Merry Christmas Everyone!

1225It is usually described as “the coveted Christmas #1 spot” in the media, but why should it be so? Why the prestige of having the last chart-topping single of a year, more than, say, the first? A #1 at any time of the year is a good indication of an act’s current popularity, but the main reason seems to be simply cold, hard cash: more records are sold in the run-up to Christmas than at any other time of the year, so a #1 then is can genuinely be called one of the biggest hits of the year.

There are two types of track that do well at the end of the year: songs you can dance to and/or sing along to, and sentimental songs you can feel all warm and fuzzy to. The former came into their own in the 1970s, spurred by the likes of Slade: glam rock was ideal for the party season, with its brashness and colour. People planning parties had an instant soundtrack with that musical genre. Slade wrote Merry Xmas Everybody with the express purpose of making #1 by Christmas, deliberately releasing it on 7 December 1973 to give it the best chance. It worked, and it led to the 70s having the most Christmas-inspired Top 10 listings of any decade, although the chart toppers tended to be at the slushier end of the market, for example Boney M bringing Mary’s Boy Child in 1978.

That song had also been a Christmas #1 in 1957, on that occasion by Harry Belafonte. Songs that referenced Christmas itself weren’t often to be found at the top of the charts on the day in question. Belafonte’s hit was one of only two in the 1950s, the other being Dickie Valentine’s Christmas Alphabet in 1955 (although sales of Winifred Atwell’s 1954 Christmas #1 Let’s Have Another Party might have been influenced by the inclusion of some bars from When The Red Red Robin Comes Bob Bob Bobbin’ Along in her piano medley, the bird being a winter motif at least); there were none at all in the 1960s (The Beatles had four Christmas #1s, none of which was seasonally-geared); and the other two Christmas-themed #1s in 1970s were Mud’s Lonely This Christmas in 1974 and Johnny Mathis’s When A Child Is Born two years later. In the 1980s, as detailed below, three festive songs were at the top of the charts on Christmas Day. In the past 25 years, it has happened only twice: Saviour’s Day was the Christmas #1 in 1990 for Cliff Richard, and one of the 80s #1s, Do They Know It’s Christmas?, returned to the top in a different version in 2004.

Today, the Christmas #1 is major event in the music industry calendar, with acts holding back a song that can be released in the week prior to the day itself. This has paid off for ‘The X Factor’, the annual televised talent competition: the winning act will have her/his single released in the critical week. It has led to social media campaigns to get a different song – any other song – to the top instead, and this worked in 2009 when downloads of Rage Against The Machine’s Killing In The Name was the Christmas #1. (The campaign was no less cynical than Simon Cowell’s, of course.) But, as the list below (generally) shows, if you release a great song in the run-up to Christmas, you have every chance of being #1 on the day, regardless of the song’s theme or the marketing tools used.

1980
Christmas #1: There’s No One Quite Like Grandma, St Winifred’s School Choir
Runner up: (Just Like) Starting Over, John Lennon
Other hits in Top 10:
John Lennon’s death on 8 December 1980 led to three of his singles being in the Top 10 at Christmas that year. Indeed, his most recent single, (Just Like) Starting Over, had been #1 the week before. It had originally peaked at #8 and was on its way down the chart by December, then went back up to #1. Meanwhile, the title track of his 1971 album Imagine, which had previously been a single in 1975, was at #9, and his seasonal hit Merry Xmas (War Is Over) was at #4, matching its chart peak of 1972 when it had first been released. The chart compilers’ policy of not preparing a chart for publication between Christmas and New Year meant that whatever was at #1 at Christmas was automatically given a minimum two-week run there; the next chart (for the week ending 10 January 1981) showed Merry Xmas (War Is Over) at #2, denied the chance to be a #1 by Imagine, which was now at the top.

There was one other seasonably-themed song in the Christmas 1980 Top 10, Stop The Cavalry by Jona Lewie at #3.

