1952 was a momentous year for the UK: not only was it the year of a new queen, but the UK’s first-ever number one was crowned, and it just happened to be at Christmas. Al Martino reached the new peak of success with his ballad ‘Here in My Heart’, and from that point, stars have been vying to get that all-important number one.
But is there a recipe for success at this festive time? Well, in short, no. According to recently completed analysis that has analysed the lyrics of every Christmas number one from 1952 to 2019, the top themes are love, with 183 mentions, and time, with 118. Interestingly, the word Christmas doesn’t even break the top three, with 104 mentions, and other festive words such as Santa, Jesus, and Christ have only five mentions across all Christmas chart-toppers.
Whilst pop has dominated, there was some backlash against the X-Factors monopoly in the early noughties, and Rage Against the X-Factor campaign took the decidedly unchristmassy ‘Killing in the Name’ to the number one spot.
Whitney Houston’s ‘I Will Always Love You’ became a Christmas number one and is the top-selling Christmas single from a solo female artist, and Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ is the only song to have reached the number one spot twice; once when it was released in 1975 and again in 1991 after the lead singer’s death. Neither of these singles is particularly festive, and yet captured the hearts, and ears, of the British public.
The research shows that the 1980s was the most Christmassy decade in relation to its Christmas number ones. The word ‘Christmas’ was referenced a whopping 52 times (50% of the overall mentions across all the decades analysed), and there were other festive mentions such as ‘mistletoe’, which appeared 8 times. It was also the decade of BandAid, with the festive classic ‘Do they know it’s Christmas’ flying off the shelves in its millions. The 1980s was also the decade of ‘Merry Christmas Everyone’; it doesn’t get much more Christmassy than that!
Conversely, the 1960s was the least Christmassy decade, with successful entries from the Beatles, with no mention of Christmas or other festivities, and was the first time a novelty song, ‘Lily the Pink’ by Scaffold, featured in the charts.
Successful Christmas number ones have been less about Christmas, and more about universal themes of love, acceptance and hope, as well as capturing the mood and feeling of the country.