…Snow is falling, all around me, children playing, having fun…
Yep. It’s Shakin’ Steven’s Christmas super-hit. But listen to the words and you’ll find it’s more than a touch aspirational. For a properly English take on the festive season, it would probably say something more along the lines of:
Rain is falling, all around me, Christmas shopping’s, overrun, ’tis the season, of the grumpy in-laws’, I’ll be happy, when they’re gone …
But Shakey was not the only one to paint an optimistic picture, so it’s time for a festive look at the Christmas Chart – and the waning art of the Christmas number one.
Christmas pop songs used to be ten a penny. In the hit parade heyday of the 70’s and 80’s top five of the chart would be loaded with festively themed cheer. Sadly the creative flair seems to have gone or it is seen as passé by modern artistes. So we’re inevitably left with a reality TV star slugging it out against a charity, choir or consumer protest record.
So when Christmas Pop was king which were the biggest selling and most iconic of tunes – and how did they come about?
Do they Know It’s Christmas?
Far from your typical Christmas record, Band Aid’s charity legend sold 3.78 million copies and is the UK’s second best selling record of all time (not just at Christmas). You’ll almost certainly know the story of this one: Ethiopia suffered a huge famine in the 1980s and harrowing images of malnourished children were flashed across news screens.
Bob Geldof and Midge Ure had the idea of bringing together all of the pop stars of the day. It’s a simple tune, but the lyrics are properly poignant. It’s topic might be gloomier than most Christmas records, but somehow it remains a popular radio favourite.
It also kept the song at number three firmly off the top spot.
2. Mary’s Boy Child/Oh My Lord
The top charting tune with a faith based narrative, Boney M’s Mary’s Boy Child was a festive success in 1978. It sold 1.18 million copies, which doesn’t sound many at all by today’s download standards, but was a lot in 1978. It was an extended track and had Mary’s Boy Child running into Oh My Lord. Don’t remember it? Here it is along with the ace 1970s video…
3. Last Christmas
George and, what was the other one called? Oh yeah. Andrew. Hit the top spot in 1985 as artists appearing on the Band Aid record. They also held the second spot as WHAM! with Last Christmas, a memorable ballad about lost love. It had a great video, shot in a ski chalet in the snow in winter with George and Andrew melting all the ladies hearts. All Very Christmassy.
Did we imply that Reality TV stars hitting the Christmas top spot was a bad thing? Ok. Take that back. In 2008, X-Factor victor Alexandra Burke took her version of Hallelujah all the way up the chart to the top spot. Vocally Ms Burke has established herself as an artiste who can more than hold her own, and is far from your average X-Factor winner. That said, there was backlash from music fans against the pop-franchise’s apparent exploitation of what’s regarded as a classic song. So much so that a campaign was launched and the revered Jeff Buckley version made number two.
5. It’s Chriiiiiiiiiissssstmaaaaass!
Yup – in at 5 is the song with probably the most iconic single line of any Festive Hit. You have to rewind to 1973 to find out when Noddy Holder’s distinctive voice first shouted ‘It’s Chriiiistmaaaas’. The West-Midlands glam rocker’s best known tune is a firm favourite on the radio throughout December. And for your delectation…
One that got away…
If you’re screaming at your monitor that we missed out Paul McCartney’s Mull of Kintyre from our list (often cited as the second biggest selling Christmas number one), chill. Trouble for us is that it isn’t a song themed about Christmas. It’s just a song that was number one at Christmas. And sadly for that reason Mr McCartney’s admirable folky yarn about a small Scottish inlet invaded by a bagpiping band – cannot be included in our list.
However you listen to your tunes this Christmas – vinyl, radio, shiny new iPod, even mini-disc (if there’s anyone still actually using them?) we hope it gives you goosebumps and gets the excitement building for the big day on December 25th.