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UK xmas number one

27th November 2007 • Dave

Attempts to capture pole position in the UK singles chart at xmas certainly did not start with X Factor in the form of Shayne Ward (2005) or Leona Lewis (2006), or even Girls Aloud (2002) it goes back much further than that.

The business of the UK xmas number one dates back over four decades to those four Liverpool lads: John, Paul, George and Ringo. I Want To Hold Your Hand (1963), I Feel Fine (1964), Day Tripper (1965), Hello Goodbye (1967), were huge "bigger than Jesus" hits for the Beatles in the 60s. Never before or since has a band or artist dominated the top of the xmas charts. Although the Spice Girls came pretty close with three xmas number ones in the late 1990s: 2 Become 1 (1996), Too Much (1997) an Goodbye (1998). This last they obviously didn't really mean as girl power is now back on tour complete with alleged lip-syncing. It's a brave pop picker who would bet against Sporty, Scary, Ginger, Posh and Baby never having another xmas number one.

So the true meaning of xmas number ones? Wizzard, The Pogues, Wham, Queen or Cliff? Absolutely not. I would vehemently dispute the assertion that any of these were either cheerful or uplifting in a xmas way. Some of these including Wizzard weren't even number one at all, never mind at xmas! Despite entering the charts four times, the brilliantly heartbreaking Fairytale of New York about a poverty stricken couple's broken dreams in the Big Apple never made it to number one either. Neither did the cheesy Last xmas which charted twice in which George Michael seems to be lamenting a Yuletide infidelity. Bohemian Rhapsody (1975), the second most over-played song of all time, has bugger all to do with xmas only charted the second time (1991) because the track got a re-release after Freddy Mercury, one of the greatest pop vocal talents of our time, had died.

Cliff keeps plugging away most years bless him. Although of his 3 xmas number ones: I Love You with The Shadows (1960), Saviours' Day (1990), there's only one which ever gets an outing, and that's his most nauseating effort with that choir boy, the oh so saccharin Mistletoe & Wine (1988). Doesn't really bear thinking about.

Anyone who finds the Michael Andrews beautifully simple arrangement of Mad World (2003) depressing really needs to go back and listen to some wrist-slitting favourites from xmas past: Michael Jackson Earth Song (1995) stop the planet I want to get off; East 17 Stay Another Day (1994) I wish you wouldn't; Whitney Houston's Dolly Parton cover used in the film the body guard I Will Always Love You (1992) bet she needed a body guard after releasing that; The Pet Shop Boys Always On My Mind (1987) wish you weren't; The Flying Pickets Only You (1983) why me; Renee & Renato Save Your Love (1982) don't worry I will; and The Human League Don't You Want Me (1981) yet another song from the bloated 80s about rejection.

Depending on your disposition the 60s and 70s had their share of toe-curling or just plain old dismal dirges too. Danny Williams Moon River (1961), Tom Jones The Green Grass Of Home (1966); Rolf Harris Two Little Boys (1969); Mud Lonely This Christmas (1974) and Wings Mull Of Kintyre (1977) all make many people including me loose the will to live. Even Pink Floyd Another Brick In The Wall (1979), from one of the great seminal albums of the time, is hardly a jolly slay bell shaking chrimbo classic either.

In fact if you exclude the acts who along with Cliff have assured there place at the pearly gates by putting out hymns: Johnny Mathis When A Child Is Born (1976), Harry Belafonte (1957) and Boney M (1978) both with Mary's Boy Child there are actually precious few upbeat xmas songs which made it to the top at the crucial time. Slade Merry Xmas Everybody (1973) and Shakin' Stevens Merry Christmas Everyone (1985) are notable exceptions.

So if Bohemian Rhapsody is the second most played song in the whole wide world ever, no prizes for figuring out the first. There is not much one can say about Band Aid that has not already been written. That's not a debate I really want to get into right here. Let's just say it got to number one 3 times (1984), (1989) and (2004) and leave it at that.

