The History Of Christmas Number Ones 1952 – 1999, Part Two: 1976 – 1999

Wallace The Waffle Whiffer Wallace The Waffle Whiffer, Going Postal
Shakin’ Stevens in 1976
21stCenturyGreenstuff at English Wikipedia [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Through the years I have enjoyed many things about Christmas and if I were to be asked my favourite thing, I guess I would have to name not just one, but a few. Some of these would be the anticipation and arrival of Father Christmas, time with family, the food, the drink, the lights and ornaments, The seasonal television shows, and the music. I remember with great fondness the excitement and the innocence of waiting for Santa to arrive with my Brothers and Sister and later with nieces and nephews, the time spent with relatives some now sadly departed, More recent memories for me include in years past rushing out and buying the special edition of the Radio Times the day it hit the stands and then planning our viewing circling the special festive episodes of the Royal Family, East Enders (yes, I know) the reruns of Morecombe and Wise and the many great films that were broadcast over the festive period. I also recall singing traditional carols in Church, hearing and listening to secular festive songs on the radio and on record, and the speculation every year as to what the Christmas Number One would be, and then looking forward to the Christmas Day special edition of Top Of The Pops where the last song performed would be the public choice.  As I think back about each of these things I could write extensively about any one of them, but it is about Christmas numbers ones from 1952 when the music charts started up until the year 2000 before X-Factor had its disastrous effects that at this time draws my attention. So, with that here is part two of the rundown of the Christmas chart-toppers this time from 1976- 1999. So, quoting a French saying as a certain someone from down Peckham way used to say, Mange Tout, Mange Tout everyone.

Christmas 1970s (continued), 1980s and 1990s Style

The ‘Wish List’ Christmas catalogue came into its own by the end of the seventies with Argos leading the way. There was still loads of anticipation for the arrival of Santa and the Christmas Day film on BBC 1 was a massive event as you may well not have seen it at the cinema and could not rent it to watch on your video player yet.

The 1980s saw us starting to decorate more and more with foil instead of paper and of course, those very cheesy jumpers were all the fashion once the weather turned colder. We still waited until nearly Christmas itself to put up our trees and put our decorations around the house. Oh, and we mustn’t forget to pre-order both our Radio and TV Times at the newsagents so we can see what is scheduled on BBC1, BBC2 and ITV during the period!

Town and City centre shops in the 1990s were still where we spent a lot of our money and the windows were something to behold with their festive displays. Television was our main entertainment with four channels on offer, and we could go and now rent films on VHS for home viewing.

1976 – Johnny Mathis ‘When A Child Is born (Soleado)’

Johnny Mathis, for all his chart success on the singles chart, is actually known more for being an album artist. The romantic crooner as he was known in his early days had the longest-running album in the American Billboard top 200 charts for 15 years until Pink Floyds ‘Darkside Of the Moon’ hit 491 weeks. ‘When A Child Is Born’ is the ‘velvet voice’s’ only number one in the UK to date and was at number one for three weeks. Based on an Italian tune called ‘Soleado’ with lyrics rewritten into English by Fred Jay who wrote hits for Boney M including ‘Rasputin’ and ‘Ma Baker’. Interestingly, the song does not mention Jesus or Christmas but refers to a tiny star that lights up way up high.

1977 – Wings ‘Mull Of Kintyre’

Paul McCartney returns to the Christmas top spot for the fifth time (not including Band-Aid 20), this time not with the Beatles, but with his group Wings. The best-selling single in the UK written by McCartney and Wings bandmate Denny Laine was number one for nine weeks and is in tribute to the area of Scotland where the singer has had a farm since 1966. It was the first single to sell over 2 million copies in the UK and is the third best-selling single of all time and the best-selling non-charity single of all time. Interestingly although Macca has performed the song many times in concert, he has never performed it live in the United States. Country singer Glen Campbell (also a much-underrated guitar player) who covered the song for his album ‘Old Hometown’ in 1982 can be said to have that distinction not only performing the song live at his shows but playing the bagpipes as well!

1978 – Boney M ‘Mary’s Boy Child – Oh My lord’

This is the second entry on the Christmas number one list for this song, but this time by very successful Euro-Caribbean group Boney M who were originally based in West Germany. The group have sold over 100 million records worldwide and have had two songs hit the top spot and another thirteen in the UK top forty of the singles charts.  Recording the single in a hurry in November of 1978 then including it in their live sets it sat on top of the charts for four weeks. There are several mixes and edits of the song depending on where it was released in the world. The 12-inch version clocks in at 6.18 minutes and in Spain and France the third verse was edited out. The song peaked at number 86 in the US, but in recent years has seen popular airplay on many all Christmas format stations.

