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Music

The Week in Number Ones: LF System, Lizzo, and ELO climb the charts

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 let Beyoncé back into our lives with her top ten single ‘Break My Soul’ and got dejà vú as Harry Styles returned to number one with ‘As It Was’. We also took a look at how Carole King, the queen of hits, only managed to grab one of her own with ‘It’s Too Late’.

Since I get a real kick out of completely ridiculous recurring segments that don’t actually recur, I’m creating a new one this week called ‘Master of Puppets Watch’. Yes, Eddie Munson’s favourite Metallica song got the Kate Bush treatment during the finale of Stranger Things season four, but there are a couple of reasons why ‘Master of Puppets’ is unlikely to see the same leap to number one that Bush saw.

For one, ‘Master of Puppets’ is nearly nine minutes long. Ain’t nobody got time to stream all of that. More importantly, though, ‘Master of Puppets’ doesn’t have the same mainstream pop appeal that ‘Running Up That Hill’ does. Metallica created a thoroughly uncompromising thrash metal classic, and even though it’s fun to hear for a minute or two in our collective favourite TV show, it doesn’t seem likely that ‘Master of Puppets’ can check all the boxes that a song needs to reach number one.

We’ll just have to see what happens, because after some awesome shredding from one Mr. Munson, ‘Master of Puppets’ managed to land at number 40 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number 47 on the UK Singles Chart. Shocker of all shockers, ‘Master of Puppets’ didn’t chart on either side of the Atlantic when it was first released as a single back in 1986, but now it’s getting some major pop chart legs under it 36 years later.

This week, we see a passing of the torch as LF System land at number one with their wonky remix ‘Afraid to Feel’. We also take a look at the heartwarming friendship between the artists at numbers one and two in America and scratch our heads to figure out how Electric Light Orchestra only managed a single number one hit throughout their legendary career. All that and more as we round up all the best chart news of the modern-day and recent past.

Current UK Number One: ‘Afraid to Feel’ – LF System

A few weeks ago, I made the bold claim of not having a single goddamn idea who LF System was. I went so far as to say that I wasn’t even sure if they were real. Good times. Well, now I look like an idiot because LF System have the number one song in the UK. Nice going on that one, egghead.

So who are these titans of chart success that managed to knock the mighty Kate Bush out of the number one spot? I hate to disappoint, but they’re just a Scottish production duo who take older R&B songs, remix them, and throw them out into the world. That formula didn’t hit with their first single, ‘Dancing Cliché’, but it definitely did on their second try.

By the way, one final bit of kudos to Bush – she accomplished something legendary that likely won’t be replicated on the charts for a long time. To have a song gestate for nearly four full decades before hitting number one is quite the accomplishment, and it couldn’t have happened to a more iconic artist who deserved another number one on her long list of accomplishments. And she was incredibly gracious to LF System when they knocked her out of the top spot. Class act, that Kate Bush is.

But now we’ve returned to number one songs actually being contemporary hits. Well, kind of. ‘Afraid to Feel’ is just a speed-treated version of the 1979 song ‘I Can’t Stop (Turning You On)’ by Silk (not the ’90s R&B group that took ‘Freak Me’ to number one in America. That’s a different Silk). The constant tempo fluctuations aren’t exactly what I go for in my house music, but hey, I can see the summer jam qualities that poke out of ‘Afraid to Feel’.

Anonymous electronic duos have a solid history on the UK Singles Chart, with the likes of Shanks & Bigfoot, Spacedust, Doop, Oxide & Neutrino, Madison Avenue, Modjo, The Outhere Brothers and The Chemical Brothers all landing number ones between the late-1990s and early-2000s. So, LF System, what’s it going to be? Are you The Chemical Brothers or Spacedust? Show us what you’ve got, but I swear to god if it’s another ‘Afraid to Feel’ remix I’m going to go ballistic.

UK Singles Top Ten (Week of July 6th, 2022):

  1. ‘Afraid to Feel’ – LF System
  2. ‘As It Was’ – Harry Styles
  3. ‘Running Up That Hill’ – Kate Bush
  4. ‘Break My Soul’ – Beyoncé
  5. ‘Green Green Grass’ – George Ezra
  6. ‘Go’ – Cat Burns
  7. ‘About Damn Time’ – Lizzo
  8. ‘IFTK’ – Tion Wayne & La Roux
  9. ‘Massive’ – Drake
  10. ’21 Reasons’ – Nathan Dawe ft. Ella Henderson

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

Don’t you love it when friends have to fight each other? Maybe it’s a stretch to call Harry Styles and Lizzo “friends”, but they definitely seem like they enjoy each other’s company. Styles is known to break out his cover of Lizzo’s ‘Juice’ every once in a while, and on more than one occasion (including at this year’s Coachella Festival), Lizzo herself has joined him onstage.

May we also refer back to the iconic moment when Lizzo and Styles held hands at the 2020 Brits? Olivia Wilde better watch her back. The partnership that we all want will probably never happen, but this week we get to witness the two close compadres duke it out for pop chart supremacy.

The edge here obviously goes to Styles, whose ‘As It Was’ continues to be one of the most durable number one songs of recent memory. Don’t sleep on Lizzo’s ‘About Damn Time’ though: after 12 weeks in the chart, the song has reached a new peak at number two on the Billboard Hot 100. Numerous songs have tried and failed to kick ‘As It Was’ out of its now-continuous home at number one, and even when they have, Styles seems to come right back up again.

