Christmas 2021 sees the 70th Christmas Number 1 single in the Official Charts’ history.
While we let you decide what that is going to be, let us cast your minds back to some of the previous ones from every five years (well technically four in the case of our first, but you get the idea…)
The Christmas Number 1 encapsulates pretty much everything you can imagine from the history of pop music. There’s your girl groups (Spice Girls, Girls Aloud) and boy bands (Westlife, East 17), your legends (Cliff, The Beatles, Elvis, Whitney, Jacko, Pink Floyd) and pre-teens (Little Jimmy Osmond, St Winifred’s School Choir).
Almost every important genre imaginable is represented too, from glam (Mud, Slade) to synthpop (The Human League, Pet Shop Boys), ragtime (Winifred Atwell) to rap metal (Rage Against The Machine) and calypso (Harry Belafonte) to country (Conway Twitty).
There’s be-hatted gloomers (Gary Jules), men in rubber suits (Mr Blobby), cheery builders (um, Bob The Builder), yuletide yodellers (Frankie Laine) and the Welsh (Tom Jones, Shaky and Dave Edmunds). That’s not forgetting the multi-starred link-ups (Three Band Aids and a Justice Collective) and the myriad of TV-adjacent winners (Alexandra Burke, Ben Haenow, Matt Cardle etc etc) – it’s a microcosm of everything tremendous about pop music at a time of year when literally everyone has a say in what they want at the top. Even those noticeably absent from the Christmas Day pole position – say Madonna, Mariah or David Bowie (although he features on the B-side of Do They Know It’s Christmas – so there you go) – are but a degree or two of separation from those who did.
Our findings from this every-five-years exercise show that none of these titles actually mention Christmas – in fact there’s only been seven Christmas Number 1s that actually have Christmas in their title (or even Xmas – Hello there Slade). There’s also only one song here that actually refers to Christmas, so it goes to show that you can get the coveted position by singing about any old thing, be it rain, sausages, milkmen or even being executed(!) So, join us do, as we trolley dash through 70 years of festive chart-toppers.
1952 Here In My Heart – Al Martino
Well, it’s only fair that we should begin with the very first Christmas chart-topper – and also the first UK Number 1. Although as the charts had only been going since mid-November, no one had possibly really thought about the concept of being a Christmas Number 1. The Italian-American lungsmith had been a bricklayer and served in the US Navy during World War II. After all that, Al tried his hand at singing and won Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts television show earlier in 1952, and a recording contract was his prize (Hmmm, sounds familiar) which led to Here In My Heart. A US Number 1 for three weeks in June 1952, it repeated that success over here a few months later for nine weeks.
1956 Just Walkin’ In The Rain – Johnnie Ray
‘Poor old Johnnie Ray’, as Dexys referred to him on their 1982 Come On Eileen stomper, was a big deal in the pre-rock and roll age. Partially deaf, the Oregon-born singer begun working in clubs at the age of 15, and despite rising to huge popularity in the states – even appearing in the film There's No Business Like Show Business as part of an ensemble cast that included Ethel Merman and Marilyn Monroe in 1954, his US appeal began to slide but he still remained hugely popular over in the UK. Just Walkin’ In The Rain was the second of three UK Number 1s, spending seven weeks at the top.
1961 Moon River – Danny Williams
Perhaps best known as featuring in the film Breakfast At Tiffany’s, Danny Williams’ version may not have won an Oscar or a Grammy (well, two actually) but it did reach Number 1 (so eat THAT, Audrey Hepburn). Perhaps best known in the version by Andy Williams, Moon River has been covered by a wide range of acts including the likes of Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, Morrissey, R.E.M., Barbra Streisand, The Killers and Frank Ocean.
1966 Green Green Grass Of Home – Tom Jones
Originally written by Claude "Curly" Putman Jr., and first recorded by singer Johnny Darrell in 1965, Green Green Grass Of Home was a country song made popular by Porter Wagoner. However it was Jerry Lee Lewis’ version that Tom Jones first cocked an ear to, after he heard it in New York after appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show. The song, basically about a man dreaming about returning to his childhood home, although when he wakes up it transpires he’s actually in prison and about to executed (cheery!), was Jones’ second Number 1 single and spent seven weeks at the top.
1971 Ernie (The Fastest Milkman In The West) – Benny Hill
Novelty Number 1s are nothing new. From The Scaffold’s Lily The Pink through to Ladbaby’s trio (quartet?) of sausage roll-based anthems, via Mr Blobby and Bob The Builder, there’s nothing more the British record-buying public like than a grin-raising hit, especially at Christmas when the usual pop kids aren’t paying full attention and a wider range of music consumers buy or download a song. Comedian and actor Benny Hill was quite a big deal, having been hugely popular since 1950, appearing in films such as The Italian Job, his television show was attracting 21 million viewers at this point in 1971. This rather sweet song was originally written in 1955 and based on his true life experiences as a milkman, although the love feud between Ernie and a bread delivery man over the attentions for widow Sue was perhaps not. It kept T.Rex and Slade off the top spot and won an Ivor Novello Award the following year.
1976 When A Child Is Born – Johnny Mathis
A throwback to the pre-rock and roll era was Johnny Mathis, whose music career began in 1955 when he was discovered singing weekends with a jazz sextet, while he was training to be a P.E. and English teacher after winning a scholarship due to his athletic ability and star athlete status at George Washington High School in San Francisco. His only UK Number 1, When A Child Is Born was based on an original melody of Italian song Soleado and the lyrics were given a Christmas tinge by Fred Jay, who’d also go on to write Ma Baker and Rasputin for Boney M, as well as the Oh My Lord bit of Mary’s Boy Child which would turn up as the Christmas Number 1 a couple of years later.
