Christmas Number One – Liveblog

Friday December 23rd – 7pm: What are you still doing here? The race is over. Read all about it on Chart Watch UK – it is worth it.


Thursday December 22nd – 1pm: I had in my head today to write a long and detailed account of the way the numbers are working and in the absence of any solid information how we can infer that the gap between the Number 1 and Number 2 in the singles chart race this week is not narrowing in any way at all.

But truly there is no need. There’s another sales flash circulating behind the scenes, Music Week will publish the details later. But all you need to know is this: Clean Bandit lead Rag’N’Bone Man by 7,000 sales as of the close of play Wednesday. And that’s without certain streaming data to take into account as well.

Bookmakers, grab some headlines and settle the markets now. Clean Bandit will land the Christmas Number One 2016 with their seventh week at the top of the charts – something that is totally without precedent in the modern era. If any media outlet is tempted to write a story of how this has been “disappointing” and something of a damp squib of a festive battle, send them to me and I’ll put them straight with a few home truths.

I’ll tell you the full story of a truly great triumph for a truly great British band and the outright victory for “real music” we’ve been told has been urgently needed for years, this Friday night on the Chart Watch UK site. Link at the top of the page.


Wednesday December 21st – 2pm: We here’s me half expecting no further progress updates as the week draws on when one lands in my lap mid-morning. It features the state of the singles market as of the end of Tuesday with the caveat that it is (as you might expect for that time of day) missing streaming data for Apple and Spotify for Tuesday.

Despite all appearances to the contrary, we do actually have something of a race, even if the prospect of the lead changing hands before the end of the week remains slim. According to the latest numbers Rockabye and Human are separated by the small matter of 6,000 sales and it is a gap which it seems will remain just as tight for the rest of this week. What stymies the prospects of Rag’N’Bone Man taking over at the top of the charts at least for this week are his still sluggish streams. Tuesday’s Spotify numbers bear this out – 362,000 for Rockabye versus 184,000 for Human. That’s approximately 3,600 chart sales compared to 1,840 just from Spotify alone. To wipe out that deficit, Rag’N’Bone Man would have to be similarly besting Clean Bandit by more than 1,800 sales a day at downloads. Which he may well be, but that information is something only the Official Charts Company themselves are privy to for now.

Note that if we add this Spotify data to the streaming-free sales flash the gap between first and second increases to 7,800 – and that’s without knowing what the Apple Music numbers were.

They are naturally well out of the Christmas Number One race, but for the record none of the other ante-post contenders are in the Top 20 flash I was handed. The Dave Clark Five track suddenly bounced into the sales race by Glasgow Rangers fans ends up at Number 64 as of the end of Tuesday. Don’t be fooled by any talk that it will be anywhere near the top of the charts this weekend. It is a total red (blue?) herring. The fact that it is trading at 47-1 on Betfair at the time of writing should be enough to clue you in on how the armchair gamblers view it too.


Tuesday December 20th – 5pm: Today began pretty much as expected, Rag’N’Bone man edging ahead of Clean Bandit on iTunes, enough to suggest that his destiny to top the full singles chart will indeed be fulfilled early in the new year. The time could thus be passed browsing the increasingly disgruntled Facebook groups backing certain other Christmas Number One contenders. One managed to anger me sufficiently to tweet it out: Now let’s leave aside the fact that a “real band with real musicians [bearing] the fruits of hard work and persistence” is an exact description of Clean Bandit who have been working towards their success since the very start of the decade and whose creative and musical talents are utterly beyond doubt. This is merely proof that some people are battling musical or chart demons that are entirely of their own invention and are content to display an almost wilful ignorance of modern popular culture in pursuit of their own imaginary point.

No, this is another example of “the new shit will never be anywhere near as good as the old shit I’m into and you youngsters are blind to this” thinking of which you stumble across far too often in musical conversations online. This chap is presumably old enough to remember when the “old shit” was itself the “new shit” and was indeed being sneered at and dismissed by the ignorant from the previous generation who were sure that their “old shit” was actually far superior to the whining noise merchants of the 1990s. But he still falls into the same trap of becoming the kind of old fart he would have rejected back in his teenage years. Isn’t it funny how every generation imagines their era of music to be the greatest one ever with nothing else standing a chance of comparing?

