170. Cilla Black (Accompaniment directed by Johnny Pearson) – You’re My World (Il Mio Mondo) (1964)

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Three months since her first number 1, Anyone Who Had a Heart, Cilla Black was at number 1 again, with You’re My World. This ballad was an English language version of the Italian Il Mio Mondo, written by Umberto Bindi and Gino Paoli. The original was not a hit, but George Martin saw enough in it to commission it as Black’s follow-up.

The new title and lyrics came from Carl Sigman, who specialised in rewriting lyrics and turning them into UK hits, several of which – Answer Me, It’s All in the Game and The Day the Rains Came – went to number 1.

I think I made my feelings towards Cilla fairly clear in my last blog on her, while at the same time being pretty complimentary about Anyone Who Had a Heart. I couldn’t deny the quality of the song and considered Black’s performance stronger than the Dionne Warwick original. However, You’re My World (Il Mio Mondo) is inferior, and shows up Black’s weakness as a singer. Although this actually worked in her favour last time around, my ears weren’t so keen this time.

Black starts low, which is manageable, but at about a minute into the track, her voice explodes into what sounds like a impression of a caricature of her voice – the kind you’d get on Spitting Image in the 80s. Lyrically, You’re My World (Il Mio Mondo) is nothing to write home about – not compared to a Bacharach and David song, anyway. It’s your average overblown love song in which the singer bigs up her lover to be some sort of godlike figure. As average as it is, it’s saved by an epic George Martin production, which builds from stabbing strings at the beginning (which do suggest Cilla may be some sort of deranged obsessed lover/murderer) into full-blown orchestral loveliness courtesy of Johnny Pearson and female vocal trio The Breakaways. Her future husband and manager, Bobby Willis, also sang on the recording.

You’re My World (Il Mio Mondo) helped firmly establish Cilla as the country’s biggest female singing superstar, and it was a huge hit in several countries. However, despite the fact she had many other smashes in the UK, and is the country’s biggest-selling female solo artist of the decade, it was her final number 1.

She divided opinion even then. In 1965 Randy Newman called her version of I’ve Been Wrong Before the best cover anyone had ever performed of his material. The same year, when her version of You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin was beaten to the top by The Righteous Brothers’ cover, The Rolling Stones’ manager Andrew Loog Oldham took out an advert in Melody Maker to deride Cilla’s performance.

Nonetheless the hits continued, including, among others, her theme song to the film Alfie, written by Bacharach and David. By the end of 1966 she had begun making inroads into television, with her own TV special and an appearance on Peter Cook and Dudley Moore’s Not Only But Also. Epstein had arranged for Black to star in her own series for the BBC shortly before his death in August 1967. Relations had become somewhat strained, with Black feeling Epstein had stopped giving her career the attention it needed. Bobby Willis took over as her manager, and her career improved in 1968 with the number eight hit Step Inside Love, written by Paul McCartney as the theme to her series Cilla.

Other than Cilla, and some attempts at comedy (seeing her attempts at being funny on TV when growing up, I can imagine these were pretty bad), the 70s were relatively quiet for Black. Bill Cotton asked her to consider becoming Bruce Forsyth’s replacement on The Generation Game in 1978, but Black declined and Larry Grayson got the job. She may have subsequently regretted doing so, as the early 80s saw her reduced to cabaret shows.

However, an appearance on Wogan in 1983 went down so well, she found herself in demand once more. Many of the generation that had grown up buying her music were now parents and in need of Saturday night entertainment in front of the box. It’s the Cilla that presented Surprise Surprise from 1984 and Blind Date from 1985 that I grew up with. Ironically, when Blind Date was in development, camp comedian Duncan Norvelle presented a pilot in 1985, but John Birt had reservations about Norvelle’s humour. He clearly wasn’t as open-minded as Bill Cotton in 1978 when Larry Grayson took on The Generation Game.

I was an avid TV viewer as a child, and would watch anything put in front of me, but despite enjoying both shows, I was firmly on my dad’s side in being irritated by her catchphrases and singing, even as a six-year-old. But the fans outweighed the critics and Black became a national treasure and the highest-paid female performer on British television. My mum even appeared in the audience on Surprise Surprise once, and my cousin also featured and won on Blind Date. My main memory of that is of us visiting her house shortly afterwards and discovering her parents had a parrot that liked swearing.

By the turn of the century, both long-running shows were struggling with viewing figures, and Cilla left London Weekend Television. She appeared on many panel shows and had a cameo in ITV comedy Benidorm. 2013 saw ITV celebrate her 50 years in showbiz with a one-off special, The One and Only Cilla Black, hosted by fellow scouser Paul O’Grady. In 2014, Sheridan Smith starred as the singer in the well-received three-part ITV drama Cilla, focusing on her relationship with Willis, who had died in 1999.

