Loving The Shape Of Him
Welcome to the holiday week, this rather disconnected hinterland between Christmas and New Year when most of us aren't working and those who do have to think carefully about literally which day of the week it is.
Today, I am pleased to confirm, is Friday and that means it is time for what is traditionally the oddest singles chart of the year. What this week means in the grand scheme of things has shifted and evolved over the decades. Previously a week (before computer technology) when nobody even attempted to compile a singles chart, this was for many years a sales dead zone. From their year-round highs of Christmas week, sales tumbled to year-round lows and what product was purchased was largely catalogue-based as everyone cashed in gift tokens.
The digital era actually reversed this, and just over ten years ago this week went from being the smallest market of the year to the largest. For the simple reason that everyone gifted brand new iPods and other brands of mp3 players suddenly hit the online stores in search of product with which to populate them. That era too is largely behind us, but that means this week is now left to the whims of the streaming market - one which is still in the evolutionary stage. That isn't to say however that the Spotify audience can't help make extraordinary things happen.
The important part is the dates of the survey, this chart covering sales and streams tallied on from 22nd through to 28th December. Four days over Christmas, and three days afterwards. This is relevant to an understanding of why the charts look the way they do this week.
At the top end, however, this is all irrelevant. Ed Sheeran holds down the Number One single on the Official UK Charts once more as the combined tallies of all the three different versions of Perfect are more than enough to withstand the maelstrom below. After giving way to the Eminem show last week, the single's parent album Divide climbs back to the top of the Official UK Albums chart once more. It is this last detail which is the significant one, for this is now the seventh time in total Divide has topped the charts - setting a brand new record for a male solo act and indeed matching the all-time record for a solo artist held jointly by Emeli Sande and Adele.
The other statistic here involves some small technicalities and whether we regard this as a chart for 2017 or 2018. Whilst it is published whilst we are still in 2017 and indeed features sales from that year, its formal date (the "week ending" used throughout this site and printed record books) is actually January 4th, 2018, making this the first chart of the new year. Why is this important? Because by having both Number One single and album this week, Ed Sheeran has done the chart double for the seventh time in the past 12 months. Presuming that this still counts as the same year, that is the most chart doubles in any one calendar year since The Beatles also were top of both charts simultaneously seven times in 1965.
360 Days To Christmas And My Neighbours Have Their Decorations Up Already
Now for the fun part. Because just as last year, the days immediately prior to Christmas Day and indeed the day itself saw the audience profile of streaming services switch from the new to the old. The numbers speak for themselves. Mainstream chart hits were an irrelevance. All anyone wanted to listen to were Christmas songs. The most popular ones of all - Last Christmas, All I Want For Christmas Is You, Fairytale Of New York were posting around 1.5m streams PER DAY on Spotify alone. That's more or less double what even the most popular of Number One singles can expect to do in 'normal' 24 hour periods.
But this was only for four days, and as of the, 26th it was like a switch had been thrown. Sure, they were still played, but by no means in the numbers as before, and by the end of the sales week virtually all the Christmas songs had dropped out of the Top 100 daily streams altogether. This all meant that speculation that this was the year we would see a golden oldie Christmas song charge to Number One was rather wide of the mark (watch out next time around when this chart will cover five days pre- and just two post-Christmas). Even so, the Christmas songs are far and away the only other story of note this week.
Last Christmas by Wham! consolidates its position as (for sentimental reasons) the biggest seasonal hit of the year, climbing to Number 2 to reclaim the chart peak it first scaled back in 1984. Mariah Carey holds firm at Number 4, her own best performance of the digital era whilst Fairytale Of New York lifts to Number 5, its own highest chart placing since it scaled the dizzy heights of Number 4 exactly ten years ago. Brenda Lee's Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree climbs five places to Number 9, a Top 10 hit single for the first time since it charted at Number 6 exactly 54 years ago this week.
Lower down this week sees so many Christmas songs reach brand new all-time chart peaks it is more effective to list them. They are:
Step Into Christmas by Elton John (11)
It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas by Michael Buble (13)
Driving Home For Christmas by Chris Rea (14)
It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year by Andy Williams (17)
Santa Tell Me by Ariana Grande (28)
Holly Jolly Christmas by Michael Buble (34)
Santa Baby by Kylie Minogue (38)
Santa's Coming For Us by Sia (39)
The two Buble songs arrive on the back of renewed success for his perennial Christmas album which hits Number 8 on the albums chart this week, this now the seventh successive year it has reached the Top 10. Kylie's recording of the old standard Santa Baby makes the Top 40 for the very first time, its journey to mainstream success something hardcore Kylie freaks have longed for ever since the digital era began. The recording first appeared as the b-side of her 2000 single Please Stay but was folded into a five-track digital EP A Kylie Christmas in 2010. Last year it reached the Top 75 for the first time ever and appears to now be on an exponential curve to being a core part of her own pension plan.
Although it doesn't quite reach a new peak this week, I'm also intrigued by the gradual rise of the Kelly Clarkson track Underneath The Tree. First released as a single in 2013, it reached Number 30 despite the sudden abandonment of all promotional work by the singer when she found out she was pregnant. Last year the track re-emerged to make Number 66 and this year creeps back into the Top 40 for the first time at Number 32. Like the Kylie single, you can't help but feel this one will grow and grow. Some of our favourite Christmas songs (such as the Elton and Rea ones) were all but ignored upon first release and have grown steadily into standards in the intervening years. That always means the door is open to others to do the same.
So erm yeah, that's this week for you. Having enthusiastically flagged up the long-awaited dip below a million for paid-for music sales a fortnight ago, it is worth noting that this week's singles purchases totalled a more respectable looking 1.384m in number, fuelled quite possibly by gift card redemptions. This time last year they were still a shade over 2 million. Meanwhile the singles chart tracked 15,825,000 sales-equivalent streams - another all-time record. By way of comparison: in July 2014, the first week they were counted for the singles chart, sales-equivalent streams totalled just over 2.5m.
Happy New 2018 then, and all the hits it may bring. A word of warning though, it takes the music industry a couple of weeks to crank back up to full steam these days. Don't expect more than a tiny trickle of new hits for a couple of weeks to come.