Saturday, January 19, 2008

Number 1s of 2007: December


"What a Wonderful World" by Eva Cassidy and Katie Melua (16 to 23 December, one week). This is an oddity. It's a charity single for the Red Cross, released exclusively through Tesco, who pushed it quite hard. But not for that long, which is why it dropped out of the Top 75 entirely after only four weeks. Presumably it also picked up a lot of impulse buys from Tesco customers who don't normally go anywhere near the singles chart. By any standards, it's a weird anomaly; even as a charity record, we don't get many MOR cover versions at number one.

The record is one of those awkward posthumous duets, where a dead singer's vocals are recycled. Eva Cassidy died of cancer in 1996 after releasing three albums that the general public largely missed. She became posthumously famous in the UK when Radio 2 picked up on her, and a compilation album did rather good business a few years ago. However, although a couple of singles have been released before, she's never made the Top 40.

Katie Melua is originally from Georgia - the ex-Soviet one, not the American one - but moved to Britain as a child. "Katie" is an anglicisation of "Ketevan." She's been a very successful albums artist around Europe, under the management of Mike Batt, of all people. Batt, you might remember, was responsible for the Wombles and Vanessa-Mae. Personally, she's not really my thing, but she's one of the better MOR acts. Her previous biggest hit was "Nine Million Bicycles", which got to number 5 in 2005.

It is what it is. And it was never going to spend more than a week at number one, because next up, we have the X-Factor 2007 winner...

What is it about X-Factor winners that makes YouTube carry all their videos in the wrong aspect ratio? Believe me, I've searched, and nobody seems to have thought of taking a correct version from the TV...

Anyway. "When You Believe" by Leon Jackson (23 December 2007 to 13 January 2008, 4 weeks). As is traditional, it's a sappy ballad about triumph over adversity. This one was originally recorded by Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey for the "Prince of Egypt" soundtrack ten years ago, and it wasn't much better when they did it. It got to number 4 in Britain.

It's boringly obvious to point out the irony in a show called "The X-Factor" being won by this guy. What seems to have happened is that viewers with any interest in personality whatsoever banded behind the only two acts with genuine charisma (of any sort). So by the time we reached the final, Leon was left as the sole representative of the crushingly tedious, against two acts who were a little more divisive. If you didn't like Leon, your options were...

...Rhydian, an astoundingly camp baritone who was clearly the best singer but probably belonged in the musicals, or...

...Same Difference, the disturbingly wholesome and enthusiastic brother/sister duo who are doubtless on their way to a long and happy career on Disney cruise ships.

Given the history of dodgy phone lines this year, there was some controversy about the final vote, partly because some people were reporting engaged tones, and partly because a lot of people honestly couldn't believe that Leon actually won. According to ITV, the engaged tones are deceptive: it's not a case of each contestant having separate lines. All the numbers go through to the same lines, and the specific number that you dialled merely determines which vote is registered. So, if one number is engaged, so are all the others. According to ITV, anyway. Didn't stop people complaining.

The X-Factor has had a pretty good track record in the last couple of years, with Leona Lewis (doing quite well) and Shayne Ward from 2005 (still around). I honestly can't see Leon Jackson keeping up the streak. He looks to me like another Steve Brookstein, who won the first series in 2004 and was back on the pub circuit by the end of 2005; or Michelle McManus, the winner of Pop Idol 2003, who only lasted a single album before being dropped. But we'll see.

US number ones in December: "No One" by Alicia Keys, for the entire month. It got to number six over here.

And that concludes 2007. What have we learned from this exercise? Um... probably not a great deal, to be honest. Oh well.