The 18 best Christmas number 1s of all time

21st Dec 2012 | 09:00

The 18 best Christmas number 1s of all time
Danny Williams - Moon River
Christmas number 1 in 1961

Last week we asked you to vote for your favourite Christmas number 1 of all time. In the UK, this much-coveted position is responsible for more seasonal arguments in the British population than the correct method for prepping sprouts, and the 2012 battle - between James Arthur and The Justice Collective, looks set to go down to the wire.

However, we're looking for the best chart topper from Christmases past: your votes have been counted and we can reveal the number 1, err, number 1...

Let's start our countdown with a cinematic classic...

Danny Williams - Moon River

'Britain's Johnny Mathis' crooned his way into the hearts of the UK population pre-Beatles with this smooth-as-fresh-snow version of Henry Mancini's Moon River in 1961. The song was originally written for Audrey Hepburn to sing in Breakfast At Tiffany's, also released in 61, but was a hit the world over that year with Mancini's own version and Jerry Butler's cover both peaking at 11 on the Billboard chart. It was Danny Williams, though, who took it to the top in the UK.

The 18 best Christmas number 1s of all time
The Beatles - I Feel Fine
Christmas number 1 in 1964

The Beatles' second consecutive Christmas number one and one of John Lennon's finest riffs to boot.

Perhaps more importantly, though, the song also contains one of the first intentional uses of feedback on a studio recording. Originally captured by accident by Lennon leaning his semi-acoustic Gibson against his amp after a take, it was then tacked onto the front of the recording by producer George Martin.

The 18 best Christmas number 1s of all time
The Flying Pickets - Only You
Christmas number 1 in 1983

Once the recipients of the dubious accolade of Margaret Thatcher's favourite band, The Flying Pickets were formed by (and named after) the mobile picketers that took part in the mining strikes of late '70s and early '80s - and therefore would definitely not name Maggie as their favourite prime minister.

Their a cappella version of Yazoo's hit saw them occupy the top spot for five weeks. Original frontman Brian Hibbard went on to act in EastEnders and Coronation Street, before he sadly passed away earlier this year.

The 18 best Christmas number 1s of all time
East 17 - Stay Another Day
Christmas number 1 in 1994

Walthamstow's finest boy band were at the peak of their fame when they shot to the top of the chart with Stay Another Day in 1994.

It was to be the band's only number one single, despite the fact that they shifted a cool 20 million records throughout the decade. Also the band's first ballad, Stay Another Day had special significance for songwriting member Tony Mortimer, who penned the song after his brother Ollie committed suicide.

The 18 best Christmas number 1s of all time
Elvis Presley - Return To Sender
Christmas number 1 in 1962

Best known for being one of the songs performed by the King in 1962 musical Girls! Girls! Girls!, Return To Sender tells the tale of a love-lorn letter writer who apparently has some issue remembering the correct addresses of his lovers.

The single missed out on the number 1 spot on the Billboard chart, peaking at 2, but had more luck in the UK where it came in top. Saxophonist 'Boots' Randolph also penned Yakety Sax, which became (fellow Xmas number 1 title-holder) Benny Hill's signature tune.

The 18 best Christmas number 1s of all time
Girls Aloud - Sound Of The Underground
Christmas number 1 in 2002

Girls Aloud have just celebrated their 10th anniversary, and their very first single was a bonafide banger.

However, when the winners of TV talent show Popstars: The Rivals took the UK number 1 top spot in 2002, little did we know that it marked the start of reality TV-based domination when it came to seasonal singles.

Sound Of The Underground also capped a breakthrough year for UK pop songwriting dream team Xenomania, who had already scored another chart-topper with Round, Round, as performed by The Sugababes.

The 18 best Christmas number 1s of all time
Michael Jackson - Earth Song
Christmas number 1 in 1995

It's not exactly a critics' favourite, but Earth Song (appropriately) struck a chord around the world when it was released in 1995.

One of the first major stars to address climate change and the plight of endangered species, Jackson wrote and produced the song himself (David Foster and Bill Bottrell co-produced). The video has since been much parodied, but it remains his best-selling single in the UK and even saw off The Beatles' Free As A Bird (the first new single from the band in 25 years) to take the spot.

