The Christmas number one: a supposedly hallowed achievement, and yet both Mr Blobby and Bob The Builder have both walked away with it in the past. In recent years, the market immediately before Christmas has been over-populated by the deluge of “talented” winners from Simon Cowell’s pop processing plant on the moon (probably) and vocal dissenters seem to have turned the Christmas Number One into some sort of insipid personification of everything that is wrong with the music business.
But, there have been some shining lights in the history of the Christmas Number One, despite the infamous ear-bleeders and the outrageous stories of classic songs being overtaken for the accolade by awful one-hit-wonders. And this article is hereby devoted to listing said highlights.
Somewhat unthinkably, there is no place for “Fairytale of New York”, for which we can thank the Pet Shop Boys, whose cover of “Always On My Mind” took the 1987 spot, and narrowly missed out on another attempt in 1991 when it recharted at number 3. Still, great song.
20. Rolf Harris – Two Little Boys (1969)
He’s hardly a heart-breaker, or even a particularly impressive musician, and his singing skills leave a lot to be desired, but “Two Little Boys” itself is a heart-breaking song, full of story and tenderly sung, which is only aided by the colourful inflections and charming idiosyncracy of Harris’ Australian accent. Wrongly cast as a gimmicky song, thanks to the artist, “Two Little Boys” is in fact a great story-lead song that is completely unique and totally enduring.
19. Rage Against The Machine – Killing In The Name (2009)
The anti-Christmas song, presented by protesters seeking to unthrone the reality TV products from their yearly perch at the top of the Christmas chart (and usually with an unimaginative cover to boot). It was great fun to have RATM sticking two fingers up at Santa Claus and Jesus and Simon Cowell most of all.
18. Girls Aloud – Sound of the Underground (2002)
I may have voted for their competitors in the final of Pop Stars: The Rivals, but that doesn’t detract from the quality of the girl group’s debut single. No where near the top of my favourite top 20 pop songs of all time, but this is a very shallow pool I’ve been given to wade in here, so the infectious galloping drumbeat and oddly placed rockabilly guitar riffs of “Sound of the Underground” 100% deserve to be in here.
17. Spice Girls – Goodbye (1998)
Yeah, I don’t even care what you think. FOllowing Girls Aloud with the Spice Girls. I should probably be ashamed. But like I said, mine’s the only opinion that matters to me. “Goodbye” is a mighty fine pop song, and the video in which the Girls pretend to be in cars for no reason for a little while before invading a house full of frozen people is brilliantly ludicrous. Seriously, what the HELL is this supposed to mean?!
16. Shakin’ Stevens – Merry Christmas Everyone (1985)
One of my all time favourite festive tunes, and one which anyone who tried to ring me for two years between 2004 and 2006 would have been massively sick of, thanks to it being my Call Waiting background music for that entire time. Christmas songs arent just for Christmas, kids.
15. Spice Girls – 2 Become 1 (1996)
A spice girls song about sex that everyone thought was all romantic and sweet. No, it’s definitely just about making the beast with two backs. Admittedly at a slow pace, but that’s what Christmas is all about isn’t it? I have now included two Spice Girls songs in this list – something I’m not sure I would ever have predicted. Perhaps this is proof that even the most saccharine of pop songs has some relative merit? I would say, this is probably Posh’s worst moment as a vocalist, as the producers seem to have deemed slowing her section down as an appropriate response to her tonal challenge. Didn’t really work, but still a good smokey pop song.
14. Pet Shop Boys – Always On My Mind (1987)
Almost two decades before it became the norm for pop acts to recycle the beejesus out of formerly successful songs in time for an assault on the Christmas top spot, Synth-Pop kings Pet Shop Boys did the very same to wonderful effect.
13. Elvis Presley – Return To Sender (1962)
Not the greatest Elvis song, by any means, but more than enough quality to push it close to the top ten. Elvis’ ode to the bewildered and ignorant dumped boyfriend is a classic of the early 60s upbeat bleeding heart romance rock and a frankly odd choice for a festive release. But cream inevitably rises to the top, and it made it to three weeks at the top before being ousted by another rocker who would go on to enjoy the same Christmas accolade – Cliff Richard.
12. The Beatles – Day Tripper/We Can Work It Out (1965)
Double the Beatles, double the quality. But which is better? For me, We Can Work It Out is the more typically Beatlean of the two tracks, but as a double-A, the package shows off the bredth of the Fab Four’s abilities from a period in which they were at their optimistic, impish best.
