This week's Official UK Singles Chart

[Right, here we go. An infamous piece to match a very infamous singles chart race. For a time this was the most commented upon article on Yahoo! Music. See if you can work out why].

Well it hasn't been a wholly dull week has it?

Even the most seasoned chart watchers will have been taken aback by the unprecedented level of interest across all areas of the media in the traditional race for Christmas Number One, this thanks almost entirely due to the race being transformed from the X Factor led procession of recent years by the most baffling of circumstances.

Doubtless most reading this will be aware of the tale already, but for the sake of posterity it is worth documenting anyway. A vague notion by two slightly strange people on Facebook to try to hijack the Christmas chart and to try to prevent the inevitable cruise to the top by the single from X Factor winner Joe McElderry by staging a mass buy-in of the 1993 hit Killing In The Name by Rage Against The Machine somehow took on a life of its own. Perhaps more so than any other online campaign in the past, this one gained enough critical mass to be a self-perpetuating bandwagon. What might under any other circumstances have been a minor giggle turned into something very real indeed - one which took on an extra frisson when early figures in the week, 24 hour lead notwithstanding, that the Rage Against The Machine track actually had the sales edge. For the first time ever, requests for people to download an apparently random track en-masse were actually being heeded.

Despite the gap being closed day by day and with the inevitable midweek surge that resulted from the Wednesday release of the X Factor CD single, it was a tide that not even a reality TV winner was able to turn. The 2009 Christmas Number One single will - bizarrely - be recorded as a 17 year old hardcore rap metal tune that was just a footnote in chart history two short weeks ago. The unthinkable became reality, as Killing In The Name outsold The Climb by the small matter of 52,000 copies, despite a few concerns that incidents of bulk purchasing by some really enthusiastic supporters were starting to trigger hyping thresholds built into the chart rules.

The same objections I outlined last week still stand. Proper music fans will see it as a matter of some considerable regret that the biggest selling single of the week is not a record that has been bought by people appreciating the way it sounds but instead downloaded by people because it was a joke, something that seemed like a good idea, a misguided statement against something they didn't previously know they disagreed with or because a guy they knew on Facebook sent them a message suggesting that they do it. If ever there was a downside to the free for all that the download era of music brought to the table then this is it, a record topping the charts in a drive-by attack and for the most part purchased by people for what it represents rather than as a reflection of its cultural popularity and the way it actually sounds. Just as Elton John and his turgid Diana record sits as a stain on the list of biggest selling singles, so too the Christmas Number One of 2009 forever requires a footnote to explain the reasons behind it. I can't pretend that is anything particularly worth celebrating. That said, having just seen the instigator of the campaign appear on Sky News and suggest with a straight face that "the chart doesn't represent the music that people in the UK like" it is a matter of some considerable joy to note that people have participated in bringing to fruition an idea conjured up by a total idiot.

Still, let us take some positives from this. One effect the race did have was to stir up a level of interest in the music charts which had not been seen for some time. In an era when the lack of direct visibility of the official singles chart was starting to become a matter of some concern, the fact that midweek sales figures were being quoted day by day in just about every newspaper going and with employees of the Official Charts Company themselves appearing on the news to talk about their product and what it represented was something quite special to witness. Given that the one unarguable consequence of the X Factor-led procession at Christmas was to deflate popular interest in the only time of the year when even the most casual of music fan had cause to take an interest or even care what was at Number One, it would be foolish not to welcome the fact that this week the level of mainstream interest in the music charts was effectively at its highest level ever, however idiotic the circumstances. Heck, even the debate over Amazon's 26p downloads and whether or not they were chart eligible (they are) gave the existence of an online store publicity in excess of anything it has managed to attract since launch.

It would be nice to think that the good that comes out of this will result in people rediscovering a love of music, of the relevance of it to their lives or even the idea that clicking online to purchase an mp3 is a worthwhile thing to do. I can't help but smile at the thought of whole sections of the public who might otherwise have never paid for another piece of music again getting out their debit cards and participating in the fun. I'll take that as the one remaining glimmer of magic that remains from this strange affair.

Naturally some sympathy has to be extended in the direction of X Factor 2009 winner Joe McElderry who didn't actually sell any less records last week than an average X Factor winner (and in one or two cases actually more) but who still has the dubious honour of becoming only the second winner of the TV talent contest not to see his coronation single top the charts in its first week on sale. He thus joins Steve Brookstein, winner of the very first series in 2004 whose own debut at Number 2 with Against All Odds was less of a shock at the time given that it was up against the more or less unstoppable force of the Band Aid 20 remake of Do They Know It's Christmas. Brookstein subsequently hit the top in the new year in his second week on sale, a fate that is almost certainly in the destiny of Joe McElderry once the Rage Against The Machine bandwagon has merrily rolled out of town.

As has been the trend for the past three years, the X Factor winning single is a cover version of a song that has previous been a hit for another artist. Unusually this year the X Factor version has come whilst memories of the original are still fresh in the minds of the many - for The Climb was a hit as recently as this spring for its intended beneficiary Miley Cyrus. Penned by Jessi Alexander and Jon Mabe for the soundtrack of Cyrus' starring vehicle 'Hannah Montana - The Movie', her version peaked at Number 11 in mid-May during a 14 week Top 75 run. Inevitably the Joe McElderry version has prompted a surge of interest in the original and so Cyrus duly returns to the chart with The Climb at Number 31 this week.

