The Patience Of A Saint
Well, congratulations Britain. You've carved out quite an arse groove in this musical sofa and are sitting comfortably in it with no real urge to move. For the second week running the Top 3 on the Official UK Singles Chart remain the same, the first, second and third biggest singles in the land are the same as they were a fortnight ago. This means that without sensation and once more in a quite comfortable manner (and with a nice sales increase to boot), Promises by Calvin Harris and Sam Smith spends a fourth week in a row at the top of the charts. This now makes the single Sam Smith's biggest ever chart hit, surpassing the three week run at the top of the charts he enjoyed exactly a year ago with Too Good At Goodbyes. Calvin Harris is no stranger to long spells at Number One, so it merely suffices to note here that following the 8-week stay of One Kiss back in the spring, this is now his 12th week at the top of the charts during 2018. Which sounds a lot, but it still trails the 14 weeks that Drake has (so far) topped the charts for this year.
I must have noted this any number of times over the past few years, but it bears restating once again. This kind of sluggishness in the market is an inevitable consequence of a technologically and socially enforced move to tracking consumption rather than the discovery of music. The rate of turnover in a discovered market is inevitably much higher, there being a finite number of people who wish to 'discover' a track by spending money to own it. The peak of consumption (ie listening to the music) is far harder to define but inevitably takes far longer to arrive. People like to listen to their favourite songs (whether of the moment or of all time) and will happily do so over and over again and over an extended period. What you see on the singles chart is the full evidence of that. We've gone from a trend of the biggest hits lasting no more than five minutes in the mind to the biggest hits persisting in popularity for weeks.
Behind the scenes, this does remain problematic for many. One of the primary functions of the pop charts as a marketing tool is to enable new music to "surface". To come to the attention of people beyond the hardcore who scrutinise the week's new releases for fresh meat. Hits become hits by making the charts in the first place and then rising up them. Which is much harder to do if the very biggest hits don't move out of the way for them. Hence the regular tweaking of the rules, restricting the lifespan of older hits. Ushering long-running hits into what is euphemistically termed "accelerated decline". Although as we've repeatedly seen, downgrading the streams of longer running hits doesn't always help to kill them off. They still persist in popularity, just at a lower level on the charts than they did before.
Although last week I teased a shake-up that simply didn't arrive, the winds of change are indeed set to blow through the charts in short order. Number 2 single Eastside sees its chart sales slump from 53.5K to just over 52K, its third sales reversal in a row and so heralding its move to ACR next week. So we at the very least will enjoy a brand new Number 2 single next week, even if there appears no prospect of change at the top just for the moment.
This Is The Rhythm
Midweek updates actually suggested that we might be looking at an all-static Top 5 this week, that scenario only averted by the swapping places of the singles at 4 and 5. That means a further chart climb for Happier by Marshmello and Bastille. The single is now bucket head's second Number 4 hit of the year (following Friends) and Bastille's highest charting single since their 90s dance music cover Of The Night hit Number 2 in November 2013.
The awkward scenario of a high profile Jess Glynne single failing to reach the Top 10 is happily avoided this week with an 11-9 climb for All I Am. This is now her 11th Top 10 hit single, putting her one place behind the all-time record for 'solo' female performers. The all-time high of 12 is at present jointly held by three artists - Petula Clark, Shirley Bassey and Rita Ora. Although alas for Jess, her hopes of equalling the record may well have to be put on ice for now, as one of those three champions appears to be on the verge of a 13th such hit.
It's Worse Than That, They're Dead Jim
With the success of every posthumous hit single, it seems ever more unnecessary to note the continuing truth of Frank Zappa's famous observation that death is the most commercial thing that can happen to an artist. This week's highest new entry, however, marks what surely has to be a first, a hit duet between two posthumous acts, neither of whom met in the studio while the other was alive. The Number 10 hit this week Falling Down is a very much beyond the grave collaboration between singers rappers Lil Peep (died November 2017) and XXXtentacion (died June 2018). It is the first ever major chart single for Peep, his only other credit coming as the featured star on the Marshmello track Spotlight which charted briefly at Number 74 at the start of this year.
The genesis of the track isn't quite the cynically exploitative studio creation that some of the coverage of it might have led you to believe. Falling Down began life as a Lil Peep cut entitled Sunshine On Your Skin, one he never properly finished before his death from an overdose last year. A snippet of the unfinished demo subsequently found its way onto YouTube, leading XXXtentacion himself to contact producer iLoveMakkonnen and ask if he could contribute a verse as his own tribute. His work on Falling Down would turn out to be the last recording he would make too, leaving producer and label with the awkward dilemma of whether it would be in good taste to release it. And if so, at what point when. Hence the announcement of its release was made through the families of both men, the mothers of the two rappers presenting it as their joint tribute to their sons.
So what could so easily have been a bad idea actually turns out to be something of a triumph. If Falling Down is to stand as the last testament of both men then it is more than worthy of the honour. Sung throughout by both men with no rapping at all, the track is a typically melancholy and actually rather beautiful and moving tribute to both their talents. The deaths of both were notable for being such stupid wastes of life, and in the case of XXXtentacion prompted soul searching as to just how far it was sensible to mourn someone who was a terrible human being. But if you judge performers on their performances alone then both clearly had a great deal to offer. And this track is the greatest memory they could have given us.
