Due to the vast wealth of choice on offer, the Top 40 and chart music in general don’t really hold as much influence over the buying habits of music fans these days.
But every now and then it still throws up an interesting talking point.
Did you know, for instance, that this week sees a hotly contested battle for the number one? Between three acts who couldn’t really be more different if you tried.
Bring Me The Horizon’s fifth album That’s The Spirit is squaring off against The Libertines’ Anthems For Doomed Youth and, surprisingly, Stereophonics’ ninth LP Keep The Village Alive.
According to midweek figures, just 1,000 copies currently separate BMTH and Sterophonics, with the Sheffield rockers currently in first, and The Libertines trailing in third.
While everyone knows about the big hitters like Blur v Oasis and Kanye v Jay Z, here we highlight seven remarkable chart battles that pitted unlikely rivals against each other.
The Beatles v Engelbert Humperdinck (1967)
Many like to remember the Fab Four as untouchable bastions of British popular music, outselling all who stood in their way on the quest to the centre of the nation’s hearts. But that wasn’t always the case.
Back in 1967 Engelbert Humperdinck’s version of the 1964 song ‘Release Me’ (made famous as the opening theme to The Fast Show no less), made a surprise claim to the top of the charts when it outperformed The Beatles’ double A-side of ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ and ‘Penny Lane’ – often regarded as the band’s best work. The chart upset broke The Beatles’ four-year run of singles debuting at number one.
Geraldine v Leon Jackson (2008)
How’s this for a meta chart battle?
In 2008, Geraldine – the transsexual dinner lady played by Peter Kay who beat off all other contestants to be crowned winner of spoof talent show Britain’s Got the Pop Factor… and Possibly a New Celebrity Jesus Christ Soapstar Superstar Strictly on Ice – beat actual talent show winner Leon Jackson in a heated chart battle. Granted ‘The Winner’s Song’ didn’t make it all the way (Pink beat them both to the top spot on this occasion), but if only for the fact that Kay’s pitch perfect piss-take resulted in Jackson being dropped by his label a few weeks later, this battle makes our list.
Take That v Mr Blobby (1993)
You’ll quickly learn while reading this list that the Christmas period of the charts revolves around a sort of alternative timeline, when things aren’t quite what they seem and the musical narrative that’s been running for the rest of the year gets put on hold while things get weird.
That’s what happened in the latter weeks of 1993 when Take That and inflatable pink buffoon Mr Blobby traded blows (chart positions) in the weeks leading up to that all important Christmas number one. Blobby was at number one, then Take That knocked him off his perch, then Blobby came back on Christmas week to take the top spot, before the boy band upended him again.
Who would’ve thought Take That’s career could have been so disrupted by a chubby, infuriatingly annoying idiot? No, we’re not talking about Robbie…
Westlife v Bob The Builder (2000)
Imagine you’re in one of the most successful crooning outfits coming straight out of Ireland, when your claim for the Christmas number one slot gets derailed by an animated builder who fronts a kids TV show.
That’s what happened to Westlife, who were left reeling so badly by their defeat to Bob The Builder that it’s a surprise they ever got up off their stools again. Bob’s ‘Can We Fix It?’ beat out Westlife’s ‘What Makes A Man’ and the whole thing left bad boy Bryan McFadden to retort: “May Bob rot in hell.”
He’s a children’s cartoon, Bryan.
Sex Pistols v Rod Stewart (1977)
Taking a break from children’s TV characters and hideously grotesque mascots for something completely different now.
Released to coincide with the Silver Jubilee of June 1977, the Sex Pistols’ ‘God Save the Queen’ was an anti-establishment anthem that ruffled the feathers of a government only slightly more in fear and out of touch with youth culture than the one we have now.
The single was kept off the top spot by Rod Stewart’s ‘I Don’t Want to Talk About It’, which probably doesn’t seem very noteworthy on paper; Stewart a housewife’s favourite at the time and the Pistols a bunch of scruffy upstarts.
But considering the hurdles put in the song’s way – Radio 1 banned it from receiving airplay, Woolworths and other chains refused to stock it, and a famous stunt involving the band playing the song live on the River Thames was stopped by police – reaching the number two spot is still pretty damn impressive.
Even after the fact, many claimed that the band far outsold Stewart anyway, and that the order had been switched so as not to admit to the so-called moral panic the song had instilled in the population.
The Human League v Cliff Richard
The Human League’s ‘Don’t You Want Me’ heralded the arrival of that ’80s synth sound that’s revered by so many a nostalgic club night, being the first track to make use of a programmable Linn LM-1 drum machine.
But perhaps just as pivotal in shaping the future of music for good, it also held the tedious ‘Daddy’s Home’ by Cliff Richard off the top spot.
‘Don’t You Want Me’ held on to the number one position for five weeks – only being dethroned by Bucks Fizz’s ‘The Land of Mark Believe’ – and a year later it topped the US charts too.
Rage Against The Machine v Joel McElderry (2009)
One of the most famous chart battles of recent history, this heated rivalry was at the forefront of music fans’ minds during the Christmas period of 2009.
The X Factor, after six series, had strengthened its grip on the Christmas number one race – the show’s winners had nabbed the seasonal top spot for the past four years – and had many music fans a bit miffed. In response, a Facebook campaign was launched to prevent winner Joe McElderry’s song ‘The Climb’ from, ahem, climbing to the top of the charts.
With social media behind them and proceeds from the campaign going to homeless charity Shelter, it was only a matter of time before the rap-rock behemoths claimed themselves a surreal Christmas number one with their anti-police, profanity-driven anthem having to be skirted around by radio DJs up and down the country. Seeing them on the end of year Top of the Pops run-down was a real pinch-yourself moment.
Simon Cowell dubbed everyone behind the campaign “scrooges”. We can live with that.