This must have particularly irked the rock legends, given that Jacko also owned the publishing rights to most of their back catalogue.

The 18 best Christmas number 1s of all time
Whitney Houston - I Will Always Love You
Christmas number 1 in 1992

Whitney opted for this cover of Dolly Parton's ballad after her Bodyguard co-star Kevin Costner played her the Linda Ronstadt version. Needless to say, Whitney made it her own.

The song is notable for having an a capella intro, with no other instrumentation heard until 40 seconds into the song. Not only was it the best-selling single of 1992, it was the 9th best-selling of 1993, as well. Latest figures put it at approximately 16 cajillion giga-units sold.

The 18 best Christmas number 1s of all time
The Beatles - Hello, Goodbye
Christmas number 1 in 1967

McCartney's Hello, Goodbye was the final of The Beatles' four Christmas number ones (unsurprisingly, they still hold the record for the most seasonal single top spots), but it's since become something of a footnote to Lennon's awe-inspiring B-side I Am The Walrus.

That's perhaps unfair on Hello, Goodbye though - the arrangement is typically accomplished and the song's exuberantly percussive coda is one of The Beatles' best.

The 18 best Christmas number 1s of all time
Gary Jules and Michael Andrews - Mad World
Christmas number 1 in 2003

Recorded for the Donnie Darko sountrack, Gary Jules and Michael Andrews' haunting, stripped-out cover of Tears For Fears' classic was originally released in April 2002 alongside the film.

However, it wasn't until December 2003, when the slow-burn success of the movie had reached the mainstream, that Mad World took the festive top spot. Number 1 in the UK and Portugal, the song didn't have nearly as much impact across the Atlantic, failing to chart on the Billboard 100.

The 18 best Christmas number 1s of all time
The Human League - Don't You Want Me
Christmas number 1 in 1981

The Human League released their world-conquering signature hit in the bleak-midwinter of 1981 and thus neatly laid the template for the synth-centric sound of '80s pop.

One of the lesser heard tales of a major label getting it right, the band's lead singer and songwriter Phil Oakey actually fought hard against the release of Don't You Want Me, since he was unhappy with producer Martin Rushent's pop-focussed mix.

Fortunately, Virgin refused to give in and eventually Oakey relented and allowed them to release the track. It quickly went to number one in the UK and then took the top spot in the US the following summer.

The 18 best Christmas number 1s of all time
The Beatles - Day Tripper
Christmas number 1 in 1965

Day Tripper was the third and final of The Beatles' consecutive Christmas number ones, a feat only matched by that other legendary British beat combo the Spice Girls.

Lennon and McCartney split the tune down the middle, the former writing the music (including the signature riff) and the latter the lyrics, which focus on a weekend hippy who's only part-committed to the lifestyle.

The line “she's a big teaser” was originally “she's a prick teaser”, but was taken out of the final version. Ironic really, given that it's now more or less compulsory to include that kind of a line in a pop hit.

The 18 best Christmas number 1s of all time
The Beatles - I Want To Hold Your Hand
Christmas number 1 in 1963

What can you say about I Want To Hold Your Hand that's new? The single was originally released in the UK in November, but was held off the top spot by, err, The Beatles with She Loves You.

In the US the opposite happened - I Want To Hold Your Hand went to number 1 for seven weeks and then She Loves You took over, making them the first band to replace themselves at the top of the Billboard chart since Elvis in 1956. It was also their first of four UK Christmas number 1s and their best-selling single worldwide.

Keep an eye on these guys, they could be big.

The 18 best Christmas number 1s of all time
Band Aid - Do They Know It's Christmas?
Christmas number 1 in 1984

Surprised to see it at number 5? Us too... Bob Geldof and Midge Ure's celeb-laden charity chart-topper with a message was created in extreme circumstances in response to extreme circumstances - namely the 1984 Ethiopian famine.

Geldof became the face and momentum of the campaign, but it was Ure who was the lesser-sung hero of it all - for writing the music, for fighting off Geldof's attempts to direct the singers and for working through the night, meaning that the recording was completed and mixed within 24 hours. Five days later it was in the shops - and the rest is history.