On a lighter note if you're a painfully irritating novelty record you're in with a good shout: Scaffold Lily The Pink (1968), Benny Hill Ernie (The Fastest Milkman In The West) (1971), St Winifred's School Choir There's No One Quite Like Grandma (1980), the self-titled Mr Blobby (1993) and Bob The Builder Can We Fix It? (2000).

That's most of them. For the complete list including Elvis and West Life see:

The practice of manipulating the xmas number one in the UK is as old as the singles charts them selves. The massive record making machines: the Beatles, Spice Girls, the Band-Aid franchise, Pop Idol/X Factor only had to press the button at the right time and the top of the pops belongs to them. Just behind this croud have been the novelty acts, kids TV shows and the like, who will be glad to pick up the batton if the usual corporate are having a xmas off.

If you're looking for xmas tunes and you're turning to the UK xmas number one at almost any point in the past 55 years you are inevitably going to be disappointed. The UK xmas number one has never been a rich vane of festive xmas crackers having thumping beats, ripping guitar solos or much else about which to write home. Some tremendous xmas tracks are out there, most of them don't get to number one though. Many of them don't chart at all. It can sometimes be something of a challenge to find the hidden gems when you're getting bombarded with the same old couple dozen tunes going round and round every December. Bring on the Internet.

All that said, for me the UK xmas number one for all it's cynical falts and limitations remains an institution. The record companies, the bands, radio and TV stations, the shops and bookmakers all know it too! I always hope it will be something new and fresh and something I have not heard before. The true meaning of the song which happens to be first place in the UK chart on 25 December has as much to do with Christmas as mince pies, turkey, and Santa! And come the middle of January you will have forgotten all about it until next year.

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Pillars of the Earth

25th November 2007 • Dave

I spent my train journeys to and from Preston this weekend completely immersed in Ken Follett's historical masterpiece the Pillars of the Earth.

Set in 12th century England during a time known as the Anarchy, Follett's epic, 900 pages in print and over 40 hours in audio, charts the building of a cathedral and the associated trials and tribulations of the people in the fictional town of Kingsbridge.

Pillars is: dramatic, shocking, brutal, heart rending, informative, moving and much more. Other than stories set against the backdrop of WW II, I have not read much historical fiction. I am astounded at the extent to which Pillars has grabbed my attention and refuses to let go.

For me the test of any book is the amount of time I spend thinking about it and whether or not the characters are believable. Pillars scores highly on both counts. The world Follett has conjured in my imagination seems like a very real place, one which I look forward to escaping to at every possible opportunity.

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Remember remember most of November

1st November 2007 • Dave

If I don't right stuff down here I am likely to forget it. And when I'm old
and my mortgage is paid off, I'll look back at my life and wonder what I did
with all those years. Enter the blog so I can count up and marvel at how
many birthdays celebrated, gigs attended, trips travelled, you get the idea.
November contains the usual assortment.

This weekend the boy Roberts is celebrating his thirtieth. Doubtless our
exploits will be chronicled on his blog next week. On the way to Ipswich I
am planning to meet Chrissie, friend and colleague from my ACB Radio days,
for lunch in London. I am also looking forward to seeing some of the old
Epsom crowd. Long time readers will remember the Save the Riser campaign
from June 2006. Martin has a pub and band booked for Saturday and muggins
will probably play Happy Birthday on the piano once an appropriate quantity
of mild has found it's way down my neck.

The rather fabulous Dream Theatre are touring in the UK this autumn. Yours
truly has tickets to see them here in the midlands on the 10th! Maybe it's
time I listened to that new album then!

The weekend of the 17th will be a breather before heading off to celebrate
yet another birthday, this time in Preston on the 24th. That will probably
be the last trip I make up north before the xmas break.

So lots of train journeys on which to meet all kinds of unhinged individuals
and to get through a few more books from my ever expanding reading list.

Hope all's well with everyone in internet land? Be careful with the

All the best.

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