1981 Don’t You Want Me – The Human League
1981 had been a big breakthrough year for synthpop, with massive chart hits for Ultravox and Soft Cell, the chart emergence of Visage, Depeche Mode and Japan and it also formed the basis of Number 1s Dave Stewart & Barbara Gaskin’s It’s My Party and Aneka’s Japanese Boy, but the one futurist-facing toe-tap that topped them all came at the end of the year with Sheffield’s Human League and the song they weren’t keen on releasing, Don’t You Want Me. It’s gone on to be one of the biggest-selling Christmas Number 1s of all time and a worldwide smash for the lopsided-haired Philip Oakey and chums.
1986 Reet Petite (The Sweetest Girl In Town) – Jackie Wilson
Reet Petite took 29 years to be a Number 1 single. Thankfully it hadn’t been hanging around the charts all that time, its new success was down to a Claymation video made for arts documentary strand Arena, and the novelty of that caused renewed interest in the song, thus beating The Housemartins’ Caravan Of Love and the importantly-haired Europe’s The Final Countdown to the festive summit. Here’s a Fancy That! fact for you, it was co-written by Berry Gordy, and the song’s original success in 1957 – it reached Number 6 in the UK and 62 in the Billboard charts – enabled him to fund and invent Motown!
1991 Bohemian Rhapsody / These Are The Days Of Our Lives – Queen
Of course, Bohemian Rhapsody had already been a Christmas Number 1 in 1975, but on this occasion it was coupled with the band’s These Are The Days Of Our Lives in tribute to Freddie Mercury who’d died of an AIDS-related illness the previous month. The facts about Bohemian Rhapsody are staggering enough – it’s the second biggest-selling Christmas Number 1 and one of the biggest-selling songs of all time – but These Are The Days Of Our Lives was tinged with sadness being the last video Queen recorded with Freddie, and his last line ‘I still love you’ delivered as he looked to camera, caused mourning fans to weep a fair bit more.
1996 2 Become 1 – Spice Girls
The Spices had become a full-on phenomenon by Christmas 1996, having only released their debut single five months previously, with 2 Become 1 becoming the third consecutive Number 1 on the trot for the quintet. Having established themselves as a pop force to be reckoned with, and the names Posh, Baby, Sporty, Ginger and Scary as synonymous shorthand for each member, 2 Become 1 topped off one of the biggest pop launches of the decade, and kicked off a trio of Christmas Number 1s for the girls. That their first six singles all claimed the top spot was a record-breaker in itself, until pesky old Westlife came along.
2001 Somethin’ Stupid – Robbie Williams & Nicole Kidman
After a wobbly start, Robbie’s post-Take That career took to the stratosphere after the success of the blubsome Angels, and he was the biggest pop star in the country. His duet with Australian actress Nicole Kidman, on this cover of father/daughter link-up Frank & Nancy Sinatra’s Somethin’ Stupid, may have been his only sort-of solo Christmas Number 1 in the Official Singles Chart, but he does also feature on Band Aid 20’s re-do of Do They Know It’s Christmas in 2004 and he literally ran things festively with four Christmas Number 1 albums.
2006 A Moment Like This – Leona Lewis
By no means the first Christmas Number 1 by a TV show contestant (yes, Girls Aloud, but as we learned earlier, Al Martino beat them to it by 40 years), Leona was the second consecutive chart-topper to come from the then-seemingly unstoppable X Factor, sandwiched between 2005’s Shayne Ward and 2007’s Leon Jackson. Leona’s career went from strength to strength from thereon in, and is also now a regular re-visitor to the Christmas chart with her magnificent One More Sleep banger.
2011 Wherever You Are – Military Wives & Gareth Malone
Choirs are no strangers to the Christmas Number 1 spot, be them St Winifred’s or the bunch of nippers from Islington Green School that parpled along with Pink Floyd’s Another Brick In The Wall, throwing a host of voices together has never harmed a festive foot-tap. Military Wives were the wives and girlfriends of serving personnel from two British Army bases from Devon, who were steered by choirmaster Gareth Malone as part of his BBC TV show The Choir. The song, Wherever You Are, was made up of extracts from letters they’d sent their partners. With proceeds donated to the Royal British Legion among others, its first week sales of 556,000 was more than the rest of the Top Ten combined. Spare a thought, though, for the Number 2 on this occasion – Little Mix and their debut single Cannonball. Still, they did alright in the grand scheme of things.
2016 Rockabye – Clean Bandit
The Bandit probably didn’t have ‘Christmas Number 1’ in their sights when they released it in late 2016. In fact, it was a bit of an anomaly as it was the first non-TV-or-charity-backed festive chart-topper since Gary Jules’ Mad World in 2003. Starring the charms of Sean Paul and showcasing the still-quite-new-to-pop Anne-Marie, it became the Christmas Number 1 having already spent seven weeks in that position, beating Frankie Laine’s Answer Me from 1953 by one week. The second of four Number 1s, it also has the distinction of being one of the lowest-selling Christmas smash since Robbie & Nicole 15 years previously.
Well, that’s up to you. Will Ed & Elton make it? Will Ladbaby break records with a fourth Christmas Number 1 in a row? Maybe Mariah and Wham! might wreak revenge. Or could it be something else altogether? Watch, as ever, this space!
Find out who the 70th Christmas Number 1 will be on 24th December right here, after Scott Mills reveals it to the nation.
For further Christmas Number 1 facts and figures, The Official Christmas No.1 Singles Book by Michael Mulligan is an ideal stocking filler!