The History Of Christmas Number Ones 1952 – 1999, Part One: 1952 – 1975

Wallace The Waffle Whiffer Wallace The Waffle Whiffer, Going Postal
Noddy Holder (right) and Dave Hill (left), near the height of their fame in 1973, showing some of their more extreme glam rock fashions.
Jim Summaria [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Holy mince pies and brandy butter Batman! Is it bauble and tinsel time again already? It seems like we just got the last of the pine needle out of the carpet and here we go once again. Other than the fact that it does seem to come around quicker every year there is much that I enjoy about Christmas time. Eating a steady diet of mince pies, the drink, the lights, time with friends and family and then the loosen your belt bang-up Turkey dinner on Christmas Day to name but a few. Each December there is another Crimble pleasure that I enjoy and that is the music of the period and in Christmas past the count down to the Christmas number one.

So, with that in mind, I have written a two-part series about the artists and their songs that have topped the festive song charts with a bit of a pre-amble concerning Christmas’s past. Hang on to your Santa hats everyone as we travel from 1952 through to 1999 remembering the chart-topping seasonal songs from each year.

Christmas 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s Style

The 1950s saw Wartime Rationing end in 1954, but things were still very frugal. If your rellies were to visit you over the festive period chances are it would be by train as many did not have cars at that time. Towards the end of the decade, as many more had TV sets Christmas specials were starting to be shown although those were mostly American.

If you were a child in the 1960s, chances are that you would be making paper chains to decorate around your home, and any Christmas decorations you bought in a shop would also have been made of paper at that time as well. Boxing Day was when the family came around usually by car in this decade as travel was now a bit easier by road and more people owned an automobile.

The beginning of the decade began with many in the UK seeing a white Christmas on the day in 1970. Artists from the 1950s and the 1960s still dominated our festive viewing and polyester, action figures and ready-made Christmas tunes by Slade, Wizzard and Mud were at the top of the singles charts

1952- Al Martino ‘Here In My Heart’

Not only was this the Christmas number one in 1952 but it was also the first number 1 on the infant UK Singles chart that year. The nine-week run at the top from 14 November when the UK singles chart began into 1953 gave the song the distinction of being the only number one of 1952. Interestingly Richard Harris sings a version of the song for the film ‘This Sporting Life’ in 1963. ‘Here In My Heart’ would be Martino’s only British number 1. Martino, often called one of the greatest of the Italian crooners was also accomplished as an actor and starred as the singer Johnny Fontaine in the Francis Ford Coppola 1972 film ‘The Godfather’. I wonder if anyone has ever woken up on Christmas to find Auntie Zelda’s Fruit Cake in bed with them? Oh, how gruesome!

1953 – Frankie Laine ‘Answer Me’

This song ran at the top of the charts for eight weeks and was Laine’s third of four UK number 1s and second of two on the trot in 1953 with the first song being ‘Hey Joe’. Laine also holds the record for the most weeks at the top, eighteen, with the song ‘I Believe’ although these are not consecutive weeks. Known for his style and a strong voice with which he could use to sing in auditoriums without a microphone Laine had several nicknames including Mr Rhythm, Leather Lungs and Steel Tonsils. Laine also was known for songs that he sang in the well-known western films ‘3:10 To Yuma’, ‘Gunfight At The O.K. Corral’ and also the ground-breaking comedy ‘Blazing Saddles’. ‘’These Are People Of The Land. The Common Clay Of The New West. You Know… Morons’’. That Film!

1954 – Winifred Atwell ‘Let’s Have Another Party’

This recording was at the top for five weeks and was a Sequel to ‘Let’s Have A Party’ which was a hit earlier in 1954. Both songs were instrumental melodies of popular tunes. Atwell was most famous for her Boogie-Woogie and Rag Time music although she was also a skilled Classical pianist who trained at the Royal Academy of music. She was also the first black artist to enter the charts in the UK and the first to sell over a million copies of a recording. Atwell was quite popular both in the UK and in Australia and went on to sell over twenty million records worldwide. One of the first party people and the record-buying public wanted to join in.