In 2014 Black stated she wanted to die when she reached 75, as she couldn’t stand to suffer into old age like her mother did. She was already suffering with rheumatoid arthritis, and her eyesight was failing. She was 72 when she fell and died of a stroke at her holiday home near Estepona, Spain on 1 August 2015.

Her funeral was a star-studded affair, with Cliff Richard singing at the service and a eulogy from O’Grady. As her coffin left the church, the Beatles song The Long and Winding Road was played. Paul McCartney, who had been instrumental in bringing the girl-next-door-turned-national-treasure to the public eye, believed Cilla’s 1972 version of his song was the definitive one.

Written by: Umberto Bindi & Gino Paoli/Carl Sigman (English lyrics)

Producer: George Martin

Weeks at number 1: 4 (28 May-24 June)

Births:

Actress Kathy Burke – 13 June 

Meanwhile…

16 June: Keith Bennett had turned 12 only four days before he went missing. He was on his way to his grandmother’s house in Longsight, Manchester when Myra Hindley pulled over in her Mini and asked Bennett for help with loading some boxes, in return for a lift home. Her friend Ian Brady was sat in the back when he got in. They drove to a lay-by on Saddleworth Moor, where Bennett walked off with Brady. The following day, yet another missing persons investigation for a child opened in Manchester.

122. Eden Kane (Accompaniment directed by Johnny Keating) – Well I Ask You (1961)

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Eden Kane’s time at the top of the charts came swiftly, and ended almost as quickly. Born Richard Graham Sarstedt in March 1940. His family lived in New Delhi, India, and two of his younger brothers, Peter and Clive, would also become musicians. Peter even reached number 1 too, in 1969, with the ballad Where Do You Go To (My Lovely)?, and Clive had a number 3 hit in 1976 with a cover of My Resistance is Low, under the name Robin Sarstedt.

The family moved to Kurseong to run a tea plantation, but when his father died, Richard, his mother, brother and three sisters moved to the UK, settling in Norbury in Croydon. He became a big Bill Haley fan, and he and his brothers started a group called The Fabulous 5.

The next step towards fame came when Richard won a talent contest at Kings Road in Chelsea. The prize wasn’t very rock’n’roll – it was the chance to record an advertising jingle for Cadbury’s Drinking Chocolate. The song, Hot Chocolate Crazy, is a funny little ditty now, but it got him noticed due to plenty of airplay on Radio Luxembourg and it became the B-side of his first single, You Make Love So Well, on Pye Records.

Sarstedt was a handsome man, so his looks would appeal to girls, but what about his name? His new management team, Philip Waddilove and Michael Barclay, christened him Eden Kane. The forename was due to the fashion for biblical names at the time, ie Adam Faith, and the surname came from Barclay’s love of the film Citizen Kane (1941). Kane moved to Decca, and his first single for them, Well I Ask You, had been written by Les Vandyke, a pseudonym for Johnny Worth, who had written both of Adam Faith’s number 1s, What Do You Want? and Poor Me. Overseeing production was Bunny Lewis, who had worked on three number 1s – David Whitfield’s Answer Me, Cara Mia, by Whitfield and Mantovani, and Only Sixteen by Craig Douglas.

Kane’s number 1 is your average slice of early 60s pop, and you can easily imagine it being sang by Faith, or Anthony Newley. It would also be at home as the TV theme to a cheeky sitcom. I can picture Sid James or Paul Shane winking at the camera when I hear the bawdy-sounding main hook. The cheeriness belies the fact Kane is mightily pissed off at this girl, who has treated him like crap and now expects to get him back. I’m not sure about the way Kane sings ‘Well I ask ya’, but at least he isn’t doing a Buddy Holly impression. I haven’t heard the follow-up single, Get Lost, but I really hope that it’s his answer to his relationship conundrum.

Kane’s next few singles all performed well, but his last hit came in 1964 during the height of the beat boom. He appeared on television shows with new acts like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, but he saw the writing on the wall, and following a stint with his own TV show in Australia, he moved to California and became a producer.

In 1972 The Sarstedt Brothers released an album, Worlds Apart Together, but it didn’t set the world alight the same way some of their solo singles had. Weirdly, in the 90s he became contracted to play several small parts in the various Star Trek spin-offs, – Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager, and was credited as Richard Starstedt. These days he occasionally pops up on the nostalgia circuit alongside other stars of the era.

The drummer on Well I Ask You was Clem Cattini, who was a member of Johnny Kidd & The Pirates when they hit number 1 with Shakin’ All Over. Cattini’s name will be popping up many more times in this blog, as the session drummer holds the record for most appearances on UK number 1s – at least 42, some sources say more. The list of his best-selling appearances is simply staggering – an eclectic mix of artists including The Tornados, The Walker Brothers, Thunderclap Newman, Ken Dodd, T Rex, Benny Hill and Hot Chocolate, and his number 1s date right up to the (Is This the Way to) Amarillo, the 2005 Comic Relief single by Tony Christie featuring Peter Kay. He was also considered by Jimmy Page as a possible drummer for Led Zeppelin. This man surely deserves some kind of award?

