Friday, 19 December 2008

The end of the road

It's 2003. The followign year Band Aid 20 would have the number one spot, and from then on it would be the winner of the blecch-factor. There is still, however, one last glorious swing of the British sense of going for the absurd waiting in the wings.

Originally released by Tears for Fears in 2982, 21 years later it was the surprise Christmas Number One in a cover by Gary Jules - Mad World. Today, I present the original and rather unusual video.

Meanwhile, the US have a far livlier choice, heer from a live performance - Outkast and Hey Ya!

Wherever you are, and whatever you do, have a very Happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year. I'll see you again in 2009.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Let's all meet up in the year 2000

Ah, the end of the millenium - and Britain faces a crisis in the pop charts. With one week to go to Christmas, the Christmas-Friendly "Never Had A Dream" by S Club 7 has been knocked off the nunber one spot by "Stan". Will we have a repeat of 1979 in the Christmas chart?

Nah - we have a repeat of 1993 instead, as Neil Morrisey essays his most remebered role in this timeless classic.

Acorss the pond, you show a distinct modicum of taste and discernment, as Destiny's Child are at number one with this film song.

Finally, as a special treat in this pneultimate entry, here's the song that I think SHOULD have been the Christmas number one this year. We present the winner of Britain’s Got the Pop Factor… and Possibly a New Celebrity Jesus Christ Soapstar Superstar Strictly On Ice. Geraldine McQueen.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Earth, Wind and Mariah

Don't worry - there's two more of these meanderign entries after this one. The pain, however, is not about to lessen.

1995 - I had been moved sideways (and effectively demoted, but that's a story for another day) in my job, and I was one angry man. So angry, in fact, I failed to pick up the now obvious signs of a pop star seriously starting to lose the plot. Of course, with hind sight, it can be seen in the song and the video, but at the time Michael Jackson and Earth Song was a huge hit - and the Christmas number one.

Just how blown up this song was became clear in early 1996, when he performed at the Brit awards, and one man took it upon himself to air his views on the show.

Meanwhile, in the US, Mariah Carey had been number one for almost three months with two songs - this was the second one.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008


Let's go forward now to 1993 - my oldest son Alastair had just turned one, and was enjoying his first proper Christmas. There were a lot of fine contenders to be the Christmas number one that year, the leading one being Take That.

However, remember what I said about never, ever underestimating the UK public taste for silly songs? You see, at number one on December 25 1993, was the first ever number one single by a non-human. Ladies and gentlemen, feast on the delight that is, Mister Blobby.

At least the US had a little more taste in their top single that week - even if it has recently being mutilated by the contestants on The X Factor. Here, with an unusual accompanying video, is Mariah Carey with Hero.

Now, as a special treat, here's the song that I can confidently predict will be the Christmas number one this year.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Compare and contrast

1988 - and I had just started going out with my future wife, Doreen. Heady, happy days - and the number one that year was a favourite of both of us.

If anyone asks in a quiz "Who has had a top tne hit single in each of the last six decades", the answer is Cliff Richards - and this was the first of his two Christmas number one's as a solo artist.

Now, we compare and contrast. Remember in the past when it's been, shall we say, "strange" songs that were number one at Christmas, the US counterpart was mainstream? Well, here we have the most christmasy number one - and in the US it's heavy metal time.

Friday, 12 December 2008

The Power of Advertising

1986 was the last Christmas I spent at home - not the best of times, either, but an interesting one for all the wrong reasons.

So, what joyous song was at number one? At this time, the fad for re-issuing old songs as singles after they were used in advertising was in full swing, particularly for jeans. Marvin Gaye's I Heard It Through The Grapevine had been a hit after appearing in a Levi;s commercial, so when they tried again with another sixties classic they hit Christmas paydirt. It only took Jackie Wilson 29 years to get to number one with this one - video by the guys at Aardmann!!

Some people ove rat Captain Comics have rightly pointed that, in the US, there wasn;t such a fuss over who was number one at Christmas there. Case in point - the number one on 25th December 1986 is actually a summer song - and one of my personal favourites. So, arm in front up, arm in front down, and do the Wilson, Kettle and Bettie....

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Of strikes and talent

Let's press on to 1983. By this time I had moved to Newcastle to study at university, and the Miner's Strike was in full swing. Given the North East of England was a hotbed of the National Union of Mineworkers, and the determination of Thatcher to break Arthur Scargill no matter the cost, I had the chance to see first hand the problems people had.

Why is this relevant to the Christmas number one, you say? Well, a group of actors got together to form a group that would hold concerts to support the miners, and they called themselves the Flying Pickets. To everyone's surprise, they got to number one for Christmas with this acappella cover of a hit for Yazoo - Only You.