1955 – Dickie Valentine ‘Christmas Alphabet’

Christmas Alphabet’ was the second of two number-ones by Dickie Valentine and was at that slot for 3 weeks. The song ‘Christmas Alphabet’ was the first to be created especially for the Christmas market and the artist went on to chart with two more Christmas songs in the 1950s, ‘Christmas Island’ charting at number 8 in 1956 and ‘Snowbound for Christmas’ number 28 in 1957.  Dickie Valentine won the NME male vocalist category 1953-57 and went on to have a popular television show in the early 1960s. Even though he was always a popular live performer throughout his twenty-plus year career his viability as a commercial recording artist essentially began and ended in the 1950s.

1956 – Johnnie Ray ‘Just Walking In The Rain’

Seven weeks on top of the charts for Ray, ‘Just walking In The Rain’ was the second of three number 1’s for this popular fifties artist A very popular and influential artist who was mentioned in various songs, most notably Dexy’s Midnight Runners ‘Come On Eileen’. Johnnie Ray was considered by some music critics as an early herald of Rock n’ Roll and Tony Bennett has called him the Father of Rock n’ Roll. His melancholic songs have been compared to those of Morrisey and in the early days of his career, his sob like vocal delivery also earned him nicknames such as the ‘Prince Of Wails’ and ‘Mr Emotion’. Ray was heavily Influenced musically by R & B and jazz styles and along with his being partially deaf was said to contribute to the emotional delivery he was known for. A very popular singer during the 1950s Ray had nineteen top twenty songs from 1951 -57.

1957- Harry Belafonte ‘Mary’s Boy Child’

Recorded in 1956 and released on the album ‘An Evening With Harry Belafonte’ from the same year ‘Mary’s Boy Child’ first topped the UK charts in November of 1957, and stayed there for seven weeks. The song was the first UK single to sell over one million copies. Widely covered by a vast range of artists the best known being the 1978 version by Boney M which was also a number 1 recording. Harry charted twice more with the song in 1958 coming at 18 and then again in 1959 at number 30. Nicknamed ‘The King Of Calypso’ Belafonte is considered one of the most successful America-Jamaican singers ever. Other songs he is well known for include: ‘Matilda’,‘The Banana Boat Song’ and ‘Jump In The Line’

1958 – Conway Twitty ‘It’s Only Make Believe’

Co-Written by Twitty with Jack Nance ‘It’s Only Make Believe’ was released in 1958 as a single topping the charts in America and the UK. The song would be his only number 1 on the pop charts in either country. Worldwide the tune sold over one million copies and has been covered by many artists including The Hollies, Billy Fury who hit number 10 with it in 1964 and Glen Campbell who had a top ten with it in America and the UK in 1970. Conway Twitty would go on to have a total of fifty-five number 1 hits across all music charts in America making him one of the most successful recording artists in that country. Only fellow Country Music singer George Strait has more with sixty songs that have gone to the top of the charts which makes him the most successful artist of any genre.

1959- Emile Ford And The Checkmates ‘What Do You Want To Make Those Eyes At Me For?’

17 weeks on the UK pop chart and six at the top. With ‘WDYWTEAMF’ Emile Ford scored what is most likely one of the longest titles for any number one song. The first black artist to sell a million copies of a single that who also produced his own songs. Ford had another top-five song with ‘Slow Boat To China’ in 1960 and then once again in making the top five in 1961 with ‘Counting Teardrops’.  His last charting song ‘I Wonder Who’s Kissing Her Now’ was in 1962 and only made it to number 43. This song was first written in 1916 and was released in 1917 on the RCA Victor Label by Ada Jones and Billy Murray. Shakin’ Stevens peaked at number 5 in 1987 with another version of this song.

1960- Cliff Richard ‘I Love You’

Cliff has had a lot of success throughout his career and especially at Christmas. 68 top ten UK hits in his career only behind Elvis who has 77 to his credit. Sir Cliff has also sold the most singles in chart history selling an astounding 21,400,000 copies making him by far the number one in that department.  He has sold more than 250 million records worldwide and starred in the iconic films ‘The Young Ones’ and ‘Summer Holiday’. Sir Cliff is simply the most successful British act of all-time. ’I Love You’ was at the top for 2 weeks in 1960 and was his fourth number one up until that time. His backing band the Shadows also had many hits on their own with their distinctive guitar-oriented sound. In later years Mr Richard could be seen providing entertainment during centre court during one of the many rain delays at the Wimbledon Tennis Tournament. More Cliff to come!

