to the same extent as in previous years (possibly due to the fact that people are hardly unfamiliar with it). Demi Lovato's take on the song re-enters the Top 40 at Number 37 this week.
The true singles chart battle of the week then was the race for second place, one which was eventually won convincingly by Pharrell Williams with Happy despite a midweek wobble when the soundtrack version of the song was restricted to an album only purchase in favour of a new single issue, a change which briefly confused many people attempting to download it. This is all at the expense of Leona Lewis who is bumped down to Number 3 with her festive offering One More Sleep.
The Christmas singles chart has of late become a rather messy place thanks to the now annual attempts by people gathered on social media to stage an upset in the chart race through the practice of clickbombing - multiple mass purchases of a favoured single in order to propel it to an extraordinary chart placing. Rule changes put in place to prevent the grotesque spectacle of 2009 being repeated mean the chances of any making it to the very top are vanishingly small, but for the moment the fad continues.
This year has at least been refreshingly free of high profile clickbombs. The only one to make any kind of impact was a suggestion to download the AC/DC classic Highway To Hell to mark the group's 40th anniversary in the business, their dogged refusal to face reality and accept the prospect of a lower chart placing having given me much enjoyment over the last seven days. In the event, the single lands at Number 4, the product of multiple purchases by some of as many of nine available versions of the track, meaning that to see this as a true measure of the popularity of the song should be taken with a large pinch of salt. Whilst it isn't a Number One, history will note that this actually breaks a rather famous chart record, ending their run as the most successful act never to have had a Top 10 hit single. It is regrettable in a way however that it does so in a way which actually devalues the act of charting this high. This is a chart placing led by fan manipulation, not genuine popularity.
Still, the metal mob at least bested the ravers, some media outlets before the event suggesting that a clickbomb devoted to a 1992 rave classic - Active 8 (Come With Me) by Altern-8 - stood a chance of helping the single to better the Number 3 peak it first scaled a little over 22 years ago. Not a chance, as the single limps to Number 33 to at the very least return the boiler-suited duo to the charts for the first time since Everybody peaked at Number 58 in July 1993.
The only other new entry of the week is a charity cover of the Wizzard 1973 classic I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday as performed by The Big Reunion Cast which enters at Number 21. As the name suggests, this is a collaborative effort by the members of a series of faded pop bands, all of whom have featured on the TV series The Big Reunion which traces their efforts to make it big once more. The single features the likes of Five, 911, Atomic Kitten, B*witched, The Honeyz and Liberty X and is as much of a mess as you might expect. At the very least it beats the chart performance of the original which drops 31-41 this week to miss out on the Christmas chart altogether.
The big winners of the X Factor final broadcast appear to be The Killers who performed two songs as the interval act on the Saturday show and are rewarded with a pleasing sales spike. Singles collection Direct Hits moves 25-10 whilst their 2004 debut hit Mr Brightside (far and away their biggest seller) returns to the Top 40 at Number 29, the first time since its original chart run almost exactly ten years ago that it has climbed this high.
The release of The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug in the last couple of weeks has had a beneficial effect on Ed Sheeran's soundtrack single I See Fire. Having originally peaked at Number 13 back in November, the single storms back onto the chart at Number 20 this week having re-entered just outside the Top 40 seven days ago.
Attention now turns to the prospects of singles next week and indeed moving forward into the new year. Of particular interest are the various tracks from the album Beyonce which were finally made available for single download on Friday last week. That was far too late to have much of an impact on this chart, but it does seem that the track Drunk In Love is the downloaders pick of choice, entering at Number 57 this week with Mine the second most popular track from the album, charting at Number 89.