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This Week in Number Ones: Unstoppable Adele and Nirvana domination

@TylerGolsen

Welcome to This Week in Number Ones – a new column where we take a look at the best in chart toppers from today and all across music’s past. Bridging the gap between the most fascinating stories in modern music and the varied history of past number one songs and albums, our new column will bring in the best from what the US and UK listened to yesterday and today.

It’s been nearly seven decades since both music industries in the United Kingdom and the United States began compiling their sales of singles and albums into specific charts. In the 1950s and ’60s, competing publications ran charts that could vary wildly as to who reigned supreme, with NME and Record Retailer competing in Britain while Billboard and Cashbox battled it out in America.

By 1958, Billboard became the standard chart for tracking American music sales, while the Official Charts Company took over tallying Britain’s music sales in 1969. Since then, there have been hundreds of thousands of songs and albums that have topped both charts, each shedding light on what a large portion of the public were listening to at any given time. Now, these charts are windows into the past, helping to contextualise the trends and times that have occasionally been lost to history.

With this column, we’ll be looking at the charts of today and comparing them with a notable release from the days of chart-topping past. Each modern and historical number one has a story, and they remain some of the best indicators as to what was going on in the world 15, 30, 45, or even 60 years ago.

This week, we ring in 2022 with Adele’s renewed place atop the charts, say goodbye to the wave of Christmas songs that now take over the top spots during the yuletide season, and revisit when Nirvana officially made their first steps as the world’s biggest rock band back in 1992.

Current UK Number One: Adele – ‘Easy On Me’

It’s been 12 weeks since Adele unleashed her mammoth comeback single ‘Easy On Me’ on the unwitting public, and every single week since its release, the ballad has been somewhere in the Top 40. Originally debuting at number one back in October of 2021, ‘Easy On Me’ had a seven-week run at the top of the charts before being knocked down to number two by Ed Sheeran and Elton John’s ‘Merry Christmas’ and the oncoming onslaught of holiday cheer.

That was likely to be the end of it, with ‘Easy On Me’ dropping all the way to number 38 last week. But the New Year’s blues must have hit the public pretty hard, and Adele jumped an insane 37 places to once again take over at number one. As we continue to clear out the Christmas songs from their place on the chart, it’s mostly Adele’s game to lose before The Weeknd’s Dawn FM songs start to get tallied at the midpoint of this week.

Elsewhere in the chart, Gayle’s ‘ABCDEFU’ is once again threatening to take over the number one slot, sitting comfortably at number two after having bounced around for a couple of weeks near the top of the UK Singles Chart. ‘ABCDEFU’ had the unfortunate fate of being stuck behind ‘Easy On Me’ right before the Christmas tide came crashing in, but it seemed likely that Gayle and her brand of Olivia Rodrigo-aping angry teen pop would vault to the top. But out of the shadows came Adele to reclaim the number one spot once again. Better luck next week, Taylor Gayle Rutherford.

Sam Fender is sitting at a nice number three with ‘Seventeen Going Under’, the title track from his sophomore LP released October of 2021. This is Fender’s current peak, and I’m at least slightly suspicious that Far Out’s senior writer Joe Taysom has it on a perpetual loop to try and cheat the system to get it to number one. It’s certainly the best song in the top ten at the moment, which is also populated with Disney songs, Beyonce-sampling rap, and worst of all Ed Sheeran. One day I’m going to have to stop ragging on poor rich Eddie, but today most certainly is not that day. Come out with some better songs, Ed, and then we’ll talk.

UK Singles Top Ten (January 7th, 2022):

  1. ‘Easy On Me’ – Adele
  2. ‘ABCDEFU’ – Gayle
  3. ‘Seventeen Going Under’ – Sam Fender
  4. ‘We Don’t Talk About Bruno’ – The Cast of Encanto
  5. ‘Coming For You’ – SwitchOTR ft. A1 x J1
  6. ‘Peru’ – Fireboy DML & Ed Sheeran
  7. ‘Flowers (Say My Name)’ – Ardee
  8. ‘Overseas’ – D-Block Europe ft. Central Cee
  9. ‘Do It To It’ – Acraze ft. Cherish
  10. ‘Shivers’ – Ed Sheeran

Current US Number One: Mariah Carey – ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’

America is apparently still wishing the yuletide season would stick around for a little while longer, as more than half of the top ten singles in the US this week are classic Christmas songs. Right at the top is Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want for Christmas Is You’, which will almost assuredly be number one at this time every year for the (un)foreseeable future. It took a major change in the way Billboard tallied their chart sales, but once streaming was given a major boost in weight, our national fate was eternally sealed with Mariah.

America is a huge country, and it is utterly filled with saps. Even your grandmother knows how to use Spotify now, so it should come as no surprise that six of the entries in this week’s top ten are Christmas songs, mostly old school ones at that. Brenda Lee’s ‘Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree’ is the only song that doesn’t make me want to continuously jump out of my skin, but I can’t hate Jose Feliciano’s ‘Feliz Navidad’, even if it could have used another verse. Otherwise, Bobby Helms’ ‘Jingle Bell Rock’, Burl Ives’ ‘A Holly Jolly Christmas’, and Andy Williams’ ‘It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year’ should be banished to the same corner of the closet where all the broken Christmas tree ornaments live.