11. Mud – Lonely This Christmas (1974)
There has to be some room for Christmas songs on this list, since far too few have actually made it to number one during the festive markets, and Mud’s “Lonely This Christmas” is one of the finest. It’s like the Elvis song that the King never wrote, sung by Creme Brulee from The League of Gentlemen.
10. Slade – Merry Christmas Everybody (1973)
Thanks to this song, people every year shout “It’s Christmas!” in a manic, completely unnecessary manner. But despite that, the song is a fantastically catch, fun-filled festive cracker. And Noddy Holder is wonderful to watch in full flight. Introduced, quite beautifully by the late, great Jimmy Saville dressed as a Womble – a double rainbow of a Christmas combination, I think you’ll agree.
9. The Human League – Don’t You Want Me? (1981)
The perfect synth/electro pop love song, full of snark and ironic deference, and as cool as everyone is androgynous. Incidentally, the video seems to be where all of the Twilight directors learned their tricks.
8. Band Aid 20 – Do They Know It’s Christmas? (2004)
Not strictly speaking the same song as appears below, thanks to new arrangement, brand new vocals and an entirely new rapped sequence by Dizzee Rascal. The video definitely misses some Dire Straits shenanigans though.
7. Whitney Houston – I Will Always Love You (1992)
Altogether now, and IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIeeeeeeIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII will always love yoooooooooooooooooooooooouu. A great song, and the definitive version in my opinion, which found it’s perfect partner in Kevin Costner’s The Bodyguard, which probably represented the most sustained period of quality work Costner achieved before his career took a horrible and largely unexplained nosedive around the time that The Postman came out.
6. Pink Floyd – Another Brick In The Wall (Part 2) (1979)
A classic of epic rock proportions, and a rebellious call to arms for the original disaffected youth. An all round essential, and one that unites iPods across many demographics.
5. The Beatles – Hello, Goodbye (1967)
Another classic from Liverpool’s greatest musical export, from a period in which they absolutely bossed the Christmas singles market. What more can be said really, without the empty sentiment of hyperbole? Just enjoy it…
4. Michael Andrews & Gary Jules – Mad World (2003)
Already a fantastic original, from Tears for Fears back in 1983, which only managed number three on its debut, this slower version was released around the time that Donnie Darko landed on the world, confusing and delighting everyone. And it’s as beautiful as Jake Gyllenhaal’s vacant face.
3. Band Aid – Do They Know It’s Christmas? (1984)
A great cause, and a marvellous decision by Sir Bob Geldoff, who probably wouldn’t be remembered at all these days were it not for his huge philanthropic heart and a compulsion to do something about it, with a lot of help from Midge Ure, and a little from a host of the most famous faces from the music world of the time. Not that that was his reason for doing it by any means. Just an observation. This is of course the first version of three, with the second, which grabbed the number one spot five years later with a new line-up, but which wasn’t really any good and the 2004 redo.
2. The Beatles – I Want To Hold Your Hand (1963)
The simplest expression of love in any love song ever. Nothing of the modern fascination with the sexualisation of the body, or the unfortunate reduction of individuality to sexual behaviour of certain types of music. Just a pure expression of wanting to share something inexpressibly loving. I want to hold your hand. You bloody Liverpudlian geniuses.
1. Queen – Bohemian Rhapsody/These Are The Days of Our Lives (1991)
Twice Christmas number one – albeit without the second A-side of the hauntingly beautiful “These Are The Days Of Our Lives” first time round – “Bohemian Rhapsody” exists in that plane above normal musical excellence. It is the most perfect expression of Queen’s genius, allowing every member of the band the opportunity to show off and using the three act story form to wonderful effect. “These Are The Days Of Our Lives” meanwhile is all about Freddie Mercury’s voice, as well as the effortless, inescapable tragedy of his story. It is a song about love, about life and most of all, inexplicity about death, and it is, without a shadow of a doubt the greatest song to have ever sat at number one for Christmas.
I refuse to choose between the two, for the featured video in this winning spot, so here they both are. Heart-breaking, both of them.
So what do you think? Have we missed any? Do you have a lot of love for Mr Blobby? Does Sir Cliff’s “Mistletoe and Wine” deserve to be included? Are you actually deranged?! Let us know below…
This article was first posted on December 21, 2011