We Were Strong, We Had Grown
During the course of last week, I noted to a BBC journalist that there are two things which can both divide and unite the entire nation: football and music. The charts this week proved to be a fascinating study in what happens when the two intersect.
As the 2018 FIFA World Cup has progressed, the classic track 3 Lions has steadily emerged as the football anthem of choice. By last week's chart, the single was sat at Number 24 in what we had already noted was its best chart performance since the 2010 event. Then on Saturday afternoon England played Sweden in the quarter-finals and this was the point when to put it bluntly everyone went slightly nuts for anything England related, including a 22-year-old pop record. 3 Lions was streamed over a quarter of a million times on Spotify alone and on the download side of things flew swiftly to the top of the live iTunes table, a position it was never to relinquish. The first midweek figures released on Monday afternoon indicated that the vintage but still fresh-sounding track was on course for a quite sensational return to the very top of the charts.
Still, analysts like me sounded a note of caution. The lead the track enjoyed at the top of the market was substantial but not impossible to overcome. Subsequent sales flashes seemed to bear that out. By Tuesday its original lead had been cut from 8,000 chart sales to 6,500. By Wednesday (tracking data up to the end of Tuesday) George Ezra's Shotgun was less than 4,000 behind. With these midweek figures also lacking a full set of streaming numbers, distorting the picture somewhat, there was still by no means a guarantee that 3 Lions would hold on until the end of the week.
It all seemed to hinge on what took place in Moscow against Croatia on Wednesday night. Whilst a victory for England and progress to the World Cup Final would ignite football fever still further, a defeat would surely switch off demand for the single overnight. Yet as it turned out the result (a 2-1 defeat) was irrelevant. Having been streaming at a rate of 300,000 a day since the weekend, 3 Lions once again posted a quarter of a million Spotify plays during the day on Wednesday. We all believed football was "coming home" and the single which was originally conceived to cheer the team on in the 1996 European championships was suddenly the unofficial national anthem all over again.
One final sales flash on Thursday showed that the lead of 3 Lions had now expanded once more, wiping out the losses from earlier in the week. Whilst, as we suspected, the final tallies with a full set of streaming data handed a small advantage back to the George Ezra single, 3 Lions proved to be unstoppable. The final figures: Shotgun 76,253 chart sales; 3 Lions 79,779. Football came home to the top of the charts.
Back Once Again
This is even more of an achievement than it might at first appear, for 3 Lions overcame what seemed to many to be a crippling handicap. This is all thanks to a subtle and largely unadvertised change in the chart rules which also came in last week. Tracks more than three years old are now no longer entitled to an automatic reset of their ACR status and will have their streams permanently applied at a rate of 200:1 paid and 1200:1 free. Whilst this rule has been primarily introduced to stop Christmas singles clogging up the top end of the chart in December as they have been threatening to do since the start of the streaming era, it also impacts track such as 3 Lions which surface for their own reasons. And it was for this reason that nobody truly believed that the vintage track stood a chance of clinging on at the top of the market.
Yet that is just what happened. It helped that the Baddiel/Skinner/Lightning Seeds single was selling in quantities unheard of under normal circumstances, posting a paid for sale of well over 43,000 copies and more than double that of its rivals. But despite the handicap of streams and YouTube plays being worth half of the rest of the market, it was still played enough times online to command over 36,000 chart sales. For only the second time since the Accelerated Chart Ratio rules were introduced just over a year ago, a single has overcome what is supposed to be a crippling handicap and has topped the charts anyway.
3 Lions thus writes itself a brand new chapter in British chart history. Picking out exactly how is more than a little complicated, as the past feats of the single already make it more or less unique. This is all thanks to the way it topped the charts twice in three years during the 1990s, first in its original form in 1996 and then in a newly re-recorded version with new lyrics in 1998. With sales and streams of the two combined for this week's chart it muddies the waters slightly as to which version we consider to have made Number One here, but with the vast majority of the popular attention having been focused on the '96 recording it seems only fair to regard this one as the one topping the charts once again in 2018.
The Official Charts Company are happy to now regard 3 Lions as one of a tiny handful of songs to top the charts four times, this total thanks to the way the original version rebounded to the top after a week away in the summer of 1996. Songs such as Unchained Melody, I Believe, Singin' The Blues and Do They Know It's Christmas have all been at Number One four times in the past, but all of these were thanks to multiple versions by different performers. 3 Lions is the first single to be taken to the top of the charts four times by the same set of performers.
Taking it as read that this is the 1996 version which has topped the chart again, it is only the sixth time in chart history that a recording has reached Number One on two entirely separate occasions. The others were posthumous hits - Bohemian Rhapsody in 1975 and 1991, and My Sweet Lord in 1971 and 2002 along with the trio of Elvis reissues which topped the listings in the opening weeks of 2005. First recorded 22 years ago, 3 Lions is the oldest single to top the charts since Tony Christie's (Is This The Way To) Amarillo hit Number One in 2005, 34 years after it was first recorded.
