As yet another X Factor winner takes the coveted Christmas number one chart slot, Aussie broadcaster Myf Warhurst looks at the Christmas chart-toppers that should have been.
When I spent my very first Christmas in the UK, I attempted to embrace everything I could about the festive season in a far icier part of the world. It was delightfully novel to be rugged up and eating a hearty hot Christmas roast lunch rather than worrying whether my usual fare of a bucket of prawns drenched in thousand island dressing had been left out too long in the 40 degree heat.
There was something else that made my UK Christmas experience complete. Christmas number ones. It’s not really a ‘thing’ from where I hail, so in order to assimilate, I spent one glorious eve filling my ears and eyeballs with all the songs that captured the imagination of the nation during the festive season.
“Mr Blobby kept the top spot from Take That’s schmaltzfest, Babe: the one that had the lads looking like extras from Oliver Twist on a boys’ weekend in Russia, with added fresh blow dries and lip gloss. No one was a real winner that year.”
From this I learned that you lot in the UK are quite happy to spend your hard-earned giving possibly the worst song of the year the chance to take the top spot and therefore be remembered for a lifetime. For this, I love you.
Perusing baffling clips from Wizzard and Mr Blobby, it made me wonder about the ones that got away; the ones that might have made it first to the finish line to grab the coveted number one spot, were you lot not quite so deliciously trashy.
It’s hard to believe that Wham’s Last Christmas was not a Christmas chart-topper. What could be more Christmassy than George Michael peeking out in a deeply emotional way from an oversized fox fur hoody? Fortunately, what kept George and his horribly lovestruck sulking bottom lip from taking number one in 1984 was Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas?. This seems fair. Both are Christmassy, yes, but one was obviously sending its funds to a little more worthy cause than George Michael’s hair colourist.
In 1971 Benny Hill’s Ernie (The Fastest Milkman In The West) took top gong. It’s a bawdy little ditty about a milkman and a baker, their white liquids and long bread rolls respectively (nudge nudge wink wink) and their love battle over a local widow.
This is quite possibly the first example of a novelty song grabbing the number one slot at Christmas. But unfortunately, Benny’s tune held off the glam-rock gem that would have had Nan shimmying around the Christmas tree: T Rex’s Jeepster. And Isaac Hayes’ Theme From Shaft. Imagine how truly sexy Christmas in 1971 might have been had either of those made it to number one.
In 1972, music lovers had a veritable buffet of quality songs to choose from: John & Yoko/Plastic Ono Band’s Happy Xmas (War Is Over) and Chuck Berry’s My Ding A Ling. Yet what broke the ribbon at the end of the race was not a fine political song that will be sung through the ages or a rather inappropriate number from one of the world’s greatest rock and rollers, but Little Jimmy Osmond’s Long Haired Lover From Liverpool. I think we all know that no nine-year-old should ever be using the word lover in a sentence, let alone song.
In 1980, the novelty song taking the top spot continued with a Christmas number one for St Winifred’s School Choir, and There’s No One Quite Like Grandma. If you can’t recall, this song has a clip of kids dressed all in pink singing next to some grainy pics of possibly long dead and very stern looking grandmas, who look like they smell of a mixture of floral perfume, lard and vinyl recliner chairs. These nannas were the type that would never let you have dessert unless you’d eaten all your veg.
So what lost out that year to the grannies I hear you ask? Only a song that did the whole Christmas in wartime thing far earlier and better than this year’s Sainsbury’s commercial, Jona Lewie’s Stop The Cavalry. Oh, and a little known song by some upstart John Lennon called Just Like Starting Over. Imagine what could have been…
In 1993, things truly got loose with the Christmas number one. But to be honest, I’m not sure anything truly great missed out on the top spot. You see, 1993 was the year of Mr Blobby. Aside from a whole lot of WTF going on, the weirdest dance song ever kept the top spot from Take That’s schmaltzfest, Babe: the one that had the lads looking like extras from Oliver Twist on a boys weekend in Russia, with added fresh blow dries and lip gloss. No one was a real winner that year.
Not surprisingly, one of the greatest Christmas songs of all time, The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl’s Fairytale of New York has never hit the number one spot. Although it does still give the top 10 a nudge each and every year, which is a lovely acknowledgement of its brilliance and longevity.
So to this year’s race to Christmas number one then. The battle lines were drawn between Mark Ronson’s glorious Uptown Funk featuring modern-day Michael Jackson Bruno Mars, a singer called Fleur East from X Factor doing a cover of the exact same song, X Factor winner Ben Haenow’s Something I Need, and some schmaltzy song from Arianna Grande asking Santa if she should give it all away this year. Let’s hope she’s talking about her millions and not her knickers.
Judging by past mistakes, you Brits obviously decided to do yourselves a favour and make the 2014 Christmas number one a truly good one and spent your coin on Mark Ronson’s Uptown Funk – the original version, obviously. Nah, congratulations to X Factor winner Ben Haenow. You guys…
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Myfanwy Warhurst is a broadcaster at Double J radio (ABC Australia), TV presenter, Guardian columnist, music nut and general layabout.