Then something weird happened, and a golden oldie started rocketing up the live sales tables out of nowhere. The single in question is Glad All Over by the Dave Clark Five, a Number One hit from the 1960s and, I was actually rather surprised to learn, absent from the UK singles chart since May 1993 when a re-release saw it poke its nose into the Top 40. The foot stomping track has retained a place in popular culture ever since thanks to its adoption from time to time as anthems for football teams, be it as pre-match crowd rousing or with suitably modified lyrics to celebrate a new hero. Well, this time around it is Glasgow Rangers supporters who have taken to using it as a terrace anthem. And out of nowhere, they have hit on the wheeze of buying it for Christmas just to see what happens.

Well fair play, if any group of people can be motivated to behave in an identical manner in a short time it is football supporters. They achieved enough volume to give the track a startling presence at the top of the iTunes table by mid afternoon. Few expect it to stay there, let alone represent any kind of chart challenge. For a start there are just over two days left in the survey period, nowhere near enough time for any single, no matter how intensively bought, to recover from a standing start and catch up to those who have been selling all week long. 70,000 copies (which is what it will take to overhaul Clean Bandit now) in two days just isn’t possible in this day and age. Even if you do have 50% of Glasgow’s largest city buying into the idea. Oh, and it isn’t on Spotify either which makes getting any kind of streaming momentum kind of tricky.

Still, it is a fun distraction and at least provides material for me to muse over for a couple of days. Late week sales updates tend to come via Music Week’s website and they have pretty much all knocked off for the holidays. We’ve got an interesting 48 hours of watching and waiting ahead of us.


Monday December 19th – 9pm: Well, the secret (such as it was for people reading these pages) is out. The official midweek chart update was unveiled earlier this evening and naturally enough caused a shock for anyone expecting a mass festive invasion. Instead, the general public learned that Clean Bandit were out in front in the race to be Christmas Number One, hotly followed by Rag’n’Bone Man with Human and surprise bronze medal contenders Little Mix with new single Touch. All the songs the press and social media expected to be in contention were nowhere. Or to be precise: Inspiral Carpets at 20, London Hospices Choir at 33, one time favourite Friends Of Jo Cox at 59 and the Everly Pregnant Brothers at 73. To name but a few. It is almost as if the general public have become bored of buying music that they have no intention of listening to. At long last. Needless to say, this has caused convulsions on some of the Facebook groups, with some folks becoming frustrated because their assumptions about the way something works turn out not to be true: There are those who have literally no idea who the current leading contenders are: Along with those who are already falling into the trap of presuming that because their attempt to “fix” the charts and propel a track to an artificially high position bearing no relation to its true level of popularity is failing it must be because of some kind of well, fix: The only final point I’d note is that the infamous “Bieber Tweet” of 2015 which stood that year’s race on its head when he urged his sheep-like followers not to purchase his single but go buy a charity record instead was issued on the Tuesday of the chart week. But the NHS Choir single he directed people towards was at that point a struggling but still close second in the sales flashes. History won’t repeat itself this year.


Sunday December 18th – 7pm: Updates? No, I got nothing, at least officially. Which is kind of understandable as right now there is no story to tell, at least not in the way everyone was expecting. Literally none of the “special” releases for the Christmas market are anywhere near contending in the real market as it stands. Whilst the story of the most consistent British music act of the moment making a herculean effort to be Christmas Number One with a single which was never released on that basis is actually one which will go down as a famous pop moment, a mass media weaned on a decade of X Factor-inspired mega sales or feel-good stories of charitable causes really has nothing to bite on. Meanwhile the singles market rumbles on. Matt Terry surrendered his iTunes lead mid-morning on Sunday, replace naturally enough by Clean Bandit. Their return to the top was however to be brief, the ding-dong battle between them and Rag’N’Bone Man resuming, the hotly tipped new star making his first appearance in the lead of the live sales tables shortly after lunchtime. This does however change nothing, Saturday’s Spotify numbers confirmed Rockabye as the most streamed track of the day. Only All I Want For Christmas Is You is showing any sign of deposing it from that particular pile. It all means the late November 66-1 shot is now almost an unbackable cert to be Christmas Number One 2016. Unless an earthquake happens on Monday morning. But with both London Hospices and Friends Of Jo Cox so far back in the running there is little point attempting even the kind of PR coup the NHS Choir achieved in 2015. All that is left for us to do is amuse ourselves with the shrill belief of people on Facebook that Saturn 5 is still in “we can totally do this people” contention. More on that tomorrow, along with the official midweek update. The reaction to which will be enormous fun to watch.


