The race for the Christmas number 1 spot on the UK singles chart has been a long-standing and culturally significant tradition. Here's a brief history of the Christmas number 1 in the UK.
1950s-1960s: Early Years
The tradition of releasing Christmas-themed songs and competing for the Christmas number 1 spot began in the 1950s and 1960s. During these early years, many classic Christmas songs by artists like Elvis Presley and The Beatles dominated the charts.
1970s-1980s: Popularity Peaks
The competition for the Christmas number 1 spot intensified during the 1970s and 1980s. Various artists and record labels strategically released singles around the festive season to capitalise on the holiday market. Iconic songs like "Bohemian Rhapsody" by Queen and "Do They Know It's Christmas?" by Band Aid became notable Christmas number 1 hits during this period.
1973: Slade's "Merry Xmas Everybody"
One of the most iconic Christmas number 1 hits came in 1973 with Slade's "Merry Xmas Everybody." The song has become a perennial Christmas favourite in the UK and is often cited as one of the greatest Christmas songs of all time.
1984: Band Aid's "Do They Know It's Christmas?"
Bob Geldof and Midge Ure organised a charity supergroup called Band Aid to raise funds for famine relief in Ethiopia. The single "Do They Know It's Christmas?" was released in 1984 and featured some of the biggest names in the UK music scene at the time. It not only dominated the charts but also set the standard for subsequent charity singles released around Christmas.
1990s: Spice Girls and Christmas Classics
The 1990s saw the rise of pop groups like the Spice Girls, and they secured the Christmas number 1 spot with songs like "2 Become 1." Additionally, classic Christmas songs continued to make an impact during this decade.
1994: East 17 vs. Mariah Carey
In 1994, the race for Christmas number 1 became a memorable chart battle between two songs: East 17's "Stay Another Day" and Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas Is You." East 17 secured the top spot, but Mariah Carey's song has since become a Christmas classic and returns to the charts every festive season.
2000s: Reality TV Takeover
In the 2000s, reality TV shows like "Pop Idol" and "The X Factor" gained popularity, and winners of these shows often released their debut singles around Christmas. This led to a string of Christmas number 1 hits by artists like Shayne Ward and Leon Jackson.
2000: Bob the Builder's "Can We Fix It?"
In 2000, a surprising turn of events occurred when "Can We Fix It?" by Bob the Builder, a character from a children's television show, secured the Christmas number 1 spot. This marked a departure from the typical chart-topping contenders and highlighted the influence of children's programming on the charts.
2009: Rage Against the Machine's "Killing in the Name"
In a grassroots campaign fuelled by social media, fans successfully propelled Rage Against the Machine's 1992 single "Killing in the Name" to the Christmas number 1 spot in 2009. This victory was seen as a rebellion against the dominance of X Factor winners in the charts.
2010s: Social Media Campaigns and Competitions
The 2010s brought new dynamics to the race for Christmas number 1. Social media campaigns and online movements, often driven by fanbases and charity initiatives, influenced the charts. Notable campaigns included Rage Against the Machine's "Killing in the Name" beating the X Factor winner's single in 2009 and the Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Choir winning in 2015 with "A Bridge Over You.”
2017: Ed Sheeran's "Perfect" and the Streaming Era
The rise of streaming platforms has significantly impacted the music industry, and in 2017, Ed Sheeran's "Perfect" benefited from this trend. The song held the Christmas number 1 spot largely due to the increasing influence of streaming services in chart calculations.
Recent Years: Diversity of Contenders
Recent years have continued to showcase a diverse range of contenders for the Christmas number 1 spot. Established artists, charity singles, and even unconventional entries have all competed for the coveted position.
2020: LadBaby's "Don't Stop Me Eatin'"
In 2018 and 2019, LadBaby, a YouTuber known for creating humorous videos, secured the Christmas number 1 spot with novelty charity singles. In 2020, LadBaby achieved a historic feat by securing a third consecutive Christmas number 1 with "Don't Stop Me Eatin'," a parody of Journey's "Don't Stop Believin’."
The Christmas number 1 race in the UK remains a blend of commercial strategies, fan engagement, and the celebration of festive music. It's a unique and ever-evolving aspect of the British music industry, capturing the public's attention each December. These moments and trends illustrate the dynamic nature of the Christmas number 1 race in the UK, showcasing a mix of traditional classics, charity initiatives, unexpected contenders, and the evolving impact of technology on music consumption.