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Music

The Week in Number Ones: Gayle reigns and George Harrison gets remembered

@TylerGolsen

A funny thing about the United States and the United Kingdom is how independently their music businesses operate. In a world more closely connected than ever, the ocean that separates these two countries is still big enough to keep their differences obvious. There’s bound to be some crossover at any given point, but the stylistic tastes, cultural trends, and musical proclivities of the two nations rarely ever line up perfectly with each other.

Take this week for instance: two different number one songs, and only three total tracks that appear on both charts. Both sides of the Atlantic are now fully recovered from the Christmas rule of Mariah Carey and her fellow holiday earworms, but in that reset, both countries also reverted back to old comforts. Hits from recent yesteryear like Dua Lipa’s ‘Levitating’ and Olivia Rodrigo’s ‘Good 4 U’ both threatened to once again land in the top ten.

In that sense, it seems appropriate to revisit one of the first cases of major reappearance from an old chart-topping single. Today, we look back at when a nation mourned one of its biggest musical figures of all time. The UK channelled its grief for the young death of George Harrison by rocketing ‘My Sweet Lord’ all the way back up to number one over 20 years after its original release.

Last week, we tracked the almost unparalleled level of popularity that Adele is currently experiencing with both 30 and its central ballad ‘Easy On Me’. We also took a look at the wild modern trend of Christmas songs topping the charts, as well as Nirvana’s triumphant Nevermind signalling to the rest of the world that grunge was taking over in 1992.

This week in the single charts, the United States and United Kingdom swap who loves Adele the most with America returning ‘Easy On Me’ to the top spot. Meanwhile, Gayle takes a swing at chart dominance by finally hitting number one with her major label debut ‘ABCDEFU’. Those stories, plus the strange success of Disney’s Encanto and the even stranger lack of success from The Weeknd, are covered down below.

Current UK Number One: ‘ABCDEFU’ – Gayle

When I wrote the original version of this column as a college student, the main thing that torpedoed its success was the fact that a single song never budged from the number one spot. Back then it was Roddy Ricch’s inane megahit ‘The Box’, and I would be lying to you if I said that I wasn’t worried about Adele sinking this version of the column before it even began as well.

But rejoice, because ‘Easy On Me’ is no longer at the top of the UK Singles Chart. Instead, we get young American up and comer Gayle, whose quasi-pop-punk powerhouse ‘ABCDEFU’ has found its gleefully profane message translate with the biggest chunk of the UK populace this week. Even though I’m glad to see Adele knocked down, I have mixed feelings about Gayle ascending to the top.

Maybe the problem is that, even though I’m only 23, ‘ABCDEFU’ still puts me well above the intended target demographic. Or maybe the problem is that everything in the Olivia Rodrigo shadow just looks like trend-chasing at the moment. ‘ABCDEFU’ is always going to sound ‘Good 4 U’-lite to me, and the insipid “nah nah nah” hook at its centre just makes my skin crawl.

Elsewhere, Disney’s Encanto landed two singles in the top ten with ‘We Don’t Talk About Bruno’ and ‘Surface Pressure’ breaking out the soundtrack world and into the mainstream. This kind of crossover hasn’t really been seen since ‘Let It Go’ from Frozen suddenly became a major single back in 2014. Disney actually has a long history of success on the singles chart, but the rarity of the modern day animated hit single makes Encanto seem all the more special.

Otherwise, not a lot has changed since last week. Most notably, Lauren Spencer-Smith’s TikTok smash ‘Fingers Crossed’ jumped an astounding 90 places to land at number four. Spencer-Smith doesn’t even currently have a Wikipedia page, but what she does have is a top five hit. Take that, The Weeknd.

I’ll talk a little bit more about everyone’s favourite Canadian R&B singer further down, but The Weeknd did manage to squeak in a top ten single with ‘Sacrifice’ landing at number ten. It’s a smattering of similar names from seven days ago in the other slots, but hey, any way that I don’t have to talk about ‘Easy On Me’ is alright with me.

