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Music

The Week in Number Ones: Harry Styles and bagpipes take over the top spot

@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. Last week, we dove into the Eurodance revival being spearheaded by Jax Jones and MNEK’s ‘Where Did You Go’, traced back Latto’s ‘Big Energy’ to its roots with Mariah Carey and The Tom Tom Club, and set the world on fire with Fun recalling the highs and lows of youth on ‘We Are Young’.

Over on the album charts, it’s all love for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who officially landed their fifth UK number one album with Unlimited Love. Making surprising moves are Olivia Rodrigo’s Sour and Harry Styles’ Fine Line, both of which are threatening to move up to number one if there are no major big-name releases coming up. It’s obvious why Styles is moving up (more on that in a bit), but the lingering fandom for Rodrigo just seems to be in its own world, unburdened by time or new trends. 

Unlimited Love also sits atop the US album charts, just hovering above Lil Durk’s 7220. Durk’s seventh studio album previously hit number one earlier this year, and its staying power on the album charts stands in contrast to the album’s relative lack of impact on the singles chart. So far, the highest-charting song from 7220 is ‘Broadway Girls’, Dirk’s collaboration with controversial American country star Morgan Wallen.

This week, we dive headfirst into the major star power of Harry Styles and the global takeover of his new single, ‘As It Was’. Also, we investigate just what the hell pop music audiences were smoking when they sent a bagpipe rendition of ‘Amazing Grace’ to number one in no less than six countries worldwide. All that and more as we round up all the best chart news of the modern-day and recent past.

Current UK Number One: ‘As It Was’ – Harry Styles

After four straight weeks at number one, Dave’s ‘Starlight’ has finally ended its reign as the UK’s number one song. Dave had a strong run, debuting at the top spot and collecting his first solo number one single in his career. But all things must pass, and Dave now passes on the torch to another British phenom: Harry Styles and his new single ‘As It Was’, which debuts at number one in both the UK and the US. 

Styles’ propulsive, infectious, and secretly dark first single from Styles’ hotly-anticipated third album Harry’s House is candy-coated, slinky, and the perfect teaser to remind people why we all like Styles so much in the first place. Able to play into both straight-ahead pop while appealing to far-reaching audiences in all genres, Styles is the kind of populist figure that just doesn’t seem to exist as much in modern pop. Name another artist who has the same widespread appeal as Styles. Anyone? None for my money.

‘As It Was’ gives Styles his second UK number one after his debut single, ‘Sign of the Times’, rose all the way to the top of the singles chart back in 2017, landing almost exactly five years to the day in between number ones. Styles has had plenty of other charting songs, including scraping into the top five with both ‘Lights Up’ and ‘Watermelon Sugar’, but after half a decade, Styles has officially landed his second number one.

More could be coming as well. Considering how quickly ‘As It Was’ went from non-existent to number one, it wouldn’t come as a shock if Styles’ next single also debuted at the top of the chart. We’ve got a few more weeks until Harry’s House lands, so that leaves plenty of opportunities for Styles to strike while the iron is hot and potentially land back-to-back number ones.

UK Singles Top Ten (Week of April 13th, 2022):

  1. ‘As It Was’ – Harry Styles
  2. ‘Starlight’ – Dave
  3. ‘Baby’ – Aitch/Ashanti
  4. ‘Where Are You Now’ – Lost Frequencies/Calum Scott
  5. ‘Peru’ – Fireboy DML & Ed Sheeran
  6. ‘Go’ – Cat Burns
  7. ‘Make Me Feel Good’ – Belters Only ft. Jazzy
  8. ‘Where Did You Go’ – Jax Jones ft. MNEK
  9. ‘Down Under’ – Luude ft. Colin Hay
  10. ‘Bam Bam’ – Camila Cabello ft. Ed Sheeran 

Current US Number One: ‘As It Was’ – Harry Styles

It’s official: Harry Styles is a cross-continental superstar. With his second number one hit in the United States after ‘Watermelon Sugar’ topped the charts in early 2020, it’s safe to say that Styles is in rarified air as an honest-to-god pop culture phenomenon.

Over the past few months, the number one spot on the Billboard Hot 100 has been a battle between Encanto’s ‘We Don’t Talk About Bruno’ and a couple of songs that have been hanging around the charts for a very long time. Glass Animals finally managed to break through and land ‘Heat Waves’ at the number one spot after over a year floating around the chart. All the while, The Kid Laroi and Justin Bieber were threatening to land their song ‘Stay’ at number one for a second time.

But this week it’s all Harry. Styles is one of the few figures in modern pop music who can actually galvanise a massive core audience around one of his new albums. In terms of anticipation and interest, the album I can think of this year that has risen to this level is the Weeknd’s Dawn FM. The indie kids were salivating over Wet Leg’s debut last week, but that wasn’t a mainstream potboiler. Every pop music fan in the world is now eager to hear more from Harry’s House.

The good news is that we won’t have to wait very long. Even if Styles elects not to release another single before the album’s release (which would be kind of silly, considering how he has the proper amount of juice to land just about anything at number one right now), Harry’s House is currently only a month away. Just like the cultural takeover that came with the release of Fine Line, it’s looking like Styles is positioning himself to own 2022 all to himself.

