CHART COMMENTARY from JAMES MASTERTON
Elvis again. We may have been spared an unprecedented three in a row last
week but for the moment at least there is no stopping the relentless march
of Elvis singles all queuing up for a crack at hitting the top for a second
time. With this release we have moved into the early 1960s phase of Elvis'
career. His US army service ended in March 1960 and upon being demobbed,
Elvis was raced into the studio to record new material, his presence in the
charts for the previous two years having been maintained by a dwindling
stockpile of older recordings. His manager Colonel Tom Parker was determined
that the post-army Elvis would appeal to as wide an audience as possible and
so shockingly the bad boy of rock and roll was steered firmly towards the
middle of the road.
Hence 'It's Now Or Never', a reworking of 'O Sole Mio' with new English
words added. In pure chart terms this single was actually Elvis' most
successful one ever, spending no less than eight weeks at the top of the
charts in November 1960. Its release was actually delayed for several months
in this country owing to copyright wranglings and anticipation for it had
built up to such an extent that its original American b-side 'A Mess Of
Blues' had been released as a single here instead. Back to the present day
and as well as making Number One for a second time, 'It's Now Or Never'
gives Elvis the honour of having three out of the last four Number One hits,
a strike rate only matched by John Lennon in the weeks after his murder when
'Just Like Starting Over', 'Imagine' and 'Woman' were only interrupted by a
one week run for, ahem, 'There's No-One Quite Like Grandma'
Quite where we go from here is anyone's guess. There are still several
months worth of Presley re-releases to come although word has it that the
record company has seen the folly of its plan to release the singles as
limited editions and will be upping the pressing run for future releases.
This could be a double edged sword of course as whilst it may alleviate the
first week rush of collectors to snap up the new releases (a large factor in
their strong chart showings and subsequent rapid declines) there will of
course be more copies to go round, raising the prospects of the Presley
releases keeping pace with the rest of the chart as sales rise up from their
traditional January slump.
Just as last week, the main challenge to Elvis' crown comes thanks to a US
R&B star. This week however Ashanti fails where Ciara was triumphant and her
new single 'Only U' has to make do with second place. Whilst nobody will
pretend the single is her greatest ever piece of work (it is actually a
messy, drum-laded dirge that she is required to whine over rather than
actually make best use of her voice) it nonetheless becomes far and away her
biggest hit single to date, beating the Number 4 peak of her debut hit
'Foolish' from July 2002. She came within a whisker of being Number One this
week but you know what, in spite of the way it is rapidly turning the
singles chart into a joke, I prefer Elvis.
Next to play at Number 4 is the One World Project. The success of the new
Band Aid recording at Christmas has of course suddenly made charity
collaborations fashionable again and when news of the Asian tsunami disaster
broke it was almost inevitable that some form of charity record would
emerge. Several projects have been mooted but the biggest to emerge is
bizarrely that of the One World Project. I say bizarrely as the assembly of
stars on this record doesn't so much represent a who's who of the pop world
but instead stands proud as the biggest collection of relics the industry
has to offer. Members of The Who, The Beach Boys, The Rolling Stones appear
on the song along with the likes of Steve Winwood, Boy George Rick Wakeman
and er, Russell Watson. The main selling point of the song is the appearance
of Robin and Barry Gibb who perform on record for the first time since the
sad death of their brother Maurice. Oh and Cliff is on there as well. The
reason the single hasn't quite set the world on fire is apparent when you
hear it for 'Grief Never Goes Old' is a wonderfully pompous four minute
dirge that sounds just as you would expect from the cast lineup - a bunch of
old men desperately trying to sound cool. Ordinarily I'd feel bad about
shovelling dirt onto a record released for such a worthy cause but this
smacks of a record made for all the wrong reasons. The original Band Aid was
a record made in an attempt to focus world attention on a disaster that
might otherwise have slipped under the radar. The tsunami on the other hand
has been at the forefront of people's minds ever since it happened.
Spontaneously and without prompting the public dug deep to raise millions in
aid. Making a charity record - especially one as bad as this - actually adds
little and serves more as an ego trip for those involved rather than the
altruistic gesture that was intended.
Time to move on to better things and new in at Number 6 is 'Shine' by
Lovefreekz, the new alias for dance veteran Mark Hadfield. His career
stretches back to the early 1990s when he contributed mixing skills to live
tours by the likes of SL2 and The Prodigy. His first chart records came as a
member of Loveland who notched up four Top 40 hits in the mid-90s, the
biggest of which was 'Let The Music Lift You Up' which hit Number 16 in
April 1994. In the late 90s he reinvented himself as a trancemeister and was
behind the three Lucid hits (including 'I can't Help Myself') which charted
in 1998 and 1999. His last chart incarnation was in 2003 when as Lovebug he
hit Number 35 with the track 'Who's The Daddy' and in keeping with the theme
has now become Lovefreekz. The single itself appeared in clubs as a breath
of fresh air over Christmas, despite being something of a throwback to the
"mutant disco" sound that dominated the start of the decade. 'Shine' is
based heavily on ELO's 1979 hit 'Shine A Little Love', its chorus having
been ripped out and turned into the heart of this club stormer. Yes, it
breaks no new ground and yes, it is based heavily on a tried and tested
disco tune but a club track that makes you break into a huge grin even when
it just appears on the radio (see also 'Lola's Theme') is a joy to
experience and frankly this knocks the rest of this weeks new offerings out
of the park.
