Here Come The Lil' Muffins
One year ago this week Adele unleashed her globe-straddling 25 album on the world. In Britain alone the album sold over 800,000 copies in its first week, selling a further 440,00 and 350,000 over the next two. In the most dramatic way possible it put the gloss on the biggest sales period of the year and made overall music sales for the end of 2015 look far more respectable than they might otherwise have been.
Fast forward a year and whilst nothing of the calibre of Adele was on the horizon, there was still a hope that something would come along in the albums market to "rescue Q4" and make a limp year look a little more respectable when the final tallies come in at the end of December. Yet the potentials all came and went. Olly Murs and Robbie Williams did OK but no more. Emeli Sande who was white hot in 2012 was lukewarm second time around and has failed to impress so far. And hopes that there would be a surprise Ed Sheeran album before the end of the year look almost certain to be dashed. So the question is, who is left to rescue Quarter 4?
Well extraordinarily for now it looks like being Little Mix. The 2011 X Factor winners released their fourth album Glory Days this week, a record which shot into a commanding sales lead by the time of the first midweek flashes. Speculation was rife that it would become only the second album this year to achieve a weekly sale over 100,000 copies. And when you consider the big names which have tried and failed, that would have been a very big deal indeed. In the event they didn't quite manage it, but the album's total sale of 96,000 combined sales is still second only to David Bowie's Blackstar (with 146,000) as the fastest selling long playing record of the year.
Glory Days also manages to set a series of fun benchmarks for an all-female group, perhaps most notably selling more copies in a single week than any other British all-female act since the second Spice Girls album Spiceworld opened with 192,000 back in 1997. After four releases falling short the record also takes Little Mix to the top of the album chart for the very first time.
Precisely how many Number One albums have been recorded by X Factor contestants caused some furrowed brows at the start of the weekend. Both Syco themselves and the Official Charts Company believed the total was 23 and trumpeted this accordingly. I counted them myself and came to the same conclusion only for Alan Jones in Music Week to insist there were 24. And as is so often the case he was right. The intial list of 23 I counted was:
1 x G4
1 x Steve Brookstein
1 x Journey South
1 x Shayne Ward
1 x Ray Quinn
2 x Leona Lewis
1 x Alexandra Burke
1 x JLS
1 x Diana Vickers
4 x Olly Murs
4 x One Direction
1 x Sam Bailey
1 x Ella Henderson
1 x ZAYN
1 x James Arthur
1 x Little Mix
The missing 24th? 2012 runner-up Jahmene Douglas whose Love Never Fails topped the charts in 2013. So now you know.
Perhaps most impressively of all there have been no less than four X Factor acts who have had Number One albums this year (ZAYN, Olly Murs, James Arthur and now Little Mix) whilst the last three chart-topping albums have all been from alumni of the TV talent show.
Let's not get too carried away though, the sales of the Little Mix album tailed off dramatically during the week suggesting that their large sale was primarily front loaded and the product of some quite hefty fan-centred marketing. But in a year when the Number One album has frequently struggled to sell more than 30,000 copies in a week, and when one topped the charts selling just over 7,000, Little Mix have given us a brief reminder of how the good times felt.
Bandits Cleaning Up All Over
I'll never pass up a chance to note how extraordinary Clean Bandit are as a group. Because as an idea they are barmy. A producer/DJ and his brother, accompanied by his clasically-trained cello-playing girlfriend making odd hybrids of dance and classical music. And a group without a permanent lead singer, relying instead on hired help, be they the friends and associates who helped in their early days to the big mainstream names their success now means they can attract. That really shouldn't work, yet it does because they have somehow hit a perfect groove of making the most perfectly realised pop/dance records of the year.
As you may have gathered, Rockabye continues to dominate the singles market. The track spends a third straight week at Number One on the Official UK Singles chart - further extending the current unprecedented run by being the 8th successive Number One record to do so. They had competition however, with the Rae Sremmurd track Black Beatles at one stage threatening their streaming crown and moving into second place on both sales and streaming tables, now just 14,000 combined sales behind. If any record is going to ascend to Number One in the next week it seems almost certain to be the Mannequin Challenge soundtrack. And to think few seem to have made it a potential Christmas Number One contender yet - but more on that later.