Written by: Les Vandyke

Producer: Bunny Lewis

Weeks at number 1: 1 (3-9 August)

Births:

Comedian Brian Conley – 7 August

107. Ricky Valance with Accompaniment directed by Frank Barber – Tell Laura I Love Her (1960)

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Ricky Valance became the first Welsh male artist to hit the number 1 spot, with one of the more famous teenage tragedy songs of the early 60s, Tell Laura I Love Her.

This genre had been growing in popularity from the mid-to-late 50s, melding rock’n’roll with the stories normally told in folk ballads. The first notable example of these songs was Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller’s Black Denim Trousers and Motorcycle Boots, sang by The Cheers. This song grew in popularity following James Dean’s death in a car accident in 1955.

However, the first teenage tragedy song to hit number 1 in the UK came much later, in March 1960. Johnny Preston’s Running Bear had been an unusual track, telling the tale of the doomed romance of two Indians, complete with politically incorrect Indian chanting from George Jones and JP ‘The Big Bopper’ Richardson (who had written the track before his untimely death in 1959). Tell Laura I Love Her had been written by Jeff Barry and Ben Raleigh. Barry went on to write or co-write some of the biggest songs of the 60s, including Do Wah Diddy Diddy, Be My Baby, River Deep – Mountain High and Sugar Sugar.

Tell Laura I Love Her had been a big hit in the US for Ray Peterson, but Decca Records refused to release it in the UK, considering it ‘tasteless and vulgar’. 20,000 copies that had already been made were destroyed. An over-the-top reaction, no doubt, but for many, the permissive 60s were yet to actually happen. The BBC were also loathe to play these ‘death discs’, but the Beeb had banned songs before, and it hadn’t stopped them reaching number 1 (see David Whitfield and Frankie Laine‘s versions of Answer Me). Not that this song was particularly vulgar, anyway. So when EMI Columbia offered the track to their new signing, Ricky Valance, he seized the opportunity, and with hit-making producer Norrie Paramore involved, the number 1 spot became his.

Valance had been born David Spencer on 10 April 1939 in Ynysddu, Monmouthshire, Wales. He had joined the RAF aged 17, before going on to perform in clubs, and subsequently getting noticed by an A&R representative for EMI. With his sweet voice and good looks, Valance was a great choice for the label.

Tell Laura I Love Her tells the tragic tale of teenagers Tommy and Laura. Tommy wants to marry Laura, and decides to enter a stock car race, with the hope of using the prize money to buy her a wedding ring. However, the race goes horribly wrong, and Tommy is killed when his car overturns and sets alight. Lyricist Barry was a big fan of cowboy culture and originally Tommy entered a rodeo, but RCA had insisted it became a stock car to make it more in keeping with the present fashions, which was probably a wise move.

The song doesn’t get off to a great start, as the verses are rather functional and dull, and the ‘bom-bom-bom-bom’ backing vocal really ruins the mood. The chorus is great, though. Memorable and sad, it lifts an otherwise average song, and Valance’s tender voice fits it like a glove. The lyrics might seem hokey now, but that’s par for the course with this sub-genre. It pales in comparison to recent classics such as Shakin’ All Over and Apache, though.

Tell Laura I Love Her sold over a million in 1960. Although it was his only UK number 1, Movin’ Away went to the top in Australia and Scandinavia. A year later, Valance entered A Song for Europe, but only made it to third place. His name soon slipped from  the public eye, but he continued to perform on the cabaret and nostalgia circuit. Following severe depression and a nervous breakdown he became a born-again Christian, and continued to release music until his death on 12 June 2020, aged 81. He was suffering from dementia.

Written by: Jeff Barry & Ben Raleigh

Producer: Norrie Paramor

Weeks at number 1: 3 (29 September-19 October)

Meanwhile…

1 October: Nigeria was the latest country to gain its independence from the UK.

7 October: As the summer of 1960 turned to Autumn, heavy rainfall caused severe flooding in the valley of the River Exe and surrounding areas of Devon. On this date, flooding took place in Horncastle, Lincolnshire. To this day (26 March 2018), it still holds the UK record for the highest 180-min total rainfall at 178mm.

8 October: The Sheffield Tramway closed, leaving Blackpool as the only place in England using electric trams.

17 October The daily News Chronicle stopped publishing, becoming absorbed into the Daily Mail.

Every Christmas Number 1

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The Intro

I’ve been blogging my reviews of all the UK number 1s in order for four months now, and have reached the end of 1957. Despite not being a fan of 50s music in general (maybe that’s a bit harsh, I should say I’m not too knowledgeable about it), I’ve found it more interesting than expected. Hopefully, some of the readers I’ve gathered are enjoying it too.

