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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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