Saturday December 17th – 7pm: Bang on cue Spotify’s listening data for Friday has arrived online, and whilst it contains nothing revolutionary it is as expected revelatory. Clean Bandit remain the most streamed track on the platform. Now whilst the following makes a large number of presumptions, their total of 391,941 Spotify  streams extrapolates to a seven day total of 2.74m which itself scales up to an expected universal (i.e. all services added together) total of just over 4.1m. So still enormous, still enough to pretty much guarantee Number One under any normal circumstances and even if these are not normal circumstances giving any other single hoping to nick a win on purchases alone a huge mountain to climb. But as I’m fond of repeating, that is what happened last year. Of the other potential contenders, the Steve Aoki single, flagging at download is at least making streaming progress, doing 235K on Friday, up from 200K the day before. Sales leader Matt Terry continues to have lacklustre streams – less than 200K once more. Even by the most generous of guesstimates he can only be presumed to do 2 million by Thursday. That’s essentially 20,000 chart sales to Clean Bandit’s expected 41,000 chart sales. And trust me, he isn’t on track to be 20,000 purchases ahead of them by next Thursday. Meanwhile Rag’N’Bone Man – still ahead of Clean Bandit on iTunes – languishes way down the streaming rankings with just 170K plays on Friday. The London Hospices Choir single isn’t on Spotify, whilst the Friends Of Jo Cox track is reported by the app to have been streamed just over 1,000 times since being added to the database. That’s worth 10 chart sales if anyone is counting. The Inspiral Carpets oldie, in third place according to the lunchtime flash, does not appear in the reported Top 200. That means it has been streamed less than 41,000 times so far. The next update should come via the OCC tomorrow lunchtime, featuring more realistic sales data plus the Friday streaming tables just mentioned. That will give the wider world a clearer picture, particularly as it will feature any extreme skews from retailers we cannot easily track ourselves, but right at this moment the Christmas Number One race is still Clean Bandit’s to lose.


Saturday December 17th – 2pm: “The first glimpse of how the race is shaping up will be issued to the media around lunchtime this Sunday” announced the Official Charts Company on Friday afternoon. Well just like a child on Christmas Eve it turns out they could not wait and unwrapped the presents early, presenting a unique Saturday lunchtime sales flash. This is risky, and the OCC themselves admit that it contains no streaming data at present and is based solely on pre-orders and purchased sales. Even then the update it still startling, suggesting that the London Hospices Choir is in the lead, followed by Rag’N’Bone Man at 2 and Inspiral Carpets at 3. But that has to be a nonsense, bearing no relation at all to even the live iTunes data we can see via their published live charts which presently list the LHC as the 36th most popular download of the moment. So I suspect this update doesn’t include iTunes information at all, which would not be unusual. What it appears to reflect is early purchasing on Amazon, which tends to be the destination of choice for people who have jumped on board a social media promotion and entered the music market for the only time this year. Because in their minds, you buy everything else online from Amazon so why not a digital track? Yes, you can do that. But nobody else normally does and so Amazon’s market share is insignificant compared to other players for whom music is their core product. Except when it happens to be the only major retailer which has reported data by Saturday lunchtime. At which point it becomes the basis for wild speculation. So I’m reading nothing into this absurdity, and indeed significantly neither are the betting markets. At the time of updating Betfair remain unmoved and have Clean Bandit locked in place as a now strong favourite with the Jo Cox tribute single in second place (based it must be said little more than gut instinct than anything else). Of far more interest will be tonight’s expected data dump from Spotify which will allow us to see just how the race between Clean Bandit and Rag’n’bone Man is developing – and whether Matt Terry’s narrow iTunes lead is being bolstered at all by an improvement in his streams.