Anyway, I decided a nice addition for Christmas would be to work my way through every Christmas number 1 to date. Now, I love music, and I’m also fond of Christmas, so initially it sounds like a no-brainer. However, Christmas number 1s are a complete wild card. No matter the decade, no matter your musical taste, it would be impossible to enjoy them all. Indeed, after a first glance, I realised there are far fewer festive songs than you’d maybe expect. From children’s songs, to rock’n’roll and psychedelic classics, to total, utter dross, the Christmas number 1 offers examples of the mammoth highs and terrible lows of pop music over the last 65 years. And although sadly pop is no longer the cultural force it once was, the Christmas number 1 is still considered important. So much so, they even bring Top of the Pops back especially for it.

So, 69 songs (if a number 1 was a double A-side, I’ve included both), 4 hours and 15 minutes of seasonal chart-toppers, broken down into decisions on the best and worst of each decade, and then one overall winner. With two young children in my house, it would be impossible to take on this task in one sitting. So I decided to do it while working my day job, which today is working on, appropriately enough, the Christmas TV listings for TV Times. I think I already know which song will win out. Let’s see if I’m right…

The 50s

The 50s songs went by in a blur. This could be because I started listening at 7.30 in the morning and didn’t have enough caffeine in me, but it’s also because the charts didn’t start until 1952, and most tracks were pretty concise back then. In fact the first ever Christmas number 1 was the first ever chart-topper – Al Martino’s Here in My Heart. With pop music in its infancy, the yuletide number 1 wasn’t yet an event, and there wasn’t a festive-themed chart-topper until crooner Dickie Valentine’s Christmas Alphabet in 1955, which is a slight but charming enough number. You could perhaps argue Winifred Atwell had kicked things off the year previous, with the piano knees-up Let’s Have Another Party – it contained a snatch of When the Red Red Robin. Harry Belafonte’s Mary’s Boy Child in 1957 was the last explicitly Christmas song to reign until Slade’s Merry Xmas Everybody, 16 years later.

Elvis-mania changed pop forever and rock’n’roll ruled the roost in the late 50s. For me, this is where music started to get interesting, so it’s probably no coincidence that one of my favourites of the 50s was the last – Emile Ford and the Checkmates’ clever and cocky What Do You Want to Make Those Eyes at Me For? (1959), later covered by Shakin’ Stevens.

The Best:

Johnnie Ray –Just Walkinin the Rain (1956): One of rock’n’roll’s pioneers, the eccentric, troubled ‘Mr Emotion’ sang this melancholic yet strangely cheery song written by two men languishing in prison. It’s not seasonal in the slightest, it’s just a great song by an influential but under-appreciated talent. One listen and you won’t be able to resist whistling the refrain. I can’t whistle, but this is one of the few times I wished I could.

The Worst:

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Frankie Laine with Paul Weston & His Orchestra – Answer Me (1953): The hardest part of blogging about many of those early number 1s was wading through the sea of near-identical overwrought ballads. The majority of them leave me cold, and despite Frankie being able to hold a note well, this did nothing for me. Hilariously, the BBC banned it at the time due to the then-shocking mention of God in the lyrics, which only increased its sales. The BBC clearly never learnt its lesson, as this wasn’t the last time this happened to a future number 1.

The 60s

Pop music evolved at a mind-blowing rate and came of age during this decade. Obviously the 60s were dominated by the best group of all time, The Beatles, and they also hold the record for most festive number 1s to date, with four in total – I Want to Hold Your Hand (1963), I Feel Fine (1964), Day Tripper/We Can Work it Out (1965) and Hello Goodbye (1967).  Never anything but a pleasure to listen to, John, Paul, George and Ringo played a large part in making this decade’s list pretty darn enjoyable. The classic Moon River, sang by Danny Williams, topped the charts in 1961, and Elvis also got a look-in, with one of his better tracks – Return to Sender, in 1962.

In the latter half of the decade, children’s records grew in popularity, and were obviously going to sell well in December, beginning the trend for novelty Christmas number 1s. The Scaffold’s Lily the Pink (1968) may be irritating but served it’s purpose, and my five-year-old seemed to love it recently. More problematic is Rolf Harris’s Two Little Boys in 1969. Finding out what a pervert Rolf Harris was, under everybody’s radar, for so long was like finding out there’s no such thing as Father Christmas, yet this tune seems somehow still strangely moving, and now sadder than ever, because he’s bloody ruined it for everyone.

The Best:

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The Beatles – Hello Goodbye (1967): It was always going to be a Beatles song. I did struggle between Day Tripper and Hello Goodbye, though. Despite the former’s killer riff, I decided to go with the latter, as I’m a sucker for most psychedelic 60s stuff. Although it’s not the Fab Four’s best example of pyschedelia, I love it’s joyous simplicity, and especially the singalong at the end, which is lie-affirming pop at its best. I also think it would make for a hilarious funeral song.

