21 December, 2014 in Features
Celebrating the best – and glossing swiftly over the worst – of 50 years of festive chart-toppers in the UK
merican readers might find this a bit odd – because it’s apparently purely a British phenomenon – but here in the UK, having the No 1 spot on the singles chart in Christmas week is a big deal. The race for the Xmas No 1 spot is hotly contested each year: it’s even discussed on the main nightly news broadcasts, and bookies make a killing as punters flock to back their favourites. So with that in mind, we thought we’d cast an eye back at the last 50 years’ worth of winners.
It’s okay, it’s not like we had any parties to go to or anything. And anyway, it turned out to be quite an interesting exercise. Look at the list below and we’d bet good money a few things will surprise you – like how few actual ‘Christmas’ songs have ever topped the Christmas charts, for instance! Okay, Slade, Mud and Boney M make an appearance, alongside Cliff Richard and Shakin’ Stevens offerings, but seasonal faves like A Fairytale Of New York, Stop The Cavalry or All I Want For Christmas Is You? Nowhere to be seen.
A few random chart facts that we found out while compiling this list. The clear all-time winners are The Beatles, who had four Xmas No 1s, and specifically Paul McCartney who – as a member of The Beatles, Wings and several Band Aid incarnations – has topped the Xmas charts no fewer than eight times. The Spice Girls are the only act to match The Beatles’ three consecutive Xmas No 1s, while Queen are the only band to take the same song to the Xmas No 1 slot twice.
So, grab a mince pie and join us as we go on a whistlestop tour of half-a-century’s worth of chart history…
1964 The Beatles – I Feel Fine
Having spent five weeks at No 1 the previous Christmas with I Want To Hold Your Hand, The Beatles repeated the exact same trick in 1964. I Feel Fine also topped the charts in the US, albeit a week or two later.
1965 The Beatles – Day Tripper/We Can Work It Out
Somewhat uncannily, the Fab Four were No 1 for five weeks for the third year on the bounce with this Rubber Soul-period double AA-side.
1966 Tom Jones – Green, Green Grass of Home
The Welsh man-mountain topped the charts for seven weeks with this nostalgic paean to the high-grade chronic available in the Pontypridd area. No, sorry, not that – with this nostalgic paean to the Welsh hills, is what we meant to say…
1967 The Beatles – Hello, Goodbye
Having been forced to say goodbye to the Xmas No 1 spot the previous year, John Paul George and Ringo said hello to it again in 1967, and stayed there for seven weeks.
1968 The Scaffold – Lily The Pink
Revolution was in the air in 1968. Czechoslovakia had its Prague Spring, in Paris students took to the streets, and in Britain, record buyers said “Enough of buying Paul McCartney records at Christmas! We’re going to buy one by his brother instead!”. Crazy, crazy days…
1969 Rolf Harris – Two Little Boys
The less said about this one the better.
1970 Dave Edmunds – I Hear You Knocking
A pre-Rockpile Dave Edmunds scored his biggest ever hit with this cover of a song by New Orleans R&B star Sonny Lewis, which held the top spot for six weeks and also went to No 4 in America.
1971 Benny Hill – Ernie (The Fastest Milkman In The West)
The bespectactled purveyor of nudge-nudge-wink-wink slapstick wrote this in 1955, inspired by his real-life experiences as a milkman in Hampshire. Fifteen years later, he was top of the charts with it for four weeks.
1972 Jimmy Osmond – Long Haired Lover From Liverpool
‘Little’ Jimmy Osmond didn’t come from Liverpool, nor did he have long hair. Somehow, that didn’t stop him holding the top spot for five weeks with this slice of kiddy pop froth written by Christopher Kingsley… or becoming the youngest ever person to have a UK No 1, aged nine years eight months.
1973 Slade – Merry Xmas Everybody
Written by Noddy Holder and bassist Jim Lea, this saw off Wizzard’s I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday (which only went to No 4) to claim the top spot, stay there for five weeks and become perhaps THE most archetypal/iconic Xmas No 1 of them all.
1974 Mud – Lonely This Christmas
Glam rockers-cum-drape-suited rock n’ roll revivalists Mud took the Xmas No 1 spot in 1974 with this heartbreak anthem penned by Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman. Guitarist Rob Davis would go on to become a successful songwriter for the likes of Kylie Minogue, Mika and Spiller.
1975 Queen – Bohemian Rhapsody
Freddie Mercury and co sat at the No 1 spot for a whopping nine weeks with their operatic pomp-rock masterpiece. It would top the UK chart again in 1991 following Mercury’s death, and has to date sold over 6.7 million copies worldwide.
1976 Johnny Mathis – When A Child Is Born
Originally entitled Soleado, this Spanish song written by Ciro Dammicco and Dario Baldan Bembo in 1972 was given English lyrics by Fred Jay a few years later, and subsequently provided veteran US MOR crooner Mathis with his biggest ever UK hit.
