The Christmas number one has been taken over by The X Factor, usurped only by one counter-campaign for Rage Against The Machine and the occasional mawkish choir.
But it wasn’t always this way! Let me take you back to a time when the Christmas number one was actually a surprise. Here, selected from number ones from the last 50 years, are the best Christmas chart toppers of all time.
10. Somethin’ Stupid – Robbie Williams & Nicole Kidman, 2001
Remember when Robbie Williams threw himself head-first into a nostalgic homage to all things Rat Pack with his Swing When You’re Winning album? And Oscar Award-winning movie star Nicole Kidman, fresh from her leading role in the musical Moulin Rouge, joined him for this camp, gentle duet? It’s twee as hell but nevertheless, there’s something undeniably charming about this tribute to C. Carson Parks and the Sinatra clan.
9. Mad World – Michael Andrews & Gary Jules, 2003
How to explain 2003 to someone who wasn’t there? Jake Gyllenhaal was not yet the Hollywood heartthrob he would go on to become; Donnie Darko had captured the world’s imagination, and its eerie soundtrack, a cover of a Tears For Fears song, dominated the airwaves, ultimately beating The Darkness’ festive ditty ‘Christmas Time (Don’t Let The Bells End)’ to number one on December 21 and staying there for three weeks.
8. Always On My Mind – Pet Shop Boys, 1987
This synthpop cover of an Elvis Presley song was originally a one-off, performed at a tribute to The King on the 10-year anniversary of his death. It proved so popular that Chris Lowe and Neil Tennant decided to record it and release it as a single. It spent four weeks at number one and music critics have called it one of the best cover versions of all time. It featured most recently in Burberry’s Christmas campaign with Cara Delevingne and Matt Smith.
7. Goodbye – Spice Girls, 1998
The Spice Girls are synonymous with the Nineties. They were everywhere, and they held the Christmas number one spot for three years in a row, most recently in 1998 with ‘Goodbye’, the band’s first single since the departure of Geri Halliwell.
6. I Will Always Love You – Whitney Houston, 1992
1992 was the year of The Bodyguard, the cheesy-but-iconic romance starring Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner. The accompanying album is the best-selling movie soundtrack of all time; it won four Grammys, and two songs were nominated for Oscars. But The Bodyguard is perhaps best remembered for Whitney’s belting rendition of ‘I Will Always Love You’, hitherto a country ballad by Dolly Parton, which spent 10 weeks at number one in the United Kingdom.
5. Don’t You Want Me – The Human League, 1981
“You were working as a waitress in a cocktail bar” is one of the most famous opening lines in pop music history, and ‘Don’t You Want Me’ remains almost unparalleled in terms of catchiness. (Fun fact: the Style Birmingham team slayed this at karaoke during last year’s Christmas party.)
4. Sound of the Underground – Girls Aloud, 2002
The newly formed Girls Aloud were the first of Simon Cowell’s reality TV acts to secure the Christmas number one, kickstarting a 15-year monopoly. But nothing to emerge from ITV’s talent competitions since has come close to the popularity and longevity of this debut single, which heralded the arrival of a formidable new group.
3. Bohemian Rhapsody / These Are The Days Of Our Lives – Queen, 1991
This double A-side pairs Queen’s most famous rock song with the final single to feature lead singer Freddie Mercury before his death. The music video for ‘These Are The Days Of Our Lives’ was filmed in black and white, to obscure just how frail Mercury had become in the final stages of his illness. The last words he ever uttered on camera are “I still love you” — a sentiment echoed to this day by his many fans.
2. 2 Become 1 – Spice Girls, 1996
One of the Spice Girls’ best-known ballads, and the definitive safe sex anthem of the decade (“put it on, put it on”), ‘2 Become 1’ was the band’s first Christmas number one, as well as reaching the number one spot in Ireland and Spain, and charting in the top 10 across Europe.
1. Stay Another Day – East 17, 1994
Written by band member Tony Mortimer about his brother’s suicide, this might not feel like particularly festive fare, but ‘Stay Another Day’ has become synonymous with the Christmas period, from the white parkas and snow featured in the video to the chiming bells which close the song. Mortimer has since admitted that he actually hates ‘Stay Another Day’… which must suck, as it is the biggest hit the band ever had.