The Worst:

Cliff Richard and The Shadows – I Love You (1960): Look at that title, it’s as generic as it gets, which at least sets the scene for the song itself. Tepid, basic and very forgettable, it’s no wonder it’s been largely forgotten. Cliff of course became a festive staple in the 80s. Whatever you might think of his later yuletide tunes, you’d find it difficult to argue that they’re not better than this.

The 70s

It was in this decade that the idea of the Christmas Number 1 really became an event, beginning with Slade and Wizzard’s battle for best festive anthem in 1973. An honourable mention for fellow glam rockers Mud’s Elvis tribute Lonely This Christmas (1974) – always had a soft spot for that one. Benny Hill’s children’s song Ernie (The Fastest Milkman in the West) in 1971 was deceptively filthy – I’ve never realised just how smutty the lyrics were until today (although to be fair I probably haven’t heard it in full since I was about seven).

Several ‘classics’ also hit the top, and having long since grown bored of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody (1975), I was impressed by it for the first time in years. It’s complexity and sheer oddness really made it stand out during my mammoth listen, and I didn’t mind hearing it again once I reached the songs of the 90s (it was of course reissued following Freddie Mercury’s death in 1991). Wings’ Mull of Kintyre (the biggest single of the decade) seems to be either loved or hated – I just think it’s alright – but who remembers it was actually a double A-side, along with the long-forgotten rocker Girls School (which fared far better in the US) in 1977? Mary’s Boy’s Boy Child – Oh My Lord (1978) saw Boney M cover Belafonte’s 1957 tune, livening it up but increasing the tackiness tenfold.

I find it hilarious and brilliant that Pink Floyd’s dark disco classic Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2) was 1979’s festive bestseller. I don’t know about you, but nothing says Christmas more than a choir of children singing ‘We don’t need no education/We don’t need no thought control’ with an air of menace.

The Best:

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Slade – Merry Xmas Everybody (1973): Overfamiliarity hasn’t dimmed my love of Noddy bellowing ‘IT’S CHRRIISSSTTTMMMAAASSS!’, and although I sometimes think I prefer Wizzard’s I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday, it was Slade that won out back then, so it was Slade I heard today, finally bringing some yuletide cheer back into my rundown, and doing it with such wit and a tune that still holds up so well. I think the fact the production doesn’t labour the festive theme, unlike some of the songs yet to come, only adds to its brilliance.

The Worst:

Jimmy Osmond – Long Haired Lover from Liverpool (1972): Jesus Christ. That’s the only thing I can say about this that’s remotely festive, but it’s not meant as a compliment. I know the Osmonds were huge back then but I fail to see how anyone ever found this remotely appealing. It’s memorable I guess, but so is a bout of diarrhoea. My ears were genuinely pained when Jimmy hit the high notes, and it seemed to go on forever.

The 80s

I was born in 1979, so it’s this decade that takes me back to Christmas as a child. One of my earliest memories is of clutching my copy of Do They Know It’s Christmas? (1984) in the playground before taking it to a school Christmas disco, aged five. A landmark moment in music, it was of course the start of charity singles gunning for the all-important top spot, and it’s a classic, but it’s controversially not even in my top two 80s number 1s. And the less said about the Stock, Aitken and Waterman-produced Band Aid II version (1989), the better. I wondered why it had been airbrushed from history and I was only 20 seconds in before realising why. It’s total crap.

The quality of the number 1s really jumped about in the 80s, particularly the first half. Special mention must go to The Human League’s electro classic Don’t You Want Me (1981). I really struggled to decide whether this was my 80s favourite, or the one that just pipped it to the post. It may not be seasonal in the slightest, but I’m not purely judging these singles on festive merit, which is why Do They Know It’s Christmas?, the highest-selling festive chart-topper of all time, isn’t the winner.

Warm memories of the reissue of Jackie Wilson’s Reet Petite in 1986, originally from 1956, were rekindled. And although it’s terrible, I found myself amused by Renée and Renato’s Save Your Love (1982), because it’s damn funny and it reminded me of the Kenny Everett spoof. Plus I think my mind might have started unravelling by this point. You can certainly argue that Cliff Richard’s Mistletoe and Wine is tacky shit, but nostalgia can really affect critical judgement, so I won’t be agreeing, sorry.

The Best:

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Pet Shop Boys – Always on My Mind (1987): I feel this may be a controversial choice due to it having nothing to do with Christmas, and the fact it kept Fairytale of New York from number 1, but I picked it because it’s bloody brilliant, and for me, this cover of the Elvis ballad (written by Willie Nelson) gets better with age. Taking a great song, transforming it and improving upon it is no easy task, but Nick Tennant and Chris Lowe did so without any of their usual irony, simply turning it into a disco juggernaut. There’s no wonder it often finds itself in the upper reaches of lists of best cover versions of all time. Joss Ackland didn’t half used to scare me in the video, though.

