Got A Long List
Her motivations for doing so may have all but melted away, the hated Scooter Braun having long divested himself of any interest in the Big Machine catalogue, but having committed to the moment Taylor Swift is determined to see it through. Her project to re-record and then re-release her early back catalogue work in new "Taylor's Version" editions this week steps up to a brand new level.
Previous editions in the series have all covered the evolutionary part of her career. Her worldwide country breakthrough Fearless, its little-loved followup Speak Now and gentle pop transition Red have all come and gone to varying levels of success. But now the project has hit Peak Taylor. 2014's 1989 album (named after the year of her birth) was her coming out party as a superstar, her first unabashedly mainstream pop record and one which fully marked her transformation into the global megastar we know today. Indeed the renewed attention to her previous work inspired by her Eras tour has meant interest in the original version of 1989 has reached a new peak in recent months, the record having been a near-permanent fixture in the Top 20 since the spring. The Taylor's Version re-release was always going to be a very big deal indeed.
And so it proves. 1989 (Taylor's Version) smashes its way to the top of the charts in some considerable style, clocking up 184,965 chart sales (of which almost an extraordinary 139,000 were physical formats) during the week, enough to outsell the rest of the Top 30 put together. The album duplicates its No.1 success that it first achieved upon release exactly nine years ago this week. All four of the Taylor's Version albums have now topped the charts although only 1989 and Red did so in their original form.
It is now her 11th No.1 album, every single of one of course having come in the 21st century. That puts her second only to Robbie Williams who has topped the charts 12 times since 2001. She has also landed 11 No.1 albums faster than all but one act in chart history, her tally having been achieved in a little over 11 years. Only The Beatles can better that, having run up the total in just 7.
1989 (Taylor's Version) is her third album to spend time at No.1 this year, hard on the heels of Midnights and Speak Now (Taylor's Version). That too matches a feat hitherto only achieved by The Beatles (yes, them again), who in 1965 topped the charts with Beatles For Sale, Help and Rubber Soul. It is worth noting that both acts only managed this with albums which had been released (and first topped the charts) in the previous calendar year - Midnights a 2022 release for TayTay and Beatles For Sale having begun its own chart journey in December 1964. But let's not split hairs.
Clean Sweep (ish)
An album this big could not help but have a huge singles chart impact, and indeed for most of the week it looked very much as if Taylor Swift was going to set a brand new benchmark of her own with new entries at 1, 2 and 3 respectively. In the end that doesn't transpire, but she still has the biggest new hits of the week, debuting at 1, 2 and 5 on the Official UK Singles chart.
All her hits are inevitably some of the "vault" tracks, ones which did not make the cut for the tracklisting first time around but which now get an airing to help tell the full story of the creation of the album. Leading the charge is Is It Over Now (Taylor's Version) which smashes its way directly to the top of the charts. It is - perhaps surprisingly - only her third No.1 single in this country, following 2017's Look What You Made Me Do and last year's Anti-Hero. It does however mean she does the Double, topping both singles and albums charts together, for the second time. This makes her only the seventh woman to do it twice, and the third this year following the exploits of Miley Cyrus and Ellie Goulding. Musically it is a curiosity, because it is at the end of the day a 2014 pop record barging its way into the charts of 2023. And it is a work by the Taylor Swift of 2014, who would basically turn every waking moment with an ex boyfriend into a song. It was generally held that most of the love songs on 1989 were about Harry Styles, so let the speculation begin that this one is too. Meanwhile the chart domination of ladies continues. Is It Over Now (Taylor's Version) is the sixth No.1 single in a row by a solo female artist.
In second place is Now That We Don't Talk (Taylor's Version) which you can explore for yourselves if you are so interested, but it is also about a nameless ex boyfriend, or so we are supposed to assume. And her mom says it is for the best, so that's us and her told.
The third of her three permitted hits is Slut! (Taylor's Version) which rounds off the Top 5. This one has the most fascinating story of all though, Swift having admitted it was a last-minute decision to leave this off the original tracklisting in favour of Blank Space. The latter of course was a worldwide smash hit and has become one of her most iconic hit records, so it is something of a sliding doors moment to hear the song that but for a momentary hesitation might have replaced and confined it to the vaults for a decade.
Not Into Taylor? Read On!
Study of the charts deals with what-is rather than what-ifs, but it is fun to note that the none-Taylor Swift records in the Top 3 are last week's Top 2, only with Prada by Casso and friends at No.3 and last week's No.1 Strangers from Kenya Grace at No.4. Meaning in a Swift-free world we would have had a changing of the guard at the top. Presuming (although it is by no means a given) that the Taylor tracks will die away a bit next week, does that mean Prada is in prime position to finally ascend to No.1? Amusingly absent from the Top 10 (despite with enough consumption to justify a place) is Taylor Swift's own Cruel Summer, starred-out because her newer releases have taken up all three of her permitted chart positions. But for the rule Ms Swift would have enjoyed five of this week's Top 10 singles.
