Exactly ten years ago this week the face of the UK charts changed forever as the digital era truly began. Any track, whether a 'single' or not, could chart just as long as enough people had purchased it. The change that comes into effect this week isn't quite as dramatic, more an evolution of the status quo. The effects, though, are if anything far more visible than anything which took place a decade ago. As we noted this week, the streaming ratio used to calculate "chart sales" has changed. It now takes 150 streams to equate to one purchase rather than 100. And as will become clear this apparently minor change has for this week at least let a fox loose in the chicken coop. But I'll get to that in due course.
We Don't Need A Crowded Ballroom
2017 is here. Starting with a bang, the usual array of fireworks, a renewed sense of hope and the thrill of expectation that a calendar change always brings with it. Oh yes, and with Clean Bandit still holding firm at the top of the Official UK Singles chart. Having appeared to be flagging badly just before Christmas and indeed topping the charts a fortnight ago with one of its smallest sales yet, the very fact that Rockabye became Christmas Number One against the odds appears to have given the single renewed impetus. It follows last week's sales and streams surge with another huge set of totals, taking it well clear of any of the chasing pack - ratio change or no ratio change. The result is a spectacular ninth week at Number One, taking the single across the kind of threshold which separates big hits from the legendary. Rockabye is in fact only the 18th song in chart history to register as many as nine weeks at the top of the charts, a feat only slightly dulled by the fact that the 17th of these also came during the last year. Perhaps more significantly Rockabye has spent more weeks at the top of the charts than any other single by a UK act since the 15 week run of Love Is All Around by Wet Wet Wet back in 1994.
Indeed for there to be two such long-running Number One hits in close proximity to each other is exceptionally rare, the nine months or so separating the start of the Number One run of Drake's One Dance and the end (to this point) of Clean Bandit's stretch manages to beat the 12 month separation between Crazy by Gnarls Barkley (a nine-week chart-topper) in 2006 and Rihanna and Jay-Z's ten week spell with Umbrella in 2007. The last time singles with at least nine weeks at the top of the charts to their name charted within a year of each other came at the end of the 1970s - Mull Of Kintyre by Wings clocking up its nonagon starting in December 1977 only to be relatively swiftly followed by You're The One That I Want by John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John which began its own nine-week run in June 1978.
Still The Same
With the industry trend of recent years being to wait until January is well underway before pushing major new product, it isn't actually that unusual to see December time hits extend their tenure at the top of the market through to the start of the new year. Indeed 2013, 2015 and 2016 all saw pre-Christmas Number One hits return to the top of the charts (having briefly surrendered the crown to transient Christmas Number One singles) and spent January reasserting their sales dominance. The only difference this year is that Clean Bandit's chart run has proceeded without interruption.
The inevitable consequence of this extended industry Christmas break is a lack for now of any major new chart activity. Instead, the big hits of recent weeks continue to jockey for position, all the while unable to quite come close to Clean Bandit's coat tails. The Top 3 swap themselves around again, Rag'N'Bone Man's Human reclaims the Number 2 position (Sales: 1, Streams: 8), bumping Zara Larsson back down to Number 3 (Sales: 3, Streams: 4) with I Would Like. Touch by Little Mix holds firm at 4 (Sales: 4, Streams: 2) whilst the Top 5 is rounded off by the track which has been one of the most streamed tracks not called Rockabye over the Christmas period - Starboy by The Weeknd featuring Daft Punk. That single leaps 8-5 this week (Sales: 10, Streams: 3) to return the Top 5 after a fortnight away and extending its continuous Top 10 run to a massive 15 weeks.
Also on the bounce is Sexual from Neiked. Having peaked at Number 5 four weeks ago the single quickly dipped and has spent the past fortnight at Number 11. Reignited once more it climbs back to Number 6 this week (Sales: 8, Streams: 5), the fifth time it has charted in that position during its 17 week chart run.
Keep Ringing The Old
It is lower down where things become a little more interesting. As I noted a week ago, the primary effect of the new chart rules is to smooth out the skew between the burgeoning streaming market and the smaller but still faster-moving sales tables. The result is that a large number of tracks whose online performance had yet to match their purchased popularity make what at first sight appear to be surprising and dramatic leaps. Whilst this has also benefitted some older singles (Can't Stop The Feeling leaps 39-21 and even One Dance jumps 42-24) the main focus naturally will be on previously struggling newer hits which now find their overall chart positions look far more respectable and perhaps more in line with expectations.