At Number 8 are Freefaller whose debut single emerges just in time to
potentially fill the gap left behind by the demise of Busted. Yes, they are
another rock act aimed firmly at the teen market, Ollie, Dean, Gary and Rich
having been pushed as much as sex symbols as they are musicians. Lead singer
Ollie is no stranger to the screaming girl market having once been a member
of Point Break who had a run of hit singles back in 2000. Yes, they are as
manufactured as the chair you are sitting on right now but that doesn't stop
'Do This Do That' having the same kind of charm that makes you sit up and
take notice. If Busted left behind one legacy it was the reinvention of the
concept of a pop act who played real music rather than miming to backing
tapes. If Freefaller are the result of that then it wasn't all in vain.
Making his first chart appearance in almost three years this week is rapper
Xzibit who storms a busy Top 10 at Number 9 with 'Hey Now (Mean Muggin). It
is only ever his third ever chart single and far and away the biggest,
soaring past the Number 14 peak of his debut track 'X' which charted in
March 2001 and which incidentally holds the record for the shortest ever
title, being as it is just a single letter. My reaction to this track takes
just two letters. Eh.
Yet again this week the record is equaled as no less than seven new singles
enter the Top 10. The last one arrives at Number 10 in the shape of a
comeback for some none more 90s child stars. The three brothers of Hanson
made their name as long-haired teenagers in 1997 with the release of the
instant classic 'Mmmbop' which charged to the top of the charts all around
the world and became an airplay staple for years afterwards, even if nobody
could ever work out what they were singing about. Two more Top 10 hits
followed in the shape of 'Where's The Love' and seasonal ballad 'I Will Come
To You' and whilst they weren't bad singles overall they never managed to
recapture the magical sparkle of their debut. Two comebacks followed in 1998
and 2000, their last chart single coming almost five years ago when 'If
Only' limped to Number 15. Now eight years on from their debut and with the
albatross of 'Mmmbop' little more than a distant memory the boys (or rather
deep voiced adults as they are now) return with a brand new single and their
first Top 10 hit since those heady days of 1997. 'Penny And Me' is chirpy
and catchy enough and strays just on the right side of the line marked
"country" to work as a pop-rock single. They aren't going to break any sales
records with this comeback but in a way it is a nice feeling to see them
still having hits. They once made what can still rank as one of the best pop
records of the 90s and deserve more than to have people sniggering behind
their hands at the way they looked.
Just missing out on the Top 10 is Ashlee "miniature Jessica" Simpson with
her second hit single, the followup to 'Pieces Of Me' which made Number 4
back in October. 'La La' is actually quite the reverse of what you would
expect, a raucous rock track that comes across as Avril Lavigne with washed
hair and makeup if you take my meaning. Surprisingly inoffensive and a
record that makes you fear the inevitable music career of Jamie Lynn Spears
just a little less.
In at Number 15 is Mylo with 'Destroy Rock And Roll' (hey, it would mean no
more Elvis if nothing else). Again this is the second hit for the man from
the Isle Of Skye, the followup to 'Drop The Pressure' which made Number 19
back in October. 'Destroy Rock And Roll' was the single that first brought
him to people's attention two years ago, Mylo boasting that the original
version was mixed on nothing more sophisticated than Protools Free. The
track is based around a processed vocal sample from a female preacher
denouncing the likes of Duran Duran and Michael Jackson as the work of the
devil. No mention of Darius strangely.
Say farewell to Phixx as I suspect that this will be the last we see of
them. The boy band made up of the male rejects from Popstars - The Rivals in
2002 have tried their hardest but after four singles they are no nearer to
matching the Number 10 peak of 'Hold On Me', their November 2003 debut. That
they never really took off is something of a shame as the concept of a boy
band performing in the style of various 80s legends was a good one. 'Strange
Love' is actually their best single since the aforementioned 'Hold On Me'
and had it been released in 1986 would have been massive. Quite why the
sound of the 80s doesn't work when we have a recording from 1960 at the top
of the charts this week is something that it is best we don't dwell on too
A better prospect, despite being two places lower, are Lemon Jelly. This is
their second hit single from the latest album from the twisted pair, the
followup to 'Stay With You' which crept to Number 31 just before Christmas.
'The Shouty Track' is a typical four minutes of drift away and dream loops
and nicely becomes their biggest hit single since 'Nice Weather For Ducks'
gave them what is for now their one and only Top 20 hit when it made Number
16 almost exactly two years ago.
To wrap things up this week, lets us consider the track at Number 23,
'Attention' by Commander Tom. The German mixer has until now never had a UK
hit single but charges the Top 30 thanks to this remixed version of a track
he first released way back in 2000. The vocals from 'Attention' are actually
lifted from 'Superstar', a 1998 hit single by fellow countryman Novy. Oh
yes, and the video features a gyrating woman (fully clothed for a change).
What more could you wish for?
Next week's Elvis track - 'Are You Lonesome Tonight'. All the world's a