1981
Christmas #1: Don’t You Want Me, The Human League
Runner up: Daddy’s Home, Cliff Richard
Other hits in Top 10:
Three acts who had singles in the Christmas Top 10 the previous year had different songs in the Top 10 this year: Abba, Adam and The Ants, and Madness – in neither year was any of these singles Christmas-themed. (The Police, who were also present in 1980, didn’t quite make it in 1981 – they were at #12.)

1982
Christmas #1: Save Your Love, Rene and Renato
Runner up: The Shakin Stevens EP, Shakin’ Stevens
Other hits in Top 10:
Seasonal hits came from David Bowie and Bing Crosby with Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy at #3, and David Essex at #7 with A Winter’s Tale. For the third year in a row, Madness also had a single in the Top 10.

1983
Christmas #1: Only You, The Flying Pickets
Runner up: My Oh My, Slade
Other hits in Top 10:
Culture Club were the only returning faces from previous Christmas Top 10 lists from the 1980s: they had also been present the previous year.

1984
Christmas #1: Do They Know It’s Christmas, Band Aid
Runner up: Last Christmas, Wham!
Other hits in Top 10:
The other yuletide hit in 1984’s Top 10 was Another Rock And Roll Christmas by Gary Glitter at #8. The only returning act this year was Paul Young, his second consecutive year in the list.

1984 was the first year where the chart compilers didn’t take a week off, there being separate charts for the weeks ending 23 December and 30 December. The listings revealed that the previous policy of repeating the Christmas chart for a second week was probably fair enough: there was very little movement in the Top 10, the top three singles the same, most of the others simply changing places with their neighbours, and only one new title that hadn’t been there before (Foreigner’s future #1, I Want To Know What Love Is, moving up one place from #11 to #10).

1985
Christmas #1: Merry Christmas Everyone, Shakin’ Stevens
Runner up: Saving All My Love For You, Whitney Houston
Other hits in Top 10:
Not only were there returning faces in 1985’s Top 10, there were returning singles: the #1 and #2 for the previous year were back in the Top 10 at #3 and #6 respectively, while a third returning act, Shakin’ Stevens, provided a Christmas-themed #1. Aled Jones’s Walking In The Air, at #5, made this the most festive Top 10 of the decade.

Wham! also had another single in the Top 10, I’m Your Man at #8.

1986
Christmas #1: Reet Petite, Jackie Wilson
Runner up: Caravan of Love, The Housemartins
Other hits in Top 10:
The Housemartins’ single was the closest to a Christmas single that there was in the Top 10 in 1986, with its allusions to Christianity. The familiar face in the Top 10 this time was Madonna, who had first featured the previous year.

1987
Christmas #1: Always On My Mind, Pet Shop Boys
Runner up: Fairytale of New York, The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl
Other hits in Top 10:
The #2 record has proved the most enduring, and has made regular returns to the chart since. The other seasonally-themed hit in the Top 10 was charity effort Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree, #3 for Mel Smith and Kim Wilde. Once again, Shaky was back (What Do You Want To Make Those Eyes At Me For was at #10); chart toppers Pet Shop Boys had also been present in a 1980s Top 10 run down in 1985.

1988
Christmas #1: Mistletoe And Wine, Cliff Richard
Runner up: Especially For You, Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan
Other hits in Top 10:
Bros had cut a version of Silent Night and put it out as a double A-side with their song Cat Among The Pigeons; they were at #8. In addition to Cliff Richard, Status Quo were returning faces in the Top 10, having previously made the 1983 list.

1989
Christmas #1: Do They Know It’s Christmas, Band Aid II
Runner up: Let’s Party, Jive Bunny And The Mastermixers
Other hits in Top 10:
A new recording of the 1984 #1 saw the decade out. Tina Turner, Jason Donovan, Madonna and Bros, who had all previously featured in Christmas Top 10s during the decade, were back this year – but the #1 was the only Christmas-themed single.

NEW SINGLES on sale from Dec. 25
No release scheduled for this date.