The race to the Official Christmas Number 1 has traditionally been hotly contested, with no secret formula to work out who’s going to grab the festive top spot.
Over the years, it has been impossible to predict, with tunes you’d think were a dead cert to be soundtracking the arrival of Santa’s sleigh ending up grounded in the slush, making way for more random tracks to grab the glory.
By 2009, however, the Christmas Number 1 race wasn’t so wide open. With the final of talent show The X Factor coinciding with the all-important Christmas chart week, a winner’s single had taken pole position for the last four years.
After Shayne Ward’s That’s My Goal (2005), Leona Lewis’s A Moment Like Thus (2006), Leon Jackson’s When You Believe (2007) and Alexandra Burke’s Hallelujah (2008), the latest hopeful with his eye on the top spot was young Joe McElderry with his cover of Miley Cyrus track The Climb.
There were several attempts to derail Alexandra Burke’s victory the year before with various campaigns, including a movement to get the late Jeff Buckley’s version to Hallelujah to Number 1 instead. Another of those crusades, organised by DJ Jon Morter and wife Tracy, focused on making Rick Astley’s Never Gonna Give You Up the Christmas Number 1, to capitalise on the “rickrolling” phenomenon at the time.
It was unsuccessful, but it did inspire a new campaign in 2009. This wasn’t anything personal against Joe – the campaign was launched before he was crowned winner – but the Morters decided that when it came to 2009’s Christmas Number 1, X would certainly not mark the spot.
Starting out as “one of those little silly ideas that make you laugh in your own house”, Jon and Tracy started to think about the chart battles of their younger days and how fun it would be to get another song to Number 1.
And the song they chose? LA rock band Rage Against The Machine’s anarchic Killing In The Name, originally a Number 25 hit in 1993, of course. Warning before you play the video: here be swears…
Kicking things off, Jon and Tracy set up a Facebook campaign page and used the full might of social media to attract media attention to their quest.
The campaign struck a chord with the public and the media, and soon the 2009 Christmas Number 1 race was all over the news.
Soon, Rage Against The Machine themselves helped things along with an interview and performance on BBC Radio Five Live. The band had been asked to censor themselves but, well, this is rock and roll, and they kind of didn’t. The clip went viral and it was the extra push the song needed.
We caught up with Jon – who still helps out on campaigns for alternative Christmas Number 1s – to find out more about his crusade.
- Why did you choose that Rage Against The Machine song?
"I felt it was a perfect antithesis to anything The X Factor would put out, plus as a bonus the feeling of the song just fit perfectly with what I wanted to do."
- What were you expectations when you kicked off the campaign – did you always know it would go all the way?
"I didn't really have any expectations when I started the campaign. Obviously I hoped it would work but you never really know when you first kick off these things.
"I think the tipping point for me was the Facebook group numbers going up by literally hundreds of people every few seconds, it was crazy. When Rage Against the Machine appeared with me on BBC Radio 5Live and all hell broke loose... That's when I really believed we could do it."
- Your campaign has inspired others to the point that such campaigns are now an annual event. What are your thoughts on that? What others you have backed?
"Yes it's become almost a new tradition in itself for others to give it a try. My good mate Steevi had a crack at it the following year (2010) and his Trashmen Surfin' Bird campaign got to No.3.
"I helped him again in 2013 and we got AC/DC their first ever UK Top 10 single in 40 years. If anything it's a bit of fun but proves that anyone can do it, although it has to resonate with people. It's no good doing this just for the sake of doing it."
- What's your favourite Christmas Number 1?
"Rage obviously! but I was also part of The Justice Collective in 2012 that topped the seasonal chart too so that's also a favourite.
"If we take out the ones I've been involved with, then my favourite would have to be either Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody or Bob The Builder's Can We Fix It? ...well it stopped Westlife getting it that year so high fives to Bob The Builder."
- How did it feel when RATM scored the Christmas Number 1?
"I felt pretty spaced out I have to say...I went into my kitchen and made a cup of tea. When the actual announcement was made by Scott Mills on Radio 1, I didn't actually hear it!I was in a cab with the driver Mark taking me to BBC TV Centre, and I only knew it was announced as my phone was chirping like mad!
"It felt great in 2009, and it still feels very special in 2014."
The battle for Christmas Number 1 raged on through the week but when the final whistle went, it was Rage Against The Machine who finished in front, selling an incredible 502,000 copies to Joe’s still very respectable 450,000.
Natural order was restored the following week when Joe sold a further 195,000 copies and took the Number 1 spot, relegating Rage Against The Machine to runners-up, their job done.
Other contenders for the 2009 official Christmas Number 1 couldn’t compete with the might of the Machine…
Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance was at the top of the Official Singles Chart the week of the Christmas Number 1 race, but she had to make way for Rage Against the Machine and then Joe McElderry. Not that Joe could get too comfy – the following week Gaga made a triumphant, unexpected return to Number 1 to be the first chart-topper of 2010!
Also gunning for the top spot but having to make do with a Christmas Number 5 instead, which doesn’t quite have the same ring to it when you think about it, 3Oh3 FT Katy Perry, with Starstrukk.
Robbie Williams was out to grab his second Christmas Number 1 with You Know Me, after his 2001 victory with Nicole Kidman (this really happened) on Somethin’ Stupid.
And with 3 Words, Cheryl Cole was also hoping to add another Christmas Number 1 to he trophy cabinet following her 2002 success with Girls Aloud and Sound Of The Underground. Sadly, the only three words waiting for Cheryl in her quest were “Not this time”.
Also making a play for the festive throne in 2009:
George Michael – December Song
Leona Lewis – Stop Crying Your Heart Out
Queen and the Muppets – Bohemian Rhapsody
Pet Shop Boys – It Doesn’t Often Snow At Christmas