Friday December 16th – 9pm: So Clean Bandit are Number One for the final week before Christmas. Which in itself means nothing – being top of the charts for one seven day period has utterly no bearing on whether another record will sell more than you in the next seven day period after all. What is significant is that the Clean Bandit single did so in the teeth of some strong competition, both from new releases and a current chart rival, resulting in its slipping 1-4 in the sales table. Details are in the Chart Watch UK column which is linked at the right hand side of this page. No, Rockabye is Number One still because its streams were far in excess of any sales rivals. And that matters when it comes to deposing it. Any chart-invading single which wants to reach the top has no choice but to ratchet up such a commanding sales lead that the effectively 40,000 copies head start Clean Bandit has becomes irrelevant. Not that this cannot happen – remember Justin Bieber and his 5.5m streams last year which were ultimately irrelevant? But at least for now, not one of the ‘other’ Xmas No.1 rivals. Be they charity hits or Facebook campaigns have anything approaching a strong sales momentum. And every hour they do not have one, the existing hits build up a lead which becomes ever harder to overcome. Right now we still have a race. But it is between Clean Bandit, Rag’N’Bone Man and theoretically Matt Terry (at least until we see Spotify data). Which is not what anyone expected. On Betfair, Clean Bandit are trading at 3’s, making them favourites above the Jo Cox record. Mind you the Betfair market here is all kinds of wacky. If I’ve read this correctly, just about every other non-runner is showing over £1000 waiting to be matched by backing them at minimal (1.1) odds. This suggests some chancer has laid every record he could name at the same price and is waiting to clean up when none of them top the charts. But that’s what happens when you run a market with a large number of contenders and it is quickly becoming apparent that only one or two can actually win.


Friday December 16th – 1pm: I now know who is Number One this week, and although I can’t tell you until later this evening this does put an interesting spin on the first part of this particular sales and streams race – particularly as the early shape of the overall market indicates that the incumbent hits are those with the early advantage. But all will become clear later. For now we’ve no streaming information to go on, Spotify data doesn’t hit the public domain until late the following day meaning it won’t be until 6pm Saturday until we know what is being streamed right now. But that’s largely irrelevant anyway given that the incoming contenders, the singles released specifically with the aim of being Xmas Number One, won’t be in a position to grab many streams anyway. If anything comes from nowhere to top the charts it will be on sales alone – just as the NHS Choir did last year. And in truth they have all started slowly at sales. Charity single The Living Years is languishing at 14 on iTunes, the Friends Of Jo Cox single (which isn’t actually in aid of a registered charity) down at 16 with a handful of other novelties lower down. As we’d half suspected, the sheer number of “causes” lobbying for your 59p or 99p have only served to dilute focus. Campaign tracks are thin on the ground. Attempts to fire Saturn 5 by The Inspiral Carpets to the top have propelled it to 13 on iTunes thus far. With a following wind it may well end up Top 40 for Christmas which will be nice to see (it’s a great song after all) but in no circumstances Christmas Number One. Meanwhile the Betfair market comes alive at this point in proceedings and shows where the clever money is going. The Jo Cox single is a bizarre favourite at just over 2.1 (or even money in old-fashioned terms). So that’s an easy lay for me. As far as that market is concerned it is between that single and Clean Bandit with nobody else in with a chance.