This may also be a good opportunity to clear up pedantry as to just how to write the title of the single. Is it "Three Lions" or "3 Lions"? Technically both are correct. When first released in 1996 the song had the rather long-winded title of Three Lions (The Official Song Of The England Football Team) and was listed in Music Week as such. When it returned two years later the single was listed as 3 Lions '98, growing a numerical prefix for the first time. The single has reappeared under this name for every chart run since, including now, even if as we have noted most of the sales and streams are of the original which technically remains "Three Lions" and not "3 Lions".
Bad News For The English Game
Football fever also caused the resurfacing of a handful of other famous hit singles from the 1990s this week. Vindaloo by Fat Les makes a chart return at Number 41, 20 years after it first peaked at Number 2. Meanwhile, the England football team's 1990 anthem World In Motion as credited to EnglandNewOrder re-enters at Number 48. Both singles coincidentally feature the creative talents of comedian Keith Allen - dad of Lilly.
Attention now turns to next week and just what will happen to the single now that football fever has subsided. Will 3 Lions become the first ever single to climb to the top of the charts from outside the Top 20 and then fall straight out again? In all this, we should spare a thought for poor George Ezra. Although he attempted to inject himself into the battle by indicating he'd be happy to see 3 Lions replace him at the top, he's still relegated to Number 2 with a huge chart sale of his own, his aforementioned total of 76,253 copies more than he managed last week and indeed the highest chart sale for a Number 2 single since Luis Fonsi's Despacito posted over 101,000 in June last year, only to be bested by the Artists For Grenfell charity single.
Never mind events at the top of the singles chart, there are more notable things taking place just below. The highest new entry of the week is technically nothing of the sort. As expected the vast streaming numbers of the many tracks from Drake's Scorpion album faded away this week, but still not enough to prevent the star from enjoying two singles in the Top 5 for the second week running. However, the biggest of these is the track slated to be his next single proper, In My Feelings, which was "starred out" between 7 and 8 last week but is now granted full chart status and debuts at Number 4. This is all at the expense of last week's Number 5 single Emotionless which dips below the level of its brothers and vanishes from the listings altogether. Drake's other two hits remain the Michael Jackson "duet" Don't Matter To Me which slips to Number 5 and Nonstop which tumbles 4-15.
Despite stiff competition from below, Drake's Scorpion album enjoys a second week at the top of the Official UK Albums chart, denying The Greatest Showman the chance to further extend its record-stretching chart run. For now anyway.
Not The Herb Alpert Track
Also new to the Top 10, with a climb this time, is Jonas Blue's Rise which once again lives up to its title with a four place jump to Number 7. It is now his fourth Top 10 hit single following Fast Car, Perfect Strangers and Mama although the first ever hit single for collaborators Jack & Jack.
Still banging on the door of the Top 10 are 5 Seconds Of Summer who appear to have hit a glass ceiling as Youngblood can only rise a place to Number 11. They are still awaiting the chance to break a four-year absence from the upper reaches. Next week should also see a Top 10 place for a single which hasn't been given the attention it deserves in these pages so far. Jackie Chan is fast becoming one of the sounds of the summer, with airplay increasing at every turn. The single is a collaboration between Dutch producer Tiesto and his Canadian counterpart Dzeko and features vocals from singer Preme and the more familiar tones of Post Malone. Just like 5 Seconds Of Summer, Tiesto hasn't had a Top 10 hit single since 2014, but Jackie Chan is now his most successful chart hit since the elegantly beautiful Wasted hit Number 3 in June that year.
3 Lions isn't the only track on the Top 40 this week to be impacted by the permanent ACR rule applied to veteran hit singles. The appearance at Number 25 of Green Day's American Idiot (originally a Number 3 hit in 2004) isn't quite as random as it might first appear, this all thanks to an online campaign to try to send the track to the top of the charts to coincide with the visit this week of the American president. Needless to say, this was always going to be an exercise in futility, some social media drum banging by people who haven't twigged that it isn't 2009 any more and such attempts to clickbomb tracks into the upper end of the charts are doomed to failure by rules designed to nip such things in the bud. You'll note that of the two vintage tracks on the chart this week, one has been propelled to the top of the charts by people sharing their love for something positive, the other languishing down the lower end thanks to people buying it not for the way it sounds but as a way of spreading hatred. I know which one I would rather see.
Two weeks into the new chart rules and it is clear that the most obvious effect of the introduction of YouTube streams into the mix has been to greatly expand the size of the market and thus the sales figures being enjoyed by tracks up and down the chart. Every single one of this week's Top 10 singles posts a chart sale of over 35,000 copies compared to the 25,000 achieved by the Number 10 single a fortnight ago. 20,000 chart sales are now only enough to get a single to around Number 30 in the charts. A fortnight ago the Number 31 single by Dappy posted just 13,000 chart sales.
Despite the potential uplift from strong levels of purchases for 3 Lions, paid-for sales of singles are actually slightly down this week at around 973,000. Having spent most of the end of last year waiting for them to dip below a million, this is now the sixth straight week the size of that market has been below seven figures. I'm tracking them week by week amongst plenty of other numbers on the Graphs and Stats page.