Will You Still Need Me, Will You Still Feed Me
Permit me a moment of personal indulgence, but November 10th 1992 just happened to be the date that the very first of these series of columns was posted to usenet. 25 years on and my idle hobby and a chance to contribute something to the global fount of knowledge has given me a fascinating mini-career and resulted in nearly 1300 weekly columns - the entire archive of this you can find on this site if you are so minded. Glad you could all come along for the ride, and as long as I have ears to appreciate music and fingers to type, I'll continue sharing the ins and outs of the UK charts for as much of the next quarter century as I can.
This is a good week to have an anniversary, as we have a true British superstar in our midst.
Covering My Ears
As one of the two remaining guaranteed smash hit releases of this year's quarter 4, the release of Sam Smith's second album The Thrill Of It All was all but certain to be the event of the week. His debut In The Lonely Hour holds the all-time record for most visits to the top of the Official UK Albums chart by a male soloist and the follow-up starts as it means to go on by flying straight to Number One itIts. It's first week sale is 97,000 copies - actually just short of the 102,000 achieved by Liam Gallagher four weeks ago and not quite enough to make him the fifth artist this year to sell over 100,000 albums in a single week (Ed Sheeran, Take That and Rag N'Bone man the others). What is most fascinating though is the format breakdown of those 97,000 copies. 14% were streams, 21% downloads whilst the lion's share of the total - 64% - were accounted for by good old fashioned physical CDs. The biggest stars are still the ones who can shift significant numbers of physical product, it is just that they are few and far between, and by and large the acts who appeal to a far wider and much older demographic.
The release of the Sam Smith album means the singles chart is populated with his permitted three hit tracks as well. It results in former Number One Too Good At Goodbyes rocketing back 7-3, teaser hit Pray jumping 59-26 to beat the Number 39 it scaled as an instant grat four weeks ago and what we are told is the album's second official single One Last Song which makes its chart bow at Number 27. There would almost certainly be others, had the chart rules still allowed this, with all of the album's tracks streaming enough to in theory land on the Top 75. Except that none of them are eligible to.
Smith will have also benefitted from the screening on Thursday night of a BBC special which allowed him to perform many of the new tracks from the album, although this was just a few hours before the chart survey closed, suggesting the true knock-on effects of that won't be seen until next week. How can we be certain? Well, we are now one week removed from a similarly-themed Harry Styles TV special which aired a week last Thursday (November 2nd). The effect on him is rather more muted, perhaps given the way it is a curious re-start of promotion for his solo album after it was effectively paused during the summer given the star's promotional commitments to the Dunkirk film in which he had a starring role. With the aim clearly now to give the album a kick, on the back of the TV show Harry Styles climbs 38-19 on the album chart. Some consolation given the curious lack of a promoted single to follow up the instant Number One Sign Of The Times from back in the spring.
There is no change at the top of the Official UK Singles chart this week as Havana extends its lead over the still doggedly popular rockstar which holds firm in second place. Given that a few short weeks ago we were wondering if the age of the Camila Cabello single and the resultant risk it had of being moved to ACR and having its streams downgraded would prevent it from ever fulfilling its destiny and reaching the top of the charts. Here we are now with the single spending a second week at Number One and in fact clocking up its highest weekly sales total to date. Increasing sales means no change of a downgrade any time soon. Havana is lodged at Number One at least until the end of the month it seems.
The breakdown of the ongoing battle between the two singles is the same story as before. Havana is the most-purchased track of the week (although it has stiff competition) but only the second most streamed (and indeed its streaming numbers actually fell back slightly this week) whilst rockstar is still a huge streaming smash but with its sales now steadily slipping away, meaning it no longer has the numbers to remain at the top of the charts. Having noted the way the Post Malone single topped the charts with an almost unprecedented 80:20 skew of streams:sales, it is worth pointing out that Havana is Number One this week with a more balanced 60:40 streams:sales split.
Having mentioned the Accelerated Chart Ratio, it is fascinating to note the elephant in the room that is another former Number One single New Rules. The Dua Lipa track has now been on ACR for four weeks but this has had next to no effect on its overall popularity. Still the 4th most streamed track of the week (its first time out of the Top 3 since it first climbed to the top of the charts proper), the single has hovered at 16 or 17 on the singles chart since its downgrade in a manner which indicates it would still easily be a Top 5 hit single under the old rules. Accelerated streaming ratios have been mostly successful in moving long-running hits out of the way and helping them on their way with an organic decline. Every so often though there is a single like New Rules which refuses to bend to anyone's will (or indeed new rules) and just refuses to go away quietly.
Beginning To Look A Lot Like...