The Worst:

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St Winifred’s School Choir – There’s No One Quite Like Grandma (1980): Like Pet Shop Boys, this kept a festive classic off the top, namely Jona Lewie’s excellent Stop the Cavalry. However, unlike Pet Shop Boys, it’s wretched. And did a nation coming to terms with the murder of John Lennon really pick this over reissues of his work? A perfect example of Christmas chart insanity, like Long Haired Lover from Liverpool before it, this grates big time. And yet, I’d still take it over some of the ‘serious’ work that’s yet to come…

The 90s

The Christmas number 1s of the late 80s had marked the turning point, in which the standard began to fall, with occasional exceptions. I knew this before beginning my foolhardy task, but failed to appreciate how painful the job was going to become. Cliff had his third and final appearance to date (he was part of Band Aid II) with the execrable Saviour’s Day (1990) (The pan pipes! Not the pan pipes!), in which he came up with his own, duller version of Christmas. No thanks, Cliff, we’re happy with mistletoe and wine. Queen pared up Freddie Mercury’s farewell, These Are the Days of Our Lives, with a reissue of 1975’s Bohemian Rhapsody (1991), and I was tempted to award the best of the decade to the latter, but in the end it seemed unfair to let it have two chances.

By this point in my youth I was starting to develop my own tastes, and my music snobbery had begun. I hated the seemingly eternal reign of Whitney Houston’s I Will Always Love You back in 1992, and it didn’t do much for me in 2017 either. I did appreciate Houston’s singing more than I used to, though. It’s the production that kills it. Mr Blobby (1993)… this track came up more than any other when I told people what I would be doing, as though this would be the ultimate form of torture. You know what? It wasn’t. I genuinely found myself laughing at it. The people behind it were sick geniuses, throwing every trick in the book to seemingly irritate and infuriate anyone who didn’t watch Noel’s House Party. In fact, after rehearing it, I genuinely wouldn’t be surprised if one day it turned out to be yet another prank by twisted geniuses The KLF. Just as insane in it’s own way was Michael Jackson’s Earth Song in 1995. Fair play to the self-proclaimed ‘King of Pop’ for trying to highlight the damage humans have done to the world, but heavily implying he was some kind of Messiah-like figure while doing so was a bit daft.

Who would have thought that East 17 would be one of the decade’s few Christmas highlights with Stay Another Day (1994)? Then and now I found the Walthamstow gang ridiculous, but I have to hand it to songwriter Tony Mortimer, Stay Another Day is a great song, especially when you know it was written about his brother, who committed suicide. Poor old troubled Brian Harvey sings it well, too. He veers out of tune at times, but that fits perfectly in the context of this song. I admire the chutzpah of tacking on bells at the end, but it’s a shame it was then adopted by seemingly every other boy band aiming for a number 1 on 25 December.

The Best:

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Spice Girls – 2 Become 1 (1996): I have an inkling this may also be a controversial choice, mainly for people who know me. Back in the day I claimed to hate the Spice Girls. I was a huge Britpop fan and I blamed them for ruining pop music by not being ‘for real’. It didn’t occur to me that many guitar-bands were running out of steam, or becoming so experimental, they were never going to maintain their followings. Now I’m nearly 40, I’m less concerned with whether a song is ‘cool’ or not, and grudgingly admit the early Spice Girls singles were great pop songs. You have to make room for love ballads at Christmas, and 2 Become 1 is a great example of one. I’ve even been known to listen to it outside of Christmas. And you have to admire the fact it gets a cheeky reference to wearing a condom in there. Their next two yuletide number 1s, Too Much (1997) and Goodbye (1998), were tosh, though.

The Worst:

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Westlife – I Have a Dream/Seasons in the Sun (1999): This was the easiest choice to make by far. I hated Westlife for being the final number 1 ‘artists’ of the 20th century. Was this really what the last 50 years of pop had been leading up to?! Time has certainly not changed my mind. I’d forgotten this was coming up so soon, and as the Irish boy band’s tepid cover of ABBA’s I Have a Dream began, I wanted to punch my ears. Only problem is, that would have pushed my earphones further down my now long-suffering hearing vessels, and thus increasing the torture. The next two or three minutes were vacuous, contemptible, cynical pap, but at least it would soon be over. Fuck! It’s a double-A-side! And they’ve had a go at a song about dying! I think Seasons in the Sun is actually even worse! This single only deserves to be the final number 1 of the millennium because it signposts the downward trajectory in quality and worth of the charts in the 21st century to date. But I’d rather listen to There’s No One Quite Like Grandma than ever suffer these two songs again.