The 18 best Christmas number 1s of all time
Pink Floyd - Another Brick In The Wall (Part II)
Christmas number 1 in 1979

Listening to Another Brick In The Wall Part II and its grotesque portrayal of the British education system of the era, it probably comes as little surprise that school was rough for Roger Waters.

“The regime at school was a very oppressive one,” he told author Mark Blake. “The same kids who are susceptible to bullying by other kids are also susceptible to bullying by the teachers.”

He obviously wasn't alone in his feelings, as Another Brick In The Wall (Part II), complete with its school choir and jaw-dropping David Gilmour solo, went on to become the band's only number 1 single.

The 18 best Christmas number 1s of all time
Slade - Merry Xmas Everybody
Christmas number 1 in 1973

The UK's most popular Christmas song is not the UK's most popular Christmas number 1, judging by your votes. Still, before it was ruined by retailers' annual habit of ploughing into the Christmas compilations in October, hearing Noddy Holder bellowing “IT'S CHRIIISTMAAAAS!” seemed genuinely exciting.

The song's popularity in the UK is likely down to the way that it captures a quintessentially British Christmas - ie, one that's heavily reliant on alcohol - but the song hasn't exactly floundered outside of the domestic market. In fact, in 2007 PRS For Music estimated that about 42% of the world population may have listened to the tune.

Born out of a bleak year that had seen industrial action and government austerity on a major scale (sound familiar?), Holder decided to turn some frowns upside down...

“[At the time], economically, the country was up the creek,” Holder told the Daily Mail in 2007. “I think people wanted something to cheer them up - and so did I. That's why I came up with the line 'Look to the future now, it's only just begun'. Once I got the line, 'Does your Granny always tell you that the old ones are the best', I knew I'd got a right cracker on my hands.”

Pun intended?

The 18 best Christmas number 1s of all time
Queen - Bohemian Rhapsody
Christmas number 1 in 1975 and 1991

Given that - at the time - it was the most expensive single ever recorded, it must have come as some relief to Messrs Mercury, May, Taylor and Deacon when Bohemian Rhapsody started to shift some copies.

Of course, the song hasn't really stopped selling since, so much so that it's made Queen the only band to bag a UK Christmas number one twice with the same recording - first in 1975 and again in 1991, following the untimely death of Freddie Mercury. And to think it almost never made it...

“There was a time when the others wanted to chop it around a bit, but I refused,” Mercury told Sounds magazine in 1976. “We knew it was very risky, but we had so much confidence in that song - I did anyway. I felt, underneath it all, that if it was successful it would earn a lot of respect.”

Ironically, considering that both Queen's UK and US labels refused to release the song because they didn't believe a near six minute track would get air play, Mercury's magnum-opus has gone onto become the most-played song on BBC Radio 1 (as of 2007) and the second most-played tune on all of British radio.

One those songs that flies merrily in the face of just about every songwriting convention out there, Bohemian Rhapsody has gone on to become one of the best-selling singles of all time - and all without a chorus.

The 18 best Christmas number 1s of all time
Rage Against The Machine - Killing In The Name
Christmas number 1 in 2009

Ladies and gentlemen: your number 1 number 1. Yeup, you voted Rage Against The Machine's anti-authoritarian anthem to the top spot by a sizeable margin - with approximately 26% of the vote. In the words of Tiny Tim, then: “God bless Jon and Tracy Morter”.

The aforementioned Morters were the instigators of the campaign that took the single to the top of the UK charts in December 2009. Following four successive years of X Factor winners' tunes hogging the seasonal top spot, the Morters decided to do take action to prevent a fifth, starting with a Facebook group and ending with a 40,000 capacity free gig in London's Finsbury Park and £162,000 raised for charity.

Not to mention a UK Christmas number 1 that ended with the naughty but nice chant of “Fuck you, I won't do what you tell me.”

Of course, Rage Against The Machine themselves were thoroughly enjoying the whole thing, with guitarist Tom Morello describing it to BBC Radio 5 Live as “a wonderful does of anarchy” before he and the band duly supplied their own dose of anarchy later on in the show, playing an uncensored version of the hit to a slightly stunned Nicky Campbell. We're not entirely sure what the BBC were expecting of the situation, to be honest.

Similar campaigns have popped up since, but none have had the poignancy, gravitas or obstinate sense of humour of the Christmas number one battle of 2009.

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