Double Top

There’s a fun moment in the middle of Jonathan King’s musical film “Me Me Me” where the characters very nearly anticipate what is about to take place on the British charts. Detailing his plans to turn graffiti artist Johnny Bambino into the next big music sensation, impressario Ben Volio has a bold and daring release strategy:

This plan to make the Number One position “exclusive” to the singer works a charm until… well, that’s for the interested to watch and see.

I reference this because according to all sales figures available at this point, tomorrow afternoon Justin Bieber will make a small piece of singles chart history, knocking himself off the top of the Official UK Singles chart with Love Yourself. He will by no means be the first to have back to back Number One singles, but as history shows he will be unique in the modern era simply by being alive when he does so.

The early years of British chart history saw all manner of strange and rather unusual things take place at the top of the charts – joint Number One singles, dual versions of the same song taking turns at the top and even on one occasion two different versions of the same song being considered the joint chart-topper of the week. But nobody ever managed what appeared to be the ultimate trick of replacing themselves at the top of what was then termed the Hit Parade.

The first act to achieve this were, who else, The Beatles. In late 1963 at the height of the first wave of Beatlemania their third single She Loves You had already had an extended run at the top of the charts, spending four weeks at the top from mid-September. A full seven weeks then elapsed with the single bouncing between the second and third slot whilst first Do You Love Me by Brian Poole and the Tremeloes and then You’ll Never Walk Alone by Gerry and the Pacemakers had spells at the top of the charts. In late November however both singles fell away and the path was left clear for She Loves You to have a further fortnight at the top of the charts. As it turned out the single was simply keeping the slot warm, long enough for the next Beatles single I Want To Hold Your Hand to climb from its Number 10 debut position to the very top. The four lads from Merseyside had just made chart history and replaced themselves at the summit.

It would be another 17 years before anyone else did the same – and it just so happened that one of the same men was involved. The murder of John Lennon in December 1980 prompted a tidal wave of emotion at the passing of one of the greatest musicians and songwriters of his generation. The most immediate impact was an immediate reversal of fortune for his then-current single (Just Like) Starting Over which had seemingly peaked at Number 8 in late November and was at the time of the singer’s death making its way gently down the charts. The week ending December 20th however saw the single make what was at the time one the biggest ever jumps to the top of the charts as it rocketed 21-1 to give Lennon the first of what would turn out to be several posthumous Number One singles.

Then Christmas intervened and the St Winifred’s School Choir broke the reverie as There’s No-One Quite Like Grandma topped the charts for the season. Said record is credited with two weeks at Number One but it was actually only top of one published chart – at the time no music charts were published over the new year and the record books simply duplicate the Christmas countdown for the sake of continuity.

In the meantime the Lennon tribute industry had kicked into life in earnest. Happy Xmas (War Is Over) shot into the charts and peaked at Number 2 for the holiday, to be swiftly followed by his 1975 masterpiece Imagine. On the first chart of the new year, the latter installed itself at Number One where it remained for a month. This was just long enough to coincide with the release of a brand new Lennon track, the second single from the now iconic Double Fantasy album which he had come out of retirement to promote. On February 2nd 1981 Woman climbed to the top of the charts, deposing Imagine and depending on your point of view making John Lennon either the second artist to replace himself at the top, or simply doing it for the second time in his career.

The third and final incidence of back to back Number One hits would arrive in the first weeks of 2005. This was during the dying weeks of the physical-only singles market, which by that time was itself in terminal decline. The singles chart at the time was essentially circling the drain, its methodology having utterly failed to keep pace with the sea-change in consumer behaviour and with the long overdue introduction of digital sales still three months away. The ideal time then for some opportunistic and highly targeted re-issues.