Elsewhere, ‘Easy On Me’ is once again on the rise, threatening to take over at number one again. Just like in the UK, I would not be surprised in the least if The Weeknd came out of nowhere to notch a bunch of singles on the Billboard chart this upcoming week, including landing a number one song. At this time last year, ‘Blinding Lights’ reappeared at number three on its path to becoming, statistically speaking, the most successful song in the history of the now-64 year run of the Billboard Hot 100. That kind of pull can’t be contained to just one song, so I expect a little bit of love for The Weeknd next week.

The Kid LAROI and Justin Bieber keep bouncing around the top ten with ‘Stay’, as does Glass Animals’ TikTok smash ‘Heat Waves’. America has its own infestation of Ed Sheeran with ‘Shivers’ creeping back into the top ten after dropping to number 23 last week. Just when I think I’m out, Ed keeps pulling me back in.

Billboard Hot 100 Top Ten (January 8th, 2022):

  1. ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’ – Mariah Carey
  2. ‘Easy On Me’ – Adele
  3. ‘Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree’ – Brenda Lee
  4. ‘Jingle Bell Rock’ – Bobby Helms
  5. ‘A Holly Jolly Christmas’ – Burt Ives
  6. ‘Stay’ – The Kid LAROI & Justin Bieber
  7. ‘Heat Waves’ – Glass Animals
  8. ‘It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year’ – Andy Williams
  9. ‘Shivers’ – Ed Sheeran
  10. ‘Feliz Navidad’ – Jose Feliciano

This Week in Number Ones: Nirvana – Nevermind (#1 on Billboard 200 Album Charts, January 11th, 1992)

The 1990s truly started in 1992. No decade can be defined by its first or even second year – trends and true indicators need time to settle in. Before the psychedelic explosion of the mid to late years, the 1960s looked a hell of a lot like the 1950s. The “big hair, big clothes” of the ’80s only really solidified after 1984, and it still had some major staying power in culture by the start of the ’90s. But 1992 signalled that the ’90s were here for one major reason: grunge.

Even though nobody in Seattle ever really used the term, grunge became the de facto genre tag for the Seattle Sound, and 1992 was its coronation year. Between Pearl Jam’s Ten, Alice in Chains’ Dirt, and Stone Temple Pilots’ Core, bands with detuned guitars and gravely-voiced singers were notching albums in the Billboard 200 Album Chart top ten with a stunning frequency that year. Soundgarden, however, would have to wait until 1994 to get their own top ten album with Superunknown, but it was worth the wait when that LP made it all the way to number one.

But someone had to lead the charge, and it was Nirvana who made the first statement that punk-inspired hard rock from the Pacific Northwest was now going global. On January 11th, 1992, the band’s sophomore album, Nevermind, officially landed as the number one album in America, selling over 300,000 copies that week.

The major narrative around Nirvana’s coup was that they unseated Michael Jackson, whose album Dangerous was sitting at number one the previous week. That’s true, but Dangerous wasn’t even in the top three when Nevermind claimed the top spot. Garth Brooks’ Ropin’ the Wind and MC Hammer’s Too Legit to Quit both outsold Jackson that week as well, showing off a diverse album chart that also had Metallica’s Metallica, Boys II Men’s Cooleyhighharmony, and both of Guns N’ Roses’ Use Your Illusion albums. But the week truly went to the Seattle trio who brought big drums and big hooks to kids who had never even seen the inside of a rock club.

Things would get out of hand very quickly for Nirvana, who were selling hundreds of thousands of copies of Nevermind every single day. Steady touring, including legendary appearances at the 1992 Reading Festival and the 1992 MTV Video Music Awards, made Nirvana the biggest band in the world, but Kurt Cobain quickly turned against his newfound fame. Struggling with heroin addiction and angry at the pop sheen added to Nevermind thanks to Butch Vig’s production and Andy Wallace’s final mix, Cobain sought to go harder and darker on the band’s follow up, In Utero.

Despite its far more confrontational style, courtesy of new producer Steve Albini, In Utero also topped the album charts when it was released at the tail end of 1993. Nirvana-mania was not subsiding, and Cobain continued to feel more and more alienated from his audience, his bandmates, and the world at large. One more tour and a performance for MTV Unplugged was all that Cobain could take, and a little more than two years after Nevermind landed at number one, Cobain took his own life in April of 1994. The contemporary cult around Nirvana was over, but the band’s legacy hasn’t dimmed for a second since Nevermind made its fateful climb up the charts thirty years ago this week.

Billboard 200 Top Ten (January 11th, 1992):

  1. Nirvana – Nevermind
  2. Garth Brooks – Ropin’ the Wind
  3. MC Hammer – Too Legit to Quit
  4. U2 – Achtung Baby
  5. Michael Jackson – Dangerous
  6. Boys II Men – Cooleyhighharmony
  7. Guns N Roses – Use Your Illusion II
  8. Guns N Roses – Use Your Illusion I
  9. Metallica – Metallica
  10. Michael Bolton – Time, Love, and Tenderness