But those were all pop music peers and competitors. Will Styles hand off his crown to a friend, Queen Lizzo? We’ll just have to sit back and let the fireworks happen all on their own. Worst case scenario is that we finally get the Lizzo-Harry Styles collaboration that had been criminally kept from us for years now. C’mon guys, quit screwing around and give us that magical duet on something other than ‘I Will Survive’.

US Billboard Hot 100 Top Ten Singles (Week of July 9th, 2022):

  1. ‘As It Was’ – Harry Styles
  2. ‘About Damn Time’ – Lizzo
  3. ‘First Class’ – Jack Harlow
  4. ‘Running Up That Hill’ – Kate Bush
  5. ‘Wait For U’ – Future ft. Drake & Tems
  6. ‘Jimmy Cooks’ – Drake ft. 21 Savage
  7. ‘Me Porto Bonito’ – Bad Bunny & Chencho Corleone
  8. ‘Heat Waves’ – Glass Animals
  9. ‘Break My Soul’ – Beyoncé
  10. ‘Big Energy’ – Latto

This Week in Number Ones: ‘Xanadu’ – Olivia Newton-John and Electric Light Orchestra (#1 on the UK Singles Chart, July 12th, 1980)

The Electric Light Orchestra is one of the most legendary bands to come out of the 1970s. Led by certified musical genius Jeff Lynne, ELO managed to snag both critical and commercial success throughout the decade with their unique brand of string-heavy rock and roll. Stay on a classic rock radio station for an hour’s time and you’ll no doubt come across a classic ELO song, whether it’s ‘Telephone Line’, ‘Evil Woman’, or ‘Mr. Blue Sky’.

It’s completely bizarre to think that, despite their millions of albums sold and numerous chart hits, ELO only has one number one song on either side of the Atlantic. The highest they ever got in America was number four with ‘Don’t Bring Me Down’, and even though they nabbed a wild 15 top ten hits in the UK, only one track ever topped the charts, and it came from a major turkey of a film.

Xanadu, despite what your more ironically inclined friends might tell you, is not a good film. It is a sci-fi/musical/roller skating mess of a movie that pairs bizarre Metropolis-esque visuals with garish late-70s aesthetics for what can only be described as a two-hour eye sore. Olivia Newton-John might have gotten away with her relatively modest acting abilities in Grease, but she can’t possibly save a script as cheesy and incoherent as Xanadu.

Sure, the film has its defenders these days. If you’re amicable towards this particular era of over-the-top cinema – or are incredibly stoned – then Xanadu can be a pretty good time. But it takes a lot of niche appreciation, or a lot of weed, to make that happen. If you want to get your pop culture full of Kubla Khan, I personally recommend the Rush saga of the same name.

Despite being a box office bomb, Xanadu had something else going for it: a surprisingly solid soundtrack from ELO and Newton-John. Right in the middle of both artists’ disco era, the Xanadu soundtrack is everything that the film can’t quite be: loose, extravagant, fun, and well-constructed. Newton-John controls the decent front half of the soundtrack, but the back half is all ELO at their silliest and arguably most joyous.

It all culminates in the film’s title song, a duet between Newton-John and ELO. Complete with intricate chord changes and a belting lead vocal from Newton-John, ‘Xanadu’ is pure schmaltz cranked up far past the point of common sense. That’s what makes it so great – nobody wants music that only goes halfway, especially not disco music. Lynne understood that restraint had no place in ‘Xanadu’, so he made it the most outrageous song in the entire ELO catalogue.

The ‘Xanadu’ single came out two months before the Xanadu film, and just as the song was ending its two-week run at number one, the movie hit theatres. Despite the single’s popularity, Xanadu went belly up at the box office, costing Newton-John her still-nascent film career.

It didn’t affect her singing career, however. In fact, another cut from the Xanadu soundtrack, ‘Magic’, landed all the way at number one on the Billboard Hot 100. A year later, Newton-John dropped what would become her most successful album, Physical. The album’s title track is a historical tale in the world of number one, and if this column doesn’t get cancelled for focusing on a third Olivia Newton-John song, we might just cover it one day.

ELO didn’t fare quite as well in the aftermath of Xanadu. While their follow-up, 1981’s Time, landed at number one on the UK Album Charts, it received mixed reviews as Lynne saw his audience begin to dwindle. After two more albums, Lynne decided to disband ELO and focus on becoming an elder statesman producer for the likes of George Harrison and Tom Petty. He also joined the Travelling Wilburys, solidifying his status as one of rock’s most legendary figures.

Xanadu represented the end of an era – disco was dead, and so was the film career of Newton-John. The hitmaking career of ELO wasn’t far behind, but for one final glorious moment, a sweeping epic of strings and synths sent ‘Xanadu’ straight to the top of the charts as the commercial culmination of Jeff Lynne’s decade of dominance in the pop world.

Billboard Hot 100 Top Ten (Week of July 3rd, 1971)

  1. ‘Xanadu’ – Olivia Newton-John and Electric Light Orchestra
  2. ‘Use It Up and Wear It Out’ – Odyssey
  3. ‘Jump to the Beat’ – Stacy Lattisaw
  4. ‘Crying’ – Don McLean
  5. ‘Cupid’ / ‘I’ve Loved You For a Long Time’ – Detroit Spinners
  6. ‘Funkytown’ – Lipps Inc.
  7. ‘My Way of Thinking’ / ‘I Think It’s Going to Rain’ – UB40
  8. ‘Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime’ – The Korgis
  9. ‘Could You Be Loved’ – Bob Marley and the Wailers
  10. ‘Simon Templar’ / ‘Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps Please’ – Splodgenessabounds