Whilst the precise circumstances of the creation of Falling Down may well make it unique, for two stars to duet on a track and then both predecease its release is by no means unique. The most famous prior example is the track Runnin' (Dying To Live) which was originally recorded by Tupac Shakur and Biggy Smalls together in 1994. Label politics and circumstances meant the track was never released at the time, only emerging in 1998 after both men had passed away. In its original form, it was a Number 15 hit in this country, although better known now thanks to a 2003 reworking at the hands of Eminem which saw it re-released and reach Number 17 early the following year.
Speaking of Eminem, not for the first time this month he has back to back hits on the chart, although the second of these is a belated new arrival. Delayed for seven days, thanks to falling foul of the 3Max rule on last week's chart, Killshot becomes the second highest "new" entry of the week at Number 13. Naturally, this has to be at the expense of one of his other concurrent hits - in this case, The Ringer which was already the lowest charted at Number 17 last week and which is now "starred out" somewhere below the Number 25 chart placing of Fall. Killshot is still not the highest charting Eminem hit of the moment, that honour falling to Lucky You which dips out of the Top 10 for the first time at Number 12. We are at least spared the spectacle of the two rap ripostes going head to head on the singles chart, Machine Gun Kelly's Rap Devil (which inspired the quickfire release of Killshot) takes a tumble, diving 15-30.
Now to Rita Ora who, as noted above, is but one Top 10 single away from setting a brand new record for solo female artists in the UK. It should be noted that she failed to do so in quite spectacular fashion earlier in the summer when her all-star single Girls (featuring Cardi B, Bebe Rexha and Charli XCX) failed to progress beyond its initial Number 22 entry point, this in spite of some expensive promotion being flung at it. With the news this week that her second album Phoenix is finally(!) set for release more than six years after her debut, you can well imagine that there is a great deal riding on the chart prospects of her latest single Let You Love Me. Well, so far so good. With a far more positive reception than its predecessor cheering it on, the track smashes into the charts at Number 14 and in a manner which suggests it has the momentum to rank amongst her bigger hits. And at the very least allow her to set a chart record.
I grouped them together last week, and although it seems unfair to do so once more given that neither track has all that much in common, let's pay homage once more to Be Alright from Dean Lewis and Lost Without You by Freya Ridings. Both come good on their steady chart climb and reach the Top 20 (Numbers 17 and 20 respectively). As noted last week, the Ridings track, in particular, is doing phenomenally well on the rump of the sales market and is the fifth most-purchased track of the week.
Hey Baby, Wanna French?
Karim "French Montana" Kharbouch has spent much of the past 18 months carving out a niche as the latest go-to guy for a carefully inserted rap break. This has led to him popping up as a credited artist on singles as diverse as Steflon Don's Hurtin' Me, David Guetta's Dirty, Sexy Money, Jason Derulo's Tip Toe and indeed right at the present moment, as a pop-up towards the end of Sigala and friends' Just Got Paid. Hits under his own name have been slow arriving, however, this despite his present run of success having been kickstarted by the Number 2 success a year ago of Unforgettable on which he was lead artist. This week the Brooklyn native lands his first major chart hit as a lead artist since then with a new entry at Number 21. No Stylist is a brand new single, heralding what is hoped will be a forthcoming new album. Vocal assistance on the track is provided by no less a superstar than Drake, this the first time since the start of the year that the Canadian has been relegated to a co-credit on a chart single. Thanks to his abundance of album cuts, along with other collaborations, this ranks as Drake's 12th chart hit of the year to date. It features a sample from a live performance of the Leslie West rock track Long Red, dating from an album put out in 1972. Whilst that may not be a reference that resonates with too many, the drum break is one of the more versatile samples in the over 30-year history of the dance and hip-hop revolution. Over 600 tracks in the Whosampled database are listed as borrowing elements of it in whole or in part, although No Stylist is the first UK hit single to do so since Lana Del Rey used a vocal sample in Born To Die way back in 2012.
Really Did Well This Time
Two more singles creep inside the Top 40 this week - regardless of my essay at the start of this piece, there are indeed a healthy number of new entries this week. New music surfaces, just give it time. The scatterlings are Better from Khalid which opened at Number 44 last week and now climbs to Number 31, and Guiding Light from Mumford and Sons which enters at Number 40, giving the absorbing and often enjoyably profane folk band their first Top 40 hit in three and a half years - Believe their last hit single reaching Number 20 in March 2015. This new single heralds the release of their fourth album Delta which is due to hit the virtual (and physical) streets in November.
End Of The Year And Counting
With the calendar about to reach Q4, the mythical part of the year when the music industry traditionally earns the bulk of its profits, the album chart remains just as busy as it has been over the past few weeks with five new entries in the Top 10 alone. The most prominent of these is Chris from French act Christine and The Queens which at one stage was challenging to enter at the top. It doesn't, leaving Eminem's Kamikaze to sit comfortably at Number One for the fourth week. That's more of an achievement than it may sound. Although the long-running success of The Greatest Showman kind of distracts from the picture, Kamikaze is the first artist (and thus non-soundtrack) album to top the charts for this long since Ed Sheeran's Divide had a nine-week run in the spring of 2017. Strange but true.
Many eyes were also on Wolf Alice's Visions Of A Life which was awarded the annual Mercury Music Prize for album of the year during the week. Originally released in October 2017, it charted at Number 2 (beaten to the top of the charts by Shania Twain) but in the aftermath of its award win re-enters this week for the first time this year at Number 15. Perhaps even more notably the group this week enjoy their first ever chart single of any kind. It's a terrific achievement too, Don't Delete The Kisses sneaking into the singles chart at Number 100 making them for the moment one of only a tiny handful of acts to be the ultimate of one-hit wonders.