When I first became a chart nerd in the 1980s, there was one stat above all else which was committed to memory – the biggest ever climb to Number One. Since 1982 the record had been held by Happy Talk by Captain Sensible which leapt 33-1 in June that year (breaking the 14-year-old record set by Hey Jude which moved 27-1), due to circumstances which I’ve curiously never seen documented anywhere. Even Alan Jones’ Chartfile column in Record Mirror at the time offered no explanation, instead taking time to note the amusement of Peter Compton, manager of the singles section in HMV Oxford Street at the time, that many of those buying the record were middle-aged and above and that he was having to resist the temptation to sell them records by The Damned when they asked if the nice young man singing the song had recorded anything else. Comments welcomed if any veteran music fans remembers just why the single behaved in such an unusual manner.
It was a stat which flashed back into the minds of many people this week when Am I Wrong by Norwegian duo Nico & Vinz jumped 52-1 after initially becoming the first-ever single to reach the Top 75 on streaming sales alone, and thus not selling a single purchased copy.
For a single to make such a large and unusual jump to the top there has to be a particular reason for it, and indeed when you examine the chart history of all the records to have made such spectacular climbs there is always an explanation for just what that happened. I mentioned in this weeks column that Nico & Vinz are only the fifth act ever to achieve a chart climb of over 40 places to reach Number One, so it seemed appropriate to document the others and their own unique stories why. In chronological order then, these are the 21st century singles which did the ultimate – climbing from outside the Top 40 right to the very top of the charts.
2001: DJ Otzi – Hey Baby
Once upon a time the scourge of record labels wanting to carefully manage release dates and delay the arrival of guaranteed hit singles as long as possible was not the copycat cover version but the imported copy. Frustrated by being unable to match high levels of customer demand for the song they had heard on the radio or danced to on holiday with the actual official product, the buyers of large chains such as HMV or Our Price would occasionally resort to taking matters into their own hands. Batches of singles from mainland Europe would be sourced and delivered to shops, commanding a price premium of course due to their rarity but still available for people to buy when they wanted to. Such singles were also free to register for the charts and at the turn of the century, there were numerous examples of records featuring on the singles chart a week or so before their official release. Number One hits Blue by Eiffel 65 and It Wasn’t Me by Shaggy were cases in point, their imported copies reaching the Top 40 and giving a sneak preview of what was to come.
The singles chart at the time being a ranking of product and not songs registered these imported singles as unique items with catalogue numbers distinct from those of the planned official releases. Thus when the UK issues of the tracks were finally made available (often dragged forward in a panic lest the import sales cannibalised the all-important first-week chart position) they were rather improbably listed as new entries, regardless of whether an identical single had been charting a week before. Two different issues, two different products and two different chart entries. That was the way it worked.
DJ Otzi’s Hey Baby was a different matter. Already a smash hit across Europe in the summer of 2001, it had spread to clubs and bars in Britain during August, creating an enormous level of demand for what was destined to become an evergreen party classic. Unusually it was a single already available in the British Isles, the single having been released in Ireland in mid-July, at which point it lodged itself at the top of the IRMA charts where it remained for six weeks. It was therefore hardly surprising that many of the imported copies that found their way into British stores during the course of August and September were actually sourced from surplus stock in the Republic. Significantly these copies carried the very same catalogue number which would be used by the official UK release of the track, an event which finally took place on September 10th 2001. So it was that after reaching Number 45 the previous week as an import, Hey Baby shot straight to Number One in a form which meant the singles chart did not discriminate between sales of the two versions. The result? A then record-breaking 44 place climb as the first single ever to jump to Number One from outside the Top 40.
2009: Pixie Lott – Boys And Girls
DJ Otzi’s record stood for a full eight years, even during a period when large climbs to the top of the charts became a regular occurrence thanks to the early years of the digital download market. When chart rules were changed to allow singles to chart on digital-only sales a week ahead of the still-important physical release. It meant chart moves such as the 21-1 leap of Beyonce’s Deja-Vu, 23-1 for Welcome To The Black Parade by My Chemical Romance, 35-1 for About You Now by The Sugababes and 38-1 for So What by Pink.
Pixie Lott’s second single, on the other hand, came after the physical era was all but over and singles were selling predominantly in digital form. Her extraordinary chart leap came thanks to a rather odd release pattern and one which I’ve never been able to establish whether it was by accident or design. Scheduled for release on Sunday, September 6th, a four-track bundle of the single appeared on the iTunes store mid-afternoon the day before, quickly spotted by eagle-eyed fans and snapped up with some joy. Half a day of sales wasn’t much, but it was enough for the single to chart at Number 73. One week later the combination of digital and physical sales was enough to propel the single to the top of the charts, an incredible 72 place climb to utterly shatter the record. Five years later, not one single has ever come close to this extraordinary bit of singles chart shenanigans.
2010: David Guetta and Chris Willis – Gettin’ Over You
Virtually all of these stories of major chart leaps are essentially strange circumstances, with this single being no exception. First heard as a track on the first version of David Guetta’s One Love album, the song originally called Gettin’ Over was prepared for release as its second official single in a brand new version, adding vocals from both LMFAO and Fergie to those of original singer Chris Willis for the occasion. Despite the video and the pre-release airplay for the hit featuring the new Gettin’ Over You recording, keen purchasers still snapped up the original album version in the weeks preceding its release, resulting in the album cut charting at Number 41 in early June 2010. By now the singles chart was no longer about product, just the songs and as far as the chart database was concerned a new mix of a track (regardless of added vocals) simply inherited the chart run of the original version. The result was a 41-1 leap to the top of the charts for the Frenchman and collaborators as the third single in chart history to climb from outside the Top 40.
2011: Adele – Someone Like You
Just for a change though, the Adele track was nothing to do with remixes, imports or release leaks. Just a sudden explosion of public demand. Her legendary album 21 was released in late January 2011, a week after its first single Rolling In The Deep had charted at Number 2. Clearly one of the standout tracks from the album, the heartbreaking ballad Someone Like You had already arrived for a chart wander of its own, cherrypicked sales leading it to land at Number 36, climb three places the following week and then subsequently drop to Number 47. It was there it sat during the week of the 2011 Brit Awards, at which Adele would be one of the featured performers. With tears in his eyes even before she started, James Corden introduced the performance as something guaranteed to be special and in front of a spellbound auditorium, Adele made the first public performance of the track by which she would always be defined. For those watching at home, the effect was almost as stunning. Within hours of the ceremony airing on television, the track had shot up the iTunes chart and continued to sell in huge numbers for the rest of the week. Maybe it was always planned to be a single anyway, but spontaneously and with a great deal of goodwill and love, Someone Like You shoulder barged its way to the top of the singles chart, in the process registering a 47-1 climb, at the time the second biggest jump to Number One in chart history.
Which all naturally enough brings us to the present day and this week’s 52-1 jump by Nico & Vinz with Am I Wrong. Their leap is due to an entirely new set of circumstances, a single available for streaming several weeks ahead of its for-purchase release and under the brand new chart rules eligible to chart even on those terms. These are very early days and record labels are understandably cautious about making songs available to legally stream on-demand before anyone can buy them – after all, will people really buy songs in such numbers if they have already played it to death in the weeks before? Inevitably where Nico & Vinz lead, others will follow and whilst the streaming market continues to lag behind that of the download one it is inevitable we will see more and more big hits start their chart life as low-level streaming hits before exploding into life when fully released. We could be about to repeat the flurry of giant leaps last seen in 2006-8 and who knows, maybe more additions to the list of extra-Top 40 fliers.