A Brief History of the Christmas Number One Race

December 21, 2018

The race to Christmas number one has become as much of a Christmas tradition as mince pies and turkey. But why is it such a big deal? And how did it start? In this guide we will be answering all of these questions and more as we dive into the rich history behind the race to Christmas number one.


While the UK Singles Chart has been around since 1952, the presence of a specific competition to reach the top spot for Christmas day didn’t really exist until 1973. It was in this year that the bands Slade and Wizzard deliberately penned Christmas songs in an attempt to get a number one for the festive period, with Slade eventually coming out on top with Merry Xmas Everybody. As a result, bands and artists now battle it out on a yearly basis to in an attempt to obtain this prestigious accolade.

Christmas number ones of the 20th Century

Thanks to the existence of this annual battle for Christmas number one, we now have a number of classic Christmas songs that re-emerge on our radio waves every December. As well as Slade’s Merry Xmas Everybody, Christmas songs such as Lonely this Christmas, Do They Know It’s Christmas?, Merry Christmas Everyone and Mistletoe and Wine were all Christmas number ones. In addition, some of the runners up have included classics such as Last Christmas, Fairytale of New York and The Darkness’ Christmas Time (Don’t Let the Bells End). Clearly, we have this yearly tradition to thank for many of the Christmas songs we have today.

However, this is not to say that all Christmas number ones have to contain festive themes. In fact, the majority of Christmas number ones are songs that have nothing to do with Christmas at all. Queen’s timeless Bohemian Rhapsody has reached the number one spot twice; once upon the song’s release in 1975, and again in 1991 following the death of Freddie Mercury.

Furthermore, The Spice Girls held the Christmas number one spot for three years in a row between 1995-1998, with the singles 2 Become 1, Too Much and Goodbye respectively. Unfortunately, it seems as if we have somewhat hit a wall in terms of popular Christmas number ones. The last time an original Christmas song made it to number one in the UK that was actually about Christmas was back in 1990 with Cliff Richard’s Saviour’s Day…Yikes.

The bizarre cases of Christmas Number Ones

We’ve covered the anatomy of the one hit wonder before, but defining what makes up a Christmas number one is a slightly harder task. They can range from Christmas themed songs, to charity singles, parody tracks, reality tv contest winners or just songs that happen to gain popularity during the Christmas period. As a result, there have been a number of unexpected Christmas number ones throughout the years, including songs sung by fictional characters.

Mr Blobby was the first fictional character to score a Christmas number one, with his 1993 track titled Mr Blobby charting at number one for two weeks throughout December. Seven years later, Bob the Builder had a Christmas number one with his single “Can We Fix It?”. Even Chef from the famously raunchy cartoon South Park was the runner up in the number one race with his hilariously named single Chocolate Salty Balls (P.S. I Love You). Evidently, there really are no rules as to who can contend for this festive top spot.

The Curse of the X Factor

Unfortunately, with the arrival of the famous singing contest The X Factor in 2004, the race for Christmas number one became a bit more predictable. As the final usually falls around ten days before Christmas, this sets winning contestants up with the perfect opportunity to achieve a Christmas number one with their winning single. This was the case for four years straight between 2005-2008, with winners Shayne Ward, Leona Lewis, Leon Jackson and Alexandra Burke.

Rage Against the Machine: A sign of hope

The trend set by The X Factor had to be broken at some point, but who would be the band to do it? None other than Rage Against the Machine, who beat X Factor winner Joe McElderry to the top spot in 2009 with their 1992 hit Killing in the Name. The origin of this triumphant win came from an English DJ called Jon Morter, who launched a campaign with his wife to encourage people to buy Killing in the Name to prevent yet another X Factor winner from getting the number one spot.

While Simon Cowell initially labelled the campaign as ‘stupid’ and ‘cynical’, the appeal quickly gained a great amount of support from famous musicians such as Dave Grohl, Muse, The Prodigy and even Paul McCartney. As a result, on 20th December 2009, BBC Radio 1 were able to reveal that Killing in the Name was the Christmas number one for that year, making it the first song to beat an X Factor winner to the top spot in five years. It was a really historic moment for rock music, and showed everyone that we didn’t simply have to give into Simon Cowell’s yearly ploys to dominate the Christmas charts. It is even more impressive that a song containing 17 f-words was able to achieve such a feat. If that doesn’t summarise the spirit of Christmas, we don’t know what does!

Contenders for the 2018 top spot

Last year, Ed Sheeran was the 2017 Christmas number one with his wintery ballad Perfect, and was runner up to River by Eminem, a song which Sheeran also featured on. Sheeran was in competition with various Christmas classics such as Last Christmas and All I Want For Christmas Is You as well as Rita Ora’s Anywhere and Big Shaq’s viral hit Man’t Not Hot. So, who are the contenders for the Christmas number one of 2018?

Ariana Grande is currently the bookies’ favourite, with Ladbrokes giving her 1/3 odds to nab the top spot. Her hit single, thank u, next, has held its place at the top of the charts for the past six weeks, and it is anticipated that this may continue through Christmas day. Other contenders include newcomer Ava Max (4/1) with her debut single Sweet But Psycho, as well as Miley Cyrus and Mark Ronson (12/1) with their collaborative country-pop hit Nothing Breaks Like a Heart.

We even have a blogger called Lad Baby from Nottingham, who has recorded a parody version of Starship’s We Built This City to raise money for food banks around the UK. The song is called We Built This City on Sausage Rolls, and has been given 5/1 odds to be this year’s Christmas number one. As we said earlier, the race to Christmas number one really does not have any rules…

We hope you have enjoyed reading our brief history of the race to Christmas number one. If your band is thinking of having a try at recording your very own number one single, festive or not, then get in contact with Kore Studios today to find out how you can benefit from our expert knowledge and excellent facilities. Merry Christmas!