Jackson set for top of the tree

Michael Jackson looks set to be No 1 in the pop charts for Christmas, record industry experts say.

Jackson's "Earth Song" is expected to hold on to the position at the top of the charts when the new rundown is published tomorrow, despite stiff competition from the Mike Flowers Pops' "Wonderwall" - an easy-listening version of the Oasis hit song. Virgin/Our Price made the prediction despite the Flowers single's comfortably outselling Jackson in their stores.

Tower Records in London said it was selling three times as many copies of "Wonderwall" but still anticipated a triumph for Jackson. The head of singles products at Virgin/Our Price, Matthew Kreutzer, said both records had been selling "incredibly well". "It's going to be close as to who is No 1 but from what I've heard from the two record companies Michael Jackson is just about ahead and will hang on. Lots of people go into a record shop in the Christmas week and ask for the No 1, regardless of who it is. Michael Jackson is the current number one and that will work in his favour."

Industry predictions pointed to a bumper year in the singles market with sales expected to be up 26 per cent on last year.

Andy Mantej, of Tower Records, said Mike Flowers could look forward to being the top seller in the first chart after Christmas. "Earth Song" has been No 1 for the past two weeks. Flowers' "Wonderwall" was only released on Monday.

The outside contender for the No 1 slot is Boyzone, with a remake of the Cat Stevens Sixties bedsit ballad "Father and Son". At present at No 2, the Irish band is hanging on to the race for the festive top slot, which will be announced tomorrow.

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