Out With The Old Etc.
It is the end of one year and the dawn of a new and in so many ways this is to an extent the end of one particular chart era. Almost buried in the flurry of music news just before the Christmas holiday came the announcement that, as predicted on these pages back in August, the so-called "streaming ratio" is to change as of January. Having been calculated on the basis that 100 streams of a track are equal to one digital sale since 2014, the Official Singles Chart will now be based on a 150:1 ratio.
Gradual changes to this ratio were always inevitable from the word go as the music business transitions gently from a model of music ownership to that of online consumption and make no mistake this will not be the last we see over the coming years. As to what the consequences of this change will be, well despite bold predictions from some quarters of a revolutionary shift this actually remains to be seen. This won't result in an overnight reversal of the current trends for singles to be marooned at the top end of the market for weeks on end, nor dramatically increase the number of newer hits breaking through.
What this will do however is correct the slightly anomalous situation we have at present whereby a Top 10 selling single might miss the Top 40 altogether if its streams are inadequate or entirely absent. Such has been the fate of Robbie Williams' Love My Life over the holiday period. On the Christmas chart it was the 10th most purchased single of the week but was only Number 53 combined. We should see less of this going forward, although it is worth noting that it only requires the streaming market to grow by another 50% in the first few months of the year to wipe out the effect of these changes altogether.
To those who wonder just why we are adjusting the singles chart to effectively rebalance things back in favour of the declining and dying segment of the market, I hear you loud and clear. But whilst we have a singles chart tracking two different markets and acting as a hybrid of both, it only makes sense to continue to ensure they are equal partners as long as it remains viable to do so.
Stray So Far Away
Onto matters concerning this week then, and welcome to a chart week which covers a strange hinterland, straddling as it does the end of the Christmas rush and the main part of the post-season lull. In years gone by changing technology and circumstances have conspired to make this in turn both the lowest and highest selling weeks of the year. The streaming age means it is now neither, but still a chart subject to the pull of random events.
One year ago this week the 2015 Christmas Number One set a new record for the biggest ever fall from Number One. This year its 2016 counterpart does the exact opposite, Rockabye by Clean Bandit holds firm for a phenomenal eighth consecutive week at Number One. Perhaps even more incredibly it does so with an increase in its combined sales, climbing back to the top of the sales table and only bumped down to Number 3 on the streaming chart by a pair of Christmas tracks. The single's combined total of 78,255 copies is extraordinarily the second highest of its chart run so far.
Our lazy expectations that Rag'N'Bone Man's Human was the track destined to succeed it at the top take a slight knock as it dips to Number 3 (Sales: 3, Streams: 20) this week, beaten by Zara Larsson's I Would Like which rises to Number 2 (Sales: 2, Streams: 10) to take over the mantle of her highest charting hit to date (Lush Life peaked at Number 3 at the start of 2016).
Never Gonna Dance Again
As doubtless everyone reading this is aware, the most significant music story of the week was the tragic death of George Michael, announced late on Christmas Day. In a year which has seen more than its fair share of superstar musician deaths, this one hit a particular generation hardest of all. A man who was both a teen idol in his youth and one of Britain's most highly acclaimed singer-songwriters in his more mature years, his was a talent which will be sorely missed and inevitably one which people wanted to celebrate with the usual posthumous consumption of his output.
However as we saw earlier this year with the passing of both David Bowie and Prince, these posthumous surges seem to be compressed into a 48 hour period and whilst George Michael passed away late on Sunday, just a few days into the survey period, the impact of his death on the singles chart is rather more muted than initial signs might have led people to expect.
In fact, none of his solo singles manage to reach the Top 40 on the Official UK Singles chart. The best performing is 1984 Number One Careless Whisper which charts at Number 44 (Sales:18, Streams: 81), extraordinarily the first time the classic single has returned to the charts since its original chart run 32 years ago. There are just two others in the Top 100 - Faith at Number 64 and his 1991 live duet with Elton John on Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me at Number 91.
As you might expect the biggest impact is reserved for the Official UK Albums Chart as his 1998 hits compilation Ladies And Gentlemen - The Best Of George Michael charges to Number 8, its own highest chart placing since its first issue 18 years ago. The album enjoyed what we are told was a 5625% surge in sales and streams last week. Fascinatingly the vast bulk of those were digital downloads, although given the lack of physical product available during a week when everyone is on holiday this may not be as shocking as it may first appear. His individual tracks may not have enjoyed a large focus but as a collection, they were in high demand.
