The Christmas Number One Single

Mastermix Label Manager Richard Lee reflects on the coveted Christmas Number One single over the decades of UK chart history.

Since the official chart began in 1952, the race to be the Christmas number one has been something that many artists have coveted with very few actually ever achieving.

Al Martino achieved the first ever UK number one in 1952 with his song ‘Here In My Heart’ that was also the Christmas chart-topper of that year…not too shabby! 

Christmas Number 1s of the 60s

Cliff Richard, Elvis Presley, Beatles & Tom Jones all hit the top spot at Christmas in the 1960s with tracks including:

  • Return To Sender – Elvis Presley
  • I Want To Hold Your Hand – Beatles
  • I Love You – Cliff Richard
  • Green, Green Grass Of Home – Tom Jones

The 60s also saw the very first novelty Christmas number one with the 1968 song ‘Lily The Pink’, a trend that would continue throughout the decades.

Christmas Number 1s of the 70s

The 70s was the decade that finally delivered number one songs at Christmas that had a festive feel:

  • Merry Xmas Everybody – Slade
  • Lovely This Christmas – Mud
  • Mary’s Boy Child / Oh My Lord – Boney M.

As a child of the 70s, in 1975 I remember watching Top Of The Pops and seeing the iconic video to ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ by Queen… the Christmas number one of that year!

The last number one of the 70s was also the first number one of the 80s…and the Christmas number one for 1979. A song that I loved with a video that gave me nightmares. It was of course:

  • Another Brick In The Wall (Pt.2) – Pink Floyd

Christmas Number 1s of the 80s

The 80s is the decade that gave us some brilliant Christmas number ones including:

  • Don’t You Want Me – Human League
  • Only You – Flying Pickets
  • Reet Petite – Jackie Wilson

Then things got festive again with my absolute favourite Christmas song reaching number one at Christmas in 1985:

  • Merry Christmas Everybody – Shakin’ Stevens

It’s a song that was going to be released a year earlier, until Shaky got news of a charity single that was a sure thing for the Christmas number one in 1984:

  • Do They Know It’s Christmas – Band Aid

The track featured artists including Boy George, Paul Young & Bono with his iconic line…”well tonight thank god it’s them instead of you”. A line he wasn’t comfortable with at first but Midge Ure & Bob Geldof talked him round and the rest is history.

The song would return to the Christmas number one spot in 1989 thanks to a new version produced by Stock, Aitken & Waterman. This take on the track featured artists including Jason Donovan, Kylie Minogue & Cliff Richard…the latter achieving the Christmas number one a year earlier with ‘Mistletoe & Wine’ and would hit the festive top-spot again in 1990 with ‘Saviour’s Day’…bravo Sir Cliff!

The 1980s was also the decade that gave us the incredible 1987 Christmas chart-topper:

  • Always On My Mind – Pet Shop Boys

It’s a brilliant version of a classic hit…but it’s also the song that kept the Pogues & Kirsty MacColl off the top of the charts, so my feelings to this day remain slightly mixed whenever I play it.

Christmas Number 1s of the 90s

Cliff Richard started the decade with a bang with his festive and traditional Christmas number one, Saviour’s Day.

But 1992 was the start of the end as far as the traditional festive number one goes and in 1992 the Christmas number one was:

  • I Will Always Love You – Whitney Houston

And was followed by other Christmas chart-toppers including:

  • Mr Blobby – Mr Blobby
  • Earth Song – Michael Jackson
  • 2 Become 1 – Spice Girls
  • Seasons In The Sun – Westlife

Before we leave the 90s I must mention the 1994 Christmas number one:

  • Stay Another Day – East 17

A fine song accompanied by a questionable video featuring all 4 members busting moves whilst wearing over-sized, brilliant white snow jackets…as you do! Although this isn’t strictly a festive song, the church bells and festive connotations find it sneaking into Christmas compilations all the same!

Christmas Number 1s of the 00s

As the 90s ended and a new decade began, the traditional Christmas number one was clinging to the wreckage. The early part of the 00s included these Christmas number ones:

  • Bob The Builder – Bob The Builder
  • Something Stupid – Robbie Williams & Nicole Kidman
  • Sound Of The Underground – Girls Aloud

In 2003 we managed to equal the awful 1992 Christmas number one with the dreary:

  • Mad World – Michael Andrews & Gary Jules

What on earth were we thinking? A brilliant track…ruined…Ho…Ho…Oh dear!

There was a 3rd spell as Christmas number one for:

  • Do They Know It’s Christmas – Band Aid 20

As a DJ I would always prefer the original version of this track, occasionally switching to the 1989 version to achieve a pop dance vibe but the 2004 version remains a distant memory for me.

By 2005 the era of the TV Talent Show really kicked in and dominated the Christmas number one spot, starting with the X Factor that gave us:

  • That’s My Goal – Shayne Ward
  • A Moment Like This – Leona Lewis
  • When You Believe – Leon Jackson

I appreciate that things change but for the next few years it was a given that the song from ‘that show’ would top the charts at Christmas. The joy of watching a song enter the lower end of the chart and climb to the top had been over a few years earlier but this era ensured the charts, and the Christmas number one, would never be the same again.

Then came a revolt by certain sectors of the music buying public and by this time, download sales were being counted towards a chart position (this actually came into effect by 2004) which gave the public a faster, more responsive way of influencing the Christmas number one.

In 2009 the reign of the talent show was interrupted when the Christmas number one was:

  • Killing In The Name – Rage Against The Machine

Christmas Number 1s of the 10s

A year later and normal service was resumed when this track became the Christmas number ones in 2010:

  • When We Collide – Matt Cardle

As a DJ, I genuinely cannot remember ever playing any of the Christmas number ones spawned from the X Factor, apart from my short stint on commercial radio, but I appreciate the importance of having them in my music collection because as we all know as DJs…the client is king! Whilst I may not like a certain song it is the DJs job to fulfil the wishes of their clients and their music choices.

By now, audio streams counted towards the offical UK charts, and this again gave individuals more power to influence the Christmas top spot.

Several social media campaigns have been run in the lead up to Christmas to get a festive favourite to number one on the big day, which has seen the classic Fairytale Of New York reaching a high chart position several times in recent years, but never quite hitting the coveted number one.

To round things off I must give a mention to both Ed Sheeran & Clean Bandit who hit the Christmas top spot in 2016 & 2017:

  • Rockabye – Clean Bandit
  • Perfect – Ed Sheeran

Good songs, not Christmas songs, but still good songs that reached the top spot on their own merit.

Things have changed again over the last 3 years when the novelty song has again dominated:

  • We Built This City – Ladbaby
  • I Love Sausage Rolls – Ladbaby
  • Don’t Stop Me Eatin’ – Ladbaby

So for all eternity the music records will show that Ladbaby achieved 3 consecutive UK Christmas number ones with their first 3 releases.

So what will 2021 hold as far as the Christmas number one is concerned? Will it be a 4th consecutive festive chart-topper for Ladbaby or will their run come to an end? Well this is the time of year where miracles happen…so you never know!

Merry Christmas everybody!

Click here to view the entire list of every UK Christmas number one single.

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