Sail On, Silver Bird
It seemed hardly possible for anything else in the relentless parade of intense news events this past summer to dominate public thoughts and debate, but it happened. The occasion this time was the night of June 14th 2017 when the 24-storey Grenfell Tower block of flats in West London burned out to a shell in a manner which defied all attempts to control it. Tens died, more were injured and hundreds of people were rendered homeless and devoid of all possessions. It sent public bodies into near meltdown trying to deal with a humanitarian tragedy unfolding slap in the middle of one of the richest cities in Europe and sparked an extraordinary public debate over just where the finger of blame could be pointed.
In the middle of it all were still the victims, and although charitable bodies and an official appeal were immediately inundated with offers of financial and physical help, there was clearly scope for one more gesture to be made. It fell to Simon Cowell to announce the production of - you guessed it - an all-star charity ensemble single to raise money for the Grenfell Tower disaster fund.
This was naturally greeted with groans in some quarters, charity singles now having passed beyond the realm of cliche and hit "oh no here we go again" status as far as many music fans are concerned. But, given the right circumstances, they still work. And Simon Cowell has form in this area. Aside from the run of ensemble singles performed by X Factor contenders which gave the show almost guaranteed Number One hits at the turn of the decade, he was also the mastermind behind the Helping Haiti cover of Everybody Hurts which had a brief run at the top of the charts in February 2010. So fair play, he's held off on resurrecting the idea for a fair while now.
The song of choice for Artists For Grenfell is Bridge Over Troubled Water, originally performed by Simon and Garfunkel as the title track for their then globe-straddling album of the same name. Written by Paul Simon but sung solo by Art Garfunkel (a matter which would cause a great deal of friction between them over the years), the song is justifiably one of pop music's all-time standards. Simon and Garfunkel's recording was a Number One single for three weeks in March 1970 although it was on top of the charts more recently than that, forming part of the A Bridge Over You medley which saw the Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Choir grab the Christmas Number One in 2015. Up there with Yesterday as one of the most-covered tracks of all time this new version is, NHS choir medleys aside, only the fourth chart version of the full original ever and the first since a House remake by PJB featuring Hannah And Her Sisters reached Number 21 in September 1991.
This latest version suffers perhaps a little from that which now afflicts all superstar charity singles, sucking much of the soul out of the actual song in favour of name-spotting and letting everyone have a go on a line. But if you'd longed to hear the likes of Stormzy, Emeli Sande, Paloma Faith and Robbie Williams altogether on record, this is your chance. Plus of course there is a good cause behind it all.
Releasing the single the moment it was ready was a big risk, the track premiering on the radio on Wednesday morning and going on sale immediately afterwards. If the single had opened as a mid-table chart entry after just two days sales it might have seemed a waste of everyone's time. But such was the nature of the tragedy that the right numbers of people responded in kind. As you may have read elsewhere, Bridge Over Troubled Water opened its sales account with a whopping sale of 120,000 copies on its first day alone, putting it into an immediate and commanding lead in the race to be Number One. That said, the single's two-day total was a mere 170,000 copies (just 1,785 of these attributed to online streams - equivalent to just over a quarter of a million plays). So 'just' 50,000 more sales on Thursday. Which hardly bodes well for the single's chances in seven days time.
But still, the point was made, the cause was highlighted and the due amount of money will be raised. This is one of those occasions when music wasn't the point, the cause was. And if nothing else it means for the second time in the space of a month the singles chart has acted as the ultimate barometer not just of popular taste, but of people's need to share their caring about a tragedy through the healing power of music.
On one final trivia note, this is far from the first time Bridge Over Troubled Water has been co-opted as the subject of an all-star charity ensemble. It was first used by a collective called The Session, made up largely of backing singers and jobbing musicians and recorded in September 1987 in aid of the appeal for victims of the Hungerford shootings which had taken place that summer. The reason you've never heard of it before? It was a resounding failure.
She Remind Me Of A West Side Story
Spare a small thought for Luis Fonsi's Despacito which briefly has to give way and so is denied a seventh straight week at Number One, despite its sales lifting slightly and cracking the 100,000 barrier for a fourth week in a row. It achieves the remarkable feat of continuing to be stranded at the top of the market without actually this week being top of the market and indeed is the first single to sell 100,000 copies in a week and not top the charts since Ed Sheeran's Castle On The Hill was stuck behind his own Shape Of You at the start of the year.