The 00s

Before Simon Cowell did irreparable damage to December’s charts with the X Factor, there were a few more years of oddities. At 21, I had no time for Bob the Builder’s Can We Fix It? back in 2000, but coming after Westlife in my marathon listen, it was actually easy on the ears. It’s quite funny to think Neil Morrissey has had a number 1 with a dance anthem. Robbie Williams & Nicole Kidman’s Something Stupid (2001) seemed rather pointless, then and now. Girls Aloud had won Popstars: The Rivals in 2002, and Sound of the Underground still sounds like one of the few reality show songs that wasn’t a power ballad put together by a committee. Perhaps if talent show winners were still releasing songs like this, The X Factor wouldn’t finally be dying a slow death.

Michael Andrew and Gary Jules’s haunting cover of Tears For Fears’ Mad World (from the film Donnie Darko) seemed an appropriate choice after the conflict in Iraq in 2003, but strikes me as simply too downbeat now. Easily the most depressing track in the collection. The 20th anniversary of Do They Know It’s Christmas? brought about yet another version, and while Band Aid 20’s cover is better than Band Aid II, it goes on way too long and sounds too earnest. Speaking of earnest…

The second series of The X Factor in 2005 was where the Christmas charts were first hijacked. The next five years were wall-to-wall Cowell. Manufactured MOR with a revolving door of singers, some who have long since been forgotten about. Alexandra Burke’s Hallelujah (2008) was the only remotely memorable one, and that’s undoubtedly due to me loving Jeff Buckley’s version of the Leonard Cohen classic, which was that year’s runner-up.

The Best:

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Rage Against the Machine – Killing in the Name (2009): By the close of the 00s, some record buyers had had enough of Cowell’s dominance. Beginning an internet campaign which quickly snowballed, Zack de la Rocha and co’s rap-metal call for revolution from 1992 was the perfect antidote to yet another lightweight pop ballad. After suffering so much tripe beforehand I was on the verge of shouting ‘THANK FUCK’ in the middle of the office. Although it wasn’t the end of X Factor number 1s, Rage Against the Machine had inflicted serious damage to their stranglehold of the charts.

The Worst:

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Leon Jackson – When You Believe (2007): Jackson won the fourth series of the X Factor with this cover of a power ballad sung by Whitney Houston & Mariah Carey for the animation The Prince of Egypt in 1998. Dreary and tedious, it’s a throwback to some of the very first number 1s of the early 1950s and the worst X Factor Christmas number 1. I don’t think Jackson has been seen since – another victim of Cowell’s ruthlessness.

The 10s

Rage Against Machine had given the list a much-needed kick up the arse, but I don’t think it was just the potential lethargy my ears were suffering that caused the remaining tracks to be a tough listen. In addition to further X Factor tracks, charity singles became very popular once more, beginning with Wherever You Are by Military Wives with Gareth Malone in 2011. Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Choir’s A Bridge over You (2015) was along similar lines, combining Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water and Coldplay’s Fix You. I don’t want to belittle charity singles, but the combination of these and yet more talent show winners made for a very musically uninspiring final few tracks.

Some potential hope for the future came with the last song of all. Rockabye (2016), by Clean Bandit featuring Sean-Paul and Anne-Marie, broke the malaise that had set in and was simply a modern pop song by a young group, just like in the old days.  It didn’t do much for me personally, but pop should primarily be for the young, not a man who’s nearly 40, so fair play to them. Here’s hoping there’s further life in the charts for years to come.

The Best:

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The Justice Collective – He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother (2012): Adopting the Band Aid approach and featuring an all-star cast of musicians and celebrities, The Justice Collective was assembled by Peter Hooton of The Farm, in order to raise money for various charities associated with the Hillsborough disaster. Covering the classic Hollies track was an inspired choice, and it would be difficult to not be moved by this, whatever your thoughts on charity songs.

The Worst:

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Matt Cardle – When We Collide (2010): Shock, horror – it’s another X Factor song! Matt Cardle won the seventh series and released a cover of rock band Biffy Clyro’s Many of Horror and renamed it, for some reason. That’s the most interesting thing I can say about this leaden waste of time.

The Best UK Christmas Number 1 Ever is…

Slade – Merry Xmas Everybody (1973): I predicted this would win beforehand, but I didn’t predict just how many non-festive songs it would be up against, so Noddy, Dave, Don and Jim almost won by default. That’s not to take anything away from their win though. If it wasn’t for their chart battle with Wizzard, would the Christmas number 1 be the annual event it still is today? Possibly not. Back in 1973, the UK was going through a rough ride, with strikes and power cuts, and Merry Xmas Everybody brought some light back into (literally) dark times. 44 years later, we need this song more than ever.