1979 – Pink Floyd ‘Another Brick In The Wall’

Coming from the rock opera concept album The Wall, this song was Pink Floyds’ first single since 1968s ‘Point Me at the Sky’ and the band had resisted its release as they felt they were not a singles band. The song is a protest concerning rigid schooling and was written by Roger Waters. The producer for the album felt that there should be disco elements added during recording as that was what was big at the time. Despite reservations, guitarist David Gilmore felt that the album still sounded like Pink Floyd. Gilmore recorded his guitar solo in one take on his 1955 Gibson Les Paul. The four-sided LP sat at the top of album charts around the world except in the UK where strangely it only reached number three.

1980 – St Winifred’s School Choir ‘There’s No-One Quite Like Grandma’

Written by Gorden Lorenz to celebrate the Queen Mother’s 80th birthday this song shot to the top of the charts for two weeks off the back of all the little dears who bought it as Christmas presents for their own grandma and grandpa. It knocked John Lennon’s ‘Just Like Starting Over’ from the number one spot which it had risen to after his murder. It also held Jona Lewie’s ‘Stop The Cavalry’ off of the top of the chart in 1980 which is one of the Christmas favourites in this household every year. Two of the children who sang on the million-seller went on to become actresses. Sally Lindsay appearing the soap ‘Coronation Street’ and Jennifer Hennessey who was in Dr Who and the Mockumentary ‘The Office’. Gordon Lorenz went on to produce 800 recordings for a multitude of acts with 17 Platinum, Gold and Silver records. Dawn Ralph who sang the lead made a few theatre performances but decided that she did not like the limelight and has not carried on any sort of career in show business although she has had many offers over the years.

1981- The Human League ‘Don’t You Want Me’

The 23rd best-selling song in British chart history with over 1.5 million sold, this song by the synth-pop group The Human League is their only number one to date. The genre was to flourish between 1981 and 1986 with bands like OMD, Depeche Mode, The Pet Shop Boys and New Order seeing chart success. The song itself was inspired by a story that the band’s lead singer Phil Oakley had read in a teen magazine and also the film ‘A Star Is Born’ which he was a fan of. Because of the popularity of their album Dare and three preceding singles that had come from that record the record company was looking for another song to release as a single. Disliked by Oakley and relegated to the end of the record as it was felt the song was ‘’too poppy’’ the singer actually argued against the release of ‘Don’t You Want Me’ as a fourth single in 1981 fearing that the public would grow sick of the band and that the “poor quality filler track” would ruin the band’s hard work for popularity. 5 weeks at number-one and the Christmas top spot in 1981 argued otherwise.

1982 – Renee and Renato ‘Save Your Love’

This Italian/British duo was the Yuletide number Uno in 1982 with this tune that was written by Johnny Edward who discovered Renato during an audition for a television talent show in 1975. Teaming him with Hillary Lester and renaming her Renee they would go on to record the 4-week chart-topper ‘Save Your Love’ which would be the 1982 public choice as the Festive Top Tune in that year. The duo would have one other minor success with the follow-up single ‘Just One More Kiss’ which made it to number 48 in February of 1983. Renato could sometimes be found singing in his son’s restaurant of the same name in Tamworth before his death in 2009. I wonder if they have Garlic Bread on the Menu there. ‘’It’s The Future!’’

1983 – The Flying Pickets ‘Only You’

Not to be confused with the Platters song of the same name this is an a cappella cover of the Yazoo song penned by Vince Clark while he was in Depeche Mode and recorded by him and Alison Moyet in 1982. With Moyet singing lead ‘Only You’, the duos’ first single peaked at number-two upon its release. The term Flying Pickets, of course, is a term used for mobile strikers who will travel to a location to support strike actions. The band’s success with their cover version of the song coincided with the miners’ strikes of the early 1980s caused by the decision to close 20 pits across the country. At the time Margret Thatcher to much mirth evidently declared the song her favourite song. The Iron Lady’s top tune ever was actually purported to be ‘How Much Is That Doggie In The Window’. The Pickets were to chart one more time in the top ten with ‘When Your Young And In Love’ and then twice more in the top one-hundred before fading from view.

