One of the major traditions of British pop music is the annual national guessing game over what will be the Number One single on Christmas Day. British bookies even take bets on it–but not this year, because it’s been a foregone conclusion for months (officially confirmed this week) that Band Aid 20’s new version of “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” would grab the honor. This isn’t the second time that song has topped the British charts on Christmas Day–it’s the third; in addition to the 1984 original, there was a new version in 1989. The Beatles, Queen, Cliff Richard, Whitney Houston, and the Spice Girls have topped the British charts more than once on Christmas (Queen twice with “Bohemian Rhapsody”). Often the Christmas Number One is a novelty song, like the Bob the Builder TV theme song in 2000. In 2001, a duet between Robbie Williams (an absolute superstar over there who hasn’t made a ripple in the States) and Nicole Kidman was Number One. I can’t decide if that’s a novelty record or not.
In Britain, the Christmas Number One has been a Christmas-themed song on eight or nine occasions, depending on which chart you consult, since the British record industry began publishing charts in 1952. Going back to 1890, the beginning of recording history in the U.S., the American charts have been topped by a Christmas-themed song only seven times, and only twice on Christmas Day itself. In 1948, Spike Jones’ “All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth,” was Number One, and in 1958, there was “The Chipmunk Song.” Jimmy Boyd’s putrid 1952 novelty, “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” hit the top on the chart dated December 27, 1952. As for Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas,” it had three different runs at the top, at Christmas of 1942, 1945, and 1946, but never held the top spot on 12/25 itself. The seventh Christmas record to reach Number One is a bit of a ringer–Vaughn Monroe’s recording of “Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow,” which is not directly about Christmas but has come to be considered a Christmas song, was a hit at Christmas 1946, but didn’t reach Number One until January 1947.