Thursday, February 28, 2008

Number 1s of 2008: February

Basshunter stayed at the top through to 17 February, for a total of five weeks - surprisingly long for a record that I'd initially had down as a one-off novelty hit. Perhaps that sort of thing is coming back into fashion.

Or maybe it's just going to be a year of really odd number ones, because next up is...

Duffy, "Mercy" (17 February onwards, two weeks and counting).

This rather charming sixties throwback is another surprise hit. It's Aimee Duffy's second single - the first was "Rockferry", which got a limited edition physical release last November, but subsequently crept to the dizzy heights of number 45 on the strength of download sales, which didn't exactly suggest that a massive hit was round the corner. But then, "Rockferry" wasn't as catchy.

Duffy has been floating around on the margins for a few years, and has a slightly odd CV. Back in 2003, she came second in S4C's Welsh-language Pop Idol clone, Wawffactor. Then she drifted around the Welsh-language circuit for a while, before singing on some album tracks for the indie-dance outfit Mint Royale (the people who brought you "Don't Falter" and "Show Me", neither of which feature Duffy, but they're worth linking anyway).

Then, she signed to Polydor and started recording with the on-again off-again duo McAlmont and Butler, who are probably best remembered for "Yes", which scraped the top ten in 1995, and which YouTube only has in dodgy live versions and this out-of-synch video. Obviously, their influence hangs heavily over "Mercy."

"Mercy" is a great record, but it's the sort of great record that doesn't usually make number 1, so I'm pleasantly surprised that it's doing so well. What we might be seeing here, with Duffy and Adele, is the belated record-industry reaction to Amy Winehouse's success, and an attempt to get More Stuff Like That on the shelves. Not necessarily a bad thing.

Since it's a quiet month, let's take a quick look at other vaguely noteworthy stuff on the February charts. NB: "noteworthy" does not necessarily imply "good."

As if to prove that the new chart format really does allow for slow climbs, Nickelback have spent four months inching their way up the chart all the way to number two (before dropping again) with "Rockstar." Personally, I think the video wears thin after a couple of viewings, and there's not much else to it. But it's been years since a record has climbed the chart this slowly, which makes it notable.

Along similar lines, Kylie Minogue has taken over two months to reach the top 5 with "Wow", which started selling on downloads after she sang it on the X-Factor final last Christmas, long before any promotion for the single began. Might be for the best, because although the track itself is pretty good, the video is lousy - though in fairness, it had to be salvaged in the edit suite when they discovered that the original strobe lighting was unbroadcastable due to the Ofcom rules on epilepsy. Despite the long, slow climb, the single was still only bounced into the top ten when it got a physical release, so perhaps the CD format isn't quite dead just yet. It's now been over twenty years since Kylie released her first single, "I Should Be So Lucky." (That production hasn't aged well, has it?)

Hot Chip made number six with "Ready for the Floor", the first single from their third album. That's a mainstream breakthrough for them. (Their previous best, "Over and Over", only got to number 27.) I'd previously figured their tentative, middle-class, electropop as a bit too artschool for really big hits, but after a few listens, this really grows on you. And the video gives people a reason to give it a few listens.

Let's just hope they licensed the rights to that costume.

Wet Wet Wet's "Weightless" is the first successful attempt to exploit the new chart rules, making number 10 on the strength of pure gimmickry - and then plummeting out of the Top 75 the next week. Basically, under the new chart rules, every version of the same song counts as the same single. So you can download as many live versions and remixes of the track as you want, and as far as the chart is concerned, it's all the same thing. ("Valerie" disclaimer: Okay, only as long as the artist credit is the same.) Wet Wet Wet released this frankly mediocre single in multiple live versions, radio edits and demo tracks, and their fans seem to have made multiple purchases.

It's basically the same trick that led to format rules being introduced on the singles chart in the 1980s, after Frankie Goes To Hollywood released "Two Tribes" in seven staggered formats. Hopefully it won't catch on; the fact that they only got a single week in the Top 75 suggests it's perhaps not worth the hassle.

Goldfrapp's "A&E"... there's not much to say about this, but it made number 10 and the video is fantastic. They'd got into a bit of a rut with their last few singles - "Strict Machine" is a classic and all, but how many versions did we need? Fortunately, "A&E" sees them going off in a new direction. This almost reminds me of mid-tempo Erasure.

And finally, one last chart quirk. The Utah Saints are putting out a remix of their 1992 single "Something Good." You know, the one that goes "Utah Saints! Utah Saints! U-U-U-Utah Saints!"and samples Kate Bush.

Okay, time hasn't been kind to the video. Look, it was 1992, we didn't know any better. But it's still a good record. Don't know why it needs a remix, really. Nonetheless, it's now turned into this little slice of choreography hell...

It isn't out yet. But it's charted already, presumably because of people picking up the original and another remix that's available on a compilation album. That means one of two things: either the promotion for the new single has just made people buy the old one, or when this actually comes out, it's going to be big.