Indeed Joe McElderry's strange influence on the back catalogue of others does not stop there. His performance of Journey's Don't Stop Believin' during the heats of the show back in November had already sent the rock standard to an all-time chart high of Number 19 but after his reprise of the song during the final broadcast last weekend it now rebounds still further to jump 52-9 and land the song a place in the Top 10 a full 27 years after it was first recorded. Don't Stop Believin' also charts this week in a version by the cast of the TV show Glee, this in the immediate aftermath of the screening of the pilot episode here during the week. With the series set to air in full in the new year, this is the first indication that it may well be about to duplicate the ability it demonstrated Stateside to turn the songs from each episode into chart hits as they are made available week by week in tandem with the TV broadcasts.

Now imagine you had released a brand new single in time for the Christmas chart and that against what appeared like insurmountable odds it had crash landed inside the Top 5 and yet due to certain other circumstances nobody really noticed? Time to be upstanding then for American rockers 3OH!3 whose second chart single Starstrukk makes an impressive debut at Number 5. A dramatic improvement on the Number 21 peak of their first single Don't Trust Me, the track owes much of its appeal to a guest vocal from Katy Perry whose presence has helped the single gain far more attention than might otherwise have been the case. In any other week we would be applauding this as the joyful arrival of a genuine crossover smash hit single and it would be wrong dismiss it as just a footnote in the story of the Christmas chart. As ever, there is fun to be had in speculating just what will rise to the top once the holiday fuss has died down in a couple of weeks time. By no means should Starstrukk be written off in this respect.

Journey and 3OH!3 aside, the other arrivals to the Top 10 all inevitably have an X Factor kind of link to them. Leading the charge is Robbie Williams who vaults 15-6 with You Know Me most probably as a direct result of his performance of the song during the final showdown last weekend, but also due in no small part to the fact that this sounds far more like classic Robbie of old and a major step forward from the rather impenetrable Bodies which was his last chart single.

Once place behind at Number 7 is Cheryl Cole who not only gets to celebrate being the sponsor and mentor of the X Factor winner for the second year running but who also has a solo Top 10 hit for Christmas. Well sort of solo anyway, as 3 Words, the title track from her album, features a prominent guest starring role for writer and producer A chart ever-present since the album hit the stores back in November (initially peaking at Number 26 as a halo hit for Fight For This Love, the track has now been promoted to a single proper and ascends to the Top 10 for the very first time.

Some small measure of commiseration should go to George Michael who doesn't quite get the X Factor magical rub for his seasonal offering December Song (I Dreamed Of Christmas) which despite a performance on the show last weekend can only manage a Number 14 placing for the seasonal chart. Nonetheless it marks something of a welcome chart comeback for the pop legend, this his first hit single since This Is Not Real Love hit Number 15 in November 2006. George Michael is no stranger to Christmas chart races, having written and sung on Last Christmas by Wham! Which lodged at Number 2 way back in 1984, stuck behind the original Band Aid single on which he naturally had a starring role.

Meanwhile the X Factor alumni of previous years also make their own minor chart impacts. Leona Lewis charges in at Number 29 with her cover of Oasis' Stop Crying Your Heart Out whilst Alexandra Burke's third hit single Broken Heels makes its Top 40 debut at Number 36 as the follow-up to Number One smash Bad Boys.

Although widely speculated to be a novelty smash hit for the season thanks to the wild popularity of the YouTube video which inspired it, on record the Muppets' take on the 1975 and 1991 Christmas Number One Bohemian Rhapsody proves less of a draw and the single limps in at Number 32. Everyone in the comments who boldly insisted that 1987 seasonal champions The Pet Shop Boys would also be in contention with their Christmas EP can also be pointed and laughed at as It Doesn't Often Snow At Christmas makes a token appearance at Number 40.

As for the Christmas classics themselves, their chart invasion appears to have less and less of an impact with each passing year. Fairytale Of New York emerges the 2009 champion at Number 18 with All I Want For Christmas Is You suffering a surprising reverse and sitting down at Number 21. Suggesting perhaps that mass ownership of the standards has now reached saturation point in the mp3 age [you wish], they are the only two holiday perennials to claim a Top 40 berth this year, in marked contrast to the chart of two years ago when 8 different classic songs clogged up the chart.

There will be plenty more in the podcast later this week, including details of how in ignorance the Rage Against The Machine campaigners have actually made Simon Cowell (the true object of their ire) twice as rich as he otherwise would have been, it is worth noting the line-up on the album chart this week. Susan Boyle remains locked at the top as everyone thought she would, but below her all but one of the Top 10 albums of the week is by an act whose sales have directly and tangibly benefitted from an association with X Factor this year - and even Snow Patrol don't get off quite so easily given the ubiquitous presence of Chasing Cars in the show's more emotional video montages.

To all purchasers of Killing In The Name, my hearty congratulations on your abject failure to "stick it to the man", and happy Christmas to everyone else who had better things to do. See you next week for a chart which for a whole number of reasons is actually far more important to the music industry than this particular survey is, in spite of all the hype.