But The Very Next Day
There is, however, one notable George Michael-related exception. By an unhappy coincidence, the death of the singer coincided with the annual peak in popularity of festive classics. Last Christmas by Wham! was already riding high in the streaming tables on Christmas Day and following the news of that day's tragedy maintained its numbers in sufficient quantity to lead the pack by some distance. The result is a dramatic leap, the seasonal favourite flying 16-7 (Sales: 34, Streams: 2) to reach the Top 10 both for the first time in the digital era and indeed occupy its highest chart position since it reached Number 6 when re-released in December 1985. On first release the single (paired with double a-side Everything She Wants) sold in sufficient quantities to not only become the first officially certified million-seller not to top the charts but also to become the highest selling non-chart-topper of all time, a badge of honour it retains to this day.
Indeed had it not been for George Michael's death the most notable chart story of the week would have been the performance of the Christmas classics overall. Christmas Day saw online demand for holiday favourites reach unheard of levels, the Clean Bandit single literally the only unseasonal track amongst the 40 most played songs on Spotify that day. Despite this surge peaking in only the third day of the chart survey and dropping off dramatically thereafter, its is enough to ensure that Christmas songs dominate the Top 100 singles like never before. 13 make the Top 40, 28 reach the Top 75 and in total 40 of this week's Top 100 singles all relate to Christmas in some manner.
This results in some fascinating firsts. It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year reaches the Top 40 for only the second time ever, its Number 24 placing just shy of the Number 21 it scaled in 2007 in its first year of digital inevitability. Even more notable however is the presence of not one by two versions of Santa Baby in the Top 75. It had been one of the favourite curiosities of chart-watchers that not one version of this most traditional of seasonal favourites had ever been anything resembling a hit single, despite multiple recordings by contemporary acts over the years. Now we have two. Leading the charts is the recently passed Eartha Kitt whose original and definitive take on the song hits Number 63. She is closely followed by Kylie Minogue whose recording (originally released on the b-side of her 2000 single Please Stay) climbs to Number 72 after several years of near-misses when it came close to the Top 75 but fell short every single time.
Shout Out To My Touch
One of the main reasons the digital age saw this final chart week of the year become the most significant for sales was generally presumed to be down to the redemption of gift tokens as people redeemed pre-purchased vouchers to populate their newly obtained devices with content. Whilst changing trends mean this isn't quite the case any longer it is hard not to conclude that the post-Christmas surge enjoyed by one pop act, in particular, can be attributed to the gift token effect. Step forward (in unison) Little Mix who enjoy two side by side Top 10 hits this week as current hit Touch holds firm at Number 4 (Sales: 5, Streams: 8) and is joined by its immediate predecessor Shout Out To My Ex which rebounds 13-6 (Sales: 4, Streams: 17) to reclaim the Top 10 placing it surrendered last week. Meanwhile the parent album of both tracks Glory Days returns to the top of the album chart for what is its third week at Number One.
Honey To The Dumper
It seems odd to end by noting a record that is nowhere to be seen in the charts (spoiler alert) but such was the noise surrounding its release you can guarantee people will be searching for it anyway. Middle class rapping sensation Honey G was the token cannon-fodder contestant on this year's X Factor series only for the recruitment consultant (35 year old Anna Gilford) to defy all expectations and reach the quarter final stage before finally suffering elimination. Not wanting to miss out on exploiting the novelty Honey G was swiftly signed to a deal by Simco which saw her debut single The Honey G Show rush-released on December 23rd in what was clearly an attempt to gatecrash the new year chart Iron Maiden style.
However, unlike Jedward (who were surely the template for her act) who reached Number 2 with their cash-in single in early 2010, Honey G's actual appeal its seems had a shelf life. People liked watching her remain in the competition to upset the apple cart and annoy the producers, but not enough it seems to actually want to consume her music. An initial rush of interest at download failed to maintain its level beyond the first few days of the week and so it falls to me to note that The Honey G show misses the Top 100 altogether this week and almost certainly knocks any ideas for an entire album of this rubbish on the head. Music Week reports that its final resting spot was Number 149 with just 6,451 sales to its name - so we cannot even attribute the competition from Christmas songs to this failure. Mind you, 6,000 sales was enough to make it the 35th most purchased track of the week. Food for thought for those who still believe download sales are a reliable barometer of popularity.
Take A Cup Of Kindness
That I guess is that. With this chart 2016 is officially over and we can look ahead to a bold new future of 150:1 streams and please God a brand new Number One before we get old. Thanks as always to everyone who has read and commented on these words over the past 12 months and indeed followed them around as we settle back into a brand new home. See you on the other side, happy new year.