To mark the 70th anniversary of the artists’s birth, Elvis Presley’s record label RCA/BMG embarked on a unique first, a weekly programme of re-issues of each of the King’s 18 UK Number One singles in chronological order. In actual fact two were released in the first week, All Shook Up landing in the shops simultaneously with Jailhouse Rock. The former was chart ineligible, coming as it did in a special cardboard sleeve in which all the other discs could be housed. It still sold 17,000 copies and would actually have placed at Number 2 had any of them counted. Jailhouse Rock on the other hand was free to chart and the 21,000 copies it duly sold were enough to ensure it deposed début X Factor winner Steve Brookstein from the top of the charts and in the process become the 999th Number One and only the third single in chart history to top the charts twice.

One week later and with no other new releases able to command anywhere near even that miserable level of sales, Elvis’ third chart-topper One Night duly became his 20th as well. 18 years after he had died Elvis Presley had become the third act to have two successive Number One hits on the British charts. Needless to say the following week there was immense speculation as to whether he could manage a unique treble, hopes for which were dashed when Goodies by Ciara just sneaked ahead of the re-released A Fool Such As I/I Need Your Love Tonight. ‘Normal’ service was resumed the following week as Elvis was back on top with It’s Now Or Never, the last of the 70th anniversary re-releases to land at the top of the charts to widespread relief. Nonetheless three different Number One hits in the space of four weeks is the closest anyone has ever come to the ultimate chart triple – although I refer you once more back to the small detail of John Lennon’s fortnight away from the top in 1980/81 being only due to the second of those being a dark week for the British charts.

Which brings us neatly back to the present day. Assuming nothing changes in the next 24 hours, Justin Bieber will this week become only the second ever living artist to replace himself at the top of the charts and the first to do so in almost 11 years. You will note that the previous occasions have all been during very specific circumstances – at the height of the first ever wave of fan devotion for a pop group, the aftermath of the murder of a musical hero and a weekly re-issue programme at the precise moment when the sales market was on the verge of collapse. Bieber has to all intents and purposes pulled off the trick without any such mitigation.

Except that times are different and indeed it is perhaps surprising that this hasn’t happened before now. Given that the music market is no longer beholden to the release plans of artists and labels, hits can happen spontaneously out of nowhere and the cross-pollination of acts means that everyone performs on everyone else’s records. Side by side chart hits for the same act are nothing new or particularly notable these days. It was inevitable that at some point someone would be in the perfect position to replace themselves at the top.

Now, this wouldn’t be a chart fact without a “yeahbut” creeping in here, because technically there is a fifth act who have swapped places with themselves at the top and indeed did so three times. I refer to The Shadows who in the early 1960s were unique in being both Cliff Richard’s fully credited backing group as well as having their own parallel ‘solo’ career. So it was in August 1960 that Please Don’t Tease by Cliff Richard and The Shadows gave way to Apache by The Shadows. Then in January 1963 The Next Time/Bachelor Boy by Cliff and the Shads was replaced by Dance On by the Shadows alone, and two months later it happened again as Cliff’s Summer Holiday was deposed by their own Foot Tapper.

You can decide for yourself if this counts or whether it is technicality, although it is worth noting that by and large the Official Charts Company don’t regard Cliff’s early hits or albums as counting towards the chart tallies of The Shadows themselves (although their singles database hasn’t quite caught up in that respect).

If we overlook technicalities such as “being a guest on someone else’s record) then replacing oneself at the top of the charts has nearly been achieved by two other acts in recent years. In June 2010 Dizzee Rascal topped the charts with his own track Dirtee Disco, his reign as chart king sadly lasting just a week before David Guetta and Chris Willis’ Gettin’ Over You stormed to the top instead. Had he clung on he would have been perfectly placed to surrender the top slot instead to his own Shout, the World Cup anthem he performed alongside James Corden.

Three years later Pharrell Williams was very nearly the guest singer on two back to back Number One hits – only Naughty Boy’s La La La got in the way of Get Lucky being succeeded at the top of the charts by Blurred Lines.

So yes, technically both Rascal and Williams were mere guest stars on at least one of their Number One records in the same way The Shadows were just “guests” on Cliff Richard’s hits. Justin Bieber’s chart feat will go down as extraordinary – he’s the sole lead act on both singles and perhaps more pertinently he’s still alive to see it happen.

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