Tis The Season
Now, I'm not generally the kind of bloke to do a lazy cut-and-paste job. And when you write about something as topical as your actual pop charts that isn't always appropriate anyway. But on this particular occasion, it doesn't seem like the worst thing in the world to flashback to the words I wrote for Music Week exactly two years ago this week. Forgive the abbreviated style. 800 words doesn't actually give you lots of prose to play with:
It is a moment many fans of both artist and charts have been anticipating for some time, but it has taken this year's unprecedented surge in streams of Christmas perennials to finally make it happen. This week's No.1 single in Britain is All I Want For Christmas Is You by Mariah Carey.
Originally recorded for the singer's 1994 festive album Merry Christmas, the track was an immediate global smash, peaking at No.2 on these shores at the end of that year. The song's transformation into a beloved festive standard arguably didn't take root until Olivia Olsen's performance of it on the soundtrack of the 2003 film Love Actually but even since it seems the British public have been enraptured by it. Freed to regularly chart when the link between downloads and physical releases was severed the single began its regular December pilgrimages into the charts in 2007, climbing to No.4 at the end of that year before reaching the Top 20 in all but one year between 2008 and 2015. By that time it appeared digital ownership of the song had reached saturation point, but then the streaming era kicked in. Peaking at No.5 in 2016 the song has matched its original 1994 peak every year since before finally ascending to the summit.
Topping the charts exactly 26 years and one week since it first charted, All I Want For Christmas Is You posts the third slowest journey to the top of the charts in history, a wait that is only exceeded by the 29 year (1957-1986) odyssey of Reet Petite by Jackie Wilson and Tony Christie's 33 year (1971-2005) travels with (Is This The Way To) Amarillo. Mariah Carey tops the charts for only the third time in her 30 year career and for the first time since duetting with Westlife on a cover of Against All Odds in September 2000. The only female singer to have gone longer between appearances at the top of the charts is Cher who endured an almost 26 year gap between No.1 singles spanning 1965 and 1991. It is also Cher who still (just) holds the record as the oldest woman to top the UK charts having done so at the age of 52, Mariah lagging just behind at the age of either 50 or 51 (the ambiguity over her exact date of birth something she declines to clarify). Honourable mention should also go to Debbie Harry of Blondie who was 54 years old when she sang on Maria in 1999.
During the period prior to December 2020 when everyone seemed to be foaming at the bit at the prospect of the hardy perennial finally making it to the top of the charts I counselled that this wasn't going to be such a good thing. Because let's be honest, once the stars align in sufficient numbers to enable the vintage track to top the charts, there isn't really anything to stop it from happening over and over again. As has been proved in America.
But it is what it is. 103 weeks later here we are once more. All I Want For Christmas Is You by Mariah Carey is once again No.1 on the Official UK Singles chart. It lands 44,797 sales, with streams this week topping the 10 million mark (as they generally do).
It means we get to update at least one of the records listed above. The issue of Mariah Carey's exact age has been rather more adequately settled since. She was kind of caught in an extended lie having been sold to the world as a fresh-faced 20-year-old when she first burst onto the scene in 1990, but enterprising researchers have been able to nail down birth announcements in her hometown putting her as being born in March 1969. Meaning she is No.1 this week at the age of 53 and nine months. That would have made her the oldest solo woman ever to have a No.1 single and second only to the aforementioned Debbie Harry as the lead singer of one, but for the heroics (if you can call them that) of Kate Bush earlier this year. Ah well, there's always next time.
All I Want For Christmas Is You can't break its own record for the longest wait to top the charts, but it is now a No.1 single again some 28 years since it was first released, so it is indeed almost as old as Jackie Wilson's Reet Petite was when it was Xmas No.1 in 1986. The song is now the latest in a tiny band of singles to have reached the top of the charts on two entirely separate occasions. Bohemian Rhapsody, My Sweet Lord and Three Lions the only others. I'd say more, but for the fact I've got to leave something to say next year when inevitably the damn song barges its way to No.1 once again.
Hooray for Raye
The past few years have established the pattern that this is one of the most awkwardly positioned charts of the year. The final tipping point when contemporary hits can no longer cling on by their fingertips and it is only the biggest of them all that have the streaming (or sales) legs to muster high chart positions. But for that reason, full credit has to go to RAYE and 070 Shake. But for the Carey juggernaut Escapism would indeed have been No.1 this week, fully bringing the British singer's fortunes full circle. And there surely hasn't been anyone else who has been more excited by this than the lady herself. With 43,895 sales it was only narrowly defeated in the race to top the charts. Nothing except Christmas tracks will (in theory) get a look in for the next three weeks. But is she destined to still be hanging on for the first chart of the new year? Watch this space.
