This article was written by David Lowes a GIGsoup contributor
Christmas no.1s – they’re an institution, aren’t they? For three months every year you can’t move for Bing Crosby, Slade, et al. It sometimes seems as though they are a guarantee of fame and success.
What was the first? Which was the best? Why are they so enduring?
Xmas no. 1s are so coveted because they are (usually) one of the biggest selling singles of the year. And though they’ve recently become the playground of Simon Cowell, they are still eagerly anticipated. Left-field no. 1s seem to be more common in the festive season, Rage Against the Machine’s “Killing in the Name Of” being the prime example.
But where did it all start?
The first no. 1 at Xmas wasn’t a cover of a hymn or anything like that. It was “Here in My Heart” by Al Martino – nope, I’ve never heard of him either. But it started then, and at nine weeks at no. 1 it was one of the most enduring number ones ever (until it was beaten by Whitney Houston in 1992 with 10 weeks at no.1 with “I Will Always Love You”).
It may have been fairly unassuming, but it started a trend of coveting the Xmas spot above all others. It helps that Xmas is the time of year when people are most likely to buy, buy, buy! to extreme lengths.
From 1963 to 1965 The Beatles achieved a feat of three Xmas no. 1s in a row, with “I Want To Hold Your Hand” (1963), “I Feel Fine” (1964), and “Day Tripper / We Can Work It Out” (1965). Each of these efforts spent five weeks apiece at the top, and cemented The Beatles’ reputation as one of the greatest bands ever to grace our ears.
However they aren’t the only record-holders.
From 1996 to 1998 The Spice Girls also achieved an ‘Xmas hattrick’, with “2 become 1” (1996), “Too Much” (1997), and “Goodbye” (1998). Although none of them achieved the longevity at the top of charts the The Beatles did (they spent 3, 2, and 1 week(s) at the top respectively), the impact of the feat cannot be understated. Funnily enough, The Spice Girls are never mentioned in the same breath as The Beatles – wonder why?
Other artists have achieved non-consecutive no. 1s. Robbie Willliams has technically achieved three no. 1s (two as a solo artist, one as part of the “Justice Collective” in 2012). Mel C has theoretically achieved 4 no. 1s – three with The Spice Girls and one with the Justice Collective.
I mentioned earlier that the Xmas spot is dominated by reality programmes – particularly the X Factor. But in 2008 that almost changed when Alexandra Burke sang a cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”. There was an attempt to promote Burke’s version, Cohen’s, and Jeff Buckley’s. The result was fairly straightforward – Burke’s got to no. 1, Buckley’s got to no. 2, and Cohen’s original got into the top 40.
All fairly uninteresting, but it raised questions about how we think of the no. 1 spot. Is it purely the preserve of gimmicks and covers for artists to make a quick buck? Or is it something that we should fight for?
The answer led to the 2009 social media campaign to install Rage Against the Machine into no. 1 instead of X-Factor winner Joe McElderry. The social media campaign led to Rage to go to no. 1 based purely on downloads.
What’s the future of the Xmas no. 1? Who can say, although it will be coveted so long as there is a Chart Company.
This year is much easier to predict: Adele’s “Hello” looks like a good bet, and anything The X-Factor comes up with is (unfortunately) going to be up their too. But, with the unpredictable nature of the no. 1 spot, something could come out of the woodwork and surprise us all!