UK Singles Top Ten (Week of January 19th, 2022):

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

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

Goddamn it! Just when I thought I was out, Adele pulls me right back in. The UK was evidently a bit more emo this week when they decided to vault Gayle up to the top spot, but America is still feeling pretty mellow and instead opted for the weepy melodrama of ‘Easy On Me’ for the ninth non-consecutive week.

The Kid Laroi and Justin Bieber are once again threatening to take over the top spot with ‘Stay’, which had seven weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100 back in 2021. Glass Animals’ ‘Heat Waves’ is hanging tough at its peak position of number three, but this week officially marks the song’s 52nd week on the chart. If it eventually breaks through to number one, ‘Heat Waves’ will be quite the sleeper hit.

The only new addition this week goes to Gunna’s collaboration with Future and Young Thug, ‘Pushin P’. The trap star’s third LP is currently sitting on top of the Billboard 200 album chart, and it provided some surprisingly stiff competition with Dawn FM in its fight to sit at the top of the mountain.

Speaking of which, did I overestimate the pull of The Weeknd? Because I was certain that a few of the tracks from Dawn FM would land in the top ten, with one of them possibly ascending to number one. Only ‘Sacrifice’ managed to land, and even that song only got up to number 11. It’s all fine with me: I wasn’t a fan of Dawn FM. But it seems like the rest of America is also giving The Weeknd a bit of the cold shoulder.

Billboard Hot 100 Top Ten (Week of January 22nd, 2022):

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

This Week in Number Ones: George Harrison – ‘My Sweet Lord’ (#1 on UK Singles Chart, January 20th, 2002)

Everybody mourns differently. For some, a loss can be so overwhelming that they can’t even bear to acknowledge it. For others, celebrating the person’s life is the best way to start the healing process. Things differ based on the person mourning and the person being mourned, but when a celebrity passes away, it becomes imperative to go back and enjoy the material that left such an indelible mark.

When it came to cherished cultural treasures, few figures in music could match the star power of former Beatles George Harrison. When Harrison passed away in late 2001, it was at a shockingly young age for the youngest member of the band. Harrison had almost lost his life when a knife-wielding assailant broke into his home and attacked him in 1999, but it was lung cancer that eventually took his life.

Unlike most, Harrison actually had a perfect piece of art to celebrate his life with. ‘My Sweet Lord’, a song about devotion beyond the material world, was an apt tribute for the legendary figure once he shuffled off the mortal coil. Radio stations began putting the song in rotation, and the song was reissued as a single by Apple Records in January of 2002. Almost exactly 21 years after it first hit number one in the UK, ‘My Sweet Lord’ returned to the top of the charts.

Today, it’s not uncommon for older songs to make chart returns thanks to streaming. But in the early 2000s, the music business was still thriving on physical sales and radio play. This was the era of Pop Idol, and Harrison’s contemporary number one artists were Gareth Gates and Will Young. Harrison also had the unfortunate distinction of replacing another posthumous artist at the top spot, having knocked Aaliyah’s ‘More Than a Woman’ from the number one spot. Great Britain was doing its fair share of grieving in early 2002.

The following week, Enrique Iglesias leapt a massive 84 places at landed at number one with his emotional ballad ‘Hero’. ‘My Sweet Lord’ continued to sell, but it lost steam as the week’s continued to pass. Nevertheless, the song hung around the charts until the first week of June, proving that Harrison’s memory was still very much being celebrated in the weeks and months following his passing.

UK Singles Chart Top Ten (Week of January 20th, 2002)

  1. ‘My Sweet Lord’ – George Harrison
  2. ‘Get the Party Started’ – Pink
  3. ‘AM to PM’ – Christina Milian
  4. ‘Addicted to Bass’ – Puretone
  5. ‘More Than a Woman’ – Aaliyah
  6. ‘Gotta Get Thru This’ – Daniel Bedingfield
  7. ‘The Whistle Song (Blow My Whistle Bitch)’ – DJ Aligator Project
  8. ‘Star Guitar’ – The Chemical Brothers
  9. ‘The Land of Make Believe’ – Allstars
  10. ‘Bad Intentions’ – Dr. Dre ft. Knoc-turn’al