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Music

The Week in Number Ones: We talk about Bruno and Stevie Wonder talks 'Superstition'

@TylerGolsen

Welcome back to The Week in Number Ones, where all the biggest movers from the US and UK charts get condensed into one article. This week, we finally get to talk about Bruno and Disney’s unlikely rise to the top of the charts. Elsewhere, Adele keeps her stranglehold on America strong, but just like in Britain, Encanto-mania is starting to creep up on her.

Since this column focuses on the UK and US charts exclusively, poor old Australia and its vibrant (and occasionally completely bizarre) history of music charts gets looked over. But this week, it’s worth bringing up because history was made by none other than the wacky children’s band The Wiggles. If you haven’t bopped along to the band since their ‘Fruit Salad’ days, then please divert your attention to the group’s weirdly awesome cover of Tame Impala’s ‘Elephant’, which currently sits at number one on the Triple J Hottest 100 Australian singles chart.

It’s the first time a song from Triple J’s popular ‘Like a Version’ cover series has topped the chart, and it’s the first time an act debuted at number one since Denis Leary’s ‘Asshole’ in 1993. Yeah, Denis Leary had a number one song in Australia. It’s worth noting that the Triple J Hottest 100 is a listeners poll and not a tabulation of music sale: the equivalent to the Billboard Hot 100 or UK Singles Chart in Australia is the ARIA Chart, and the Elton John/Dua Lipa collaboration ‘Cold Heart (Pnau Remix)’ is currently sitting on top. But the Hottest 100 is a big deal down under, and The Wiggles are 2021’s big winners.

Part of me wishes that America or the UK had an official listeners poll like this, but then I remember that the United States is a gigantic country filled with people who are frothing at the mouth to troll a public vote like this, and England’s last major public vote gave us Boris Johnson and Boaty McBoatface. Democracy is a beautiful and sometimes awful thing.

Anyway, let’s get into this week’s biggest chart stories.

Current UK Number One: ‘We Don’t Talk About Bruno’ – The Cast of Disney’s Encanto

It’s finally time to talk about Bruno. The extreme breakout success of Disney’s Encanto shouldn’t really come as a surprise – if there’s something you can bank on, it’s Disney’s animated movies finding their audience. But Encanto has done something that no other Disney film has done: landed a number one song on the UK Singles Chart.

That’s thanks to ‘We Don’t Talk About Bruno’, the incessantly catchy Latin pop track that gives the big middle finger to Madrigal family outcast Uncle Bruno. Written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, the track gives each of its characters a different style to play with on their respective verses. It’s a dense, stylistically diverse and exposition-heavy song, but that hasn’t kept it from achieving the kind of crossover success that ‘Let It Go’ or ‘Beauty and the Beast’ couldn’t.

It’s not the only Encanto song making a climb towards the top of the charts. ‘Surface Pressure’, which details the oldest sister Luisa’s superhuman strength in a more conventional pop track, has risen to a new peak of number five this week. I’m not exactly sure why Encanto in particular is the crossover pop phenomenon that it is, but it’s officially reached a fever pitch in the UK.

The other singles are mostly holdovers from last week, with the notable exception of The Weeknd falling out of the top ten. ‘Sacrifice’ is a slick synth-pop number and the closest that Dawn FM comes to replicating the magic of After Hours, but evidently, the public just isn’t responding to the material the way they championed songs like ‘Blinding Lights’ and ‘Save Your Tears’.

UK Singles Top Ten (Week of January 27th, 2022):

  1. ‘We Don’t Talk About Bruno’ – Disney’s Encanto Cast
  2. ‘ABCDEFU’ – Gayle
  3. ‘Easy On Me’ – Adele
  4. ‘Peru’ – Fireboy DML & Ed Sheeran
  5. ‘Surface Pressure’ – Jessica Darrow (from Disney’s Encanto)
  6. ‘Seventeen Going Under’ – Sam Fender
  7. ‘Fingers Crossed’ – Lauren Spencer-Smith
  8. ‘Overseas’ – D-Block Europe ft. Central Cee
  9. ‘Coming For You’ – SwitchOTR ft. A1 x J1
  10. ‘Flowers (Say My Name)’ – Arrdee

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

Another week, another case of Adele dominance. Ever since it debuted at number one back in October of 2021, ‘Easy On Me’ has been at or near the top of the Billboard Hot 100 for 15 straight weeks. The only two people who had enough “right time, right place” clout to knock her down were Damon Albarn’s mortal enemy Taylor Swift, going ham on a ten-minute version of ‘All Too Well’, and Mariah Carey, who is now the de facto queen of the charts during the holiday season.

I have a question for my fellow Americans: are you guys OK? You’ve been listening to ‘Easy On Me’ for, like, three months straight. Is everything alright? Sure, the world is on fire, but you’ve got to come out of your Adele phase sometime. Are we just going to let ‘Easy On Me’ be the song of 2021 and 2022? So lighten up and listen to the Encanto soundtrack every once in a while.

The funny thing is that 30 is set to be the worst-selling record of Adele’s career. And yet, it was easily the highest-selling album of 2021 on both sides of the Atlantic, with ‘Easy On Me’ never being far from the top spot on both singles charts. This is what a “missed opportunity” looks like in the world of Adele. Seems like a pretty good way to not meet expectations.

The real question from this week is whether Glass Animals’ hit ‘Heat Waves’ is ever going to touch the summit of the mountain. It’s had viral success, alt-rock radio play, mainstream pop recognition, and last week it rose to its then-peak position at number three. That’s where it stays this week, with ‘We Don’t Talk About Bruno’ leapfrogging it in the race to challenge Adele for the number one song, but ‘Heat Waves’ has proven to be quite the grower. It’s one of the most recent songs to break a billion streams on Spotify, which means Glass Animals have probably made at least $50 bucks on streaming revenue alone by now.