1961- Danny Williams ‘Moon River’

Written by Henry Mancini with words by Johnny Mercer and Sang by Audrey Hepburn in the film Breakfast At Tiffany’s this Academy award-winning song was covered by South African born Danny Williams who topped the charts with it in the UK for two weeks. Andy Williams recorded a version in 1962 which he also performed at the Academy Awards the same year. The song went on to become his theme tune. Britain’s ‘’Johnny Mathis’’ other chart success came in 1962 when he hit the top ten in the US with ‘White On White’. Danny Williams like so many other singers of the day was soon to be swept away by the beat group craze. The Beat craze and The Mersey Sound would derail many careers of established artists when it broke sweeping all before it

1962- Elvis Presley ‘Return To Sender’

Incredibly ‘Return To Sender’ would be The Kings’ twelfth number one in the UK and his 43rd charting single all in the space of six years. ‘Return To Sender’ was written by Otis Blackwell and Winfield Scott who had not only written previous hits for Presley such as ‘Don’t Be Cruel’ and ‘All Shook up’, but they had either written or co-written songs for others including: ‘Breathless’ and ‘Great Balls Of Fire’ for Jerry Lee Lewis, ‘Handy Man’ for Jimmy Jones and ‘Tweedle Dee’ for Lavern Baker. Based on this success the duo was then asked to write songs for specific situations in the Presley vehicle ‘Girls, Girls, Girls!. Not used to working to a prescribed method or creating songs to order they had been dissatisfied with the results up to that point and they looked for inspiration outside of the film. A returned demo with ‘Return To Sender, No Such Person, No Such Zone’ that was stamped on the package provided just the inspiration they were looking for. Producer Hal B. Wallis instantly loved it and the song was released by Presley as a single and a scene was then written into the film to accommodate it. ‘Return To Sender’ held the top spot for three weeks.

1963- The Beatles ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’

Beatlemania had well set in by this time in 1963 and that ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ did not go straight to the top of the charts would have been a shock if it were not for the fact that It was held from the top spot by their own ‘She Loves You’. It took two weeks to dislodge that song to then sit on top at number one for five weeks. The first of three consecutive Crimble number ones for The Beatles, the song, was written ‘’eyeball to eyeball’’ by band members Lennon and McCartney in the basement of McCartney’s then-girlfriend Jane Asher. Dismissed by critics at the time as another pop tune that would not stand up to the test of time ‘I want To Hold Your Hand’ spent a total of 21 weeks in the top fifty and was the group’s best-selling single worldwide selling in excess of twelve-million copies.

1964- The Beatles ‘I Feel Fine’

Distinguished by arguably the first use of feedback on a record ‘I Feel Fine’ was the sixth number one in 1964 for Lennon and McCartney the seventh as writers. The other songs that they topped the ‘’uppermost of the poppermost’’ with were: ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’, ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’, Love Me Do’, ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ and ‘World Without Love’. It was the 19th best-selling song of that year and the B-side ‘She’s A Woman’ also became a hit peaking at number four. It was the first single for the fabs to be released concurrently in the UK and the US. There was a promotional film made for the song that shows the Fab Four with gym equipment and along with ‘We Can Work It Out’ and ‘Day Tripper’ is noted to be amongst the first music videos shot for any band.

1965- The Beatles ‘Day Tripper/We Can Work It Out’

This double ‘A’ side reached the number one spot in December of 1965 and ran at the top for five weeks. Under pressure for a single for the upcoming Christmas market, both songs were recorded during the ‘Rubber Soul’ album sessions. ‘Day Tripper’ was primarily written by John Lennon and had been in the bands’ setlist for nearly a year. ’We Can Work It Out’ was a collaboration between Lennon and McCartney with George Harrison contributing to the song’s arrangement during the recording session. Writing most of their songs face-to-face in the early days ‘We Can Work It Out’ by this time was one of the few that they did write together.

