The UK Christmas #1. Something us Brits grew up with – engrained in our culture since birth (or 1952, whichever came first) and something the rest of the world was mostly blissfully ignorant too until Love Actually made a little too much out of the phenomena.
This Holiday season, after spending a lot of time wading through Christmas music on Spotify, it occurred to me that there was not a comprehensive UK Christmas #1 playlist. So I made one. You can listen to it here. Of course it wasn’t until I was about halfway through that I realized the reason was likely that no one person can sit and listen to that much shit music at one time (especially the latter decades)
The Christmas #1 isn’t always a Christmas song. In fact – originally, historically, it wasn’t at all and it rarely is now. For the first few decades the majority were crooning love songs – typical of the 50’s, Dickie Valentine’s 1955 “Christmas Alphabet” was notable “Christmas” exception.
Love songs continued to dominate through the 60’s, and Elvis (swoon) scored his singular Christmas #1 in 1962 with Return to Sender and then The Beatles (notably absent from the playlist since they’re not on Spotify) dominated most of the 60’s with Christmas #1’s in 1963 (I Want to Hold Your Hand), 1964 (I Feel Fine), 1965 (Daytripper) and 1967 (Hello, Goodbye). Only Tom Jones could interrupt their winning streak in 1966 with the classic “Green, Green Grass of Home”
The Scaffolds started the novelty Christmas #1 trend with “Lily the Pink” in 1968 and the trend continued with Rolf Harris’ “Two Boys” (missing from Spotify and therefore the playlist too – perhaps to controversial given his recent incarceration?) and even Benny Hill got in on the Christmas #1 game with “Ernie – the Fastest Milkman in the West” in 1971.
I don’t know if it was the cognizance of the Christmas #1 kicking in – but novelty and Christmas songs really began to dominate throughout the 70’s and 80’s, most notably Slade’s “Merry Xmas Everybody” (not available on Spotify, but worth a listen, which you can do here), Boney M’s “Mary’s Boy Child” and Wings “Mull of Kintyre”. Only major players avoided the Christmas theme with Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” scoring #1 in 1975 (and again in 1991 – the only record in Christmas #1 history to do that twice) and Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2) in 1979.
Christmas pop hits and 80’s super songs ruled the 80’s including, arguably, the most famous being Bob Geldof’s, Band Aid “Do They Know It’s Christmas” – which has not only had three versions make it to Christmas #1 (1984, 1989 and 2004 – I’ve only included 1984’s on the playlist) but really started a trend to make the Christmas #1 a charitable venture. Other charitable Christmas #1’s have included more recently The Military Wives “Wherever You Are” (2011) and The Justice Collective (a supergroup much like Band Aid including Paul McCartney, Robbie Williams and Mel C from the Spice Girls) “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” (2012) which raised money for the charities associated of the Hillsborough disaster.
One cannot talk Christmas #1’s without discussing Cliff Richard, his contribution and his mid career religious epiphany. His three Christmas #1’s, “I Love You” (1960), “Mistletoe and Wine (1988) and “Saviors Day” (1990) progressed from love songs to Jesus over the course of three decades
Pop Girl Bands and Boy Bands ruled the 90’s Christmas #1’s (as they did the 90’s in general). The Spice Girls scored three Christmas #1’s in 1996 (2 Become 1), 1997 (Too Much) and 1998 (Goodbye). East 17’s “Stay Another Day” made it to number one in 1995. It’s not available on Spotify but I do encourage you to listen to it here (amusingly they were my least favourite boy band – laughable really – but I loved this song, it’s magic of Christmas #1)
The 90’s were also home to some of the worst of the Christmas #1’s – including Bob the Builder’s (yes the cartoon) “Can We Fix It” and Mr Blobby’s eponymous song, Mr Blobby (Mr Blobby is a giant pink blobby thing that appeared on TV)
The 2000’s were taken over by reality TV winners Pop Idol, X-Factor and the like – many of which are missing from Spotify (boo Simon Cowell) by 2009 folks in the UK were fed up with reality tv’s hold on the Christmas #1 and launched a Facebook campaign to make Rage Against the Machine’s “Killing in the Name Of” Christmas #1 that year, but with the exception of the two charity records previously mentioned, reality show winners have resumed their rule of the 2010’s, including this years Christmas #1 Ben Haenow.
So here it is, The Definitive UK Christmas #1 Playlist 1952-2014 (with some Spotify-less exceptions – the full list can be found on Wikipedia here)
MERRY CHRISTMAS AND YOU’RE WELCOME AMERICA.