CowGIRL surely?

Ray Charles’ 1962 album Modern Sounds In Country And Western Music was an era-defining moment. A black performer rooted in R&B music using the freedom his previous success had gifted him to explore a genre of music not commonly associated with his race and background. His refusal to be pigeonholed only served to enhance his already stellar reputation.

62 years later it seems we have come completely full circle. For one of the pre-eminent black performers of her era has flexed her artistic muscle and dived headlong into a genre that seems almost at odds with everything she has put her name to before.

Beyonce, we are told, has always been a little bit country. In fact make that a lot of country, for although she first made her name as a member of an all-girl R&B group and has gone on to forge a solo career that has steadily blurred the line between soul and hip-hop, she hails from Texas, born and raised in Houston and descended from a family of Louisiana Creoles. She was born with Cowboy boots on and those are the ones she has donned anew.

But the truth is her pivot to country is the swerve to end all swerves, a superstar novelty record like no other. So the Easter weekend release of her Cowboy Carter album has meant it has been one of the most commented-upon, scrutinised, appreciated, and most importantly streamed and purchased records of the year so far. Irrespective of who it is who has released it, Cowboy Carter is enormously and deservedly huge.

So almost inevitably it slams to the very top of the albums chart, posting just over almost exactly 40,000 sales to become the fastest-selling album of the year so far - albeit only just. The majority - 26,000 of them - are from audio streams. Beyonce's album sold well physically, but by no means in vast numbers.

It is Ms Knowles-Carter’s fifth No.1 album as a solo artist, her third in a row to continue a sequence which began with Lemonade in 2016 and continued with 2022 release Renaissance. Dangerously In Love is her only other No.1 album - it remains a chart oddity that her celebrated magnum opus I Am… Sasha Fierce could only peak at No.2 upon release although it is far and away her biggest selling.

Hold On

Almost needless to say an album with such huge streaming numbers makes an enormous singles chart impact. The most notable effect is the return of Texas Hold’Em to the top of the Official UK Singles chart after a two week absence. This does mean that 2024 further extends the quite extraordinary sequence which means every year since 2009 has seen at least one single enjoy two spells at No.1, something which used to be so rare that we went from 1969 to 1993 without it occurring once.

This week marks only the second time Beyonce has done the chart double, topping both singles and albums charts simultaneously. Remarkably it comes almost 21 years since the first - when Dangerously In Love joined its lead single Crazy In Love at the summit in July 2003. That breaks the record for the longest gap between chart doubles, previously held by Madonna who went from 1989 to 2005 without pulling off the trick.

Fascinatingly the second-biggest hit the album contains is Jolene. And this is a story in itself. Written by the first lady of country herself Dolly Parton it was for many years her sole international hit single, the tale of the wronged woman begging her rival to back off still to this day one of the defining country records of the 1970s. Quite whether Beyonce’s take on the track was ever intended for Cowboy Carter is a matter of speculation, but Dolly’s own enthusiastic tweeting of the existence of the cover and the joy that greeted the prospect of it meant that Beyonce was more or less honour bound to include it in the main tracklisting. And so here it is, landing at No.8 - agonisingly short of the No.7 scaled by Dolly’s original version in 1976, three years after it was first released.

One place behind is the album’s third-biggest cut, II Most Wanted notable for being a co-performance with Miley Cyrus - the daughter of a C&W star entertainingly charting with a proper country single for the very first time.

Cowboy Carter has no fewer than 27 different tracks, not all of which are actually full-length songs. But as surely everyone knows by now, when you are paid in turn for every single one of your “songs” played, the more you can include on each release the better. And just about everyone has taken turn to listen to the whole thing at least once. Music Week reports that at least three more of them would in theory have occupied places in the Top 75 were they free to do so - Bodyguard leading the charge at a notional No.13.

Other Artists Exist

Also new to the Top 10 this week, and unlucky perhaps to do so at the precise moment nobody is paying attention, is Artemas whose I Like The Way You Kiss Me ascends 13-6. This does at least restore a British performer to a Top 10 which would otherwise once again have been devoid of them.

The arrival of the new Beyonce hits has the unfortunate side effect of temporarily (we hope) stalling the upwards momentum of the other crossover country hit of the moment, Dasha’s Austin holding firm at No.15.

Tips Came Good

As you might expect, big new releases are thin on the ground, most people steering carefully out of the way of the Beyonce juggernaut, although in fairness there are plenty of future big hits peppering the lower end of the Top 75. Stuff that will doubtless come to our attention in future weeks.

Last week I teased the prospect of current viral sensation Belong Together by Mark Ambor reaching the Top 40, and that does indeed come to pass. The debut hit from the 23 year old singer-songwriter takes a flying 54-22 leap to firmly establish itself as a hit single.

Meghan Trainor also makes it - but only just, her flapper revival Been Like This moves up to No.40, her first such hit single since Mother reached No.22 almost exactly a year ago. A decade into her chart career the American star remains trapped in a groove of novelty throwback productions, but while she continues to produce joyful stuff like this, who are we to complain.

Finally, the revived Back On 74 by Jungle finally makes good on its promise to at least match its original peak from last year and duly does so this week, making No.25 for the second time.

Next week could be all-change again as Benson Boone’s album hits the streets. For the second week running will we see a single returning to the top of the charts as part of a chart double? I can’t wait to be free from flaky Italian hotel wi-fi to tell you about it.

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