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Merry Christmas Everyone: The history of Christmas Number Ones


The Christmas Number One is an annual tradition you can’t help getting excited about. Musicians dream of achieving this great feat every year and while the way we enjoy music has evolved, the interest in the Christmas Number One has not died down.

Let’s look more closely at how the concept of the Christmas Number One has developed over the years and then pinpoint those most successful hits.

1950s: The birth of the Christmas Number One

The concept of the Christmas Number One was brought to life in 1952. Al Martino’s hit In My Heart was not only the first ever Christmas Number One but the first in the UK charts altogether.

The music charts were a brand-new concept and began to govern what was popular in the world of music. It was a few years before a festive hit reached number one, however, when Dickie Valentine’s Christmas Alphabet took the top spot in 1955.

Festive hits didn’t dominate in the early years at all, with big names like Elvis, Tom Jones and The Beatles often being the most successful song of the festive period. 1957 was an exception when the hugely popular Mary’s Boy Child by Harry Belafonte took the prize.

1960s: Beatlemania takes over

The Beatles were not known for their festive tunes, but their overwhelming popularity meant they were often still at Christmas Number One without any seasonal relevance. The whole of the 1960s was a bit of a quiet time for the festive hit, with no Christmassy tunes taking the top spot. The Beatles broke records with three consecutive number ones between 1963 and 1965.

Other tracks that were popular during this decade were many of the most recognisable names of the period, including Cliff Richard and The Shadows in 1960 and Tom Jones in 1966.

The 1970s: Festive fanfares combat a gloomy economy

The 1970s were not the most enjoyable decade from a day-to-day point of view, but music came alive and was the perfect antidote. 1973 brought us the unforgettable Merry Xmas Everybody by Slade, which is said to earn the band significant royalties to this day.

The 70s also saw Queen reach the top spot too in 1975 with their less-than-festive Bohemian Rhapsody. The tune’s popularity has not lessened over time and it hit Christmas Number One again in 1991, making it the only song in history to claim the accolade twice.

The 1980s: The decade of not-quite-number-ones

The biggest Christmas hits of the 1980s were not quite what they seemed and many hugely popular festive tunes never actually reached the top spot. Last Christmas by Wham, Fairytale of New York by The Pogues and Stop the Cavalry by Jona Lewie were all pipped to the post, despite being some of the most famous and beloved Christmas hits to this day.

Among those Christmas Number Ones many of us would like to forget, There’s No One Quite Like Grandma by St Winifred’s School Choir from 1980 is certainly one of them.

The 1990s: Novelty hits come into their own

Describing the 90s as the decade of Mr Blobby would be a bit unfair but it was in 1993 when his song was our Christmas Number One. More novelty hits also attempted to hit the top spot, including a track by Bob the Builder, but it was the Spice Girls that dominated this decade. They became the first band since The Beatles to achieve three consecutive Christmas Number Ones.

2000s: Talent shows takeover

The decade began with another novelty hit but thankfully this trend didn’t continue. Yes, Bob the Builder was number one for Christmas in the year 2000, but television talent shows soon took over.

Pop Idol, X Factor and Fame Academy dominated our TV screens in the 2000s. With this must-watch television came the push for the winners of the shows to claim that coveted Christmas Number One spot. It was absolutely dominated by X Factor winners for the latter part of the decade, with their tunes taking the top prize for four consecutive years.

People began to get bored of this and in 2009, the antithesis of X Factor, Rage Against the Machines’ Killing in the Name finally ended the talent show's domination of the festive charts.

2010s and 2020s: Charity tunes and Mariah magic

The last few years have seen charity songs become the most popular for the Christmas Number One. From The Military Wives Choir to the Justice Collective, charity groups have put together songs that bring money and awareness to their cause. Alongside the charitable actions was the huge impact of streaming on the charts, so much so that in 2020, Mariah Carey finally reached the top of the UK charts as All I Want for Christmas gained its rightful place at the top.

LadBaby is the only name anyone has been interested in since 2018 with their five consecutive Christmas Number Ones outdoing both The Beatles and Spice Girls. There are hopes for a retro revival in 2023 however, with both Mariah Carey and the late Shane MacGowan’s The Pogues fighting for the top spot.

The 5 most successful Christmas Number Ones

5. I Want to Hold Your Hand - The Beatles

I Want to Hold Your Hand hit number one in 1963 and was the first of The Beatles’ Christmas Number Ones. It sold 1.82 million copies.

4. Mary’s Boy Child/Oh My Lord – Boney M

This is one that always gets people singing, dancing and enjoying the camp side of Christmas. Mary’s Boy Child/Oh My Lord hit Christmas Number One in 1978 after selling 1.9 million copies.

3. Mull of Kintyre – Paul McCartney and Wings

Unusual and not really all that Christmassy, Paul McCartney and Wings achieved their Christmas Number One in 1977 with the record selling 2.09 million copies.

2. Bohemian Rhapsody - Queen

Queen’s popularity meant it didn’t matter that their festive top hit wasn’t at all seasonal and as Bohemian Rhapsody had two stints at the top it totalled a huge tally of 2.62 million copies sold.

1. Do They Know It’s Christmas? – Band Aid

The phenomena around Band Aid and Live Aid means their Christmas hit is the ultimate Christmas Number One. With 3.82 million sales, it remains the only Christmas hit to score over the three million mark.