US Billboard Hot 100 Top Ten Singles (Week of April 16th, 2022):

  1. ‘As It Was’ – Harry Styles
  2. ‘Heat Waves’ – Glass Animals
  3. ‘Big Energy’ – Latto
  4. ‘Stay’ – The Kid Laroi & Justin Bieber
  5. ‘Enemy’ – Imagine Dragons X JID
  6. ‘Super Gremlin’ – Kodak Black
  7. ‘Ghost’ – Justin Bieber
  8. ‘Woman’ – Doja Cat
  9. ‘ABCDEFU’ – Gayle
  10. ‘That’s What I Want’ – Lil Nas X

This Week in Number Ones: ‘Amazing Grace’ – Pipes and Drums and the Military Band of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guard (#1 on the UK Singles Chart, April 15th, 1972)

The United Kingdom has a truly bizarre history when it comes to songs that become number one hits. I’ve already discussed my joy at discovering the horror that was ‘It’s Chico Time!’, but the truth is that the UK Singles Chart has been absolutely littered with novelty songs, sham hits, overwrought schmaltz, and just plain baffling singles that sometimes only barely qualify as music. 

As an American, I’m not going to pretend as though the Billboard Hot 100 has been exempt from the same thing. We’ve put ‘Convoy’, ‘Disco Duck’, ‘The Macarena’, and three different Tony Orlando and Dawn songs at number one. We have our own embarrassing history of embracing the silliest and stupidest sides of pop music by propelling it all the way into the history books.

But we never let Bob the Builder have two different number one hits. We never let Mr. Blobby have a number one hit. We never let Bart Simpson’s weird new jack swing/pop-rap Michael Jackson song sit above all other singles in the country. The UK is relatively small compared to the US, so it’s not an apples and oranges comparison. If you reach number one in America, you need to convince a hell of a lot of people that you’re worth it. If you reach number one in the UK, all it takes is a little bit of momentum and a well-timed marketing campaign.

In 1972, the best-selling single of the entire year was a bagpipe rendition of ‘Amazing Grace’ by the Royal Scots Dragoon Guard. No, this is not 1872, and no, this wasn’t just Scotland staging a coup on the UK Singles Chart by stuffing the ballots and raiding the British Market Research Bureau in a hostile takeover. This was millions of people deciding that they were going to buy a single of bagpipe music playing ‘Amazing Grace’, play it on the radio, and send it all the way to the top of the charts. As a Yankee, I remain fascinated by how this happened.

But it wasn’t just the UK: the Guard’s version of ‘Amazing Grace’ hit number one in Canada, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa as well. Hell, it was almost a top ten hit in America, topping out at number 11. Not since the Dancing Plague of 1518 has such an unexplained phenomenon become so widespread.

If you thought that this was all stately remembrances and honourable renditions, then hold on to your hats because ‘Amazing Grace’ actually caused some notable controversy within the Scottish government. You see, the hit version of ‘Amazing Grace’ combined bagpipes with a military band, which is a big no-no of traditional Scottish music. Members of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guard were even summoned to the official grounds of Edinburgh Castle and chastised for “demeaning the bagpipes”. Some things you simply can’t make up.

Through all my research, there’s one question I couldn’t definitively answer: why was a bagpipe version of ‘Amazing Grace’ so goddamn popular. Not just in areas where the music carries tradition and pride, but even in America, where bagpipes are certified weapons of torture. Was it the signing of the Biological Weapons Committe’s treaty a few days prior that suddenly got the western world in a solemn and bagpipe-heavy mood? Was their rendition of ‘Amazing Grace’ just so stirring that it smelled like a hit across the Atlantic? 

Perhaps the enthusiasm for ‘Amazing Grace’ can’t be traced to anything logical or historical. 1972 was a strange year for the UK Singles Chart, with genuinely awesome songs like T. Rex’s ‘Metal Guru’ and Alice Cooper’s ‘School’s Out’ rubbing elbows with wonky novelties like Lieutenant Pidgeon’s ‘Mouly Old Dough’ and Chuck Berry’s ‘My Ding-A-Ling’. ‘Amazing Grace’ is neither unabashedly great nor embarrassingly terrible: it seems like a joke that’s played completely straight, but it’s really just a fluke hit that happened to be the biggest song of 1972. This is why the charts are so fascinating to me: they can provide glimpses into a moment in time, no matter how confusing and ridiculous it might seem half a century later.

UK Singles Chart Top Ten (Week of April 15th, 1972)

  1. ‘Amazing Grace’ – Pipes and Drums and the Military Band of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guard
  2. ‘Without You’ – Nilsson
  3. ‘Beg, Steal, or Borrow’ – The New Seekers
  4. ‘Back Off Boogaloo’ – Ringo Starr
  5. ‘Sweet Talking Guy’ – The Chiffons
  6. ‘Hold Your Head Up’ – Argent
  7. ‘Young New Mexican Puppeteer’ – Tom Jones
  8. ‘Alone Again (Naturally)’ – Gilbert O’Sullivan
  9. ‘Desiderata’ – Les Crane
  10. ‘Heart of Gold’ – Neil Young