Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Number 1s of 2007: January

The UK singles chart has now completed a year in its new hybrid format, as a mixed singles and download chart. Partly to commemorate this entirely unimportant event, and partly to see just how much resemblance the UK chart bears to the American one, I thought I'd run through the official UK Number One singles of 2007 and see what we ended up with.

The main difference with the new chart is that it counts any official download sale, as long as it isn't a whole album. So if you buy an individual track, that's a single, even if nobody's promoting it as such. This has had two major effects.

First, the charts are no longer controlled as rigidly by the record companies' release schedules; the moment they start promoting a new single, people start downloading it from the album. They also sometimes keep buying the old single for months and months, when the record company would rather sell them the follow-up. All of this has put paid to the pre-2007 system, where singles would crash into the charts at their highest position on getting a physical release, start dropping immediately, and get deleted if they had the nerve to stick around longer than planned. So the chart is now a better reflection of a record's popularity over time.

Second, from time to time the public simply decides to buy a record that isn't even being promoted as a single at all. Usually this is because it's cropped up in an advert. "In the Air Tonight" by Phil Collins has had a lengthy chart run on this basis, and the Christmas chart was swamped in old singles from the seventies and eighties.

Mind you, there's still ample room to get a record to Number One through massive hype and not much else. And our first single is a pretty good illustration of that.

This is "A Moment Like This" by Leona Lewis (24 December 2006 to 21 January 2007, four weeks). She won the 2006 series of "The X-Factor", and this is the coronation single that was released immediately after her win. It is now a tradition that the X-Factor will release a godawful, maudlin ballad in mid-December, deliberately chosen to sound vaguely inspiring whoever wins. The video will consist largely of clips from the show. Regrettably, "A Moment Like This" is precisely such a song. It's the same one that Kelly Clarkson used for her American Idol victory song, but her version wasn't released over here.

The X-Factor and its forerunner Pop Idol have a questionable track record for generating actual stars. 2005 winner Shayne Ward is still around, to be fair. But Steve Brookstein and Michelle McManus are back on the pub circuit. And while the original Pop Idol winner, Will Young, is still around, he's drifted into a career of making gentle MOR ballads with frankly weird videos. When Simon Cowell was looking for a mainstream star, this is surely not what he had in mind.

(Although it's a great video, worth watching in full.)

But I digress. "A Moment Like This" is dreadful, and the fact that it stayed at number one for four weeks is pretty depressing, even if that does cover the dead week between Christmas and New Year (in which nothing is released, the shops are closed, and the chart doesn't really count). However... Leona Lewis CAN sing, and has more potential than most talent show winners in this country. We'll be hearing from her again at the end of the year, with a significantly better record.

You won't be surprised to hear that "A Moment Like This" didn't chart in America.

Well, this is an improvement. "Grace Kelly" by Mika (21 January to 25 February, five weeks). He's a Lebanese singer-songwriter, based in London, although I can never quite shake the feeling that he might be a comedy character played by a vertically-stretched Ben Stiller.

This was his second single - the first one missed the charts altogether and is about to get a re-release. It's easy to see the appeal of this one, which is verging on Queen territory. Now, at their best, Queen were rather good, and nobody's really tried to fill that gap in years.

His follow-up singles are a bit hit and miss, and lean more towards the Scissor Sisters. Now, the Scissor Sisters are fine, but we've already got one. "Love Today" is really rather good, but as for the cloying "Big Girl (You Are Beautiful)"... well, the less said the better, really. He's got a good ear for a hook, though. He'll be around for a while.

According to Wikipedia, "Grace Kelly" did get an American release, and stiffed at number 57. The follow-up got to number 92, and after that they gave up trying.

The US number one single in January was "Irreplaceable" by Beyonce, which spent ten weeks there. In the UK, it peaked at number 4, although it had a respectable enough run at the top.