'Viva La Vida' is the title track from Coldplay's hugely successful fourth studio album... It shot to the top spot in the UK charts on download sales alone, scoring the band their first ever UK Number One single in June 2008Though download-only releases had been eligible for the singles chart since the start of 2007, and the first track to top the chart through digital sales alone was as long ago as 2006, 'Viva La Vida' is the first UK Number One single never to have been released on a physical single in this country - whether it's the first ever totally digital chart-topper depends on how you treat the track that it deposed: Mint Royale's version of 'Singin' In The Rain', which had been released physically a few years earlier but was no longer widely available on disc (it reportedly sold in single-figure quantities while at the top due to old stock).
What makes this song's success all the more impressive is that it was initially ineligible as it was one of the first tracks to be released as an "instant-grat", supplied immediately to anyone who pre-ordered the album on iTunes - under chart rules in force at the time even individual sales of the track not linked to this incentive weren't counted, reputedly due to either EMI's or Apple's refusal to supply a breakdown of sales between the two methods. The rules were finally changed earlier in 2013, with Justin Timberlake's 'Mirrors' the first beneficiary, though almost immediately record companies started mucking about and breaching the new rules by putting out multiple instant grats from the same album. Back in 2008, though, 'Viva La Vida' finally became entitled to a singles chart position in the first full week that the album was released and rather unpredictably entered at the very top. Admittedly it did so on a relatively low weekly sale, though in fairness it's been a steady seller ever since and has a decent total. It remained an impressive achievement before full promotion of the single had begun, before there was a video and well before the intended release date, though perhaps this was a harbinger of how much less important nominal release dates would become in the digital era. A mooted 7" release was ultimately abandoned as too late to be relevant, though CD singles were released in mainland Europe.
I suppose what all this implies is that the song had big crossover appeal, selling to people who wouldn't have bothered with the album - no small seller itself of course - and possibly weren't even that keen on Coldplay generally. They are a band who seem to rub a lot of people up the wrong way, indeed, but this track is also a bit of a departure for them in sonic terms. Reportedly the song went through many different incarnations in the studio, and doubtless one day we'll get them all released on a boxed set, but the finished version has an unusual construction featuring mostly orchestral instruments behind Chris Martin's vocal, which compared to typical rock music makes it seem both sparse and opulent. Even the percussion is mostly bells and timpani and as far as I'm concerned it's pretty hard to go wrong with timpani. Martin's lyric carries some air of mystery about it, seemingly sung from the perspective of a deposed despot who seems to see some positive sides to his demotion "Och, who would ever want to be king?" Perhaps this is some sort of metaphor for his own clearly ambivalent attitude to fame, and his status as the leader of a band who quickly became much bigger than I can imagine they ever expected or intended. Whatever he might really mean, the sweeping drama of the music is a powerful setting for it (or a good opportunity to ignore the words entirely, of course) and this totally deserves its placing as one of the band's biggest hits. In fact after writing this I start to feel a bit bad about not buying it at the time, though there's no point try to do anything about it now as I obviously have the track on Now 71 itself.
I would incidentally have laughed at the Wikipedia claim that this song is "often confused with 'Livin' La Vida Loca'" had I not in fact seen somebody do that in a Facebook discussion just a few weeks ago. However, I don't know whether it was entirely necessary to spell out that Ricky Martin and Chris Martin are not related.
Also appearing on: Now 46, 47, 48, 53, 54, 55, 61, 62, 63, 70, 79, 81, 82 (with Rihanna)
Available on: Violent Veg - 40 Favourite Songs For Dad!