1984 – Band-Aid ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’

The 1984 version of ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’ is the second bestselling charity single of all time behind Elton John’s ‘Candle In The Wind 1997’ Princess Diana tribute which happens to be the second bestselling single of all-time behind ‘White Christmas’. Boomtown Rats singer Bob Geldof and Midge Ure of Ultravox fame brought together a who’s who of British and Irish singers and musicians to raise the issue of famine in Ethiopia to sing and play on the recording.  The single was an immediate success upon release and raised somewhere in the neighbourhood of £19 million pounds which would be around £51 million approximately in today’s money for the charity earning   Geldolf a Knighthood. The single has been re-issued through the years and by Band Aid 30 the lyrics were starting to be seen as a bit patronising with Dawit Gebreselassie, 26, a financial analyst from Ethiopia, joking at the time: ‘’I would ask, does Geldof know when it’s Christmas time in Ethiopia? Perhaps the fact that we celebrate Christmas a few weeks later on January 7th could have misled him into thinking we don’t know when it is. Reassure him from us that, after his last three reminders, we are well aware and don’t need any more prompting’’. On a rather sad note, this would be Phil Collin’s only Festive number-one tune.

1985 – Shakin’ Stevens ‘Merry Christmas Everyone’

A genuinely well-liked bloke the Welsh singer and songwriter Shakin’ Stevens or ‘shaky’ as he is sometimes known as was the biggest selling recording artist in the 1980s spending more weeks in the singles charts than any other artist at that time. Stevens would have thirty-three top forty hits and four number ones including ‘Merry Christmas Everyone which had a run at the top for 2 weeks. Around since the sixties, Stevens success really did not begin until the eighties when he charted with fifties influenced cover hits of ‘This Ol’ House’, ‘Green Door’, and ‘It’s Late’ just to name a few. ‘Merry Christmas Everyone’ was his fourth number one and was produced by fellow Welshman Dave Edmunds. The song was recorded in 1984 but was held back because of the Band-Aid charity single the year before. The tune has charted every year since 2007 when downloads stated to be counted towards chart sales and reached number nine in December of 2018.

1986 – Jackie Wilson ‘Reet Petite (The sweetest Girl In Town)’

First charting in at number-six in 1957 the song soared to the top in 1986 as a result of a clay animation video which was shown on the BBC 2 television show ‘Arena’. The video showing was so popular that the song was released as a single 29 years after its debut and 3 years after Wilson’s death and it hit number one and stayed there for a total of 4 weeks. Written by Berry Gordy, Gwen Gordy Fuqua and Wilson’s cousin Billy Davis under the pseudonym Tyran Carlo, was the former Dominos singers first solo release and its success helped Gordy to then fund the start-up of Motown records. ‘Reet Petite’ was the tenth time that Jackie had charted in the UK although three of those occasions were for songs that had left and re-entered the charts. ‘Reet Petite’ in ’57 and ‘’86, ‘I Get The Sweetest Feeling’ in ’72,’75 and ’87, and ‘(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher And Higher’ ’69, ’75 and ’87.

1987 – Pet Shop Boys ‘Always On My Mind’

‘Always On My Mind’ was first recorded by B.J. Thomas in 1970, but the song saw its first success in 1972 when Elvis Presley released it about a month after his separation from his wife Priscilla. It was to become known as one of The Kings most regarded 1970s recordings. Willie Nelson’s 1982 rendition perhaps became the best-known version with the song garnering three Grammy wins in 1983 and was entered into the Grammy hall of fame in 2008. The Pet Shop Boys performed their own version of the song on an Elvis tribute show that was broadcast on ITV ten years after his death. The performance was so well received that the duo decided to record the song and release it as a single resulting in a four-week run at the top of the chart and the 1987 Christmas number one.  The Petshop Boys are the bestselling duo in British history having 22 top ten recordings on the singles chart.

1988 – Cliff Richard ‘Mistletoe And Wine’

‘Mistletoe And Wine’ originated in a musical called ‘Scraps’ based on the Hans Christian Anderson story ‘The Little Match Stick Girl’ in 1976. The show was then adapted for television starring Roger Daltry, Twiggy, Jimmy Jewel and Paul Daneman in 1987. The song was originally conceived by the writers as a Carol to be performed when the little matchstick girl was pushed out into the cold. When the show was re-written for television it became a pub song sang by Twiggy. Sir Cliff liked the song and after making some tweaks to the lyrics to make it have a more religious theme released it on 21 November 1988. The song went on to become the top-selling single of 1988 and the twelfth number one of Sir Cliff’s career at the top of the singles chart for four weeks.