The one Top 10 single at present with upward sales momentum is Rita Ora's new hit Anywhere which bucks the recent trend and in seems reaps the benefits of an X Factor performance, jumping 11-5 this week to become her third Top 10 hit of the year and second Top 5 record in a row. Friends and I noted earlier this week that she is listed as high as 33-1 by some bookmakers to be Christmas Number One this year, and based on last year's trend the single which stands the greatest chance seems to be the one which rises to the top just before the end of November. Barring the release of a single which can command instantaneous momentum, I'd wager that Rita Ora's hit is the only current hit with the momentum behind it to top the charts at just the right moment. Keep an eye out.
League Of Gentleman Reference Goes Here
It is the world of grime which gives us the two biggest movers inside the singles chart Top 20 this week. Leading the chart and perhaps surprisingly so is Man's Not Hot from Big Shaq which now has enough crossover momentum to leap 20-11. It is all the more extraordinary when you consider the single is the very antithesis of "keeping it real", a novelty recording made in character by online comedy performer Michael Dapaah. What has helped the track is the new availability of an official video, rather than the footage of the impromptu 1Xtra performance which has been its only visual representation to date.
Online fame is also the source of the popularity of the man who lands himself the biggest new entry of the week with a track that has effectively bypassed all the usual mainstream promotional outlets to land itself an audience. Grime rapper Dave is just 19 years old, hails from Streatham and has spent the past two years popping up on the biggest freestyle channels on YouTube. The release of his Game Over EP means he lands his first ever Top 40 hit singles, How I Met My Ex languishing down at Number 32 but lead track No Words shoots straight into Number 18 (with a third, My 19th Birthday, sitting at Number 55. An all without a note of it being played on mainstream pop stations.
I Can Tell You've Been Watching Me
So I know you are wondering if Sam Smith is one of two superstars left to drop an album before the end of the year, who is the other? Well if you do have to ask you probably aren't paying attention, Taylor Swift's Reputation in the shops as we speak - in a literal sense as well given her decision to delay the streaming release of the set for a week. The steady drip-feed of promotional tracks from the album finally reached a climax this week as the hauntingly gorgeous Call It What You Want debuts at Number 29. In a week which has seen many writers note the power of her songwriting and with the suggestion that this album is the one in which she truly comes of age as a composer, Call It What You Want is her most compelling offering so far. It isn't just the lyric which describes the otherwise indefinable sensation of coming under someone's spell, but an incredibly clever production too which sees her voice carried not so much by instrumentation as multi-layered vocal harmonies.
For now, we are stuck with a lyric video to appreciate it, as just like its predecessor Gorgeous from a fortnight ago the track is officially just a promotional single. Rather awkwardly the track which is technically her current single …Ready For It? and which does have a lavish video is refusing for the moment to take off in the manner that it should. Despite returning in triumph to the Top 40 last week it dips to Number 43 and indeed at 10 weeks old is at risk of being moved swiftly onto ACR once the effect of last week's post-video boost wears off. It means the new album hits the shops without Taylor Swift enjoying anything approaching a big hit single at present - the Number 29 of Call It What You Want her highest charting track of the moment. Amusingly the chart arrival of this new track has for the moment disqualified Number One hit Look What You Made Me Do from the Official UK Singles chart - it is the lowest selling of her four concurrent hits. And only three are allowed to chart.
Nerds Are Terrific In Bed
Chad Hugo and Pharrell Williams were originally hired as songwriters and producers for Virgin Records back in the mid-1990s. Styling themselves as The Neptunes, their reputation as the creators of hit records grew as the decade progressed. The switch to performing came at the turn of the millennium, only for the pair to decide that they needed a new persona distinct from their songwriting partnership. Hence the recruitment of Shay Haley and a rebrand to N*E*R*D, an acronym for No One Ever Really Dies. Or so the story goes, anyway.
The act have been absent from the charts since 2010, a collaboration with Nelly Furtado on the single Hot-N-Fun (a Number 49 hit) their last Top 75 chart entry of any kind, since when Pharrell Williams has achieved a celebrity which has transcended anything he achieved as either producer or performer in the past. All that changes this week with the arrival of the extraordinary sounding Lemon.
Those paying close attention will have spotted that this is a hit which has been two years in the making, the social media feeds of both Pharrell Williams and Rihanna having sprouted random lyrics back in 2015, lyrics which it now turns out form part of Lemon. Still, it was worth the wait. The track itself drags guest star Rihanna out of her comfort zone as she turns MC for the first time, rapping the whole of her extended contribution as Williams does the same. One of the most diverting new singles of the week, the only negative really is that its initial chart impact is slightly less than the online buzz suggested. Lemon charges in at Number 31 this week, at the very least the highest charting N*E*R*D single since Maybe reached Number 25 in June 2004. You would like to think it has the capacity to move higher.