So in a world where nothing caught on fire, what would have been the biggest deal of the week and the distant challenger to Fonsi's chart crown? Well that would have been DJ Khaled's almost impolitely rapid follow-up to his recent Number One smash hit I'm The One (which is still a major, major hit and slips this week two places to Number 9). The bearded babyface producer's new single is Wild Thoughts which features most prominently a guest vocal from no less a star than Rihanna and which smashes its way in at Number 3 (Sales: 3, Streams: 2). There is a nagging sense of "heard this before", as the track doesn't so much sample or "interpolate" as lift wholesale the melody and even guitar solo's from Maria Maria which was a Number 6 hit for Santana featuring The Project G&B in August 2000 - the track a core part of the legendary guitarist's celebrated comeback album Supernatural. If you are familiar with the original then this new take on the concept jars slightly, and like so many of Rihanna's recent tracks it substitutes melody for vibes and attitude. But what do I know? It is a certified smash hit and in the process returns Rihanna to the Top 3 of the Official UK Singles chart for the first time since last summer. The other voice on the single is that of Bryson Tiller whose only other previous chart credit was actually contemporaneous with the chart run of Work, his hit Don't making a rather lesser-starred Number 17.
Both DJ Khaled hits are taken from his tenth studio album Grateful which is released this week. It hardly needs a maths genius to work out it is destined to sell more than the previous nine put together.
Girl Power (or did we already do that one?)
The only other track to penetrate the Top 10 this week is Little Mix's Power which lifts 13-10 (Sales: 6, Streams: 14) and duly gives Little Mix an 11th Top 10 hit single, and perhaps more impressively the third from their Glory Days album. Needless to say this continues to be a hit rate in excess of any X Factor winning act to date. This is to the detriment for now of Rita Ora whose four week old hit Your Song reverses last week's fall, but is for now stranded shy of returning her to the Top 10 for the first time in two years. It moves 15-11 this week (Sales: 7, Streams: 16).
Put Me Under Siege With Your Feels
There's more brand new music at Number 21 (Sales: 12, Streams: 25) thanks to the debut of Calvin Harris' fourth chart single of 2017 Feels. The superstar power of guest performers such as Big Sean, Katy Perry and Pharrell Williams give this track a far more respectable chart debut than its immediate predecessor Rollin' which limped to Number 44 just a month ago. Harris' originally stated plan for all ten tracks from his new album to be drip-fed as individual single releases over the course of the year seems to have been abandoned, the album Funk Wav Bounces Vol.1 now slated for release next week (June 30th) although its full tracklisting has at the time of writing yet to be revealed. No formal video for Feels exists (if, assuming it ever will), just a short official audio preview. But it is enough to sell the point that this is actually his best effort for some considerable time.
It's A Dirty Job
It is Glastonbury weekend and one of the first notable moments of the festival came with the presentation to Royal Blood of their Official Chart Award, the Brighton-based rock duo's second album How Did We Get So Dark charging straight to the top of the charts as a follow-up to their 2014 self-titled debut which was itself one of the fastest selling rock albums of the decade. So naturally, somebody from the Official Charts Company had to trek to Worthy Farm to hand them their gong just before their Friday evening set.
Not everyone can have the kind of first week opening DJ Khaled managed, but that doesn't always mean a total loss, just that some patience is required. 2014's breakout discovery George Ezra returned this week, lending his mellifluous tones to new single Don't Matter Now, but its Number 69 debut is hardly that befitting a man who was garnished with praise and awards following his debut. Mind you, he has it better than poor Geri Halliwell who was all over as much of the press as she could during the week talking up her track Angels In Chains, her tribue to her late friend George Michael. Widely panned for its sledgehammer lyrics which attempt to shoehorn in as many references to his own tracks as possible, the single not even cracking the Top 100, although she has the small consolation of being one of the voices heard in the ensemble on Bridge Over Troubled Water.
Finally, having knocked the sales market for its decade-long lows last week it seems only fair to acknowledge the sudden surge in volume of paid for singles this week. The market grew by almost 13% over last week, with 11% of that being attributed to the large demand for the Grenfell single. I've seen the remaining 2% attributed to the number of people firing up iTunes or Amazon's mp3 store for the first time in a while and going "oh, while I'm here". Music buying is habit forming, but don't expect too many people to get into the habit once more.
Oh yes, and at the risk of reducing this to just a footnote, it has now been announced there will be tweaks to the chart rules from the start of July, restricting multiple chart singles from single artists and providing a way for older, declining hits to be eased aside. Full details in another place.