You Lied To Me
There is steady progress up the charts for Nevada's The Mack, the tropical house reworking of Mark Morrison's 1996 Number One hit Return Of The Mack and for which he also gets a performers credit. The single rises 23-17 this week (Sales: 17, Streams: 19) and now returns Morrison the Top 20 for the first time since his originally titled Who's The Mack crept to Number 13 in September 1997. His last original chart hit was back in 2006 when he teamed up with DMX for the track Innocent Man, its Number 46 peak calling a halt to that particular comeback.
Of course we cannot talk of comebacks without reference to Craig David who was supposed this week to have rounded off his extraordinary year with the final exclamation point on his return to the mainstream. This was thanks to his performance of All We Needed which had been annointed as the official anthem of this year's BBC Children In Need appeal and as a result enjoyed widespread exposure last week on the charity telethon itself. The chart performance of the track once more hammers home the way the traditional method of having someone perform a song on TV no longer translates properly to chart success. All We Needed was indeed popular with the audience, rocketing to Number 8 on the sales chart. But its streams were negligible, translating to an official chart placing of a mere Number 42. Last year Jess Glynne reached Number 6 with Take Me Home whilst two years ago Gareth Malone's all-star choir performing Wake Me Up made Number One. That's quite the reversal of charity fortunes.
Ready For The Weeknd
His current hit single Starboy may be nine weeks old but The Weeknd's recording has set up camp inside the Top 10 and refuses to be shifted. It is joined in the Top 40 this week by two new promotional tracks from his new album (of which the lead single is the title track) - I Feel It Coming which has the added kudos of Daft Punk along for the ride debuts at Number 18 (Sales: 15, Streams: 22) whilst a little lower down Party Monster lands at Number 33 (Sales: 41, Streams: 32). The album Starboy finally hit stores this week meaning a debut at or near the top of the charts seems more than likely.
Stream It All Night
I've mentioned in the past how The Vamps are kings of the one week wonders, releasing singles that as a general rule bubble around the lower end of the chart before rocketing to a surprise peak following a physical release, only to take a tumble seven days later. They market to their fans and nobody else, it really is that simple. Their current single All Night has however traced an even odder path of late. Its "physical" peak did indeed occur two weeks ago when it rocketed to Number 24 and sure enough the single dived back down to Number 41 a week ago. This week however it has done what no other Vamps single before it has done and rebounded, rising back up the charts to Number 26. A look at the individual format tables gives you a clue as to why. Sure enough the sales of the track take a dive this week, the single dipping to Number 32. But crucially the track found its way onto the UK Hot Hits playlist on Spotify last week, boosting its streaming potential and indeed its totals to the extent that it rockets up that table to Number 27 (up from 55 last week) and thus giving its overall chart position this unexpected boost.
Please Lose Money Responsibly
It is official Christmas Number One season in Official Charts Company land as well, as they posted up their own article on the potential runners and riders for the one chart placing which we are told matters more than any other despite most people having forgotten precisely why. Interestingly this seems to have forced the hand of some of the bookmakers, Paddy Power now placing the London Hospices Choir as 2-1 favourite working on the basis that lightning will strike two years running. That dumps the still unnamed X Factor winner down to second place with James Corden in third place at 5-1. Despite the fact that his track is now fully available and yet fails to chart at all this week. But it is still early days. Over on Betfair there has also been money come in for the London Hospice Choir, trading at 2-1 as I speak. They still haven't added Rae Stremmurd to the market either, unlike Paddy Power who have now installed them at 20-1.
All of this for now is sticking a finger in the air and hoping, one cannot predict how the sales and most importantly of all streaming market will be behaving until the chart week itself. However those reading this column will note one important thing - even if the Christmas chart is invaded by virtue signalling charity rubbish, this year more than ever such one-off singles will have to contend with the fact that they cannot generate the kind of streaming momentum than existing hit singles enjoy. Your attempt to become Christmas Number One will have to deal with the fact that the biggest 'proper' hit of the moment will be streamed at least 3.5m times - possibly even more. Giving you a 35,000 sales deficit to overcome before you have even started. It is also worth noting that streams hit a new record this week, the Official Charts Company tracking just over 9 million chart sales worth of music plays. That's a full 86% of the total singles market. Whilst those numbers are skewed to an ever increasing long tail and don't reflect the true balance at the top of the market (Clean Bandit had a 58:42 streams:sales ratio) it is clear we are rapidly approaching the point where the sell-through market for singles means hardly anything at all. Which is bad news for charity choirs of the future.