Meanwhile, in the USA, a young man by the name of Michael Jackson was hitting the big time as a solo artist - only, when he was number one in December, it was a duet with an aging Liverpudlian.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

... to the Ridiculous

A quick note - a few of my US friends have commented to me how they had never heard of this idea of being number one at Christmas until they saw "Love Actually." Well, I guess we can thank Bill Nighy for that - and for the record, it was released as a single to see if it got to number one.

It didn't.

Yesterday we looked at 1979 - today let's go forward one year to 1980. At the beginning of December, John Lennon was shot dead. I still remember waking up to hear that on the news, followed by the DJ playing "Starting Over" and "Imagine". Given that, everyone expected that the late Lennon would be the Christmas number one that year in the UK.

Never, ever, EVER think the UK public acknowledge masters of music at Christmas time, not when there are grannies to buy presents for - and boy was there a ready made gift for them this year, which means this was the Christmas number one.

Mind you, we also need to look at what was topping the US chart at this time in 1980. Ladies and Gentlemen, mister Kenny Rogers.

Monday, 8 December 2008

From the sublime...

First, an apology - the last post should have said the year was 1976, not 1975. 1975, Queen were number one with Bohemian Rhapsody, which I remember from watching them live in concert on New Year's Eve on BBC 2, havign sicovered a very nive bottle of pale white liquid in the fridge.

But I digress. Let's look at 1979 - Thatcher had been elected earlier in the year, the UK felt it was coming out of a storm, and you would think we would be ready for a party, yes? Instead, this was the nation's choice of the song to celebrate Christmas with.

Foreshadowing if ever there was some. Meanwhile, in the US the feelign was obviously that escapism was the thing to go for. After all, how else do you explain this being your number one?

Saturday, 6 December 2008

A change in life

By 1975, my life had been turned sixteen different ways inside out, an dI had retreated into a shell it took some years to fight my way out of - and I still am in some ways. That Christmas was a strange one for many reasons, as was the song to get to number one. I present for your listening pleasure mister Johnny Mathis.

As for the US - well, you were obviosuly ready to par-TAY in the immediate post-Watergate years, with KC and the Sunshine Band (special concert version!)

Friday, 5 December 2008

The Year it really began

1973 - the year that the phenomenon of who would be number 1 at Christmas in the UK really started to take off. Glam Rock was the thing in the UK, and two bands with a fine tradition were locked in a neck and neck battle to sell most.

In the blue corner - Roy Wood, son of Birmingham, late of The Move, and his band Wizzard with a timeless ditty.

In the Red Corner, Noddy Holder, son of Walsall, and the boys of Slade with what he now calls his pension plan.

The Winner? Well, in the end, Noddy and the boys got to number one, and the song is as perennial a song at this time of year as White Christmas. As for Wizzard - they got to number four, but it's still a classic. For the record, at number two was a singer we cannot now mention for legal reasons with I love, You Love, Me Love, and at number 3 The New Seekers with I'll Never Find Another You.

Meanwhile, in the US.... Country was king, unlike the UK, so at number one was Charlie Rich with this song.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Novelty of Christmas

As I mentioned when I started this series, one of the important features of the Christmas number one tends to be that the novelty song can win through. The first occasion when that could be said to have happened in my lifetime was 1971 - and indeed, over the next few days there's going to be several examples of this.

So, 1971 - and at number one on Christmas day, a comedy legend with what turned out to be his last and greatest hit. Like many other comedians, he had a few minor hits in the 1950's and 1960's, but for time immemorial Benny Hill will be remembered for his eulogy to Ernie.

And in the US - have you noticed a certain serendipity creeping into the songs that are popular in the UK and the US for Christmas? No? Well, at number one on December 25th 1971 was this little ditty.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Songs of peace

Continuing our trek, we get to 1969 - and two very different, yet strangely similar songs.

In the UK, an Antipodean swimmer, artist and television personality revives a Civil War song and has the Christmas number one with it. In a recent program, he discovered the reason his family didn't like him singing it - it reminded them of his relatives who died in World War One. Here he sings it in a version that is being released for the Christmas number one this year.

Meanwhile, in the US, a trio of folk singers have their last number one hit with a John Denver song. Again, this is taken from a recent live show.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Christmas Day 2

Continuing the Christmas Number Ones of years in my life...

1967 - my dad had left the Army, and we moved into the house I lived in until I was 18. At number one, this little ditty from four lads from Liverpool...

And over the pond, another bunch of four fresh faced young lads were at Number one, with a song that got to number 5 in the UK.

Monday, 1 December 2008


Yes, that time of year has arisen again when thoughts of tasteful, subtle music cna go out of the window as we await the race for the Christmas number one in the UK.

Now, over the last efw years this has become a non-event, as the winner of the latest ITV/Cowell talent show barnstorms their way to the number one slot, but when I was but a wee lad this was something to look forward to. So, for December, let's look at what was the Christmas number one in years which were significant to me.

Starting with 1963 - the year I was born. 1963, living in the UK by that time - it has to be the Beatles with this quiet little number.

Number one in the US? That would be this one....