Friday December 16th – 9am: Yes, it is that time of the year again. However much we hardened chart watchers or music fans may lament the circus which has grown over the years to become a frenzy, it is hard to escape the fact that the annual “race” to become the Christmas Number One has become one of the most high profile popular music events of the year. There comes a point when you can do little more than embrace that. So here then is my contribution, a week-long blog of the events that take place to shape the market and just how the runners and riders (and indeed whichever of your favourites you have backed) are doing. There’s a strange irony that this comes hard on the heels of a ‘regular’ chart week which actually played host to one of the tensest and most intriguing chart races of the year, but all we can do is sit and wait to see how this one plays out. As I have noted on Chart Watch UK over the past few weeks, you can divide the contenders into one of four categories:

  • ‘Normal’ hit singles from mainstream acts. Including the incumbent Number One record (the identity of even that we won’t know until this evening) and other current hit singles. In a sense, this is the ideal scenario. The Christmas Number One being a “proper” hit single for the first time in decades.
  • A charity single as has been the case on a number of occasions over the past few years. I have a low opinion of these, the quality of the music now secondary to the need to virtue signal and buy a record just to show how much you are pretending to care about cause x (or even cause y). Culturally they are an irrelevance and indeed undermine any remaining argument as to why it is “important” to be Christmas Number One. Last year’s winners The Lewisham And Greenwich NHS Choir set a record the week after Christmas – for the greatest fall from the top of the charts ever. Because one week later everyone stopped caring so much it seems, and they weren’t all that bothered about the music.
  • An online campaign, from those taking inspiration from past efforts and using the power of social media to encourage mass buy-ins of random old singles. Whereas once the motivation appeared to be to “stop X Factor from getting to the top” this has taken on rather less urgency. Few if any can manage the kind of momentum needed to obliterate the competition.
  • A festive classic. This was a possibility floated by friends a few weeks ago and for a time it appeared the concept had legs. Seasonal perennials may have reached a saturation point as downloads, but as streaming hits they remain as potent as ever, perhaps more so as the market for streaming services grows. Already Mariah Carey’s All I Want For Christmas Is You has landed its highest chart placing for a decade. However for all the talk of streaming accounting for 86% of chart ‘sales’ these days, at the top end of the market things are closer to a 50/50 split. One day circumstances may mean than an oldie becomes the most played track in the week up to Christmas and thus the Christmas Number One. But that won’t happen this year.

Me? I’m truly ruling nothing out and nothing in. All I will do is note that this is a week when normal expectations and the normal rules of consumer engagement do not apply. Last Christmas Justin Bieber enjoyed 5.5 million streams of Love Yourself but still finished as runner-up. The sell-through market may have contracted still further in 2016, but Christmas week and indeed the chance to contribute to the Christmas Number One race will inspire people to dust off their iTunes logins and buy some music for the first and only time this year. And we have no idea how these people will behave. Keep checking back later in the week. Let’s just hope this turns into a fun and indeed close race rather than one which is all over bar the shouting by Tuesday.

4 Comments

  1. There are three versions of Saturn 5 in the iTunes top 100, I estimate that if you add them up it’s around position 7 or 8. However, iTunes is but one piece of this particular jigsaw.

    The Inspirals never did manage top 10 whilst active, did they?

  2. Today’s sale flash might not be missing iTunes data – it might just be that the bulk of the choir’s sales are pre-orders. iTunes changed their live chart a while back so that pre-orders aren’t included it anymore.

    Also, I don’t know where you get your Spotify data from but Kworb usually has yesterday’s figures up by lunch time.

    http://kworb.net/spotify/country/gb_daily.html

    • You could be right re:iTunes, but you know as well as I that Apple can sometimes be frustratingly slow spitting out their data. There have even been Monday lunchtime sales flashes which are entirely missing weekend data from both iTunes and Apple Music. Kworb is reliant on Spotify’s public data dump and whilst that can often appear as early as lunchtime it can just as frequently be early or late evening. I don’t think it is unreasonable to presume that this publication also coincides with their upload to Millward Brown. So if we can see it, so can they and vice versa.

      I can’t presume anything about pre-orders as I wasn’t paying enough attention to see if LHC was up as a pre-order and thus could be front loaded. And that wouldn’t apply to Saturn 5 which wasn’t pre-ordered by anyone but still had an unexpectedly (but not impossible) high sales placing.

      All wild speculation, but isn’t this fun?

  3. Thoroughly enjoyed reading this blog – thanks for your insight and commentary! Probably made more interesting by backing Clean Bandit at end of November….

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