1977 Wings – Mull of Kintyre
After buying a farm on Scotland’s Kintyre peninsula, Paul McCartney became so enamoured of the local scenery that he felt moved to pen this bagpipe-laden ditty which became the first single to sell two million copies in the UK – though AA-side Girls’ School fared better internationally.
1978 Boney M – Mary’s Boy Child/Oh My Lord
A rare example of a Christian-themed song taking the Xmas No 1 slot. Harry Belafonte took the Jester Hairston, Frank Farian, Fred Jay and Lorin-penned song to the top spot in 1956. Europoppers Boney M repeated the feat 22 years later, this time as a medley with their own Oh My Lord.
1979 Pink Floyd – Another Brick In The Wall (Part 2)
“We don’t need no education/we don’t need no thought control,” sang the choir from Islington Green School, providing Waters, Gilmour et al with their only ever UK No 1 single.
1980 St Winifred’s School Choir – There’s No One Quite Like Grandma
There’s always room in the Christmas Top 10 for some nauseating, cloying sentimentality, isn’t there?
1981 The Human League – Don’t You Want Me
This tale of a spurned Lothario and the newly empowered young woman who’s leaving him behind held onto the top spot for five weeks, aided by a glitzy video and, possibly, some sort of special voodoo magic involving Phil Oakey’s lopsided haircut.
1982 Renée & Renato – Save Your Love
People of Britain… what the hell were you thinking? Fascinating fact: Save Your Love was penned by Johnny Edward, who was also responsible for bringing the world Metal Mickey, a hit kids’ TV show about a robot.
1983 The Flying Pickets – Only You
Take a radical left-wing vocal choir, and get them to record an a capella cover version of a Yazoo track written by Vince Clarke. Hey presto, you’ve got a Xmas No 1 on your hands – although, weirdly, the formula has yet to be repeated…
1984 Band Aid – Do They Know It’s Christmas?
You know all about this one already. Bob Geldof and Midge Ure had an idea to help feed starving kiddies in Africa, roped in a bunch of pop star chums to help and, because this was the 1980s, no-one whinged endlessly about the lyric on Twitter.
1985 Shakin’ Stevens – Merry Christmas Everyone
For the benefit of overseas readers, Shakin’ Stevens (real name: Mike Barrett) was a sort of Welsh cod-Elvis who was bafflingly popular in the 70s and 80s. So much so that you’ve kind of gotta love him… despite records like this one.
1986 Jackie Wilson – Reet Petite
Written by Berry Gordy and Roquel Billy Davis, this was first a hit in 1957, the proceeds enabling Gordy to set up Motown Records. Nearly 30 years later, it became a Xmas No 1 thanks to a memorable clay animation video.
1987 Pet Shop Boys – Always On My Mind
With this synth-pop take on a classic song, Messrs Tennant and Lowe went where over 300 others had gone before… but still managed to take the Xmas No 1 slot. In 2014, a BBC listener’s poll voted this the best cover version of all time.
1988 Cliff Richard – Mistletoe And Wine
Held onto the top spot for four weeks, so someone must’ve liked it. Let’s move swiftly on, shall we?
1989 Band Aid II – Do They Know It’s Christmas?
A second go-around for the charity anthem, this time with Stock Aitken & Waterman in charge of production and, accordingly, a whole host of interchangable 80s pop moppets singing.
1990 Cliff Richard – Saviour’s Day
With this record, Cliff became the first person to have a UK Xmas No 1 that was knocked off the top spot the following week… though he wouldn’t be the last.
1991 Queen – Bohemian Rhapsody
Bohemian Rhapsody got another go-around following the death of Freddie Mercury and became the only record to top the Xmas chart twice (the same song has done so a couple of times – see Mary’s Boy Child and Do They Know It’s Christmas? – but those were different recordings.)
1992 Whitney Houston – I Will Always Love You
This Dolly Parton-penned heartwrencher from the soundtrack to Kevin Costner movie The Bodyguard stayed at No 1 for ten whole weeks – the longest any female solo artist has ever held onto the top spot.
1993 Mr Blobby – Mr Blobby
A children’s novelty record. They have their place. Next!
1994 East 17 – Stay Another Day
The east London boyband scored their only UK No 1 with this (almost) drum-free number that was later covered by Girls Aloud (see below). It was no It’s Alright though, was it?
1995 Michael Jackson – Earth Song
The King of Pop (as some would have it) was No 1 for six weeks with this operatic eco-ballad, which actually became his biggest-selling single in the UK. Strange, but true.
