Thursday, July 02, 2009

Number 1s of 2009: 28 June 2009

Everyone knows that when a major star dies, his records start flying off the shelves. And now that the UK singles chart counts downloads of individual album tracks as "singles", it's easier than ever for old records to make the chart thanks to a spontaneous surge of interest. As long as it's floating around iTunes on a compilation somewhere, it could theoretically chart at any time.

So when Michael Jackson died last week, a lot of people assumed that there was guaranteed to be a Jackson single at number one. What they got was La Roux, "Bulletproof".

(Incidentally, if you'd prefer to see it in the correct aspect ratio, here's the YouTube link. Which isn't embeddable, even though the equally official version on Daily Motion is. Don't ask me.)

La Roux are the duo of Elly Jackson, who's in the video, and Ben Langmaid, who has taken the traditional synth duo role of "standing motionless in the background" to its logical extreme by vanishing almost completely from the band's public profile. This has led to plenty of Blondie-style confusion about whether "La Roux" is supposed to be the name of the woman in the videos... but officially, it isn't.

They are, of course, 80s revivalists. It's somewhat ironic to see people deliberately re-creating a style of music which was driven in part by the technical limitations of early synths. But of course, if you're too young to remember it, it won't sound dated. And, after all, this stuff is getting on for 30 years old.

There's a lot of this around at the moment; a lot of year-end predictions had 2009 pencilled in as the year of the "electrogirl", mostly because a glance at the release schedules showed that La Roux, Lady Gaga and Little Boots all had albums out soon. Lady Gaga has done very well for herself indeed. La Roux are on their third single - the first, "Quicksand", failed to chart, but "In For The Kill" did very well earlier in the year, spending four straight weeks at Number 2. I'm not sure "Bulletproof" is quite as good, but it's a grower.

And then there's Little Boots, who might be giving her record label cause for concern. Despite ample quantities of hype, her first proper single "New In Town" stalled at number 13 before exiting the top 40 after four weeks. Odd, since it's quite a good record.

So what happened to Michael Jackson?

Well, the UK charts are calculated over a week's sales, from Sunday to Saturday. Since the news of Jackson's death came out late on Thursday night, there were only two days for the download sales to mount up. But on top of that, he has such a big back catalogue that a lot of people went for the greatest hits album instead. And the Number 1 on the album charts is indeed Jackson's album "Number Ones." That would be American number 1s, presumably, since he only had seven in the UK.

Those people who wanted to download a single had plenty to choose from, splitting the vote. The most popular was "Man in the Mirror" at number 11 - an unexpected choice, since it didn't even make the top 20 on its original release. It will climb this week, and it will challenge for number 1. To judge from the iTunes chart, sales have tailed off a bit, but he might well get there on the strength of a surge of sales on Sunday and Monday.

In total, six Michael Jackson singles made the top 40. Technically, the record for most appearances on a single chart stands at seven and is held by Elvis Presley - but it doesn't really count, because it was on a wonky late-fifties chart where the A- and B-sides of three singles were inexplicably listed separately. Despite having seven chart placings, he actually only had four singles on the chart. Disregard that, and Jackson matches the record set by, er, Elvis Presley again, this time in early 2005 when his record label decided to re-issue all his old singles on a weekly schedule.

Those casting around for an unequivocal piece of record-breaking will have to satisfy themselves by noting that Jackson had sixteen singles in the top 75, plus four singles by the Jackson 5. Nobody really cares about numbers 41-75, but technically they're part of the official chart. And 20 singles in the top 75 is unprecedented - the previous record was thirteen, set by the Jam, of all people, whose entire back catalogue was reissued when they disbanded in 1983. And since Wikipedia tells me that the Jam never even grazed the US chart, here's "Going Underground" and "A Town Called Malice", number 1 hits in 1980 and 1982.