1966- Tom Jones ‘Green, Green Grass Of Home’

Green, Green Grass Of Home’ was first made popular in 1965 by singer Porter Wagner who reached number four with the song on the country music chart. Jerry Lee Lewis liked the song and recorded it for his ‘Country Songs For City Folks’ album and that is where Tom Jones heard it. A fan of Jerry Lee the Welsh singer really liked the tune. ‘The Voice’ learned the song from Lewis’s version, made a recording of it and released it as a single and had a worldwide smash with it. On the top of the chart for seven weeks the song has sold over 1.25 million copies in the UK. It was the second number one for ‘Tiger’ the first being ‘It’s Not Unusual’ in 1965. Jones was a popular Las Vegas act and performed regularly at the Flamingo hotel. In 1969 a recording capturing one of his performances was released called ‘This Is Tom Jones’ and features some of Britain’s best musicians of the time backing him.

1967- The Beatles ‘Hello, Goodbye’

Their fourth Christmas number one in five years The Beatles ‘Hello, Goodbye’ was also one of their longest stays at number one with a run of seven weeks. The song was written solely by Paul McCartney and was their first release after their manager Brian Epstein’s death.  On the flip side of the single is ‘I Am The Walrus’ which featured in the film Magical Mystery tour and was written by John Lennon. Years later Lennon stated he had pushed for his song to be the A-side but was told ‘Hello, Goodbye’ was the most commercial of the two by George Martin their producer. Lennon reluctantly agreed and later said that he ‘’began to submerge’’ after that and was dismissive of Paul’s song saying ‘’ ‘Hello, Goodbye’ Beat out ‘I Am The Walrus’ can you believe that? Looking back some feel that had Lennon gotten his way perhaps he would have led the band to new heights, but as it was it may have been one of the first signs of The Beatles demise.

1968- The Scaffold ‘Lily The Pink’

Lily The Pink’ was based on an early folk song called ‘The Ballad Of Lydia Pinkham’ that had its origins sometime in the 1800s. The comedy act Scaffold released the song in November of 1968, and it ended up roosting in the number one position for four weeks. The Liverpool group was made up of Mike McGear (Paul McCartney’s brother), poet Roger McGough and comedian John Gorman. Backing musicians and singers on the track included Graham Nash of the Hollies, Tim Rice, Elton John and Jack Bruce on bass. It was the first novelty song of sorts to top the chart at Christmas. In 1970 Scaffold went on to host a popular children’s television series called Score with the Scaffold. The group had two other top-ten singles including: ‘Thank U Very much’ which reached number four and ‘Liverpool Lou’ at number seven.

1969- Rolf Harris ‘Two Little Boys’

Two Little Boys’ was written in 1902 and was a popular music-hall ditty of the time and is about two little boys who grow up to fight in a war. Harris had re-discovered the song while back home in Australia and then performed it back in Britain on his BBC variety television show where it got a very favourable reaction from the audience. This encouraged the ‘Tie Me Down Kangaroo, Sport’ singer to record a proper version of it and release as a single with it then shooting to number one and staying there for six weeks. The song has been covered by other artists notably John Denver who performed it at the Nowhere Coffee House at the University of Cincinnati in 1969.

1970 – Dave Edmunds ’I Hear You Knocking’

6 weeks on top and the first and only number one for this welsh rocker selling over 3 million copies earning him a gold disc. Coming across the song while producing an album for Shakin’ Stevens, Edmunds recorded his own version of this Smily Lewis song and released it on the MAM label and was to be his biggest hit.  In the 1970s, he would go on to produce recordings for Pub Rockers Brinsley Swartz, Ducks Deluxe, The Flamin’ Groovies and the British blues-rock band Foghat. In the 1980s he would also go on to produce Paul McCartney, The Stray Cats, The Fabulous Thunder Birds and Status Quo. ‘Girls Talk’ a reworking of an Elvis Costello song gave Edmunds a number four hit in 1978. A video was made of the tune with Rockpile, Edmunds’ band with pal Nik Lowe providing backing.