1989 – Band-Aid II ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’

December 1st, 1989 Bob Geldof called Pete Waterman asking him if he would be interested in producing a new version of ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ featuring singers and musicians that were big at the time. Realising Africa had not yet gotten the ‘memo’ Waterman jumped at the chance and calling as many Musicians and singers as he could muster he had the song done and dusted and on the shelf by December the 11th where it then promptly sold 500,000 copies to become the Christmas number one of 1989 spending three weeks on top of the charts.

1990 – Cliff Richard ‘Saviour’s Day’

Saviour’s day’ is the third top Christmas tune for Sir Cliff and his second solo offering.  The song was in the coveted Crimble top spot for one week having dislodged ‘Ice, Ice Baby’ by Vanilla Ice which had been in place for four weeks. Written especially for Mr Richard it has the dubious honour of having been voted onto both top Christmas songs lists and onto annoying Christmas song lists. After it’s one-week perch at the top of the charts, it was replaced by ‘Bring Your Daughter…To The Slaughter’ by Motorhead even though for some reason the BBC had misgivings concerning that song and gave it very little airplay.

1991 – Queen ‘Bohemian Rhapsody/These Are The Days Of Our Lives’

Going to number one with its re-release after Freddie Mercury’s death this is the second time around for ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ on the Christmas number one chart. This time sitting in the number one position for five weeks giving the song a total of fourteen weeks in that spot altogether. In 2001 the song placed second to John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ by public vote in Britain regarding the top 100 number-one singles of all time. Freddie and the band have always been evasive as to what the lyrics were about. It is something that is still a guarded secret over 28 years after the singer’s death though it is surmised it has something to do with a relationship while Mercury himself said that they were just ‘’rhyming nonsense’’. The other half of the double ‘A’ side single ‘These Are The Days Of Our Lives’ featured a promotional video which would be the last that the frontman would make with the band before his death.

1992 – Whitney Houston ‘I Will Always Love You’

Topping the American Country chart twice for its writer Dolly Parton, once in 1974 and then again in 1982 when she re-recorded it for her film ‘The Best Little Whore House In Texas’. Parton wrote the song when she decided that she was going to pursue a solo career and part ways with Porter Wagner her mentor and singing partner of seven years. Whitney Houston recorded her version recorded in 1992 for the film ‘The Bodyguard’ with Kevin Costner. The song spent ten weeks at number one in the UK, fourteen weeks at number one in the US and re-entered the charts upon her death reaching number three in the US in 2012. The song is the bestselling single by a woman of all time and one of the bestselling songs of all time.

1993 – Mr Blobby ‘Mr Blobby’

A surprising two-week chart-topper that was knocked out of that spot by Take That’s ‘Babe ‘and then stuns everyone by gaining The number one position again for a week and become the Ho, Ho, Ho tune of Christmas 1993. There has been an argument over the years by critics as to whether this song is the worst Christmas number one ever, the worst song ever or both. The British public disagreed with those assertions and voted it to the top with over 600,000 in sales. The public did, however, vote it the worst Christmas song in an HMV poll of worst-ever festive songs and top five in a few others, it can be very fickle sometimes that ol’ public. A character on the Noel Edmund’s Saturday Night BBC Variety Programme Noel’s House Party the bulbous costumed character communicated by saying ‘’blobby’’ and was thought by some to be one of the harbingers of the end of western civilization as we know it. How little did we know they were right!

1994 – East 17 ‘Stay Another Day’

East 17 in the early nineties was the Rolling Stones to Take That’s Beatles. Much like those two sixties’ groups, this was a case of the ‘proverbial Bad Boys vs the proverbial Good Guys’. Racking up eighteen top twenty singles and four top ten albums this boy band had massive success in the UK. ‘Stay Another Day’ was their biggest single and surprisingly their only number one. Primarily written by band member and lead songwriter Tony Mortimer with the help of manager Rob Ken and songwriter/keyboardist Dominic Hawkins. The song, about Mortimer’s brother Ollie’s suicide and, was the third single from the album ’Steam’ and earned him an Ivor Novello award. Christmas bells were added to appeal to the lucrative Christmas market and entered the chart at number seven and then climbing to number one where it stayed for five weeks. The third best-selling single of 1994 and a festive staple in this house at least as far as my wife is concerned.