Billboard Hot 100 Top 10 (Week of January 29th, 2022)

  1. ‘Easy On Me’ – Adele
  2. ‘We Don’t Talk About Bruno’ – Disney’s Encanto Cast
  3. ‘Heat Waves’ – Glass Animals
  4. ‘Stay’ – The Kid Laroi & Justin Bieber
  5. ‘Super Gremlin’ – Kodak Black
  6. ‘Shivers’ – Ed Sheeran
  7. ‘Pushin P’ Gunna & Future ft. Young Thug
  8. ‘ABCDEFU’ – Gayle
  9. ‘Cold Heart (Pnau Remix)’ – Elton John & Dua Lipa
  10. ‘Surface Pressure’ – Jessica Darrow (from Disney’s Encanto)

This Week in Number Ones: ‘Superstition’ – Stevie Wonder (#1 on the Billboard Hot 100, January 27th, 1973)

Stevie Wonder was always a revelation. From the second that the music-listening public heard the 11-year-old prodigy on Motown, it was clear that a generational talent was at work. He’s still the youngest solo artist to ever top the Billboard Hot 100, owing to when a 13-year-old Wonder took ‘Fingertips’ to the top of the chart in 1963. But it would take Wonder another decade before landing a second number one single.

In the time between chart-toppers, Wonder negotiated his artistic independence from Berry Gordy’s hit machine and began incorporating different styles into his music. Pop was now mixed with soul, rock, and jazz, with Wonder constantly staying on top of new technology and production techniques. When Gordy finally let Wonder have complete control over his final product, the result was 1972’s Music of My Mind, the first in a run of albums that could very well be the best run of music from a single artist ever made.

After Music of My Mind‘s release, Wonder found himself jamming with an unlikely peer: British guitar god Jeff Beck. Beck provided guitar work on the song ‘Lookin’ For Another Pure Love’, and after the take, Beck sat behind a drum kit and improvised a beat. Wonder caught on and went over to the keyboard, making up a riff that matched the beat. By the end of the session, Beck and Wonder had created a rough demo for what eventually became ‘Superstition’.

Beck recorded a rocked out version of the song with his newly formed supergroup Beck, Bogert, & Appice. Wonder refined the demo he and Beck made, replacing Beck’s contributions and recording all of the instruments himself minus the trumpet and saxophone lines. With a Hohner Clavinet as his main tool, Wonder wove in overdub after overdub to create a dense arrangement of keyboards and drums. But it never sounded cluttered, and Wonder’s version had a groove that Beck’s version never did.

But there was a problem: Wonder promised Beck that he could release his rock version first. This was an issue for Gordy, who insisted that Wonder’s version could be a major hit. However, once Beck, Bogert, & Appice’s debut album was delayed, Wonder was free to take the lea. It hadn’t even been nine months since Music of My Mind came out, but Wonder was ready to release Talking Book in October of 1972, bolstered by ‘Superstition’ as its lead single.

Wonder was on such a roll that the awards couldn’t even keep up with him. The 1974 Grammys saw ‘Superstition’ win Best Male R&B Vocal Performance and Best R&B Song, but Album of the Year went to Wonder’s follow up to Talking Book, 1973’s Innervisions. Wonder simply couldn’t be stopped: the following year’s Album of the Year went to Fulfillingness’ First Finale, and the 1977 award went to Songs in the Key of Life. When Paul Simon’s Still Crazy After All These Years won in 1976, Simon thanked Wonder for not releasing an album that year. That’s the kind of hot streak Stevie Wonder was on in the ’70s.

The number one hits never stopped for Wonder once ‘Superstition’ returned him to the top after a decade-long gap. Talking Book‘s ‘You Are the Sunshine of My Life’ hit number one in March of 1973, and classic tracks like ‘I Wish’ and ‘Sir Duke’ found their way to the top spot in the years to come. His fiery rebuke of the Nixon administration, ‘You Haven’t Done Nothin’, came out two days before Nixon resigned, and was number one three months later. Even during his cheesier ’80s period, Wonder continued to rack up chart-toppers with ‘Ebony and Ivory’, ‘Part-Time Lover’, and ‘I Just Called to Say I Love You’.

Wonder’s last number one song in America was his 1985 collaboration with Dionne Warren, ‘That’s What Friends Are For’. Although he continued to make great music, Wonder never again sat atop the Billboard Hot 100. But his legacy on the chart was more than secure: ten number one hits in his career, which ties him for eighth place overall for most number one hits in America with Janet Jackson. The very best is probably ‘Superstition’, the most effortlessly perfect funk jam that Wonder ever created.

Billboard Hot 100 Top Ten, January 27th, 1973:

  1. ‘Superstition’ – Stevie Wonder
  2. ‘You’re So Vain’ – Carly Simon
  3. ‘Crocodile Rock’ – Elton John
  4. ‘Your Mama Don’t Dance’ – Loggins & Messina
  5. ‘Why Can’t We Live Together’ – Timmy Thomas
  6. ‘Me and Mrs. Jones’ – Billy Paul
  7. ‘Oh, Babe, What Would You Say’ – Hurricane Smith
  8. ‘Trouble Man’ – Marvin Gaye
  9. ‘Rockin’ Pneumonia – Boogie Woogie Flu’ – Johnny Rivers
  10. ‘The World is a Ghetto’ – War