1971- Benny Hill ‘Ernie (The Fastest Milkman In The West)

Based on his time as a milkman in Eastleigh, Hampshire Hill had written a screenplay in 1955 that went unused with the storey of Ernie as the show’s intro. The story is about Ernie the Milkman competing with Ted the breadman for the affections of Sue the widow. It ends up with the two protagonists duelling with wares from their respective carts. Hill performed the song on his 1970 comedy show and then released it with the lyrics revamped on his album ‘Word and Music’. EMI his record label decided to put the tune out as a single and it became a surprise hit topping the chart for four weeks and grabbing the Christmas number one spot for 1971. Hill shot a promotional film for the song starring himself as Ernie, Henry McGee as Ted and Jan Butlin as Sue. Evidently, the original clip is not broadcast much on television as the show was shot in black and white due to a technician strike at the time.

1972- Little Jimmy Osmond ‘Long Haired Lover From Liverpool’

Sometimes timing is everything and released when the Osmonds’ were sweeping the UK selling out venues everywhere, ‘Long Haired Lover From Liverpool’ was destined to be a success. The song was originally released by a fellow MGM recording artist which is how Jimmy’s Mom discovered it. Immediately upon hearing it and thinking that it would be perfect for her youngest son she played it for Producer Mike Curb who agreed. Number one in the UK for five weeks the single sold over million copies making Little Jimmy Osmond the youngest to have the top spot at 9 years and 8 months. Osmond would go on to chart twice more with ‘Tweedle Dee’ in 1973 and then with ‘I’m Gonna Knock On Your door’ in 1974 reaching number four and number eleven respectively.

1973- Slade ‘Merry X-Mas Everybody’

Five weeks at number one and taking the top Christmas spot in 1973 this tune has charted every year after its release and has been in the top forty or better in at least eleven different years. This perennial favourite is said to have given Slade singer Noddy Holder a very comfortable retirement pension. In a precursor to the famous August 1995 Blur vs Oasis chart battle, ‘Merry X-Mas Everybody’ beat out Wizzard’s ‘I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday’ who ended up at number four. Selling over 1.2 million copies it is said to be one of the most played classics in the world. Fellow glam rockers Wizard had the last laugh of sorts when in 2012 on an ITV festive special Slade’s song came in at number three with the Pogue’s ‘Fairy tale Of New York’ at number one and then Wizards tune number two by public vote. Noddy’s Christmas Cracker rakes in an average of around £500,000 every December. I am sure that there are many who would wish that their pension was anywhere as good!

1974- Mud ‘Lonely This Christmas’

Another glam rock offering which topped the charts for four weeks, ‘Lonely This Christmas’ was Mud’s second number one and the third that year for the songwriting and production team of Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn who also had a string of chart songs with artists Suzi Quatro, The Sweet, Racey and one of Phil The Test Managers’ favourites Smokie. Formed in 1966 Mud came into their own under Chinnichap scoring fourteen top twenty hits and three number ones. ‘Tiger Feet’ is perhaps their most recognised hit which reached number one in 1974 and was also played at the 2012 Summer Olympics Opening Ceremony. Sadly, after fronting the band from 1966 to 2004 with a year out in 1979 lead Singer, Les Gray passed away in 2004 at the age of 57.

1975- Queen ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’

Number one for 9 weeks and then again in 1991 for 5 weeks to become the best-selling number one Christmas single on our run down. Queen is the only artist to achieve the coveted Christmas top spot twice with the same song. Third best-selling single in British chart history with over 2.2 million in sales and over six million in sales worldwide. This six-minute operatic suite was the first single by the band to reach number one. Released with what is considered a ground-breaking video that the magazine Rolling Stone has said ‘’ cannot be overstated, practically inventing the music video seven years before MTV went on the air’’. The Guardian has ranked the music video at number 31 on their list of 50 key events in rock music history. In 1992 the song also hit number two in the US when it was used in a segment of the film ‘Wayne’s World’. ‘’Party On Wayne!’’


© Wallace The Waffle Whiffer 2019

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