1995 – Micheal Jackson ‘Earth Song’

Opening side two of ‘HIStory; Past, Present And Future, Book 1’, this reject from the Dangerous album was the third single from that set and debut at number one in the UK staying there for six weeks. Written by Jackson and with a video filmed in four different regions of the world with a full-on save the environment message and an appeal for donations to his ‘Heal The World Foundation’. The self-proclaimed King Of Pop performed the song at the Brit Awards in February of the year with a flummoxed Jarvis Cocker running out onto the stage lifting his shirt, pretending to pass wind giving the ‘V’ sign in protest at what he perceived as the artist’s portraying himself as God. The song charted in many counties around the world and mostly at the very top although it did not enter the charts in his ‘‘majesty’s’’ home country. One does wonder had she been around what the good St. Greta would have had to say about that.

1996 – Spice Girls ‘2 Become 1’

The Spice Girls third successive number one and the first of three festive number ones on the trot ‘2 Become 1’ was their second best-selling single behind ‘Wanna Be’ with just over one million in sales. The song was the result of the girls’ first group songwriting session with some help from Matt Rowe and Richard Stannard who also produced the tune. Released on December 16, 1996, it went straight to number one and remained there for three weeks and was well received by critics. It was the third single from their first album ‘Spice’ which sold over 31 million copies worldwide and became the best-selling record by a girl group in history. Melanie Brown (Scary Spice), Melanie Chisholm (Sporty Spice), Emma Bunton (Baby Spice), Geri Halliwell (Ginger Spice) and Victoria Beckham (Posh Spice) would be credited with changing the musical landscape at the time and also helping to pave the way for female singers who would come after.

1997 – Spice Girls ‘Too Much’

Was ‘Too Much’ too much? It must not have been as this 1997 two-week chart-topper was the Spice Girls sixth straight number one and the second straight number one released from the ‘Spiceworld’ film soundtrack. Girl Power Indeed! Their next single ‘Stop’ would end this impressive run as it would settle for the number two position on its release. The work on the recording of the songs for the soundtrack was done during production of the film which meant that all the writing and recording would be done between shoots in a mini studio that was set up in a Winnebago Camper. ‘Too Much’ made history as it was the first time that any act had reached the top of the British charts six times running. The song was a group effort with the help of the production team Absolute.

1998 – Spice Girls ‘Goodbye’

Another group effort ‘Goodbye’ would be the bands third Yuletide topper and the final song with Geri Halliwell on board although it would be the first to be released without her vocals. The song is essentially a reference to her departure from the group and was thought to be one of their best songs. The girls would go on to have one more chart-topper with the next song that was released ‘Holler/Let Love Lead The Way’ which like its predecessor ‘Goodbye’ sat on top for a week. One more top-charting single was to be released ‘Headlines (Friendship Never ends) in 2007 ending an impressive run. 85 million albums sold worldwide and 20th best singles band in the UK.

1999 – Westlife ‘I Have A dream/Season In The Sun

This good looking group of Irish lads had an incredible run of seven successive number ones and twenty-two consecutive top 5 hits selling with over six million singles sold in the early 2000s. Things started off big for the band in 1999 with their first four releases going up to the top of the charts including their first and only Christmas number one the double ‘A’ side ‘I Have A Dream/ Seasons In The Sun’ which roosted in that position for four weeks. Nicky Byrne, Kian Egan, Mark Feeiliy, Shane Filan and Bryan McFadden were managed by Louis Walsh and signed to the RCA label by Simon Cowell. Walsh and Cowell would later team up on the talent show X-Factor in the 2000s and begin domination of the British pop charts with these mostly manufactured acts. The show running from autumn time and ending just before Christmas would end with the winner releasing a cover song that would race to the top of the chart ending much of fun, magic and speculation of what might be, could be or would be the public choice of the Christmas top Festive tune. It would almost always be whoever came in first on X-Factor. This would turn out to hurt new artists and anything that might be considered organic occurring from within the British music industry. Oh, and for you die-hard Westlife fans they have their first recording in nine years ‘Spectrum’ coming out 15 November 2019.

‘’Does your granny always tell ya that the old songs are the best, then she’s up and rock and rollin’ with the rest’’.

‘’Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’’, everyone!

© Wallace The Waffle Whiffer 2019

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