Novelty Run Amok

I’ve written before (here and here) about the British phenomenon of the Christmas Number One, which is such a big deal over there that bookies take bets on what it will be. (The odds-on favorite this year is whatever wins the American Idol-like TV show X Factor, which has taken the top spot on each of the last two years.) Despite having given the world the Beatles, British pop taste is prone to breakdowns of taste even more egregious than those in America, and no sample shows it better than the list of Christmas Number Ones.

In 2000, the theme from the kids’ TV show Bob the Builder, “Can We Fix It?,” took the prize, only to be voted one of the 100 worst singles of all time by British voters two years later. It’s miles better than 1993’s Christmas Number One, though. That year, Mr. Blobby, another British TV character, topped the charts with a song called “Mr. Blobby,” which is horrific enough to make one sorry we helped them beat the Germans.

At Christmas 1980, the world was mourning John Lennon, but even his memory wasn’t enough to stop “No One Quite Like Grandma” by the St. Winifred School Choir. This bunch of primary-school kids knocked “(Just Like) Starting Over” from the top spot, only to be dethroned two weeks later by Lennon’s “Imagine.” In 1972, Jimmy Osmond’s “Long-Haired Lover From Liverpool” was the Christmas Number One. Although it’s not strictly a novelty song, it sucks like one.

George Harrison is said to have remarked that Monty Python kept the spirit of the Beatles alive in the 1970s, but the Pythons couldn’t match the chart success of Benny Hill, whose “Ernie (Fastest Milkman in the West)” was the Christmas Number One in 1971. In 1968, a Beatle relative —Paul’s brother Mike McGear and his band, the Scaffold—reached Number One at Christmas with “Lily the Pink,” a record that’s so British that it’s almost incomprehensible to American ears.

In defense of British taste, the Robbie Williams/Nicole Kidman cover of “Something Stupid” from 2001 is better than it has a right to be. And the Beatles did have the Christmas Number One four times: “I Want to Hold Your Hand” in 1963, “I Feel Fine” in 1964, the two-sided Number One “Day Tripper” and “We Can Work it Out” in 1965, and “Hello Goodbye” in 1967. “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen has claimed the prize twice, in 1975 and again in 1991. Pink Floyd had one (“Another Brick in the Wall,” 1979); so did Elvis (“Return to Sender,” 1962). Nevertheless, I’m not sure anything can make up for “Mr. Blobby.” But let’s give the 1970 Christmas Number One a shot.

“I Hear You Knocking”/Dave Edmunds (buy it here)