NUMBER 2 IN THE UK 🇬🇧— RAYE (@raye) December 9, 2022
NUMBER 1 IN IRELAND 🇮🇪
You have all exceeded all my expectations, the love I have for you, especially those of you who went out of your way help me achieve this,
I AM IN A DREAM 😭
All Else Is Madness
Escapism is the biggest of a mere five contemporary singles in this week's Top 10, festive also songs outnumbering current hits by a margin of 11:9 in the Top 20 overall. Last Christmas by Wham is the No.3 single this week (making you wonder if it too isn't going to make a play for a return to the top before the season is out) followed by the returning Merry Christmas from Ed Sheeran and Elton John which barges its way to No.4. This you will note is the track that stopped All I Want For Christmas Is You from repeating at the top a year ago, and as we've noted before it is benefitting from being new enough to qualify for its streams to convert at the standard rate. It will be another two years before it becomes a catalogue track and we can determine its genuine level of long-term popularity.
We should give huge credit to Stormzy whose Firebabe is another "current" hit more than holding its own amidst the festive onslaught, climbing to a new peak of No.9 to become his 14th Top 10 hit single. Compare that to its predecessor Hide & Seek which collapses 7-23 in the kind of move you'd normally expect from a single crashing to ACR status. But that isn't the case here. It is simply being barged out of the way by Christmas songs.
Oly Olly Olly
A fierce battle for albums chart supremacy was won by your mum's favourite. Olly Murs creeps to No.1 with his latest album Marry Me, his fifth chart-topper in all and one which restores him to the summit after his last release You Know I Know could only peak at No.2. You will note that the former X Factor star retains the ability to sell albums despite his days of hit singles being long behind him. If only he'd had the presence of mind to record a Christmas track once.
That leaves his week-long rival Metro Boomin languishing at No.3 with his new album Heroes & Villains. The American producer's music is as unfestive as you can possibly get, but that didn't stop him being streamed in large numbers all week. Hence the Top 3 albums chart entry and his otherwise startling status as the man with the highest new entry of the week on the singles chart. The album's biggest cut Creepin' (with heavyweight names The Weeknd and longtime partner in crime 21 Savage in tow) crashes in at No.13. It is joined by Superhero (Heroes & Villains) at No.39 and Niagara Falls (Foot Or 2) at No.46. On a non-festive themed chart they would have been 7, 16 and 20 respectively.
Don't Forget Him
It takes a very bold artist to release any kind of new material in the present climate. So props to Lewis Capaldi and label for pushing the boat out with his new single Pointless. The follow-up to No.1 hit Forget Me opens its chart account at what might seem a comparatively lowly No.20, but let's note that it would easily have been Top 10 without any Christmas songs around. This track isn't here to contend for Xmas No.1 (not unless there is an unanticipated LadBaby collaboration sat on someone's hard drive somewhere) but it is here to ensure it is in the mix and ready to emerge triumphant in the new year. Where it sits this week is unimportant. It is where it ends up in four weeks' time, when the Christmas songs vanish, that matters.
Am I going to spend the rest of this column listing the positions of various Christmas oldies? No reader, I am not. Click the link at the top to this week's charts if you are curious enough. But it may be worth noting two fun curiosities. Of all people Michael Buble is cementing his position as the undisputed King of the festive season, largely thanks to the seemingly endless appeal of his 2011 Christmas album which barges its way to the Top 5 once again this week. It means the easy-listening crooner actually has two Top 40 hits to his name, with both It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas (No.10) and Holly Jolly Christmas (No.32) clearly beloved by the compilers of Spotify and Amazon playlist compilers.
For want of anything better to do I'm also going to keep an eye on the prospects of one other festive classic over the next three weeks. For all its legendary status the 1973 Xmas No.1 hit Merry Xmas Everybody by Slade has never really caught on as a massive success in the streaming era. Perhaps the near 50-year-old hit is starting to show its age (although Rocking Around The Christmas Tree by Brenda Russell is Top 10 once more, so go figure), perhaps it just doesn't chime with the younger generation. Last year it failed even to reach the Top 20 (peaking at No.21) and in the whole of the digital era it has never peaked higher than No.16 (reaching that summit in 2017). So let's see where it lands this year. For now it is back in the Top 40 at least - up to No.36, but it was similarly No.33 this time last year and struggled to climb much thereafter.