In a way it is a shame that Taylor Swift dominates all chart stories, because the rest of this week's singles chart is a genuine oddity. Here we are in early November yet the new arrivals of the week are all seasonally-themed golden oldies - Halloween-themed records propelled there by what you must presume are party plays and lean-back streams from playlists.
It is surely the latter that prompts the new entry at No.14. This Is Halloween by Danny Elfman, a 30 year old song lifted from the soundtrack of the Tim Burton film The Nightmare Before Christmas. Never before has it shown even a hint of mainstream interest, cultural impact or come close to making the charts. And yet here it is today, the 46th most streamed track of the week and a certified Top 20 hit.
But it doesn't end there. Thriller from Michael Jackson is No.20, making its first Top 40 appearance since 2017 (when it made No.34) and its highest chart placing since it made No.12 in the wake of Jackson's death in 2009. Just behind at No.21 is Ghostbusters from Ray Parker Jnr which makes the Top 40 for the third Halloween running but which is today at its highest chart position since its original 1984 run which saw it peak at No.2. Also on a Halloween tip is the even more elderly Monster Mash from Bobby 'Boris' Pickett, No.29 this in what is once again its highest chart placing since it belated became a British chart hit for the first time in 1973. Outside the Top 40 are Someone's Watching Me from Rockwell (No.44) and Spooky Scary Skeletons by Andrew Gold (making its chart debut), the latter taken from a 1996 album of 'spooky' themed cuts which has hitherto never benefitted from public attention at this or indeed any other time of year. We'll draw a veil over Zombie from The Cranberries at No.81, its title literally the only spooky thing about the record.
Why are these all so high up the charts? Streaming popularity on a level normally only seen by Christmas songs is the sole reason, all except the Elfman track are apparently confined to ACR. A glance at the unfiltered streaming chart shows the true popularity order of these hits. Thriller is No.20, Ghostbusters No.22 and Monster Mash No.34. No harm no foul there, they will all vanish as quickly as they arrived next week. But the presence of the Elfman and Gold singles does rather highlight the nature of the streams they received. Streamed from generated playlists by people paying very little attention to what they actually are.
Two Tickets To Iron Maiden
There's also another golden oldie oddity on the Top 40, this time one that has nothing to do with ghosts or ghouls. Teenage Dirtbag by Wheatus was originally a No.2 hit in early 2001 but has enjoyed a chart life that extended way beyond that original run. This is largely down to the band fully embracing the benefits of the digital download era in the early 2010s, regularly letting the track be featured in iTunes sales and then "taking to social media" (as the papers would put it) and gleefully encouraging downloads of the track to push it into the charts. Hence its repeated chart returns during that period, making No.43 in March 2011, No.36 in April 2012, No.46 in both March and August 2013. Diminishing returns thereafter and the arrival of the streaming era meant they grew bored of the game and went silent. Except now they are back, currently in the middle of a UK tour and with Teenage Dirtbag suddenly the subject of a viral wave on TikTok the band and their label have requested an ACR reset and are rewarded with their biggest chart entry for the song in 11 years. The almost 23 year old song is back on the Top 40 at No.38, only briefly you suspect. But enough for me to devote an entire paragraph to it again. Meanwhile the evergreen Mr Brightside by The Killers continues to float around, never quite managing to make the Top 40 but still a forever stream. It spent 47 weeks on the Top 100 in 2021, 47 weeks in 2022 and has been an ever-present for all 44 chart weeks so far in 2023. Only the arrival of Christmas songs pushes it out of the way.
Yeah Yeah Yeah?
Perhaps the final eyebrow-raiser of the week is just outside the Top 40. There will be much more to say about it next week when you hope it will become a proper hit, but making an unexpected bow already is the much-heralded "final Beatles single" Now And Then. Released to the world at 2pm on Thursday it has generated enough sales (and theoretically streams) to rank at No.42 for the week. I say "theoretically" as the charts are generally compiled with streaming data guesstimated from that gathered during the week - and as Now And Then by default had zero streams from Friday-Wednesday it will not have been credited with any by the algorithms that lash the chart together. The track did register a handful of streams, but these inevitably are from those smaller services which manage to report in time to be included in chart compilation. Spotify and Apple and their ilk alas never do. So the No.42 placing is you rather suspect entirely down to purchases and pre-orders. But those are effectively wasted sales, wasted on this week's chart rather than the one of next. If Now And Then is to become any kind of major hit (to rival previous recreated Beatles hits Free As A Bird and Real Love in 1995 and 1996 respectively) then it will have to enjoy some quite hefty streaming to go alongside the physical orders which will be added to next week's tally. And to be honest, after having heard it once I can't say I'm too enthusiastic about listening to it again. If you are one of those holding their breath waiting for it to fly to No.1, all I can do is encourage you to exhale.