The Worst UK Christmas Number 1 Ever is…

Westlife – I Have a Dream/Seasons in the Sun (1999): I think I made my feelings on this clear earlier, but even thinking about the damage it did to my ears is making me angry all over again. Pop music at it’s very dreariest, and far more offensive than any of the novelty hits I’ve had to suffer. I expected my lowest-rated song to be from the X Factor conveyor belt, but I feel some degree of sympathy towards those artists involved. It’s the man behind them that’s the true villain of chart music.

The Outro

Well, that was quite an experience. Yes, you could argue putting myself through every Christmas number 1, only to ultimately rediscover my love for Slade and hatred for Westlife, was pointless, but, despite my forlorn face above, and lots of moaning within this feature, it’s made for a fascinating experience. Tracing the Christmas number 1s from the inception of the charts has been like following the history of pop itself, which is after all what this site is all about. And no number 1 single better captures the eccentricities of the record-buying public than the Christmas number 1, throwing some real curveballs in there. Of course, listening to a history of pop like this has highlighted how far chart music has fallen over the last few decades. But there is still some hope for the future. And while this four-hour-plus experience has left me somewhat scarred, I’m already wondering if next year I should make my way through every UK Christmas number 2… Maybe I have developed a form of musical Stockholm Syndrome?

Of course, everyone’s entitled to an opinion… why not tell me yours? Feel free to shout me down and leave a comment in the box below the list.

Every UK Christmas Number 1 (1952-2016) 

1952: Al Martino – Here in My Heart
1953: Frankie Laine with Paul Weston & His Orchestra – Answer Me
1954: Winifred Atwell & Her ‘Other’ Piano – Let’s Have Another Party
1955: Dickie Valentine with Johnny Douglas & His Orchestra – Christmas Alphabet
1956: Johnnie Ray – Just Walkin’ in the Rain
1957: Harry Belafonte – Mary’s Boy Child
1958: Conway Twitty: It’s Only Make Believe
1959: Emile Ford and the Checkmates – What Do You Want to Make Those Eyes at Me For?
1960: Cliff Richard and The Shadows – I Love You
1961: Danny Williams – Moon River
1962: Elvis Presley – Return to Sender
1963: The Beatles – I Want to Hold Your Hand
1964: The Beatles – I Feel Fine
1965: The Beatles – Day Tripper/We Can Work It Out
1966: Tom Jones: Green Green Grass of Home
1967: The Beatles – Hello Goodbye
1968: The Scaffold – Lily the Pink
1969: Rolf Harris – Two Little Boys
1970: Dave Edmunds – I Hear You Knocking
1971: Benny Hill – Ernie (The Fastest Milkman in the West)
1972: Donny Osmond – Long Haired Lover from Liverpool
1973: Slade – Merry Xmas Everybody
1974: Mud – Lonely This Christmas
1975: Queen – Bohemian Rhapsody
1976: Johnny Mathis – When a Child Is Born (Soleado)
1977: Wings – Mull of Kintyre/Girls School
1978: Boney M – Mary’s Boy Child – Oh My Lord
1979: Pink Floyd – Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)
1980: St Winifred’s School Choir – There’s No One Quite Like Grandma
1981: The Human League – Don’t You Want Me
1982: Renée and Renato – Save Your Love
1983: The Flying Pickets – Only You
1984: Band Aid – Do They Know It’s Christmas?
1985: Shakin’ Stevens – Merry Christmas Everyone
1986: Jackie Wilson – Reet Petite
1987: Pet Shop Boys – Always on My Mind
1988: Cliff Richard – Mistletoe and Wine
1989: Band Aid II – Do They Know It’s Christmas?
1990: Cliff Richard – Saviour’s Day
1991: Queen – Bohemian Rhapsody/These Are the Days of Our Lives
1992: Whitney Houston – I Will Always Love You
1993: Mr Blobby – Mr Blobby
1994: East 17 – Stay Another Day
1995: Michael Jackson – Earth Song
1996: Spice Girls – 2 Become 1
1997: Spice Girls – Too Much
1998: Spice Girls – Goodbye
1999: Westlife – I Have a Dream/Seasons in the Sun
2000: Bob the Builder – Can We Fix It?
2001: Robbie Williams and Nicole Kidman – Something Stupid
2002: Girls Aloud – Sound of the Underground
2003: Michael Andrews and Gary Jules – Mad World
2004: Band Aid 20: Do They Know It’s Christmas?
2005: Shayne Ward – That’s My Goal
2006: Leona Lewis – A Moment Like This
2007: Leon Jackson – When You Believe
2008: Alexandra Burke – Hallelujah
2009: Rage Against the Machine – Killing in the Name Of
2010: Matt Cardle – When We Collide
2011: Military Wives with Gareth Malone – Wherever You Are
2012: The Justice Collective – He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother
2013: Sam Bailey – Skyscraper
2014: Ben Haenow – Something I Need
2015: Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Choir – A Bridge Over You
2016: Clean Bandit featuring Sean Paul and Anne-Marie – Rockabye