1996 Spice Girls – 2 Become 1
The all-conquering Spice Girls scored their first Xmas No 1 with what was only their third single (after Wannabe and Say You’ll Be There), a pop ballad written by producers Matt Rowe and Richard Stannard and the band themselves.
1997 Spice Girls – Too Much
Written by ‘Spice Girls, Andy Watson and Paul Wilson’, Too Much proved the nation hadn’t yet had too much of the Spice Girls, scoring them their second festive chart-topper on the trot.
1998 Spice Girls – Goodbye
Mixed blessings for the now Geri-less Spice Girls with this one… it made them the only band apart from The Beatles to have three Xmas No 1s in a row, but it was also the first Xmas No 1 since Cliff in 1990 to only stay there for a week.
1999 Westlife – I Have A Dream
The Irish boyband scored their only Xmas No 1 with this ABBA cover that was backed by an equally, er, fantastic and brilliant cover of Terry Jacks’ Seasons In The Sun.
2000 Bob the Builder – Can We Fix It?
Another children’s novelty song, written by Paul K Joyce and taken from the animated kids’ TV show of the same name.
2001 Robbie Williams & Nicole Kidman – Somethin’ Stupid
You already know this was a cover of a song made famous by Frank and Nancy Sinatra, but did you know it was written by C. Carson Parks, older brother of Van Dyke Parks? You do now…
2002 Girls Aloud – Sound Of The Underground
Yes, they were the product of a TV talent contest, but this slice of rock-tinged pop written by Miranda Cooper, Brian Higgins and Niara Scarlett wasn’t bad, considering. The B-side featured a cover of East 17’s Christmas hit from eight years earlier.
2003 Michael Andrews & Gary Jules – Mad World
This acoustic cover of the Tears For Fears classic became a surprise hit after featuring in the soundtrack to the cult movie Donnie Darko, taking the No 1 spot and holding on for a respectable three weeks.
2004 Band Aid 20 – Do They Know It’s Christmas?
We’d forgotten this even happened! But it did. Reflecting the chart dominance of R&B in the early 00s, the line-up for Band Aid 20 comprised the likes of Daniel Bedingfield, Ms Dynamite, Lemar, Shaznay Lewis and Jamelia, as well as members of Ash, Keane, The Divine Comedy and The Darkness.
2005 Shayne Ward – That’s My Goal
And so began a long line of Xmas No 1s by TV ‘talent’ contest winners. First up, wedding band singer Shayne Ward with a song writen by Jörgen Elofsson, Jem Godfrey and Bill Padley.
2006 Leona Lewis – A Moment Like This
Fair play to Ms Lewis, she’s forged a longer lasting career than most talent show starlets. This song was written by Jörgen Elofsson and John Reid and held onto the No 1 spot for four weeks, racking up the first 900,000 of her 28 million sales to date.
2007 Leon Jackson – When You Believe
Scottish singer Leon Jackson worked as a Gap shop assistant before winning the fourth series of X Factor and having a Xmas No 1 with this cover of a song originally written by Stephen Schwartz for Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston.
2008 Alexandra Burke – Hallelujah
Alexandra Burke, X Factor winner and daughter of Soul II Soul’s Melissa Bell, took the 2008 Xmas No 1 slot with her version of this Leonard Cohen classic.
2009 Rage Against the Machine – Killing In The Name
In 2009, music lovers fought back, fighting (and winning) a concerted social media campaign to push RATM’s 90s grunge classic to the top of the charts instead of yet another X Factor winner. The track was chosen as a message to Simon Cowell et al – you know how the chorus goes…
2010 Matt Cardle – When We Collide
The X Factor winners were back… albeit with a twist, as Essex boy (and Rage fan, apparently) Matt Cardle took on Biffy Clyro’s When We Collide, topping the charts for three weeks.
2011 Military Wives with Gareth Malone – Wherever You Are
This charity single in aid of the Royal British Legion was a spin-off from a TV reality show, The Choir: Military Wives. The song itself was made up of extracts from the womens’ letters to and from their husbands serving overseas, set to music by composer Paul Mealor.
2012 The Justice Collective – He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother
Another charity effort took the No 1 spot for Christmas 2012. This time, an A-list line-up helmed by Peter Hooton of The Farm covered the Bob Russell and Bobby Scott song made famous by The Hollies, with proceeds going to charities related to the Hillsborough disaster.
2013 Sam Bailey – Skyscraper
Last year’s Xmas No 1 was another X Factor product, this time former prison officer Sam Bailey with a song written by Kerli Kõiv, Lindy Robbins and Toby Gad for Demi Lovato.
2014 Ben Haenow – Something I Need
And finally, we come right up to date with this year’s No 1 and the X Factor pop machine does it again, toppling Mark Ronson’s Uptown Funk from the top spot. Congratulations to Ryan Tedder and Benny Blanco for writing the original song for OneRepublic.