Leading the charge of these "boosted" hits is September Song from JP Cooper. This single marks the solo debut of the man who made his first chart appearance as the guest singer on Jonas Blue's Number 2 hit Perfect Strangers last summer. Having first charted at the tail end of December his single ended up marooned at Number 45 for a fortnight over the Christmas holiday but now that its sales "mean" rather more it catches fire with a giant leap to Number 16 (Sales: 15, Streams: 26).
I Wanna Know Now
A track making much slower progress until now has been John Legend's Love Me Now which first arrived for an abbreviated chart run at the end of October. It made the Top 40 for the first time at the start of December but spent the run-up to Christmas showing little sign of generating the streaming interest which would allow it to climb the charts, appearing to have peaked at Number 30 a fortnight before Christmas. The new chart methodology kicks in here and it finally springs into life this week with a 38-17 jump (Sales: 12, Streams: 35), in the process taking John Legend into the Top 20 for the first time since he guested alongside Sam Smith on the Number One hit Lay Me Down in early 2015.
Pass The Hand Gel
Fast becoming a core part of the new year celebrations is the live concert presented by the BBC and which features a star name performing their biggest hits in a set which neatly straddles the Thames firework display at midnight. Robbie Williams was the feature attraction this year and it was inevitable that the high profile exposure would give him some kind of boost. That said, it is hard to discern where the live TV effect ends and the chart methodology begins. All we do know is that his current single Love My Life has up until now been the posted child for the issues with the old rules - selling enough at times to rank as a Top 10 download but remaining utterly bereft of streams. The latter whilst curious should not come as too much of a surprise - he's a veteran chart act after all. A man who your mum crushed on as a pre-teen. To continue to view the superannuated star as a pop singer with wide appeal is more than a little fallacious. But still he is expected to land hit singles. Love My Life has spent most of the last month heavily promoted and discounted on iTunes but all the while failing to recapture even close to the Number 33 peak it scaled back in November. Until today. This week the track leaps 55-22 (Sales: 5, Streams: uncharted), and becomes Robbie's biggest chart hit since Go Gentle reached Number 10 in November 2013 - before the streaming era started.
Before anyone comments, yes, another factor in the chart resurgence for so many established hits is the more or less wholesale absence of Christmas songs which have dominated the tables for the past few weeks - but the differences this week are far in excess of any that we have seen at any time in the past ten years. It should be noted that the late blossoming success of some of the seasonal hits results in a brand new chart record being set this week. Marah Carey's All I Want For Christmas Is You sets a new benchmark for the most spectacular chart collapse in history, dropping from Number 5 to out of the Top 200 altogether. As one online correspondent noted, technically this isn't the first single to collapse from 5 to nowhere, but the other one was Crazy by Gnarls Barkley which vanished from the chart in mid-2006 due to rules in place at the time which forced the removal of singles whose physical release had been deleted regardless of their digital sales. But that was a technicality. Mariah is due to a genuine switch in appeal, her only consolation the fact that she will be back once more in around 11 months time.
I'm A Different Person
We are still awaiting new stuff on the Official UK Albums chart too but for the moment that leaves breathing space for Little Mix to retain their crown and spend a fourth week in total at Number One with Glory Days. As the Official Charts Company have excitedly noted in the media, this matches the chart run of Destiny's Child's Survivor from 2001 which was hitherto the record holder for the most successful album of the millennium by an all-female act.
The most interesting chart move of the week is actually just below, a 24-2 flying leap for Classic House by Pete Tong and the Heritage Orchestra. The collection of classic club hits re-imagined with a full orchestral arrangement received its highest profile publicity to date with a live performance on the Graham Norton Show which aired on New Year's Eve just before the Robbie Williams concert. The medley of Right Here, Right Now and Lola's Theme (the latter featuring a vocal performance from Janet "Cookie" Ramus who sang on the chart-topping original back in 2004) was enough to capture the attention of people who failed to spot the album's brilliance when first released, at which time it originally peaked at Number 16. It was a narrow thing though, the gap between Pete Tong at Number 2 and Ball and Boe at Number 3 was apparently just 38 copies.
Call The Bloody A Team Then
This is, however, your seven-day warning - the new year lull has lasted just a week this time around. All of 2016 we endured a huge superstar-shaped hole in British music. Next week Ed Sheeran is back to fill it. And how.