RSS Feed
Dec 26

Charts – 23 December 2016

Posted on Monday, December 26, 2016 by Paul in Music

Ah, Christmas.  I’m determined to clear some of my reviews backlog over the coming days, but this is the chart with the 2016 Christmas number one, so I’d better do it while it’s still vaguely topical.  If you haven’t seen the link already, though, do look below for the nominations thread for the Homies!

But first…

1.  Clean Bandit – “Rockabye”

And that’s your 2016 Christmas number 1.  Since it’s spending its seventh week at the top, and its sales (even the notional figure including streaming) are nothing special by the standards of the Christmas chart, you could see this as a bit of an anticlimax.  But really it’s the anticlimax that’s the story here.  What’s happening here is basically the failure of the usual Christmas number 1 circus to occur.

For generations, the British have got it into their collective head that the Christmas number 1 is in some way significant.  Unless something especially odd happens, it’s the one chart of the year that gets news coverage.  You can bet on it.  The idea seems to have taken root partly because it did tend to one of the biggest sales weeks of the year (with present-buying a factor), and partly the 1970s saw a run of Christmas number 1s that were all at least memorable… in one way or another.  The transition to Making A Statement with the Christmas number 1 arguably comes in 1984 with Band Aid.  But for the last decade plus, the Christmas slot has been dominated by X Factor winning singles, online campaigns against the X Factor winning singles, and charity releases.

So it’s a surprise, to put it mildly, to see the Christmas number one slot going to a record that could have been number one at any time of year, and indeed was.  Those are precisely the sort of records that don’t traditionally get to number one at Christmas – not in the Cowell era, and only intermittently before.

Consider the complete list of Christmas number ones.  The first Christmas-themed singles actually come in the 50s – “Christmas Alphabet” by Dickie Valentine in 1955 and “Mary’s Boy Child” by Harry Belafonte in 1957 – but it’s pretty much business as usual through to 1967, with people like the Beatles, Elvis Presley and Tom Jones showing up.  But after 1968 there’s a sharp turn towards novelty hits.

That there is the Christmas number one of 1968: “Lily The Pink” by the Scaffold.  It was followed in 1969 by Rolf Harris’s “Two Little Boys”, and 1971 had Benny Hill’s “Ernie (The Fastest Milkman In The West)”.  1972 was “Long Haired Lover From Liverpool” by Jimmy Osmond.  Those X Factor singles aren’t seeming so bad right now, are they?  The mid-70s see a big lurch up in quality but a move towards the specifically Christmas-themed: “Merry Xmas Everybody” by Slade in 1973, “Lonely This Christmas” by Mud in 1974, “When A Child Is Born (Soleado)” by Johnny Mathis in 1976, and “Mary’s Boy Child – Oh My Lord” by Boney M in 1978.

And those two themes dominated through to the X Factor era.  The novelties: “There’s No One Quite Like Grandma” by the St Winifred’s School Choir from 1980.  “Save Your Love” by Renée and Renato in 1982.  An acapella version of “Only You” by the Flying Pickets in 1983 (a borderline inclusion in this category, but certainly not typical chart fodder).  A reissue of “Reet Petite” by Jackie Wilson with a comedy video in 1986.  “Mr Blobby” in 1993.  “Can We Fix It?” by Bob The Builder in 2000.  “Somethin’ Stupid” by Robbie Williams & Nicole Kidman in 2001.  “Mad World” by Michael Andrews & Gary Jules in 2003  (again, not intended as a novelty record but an oddity in chart terms).

The Christmassy, or at least dressed up as such for promotional purposes: “Do They Know It’s Christmas” in 1984, and again in 1989, and again in 2004 (the last year before X Factor domination begins).  Cliff Richard with “Mistletoe & Wine” in 1988 and “Saviour’s Day” in 1990.  “Stay Another Day” by East 17 in 1994 (not a Christmas song, but explicitly promoted as such anyway).

The common theme to both these lists, of course, is that neither of them bears the slightest resemblance what was regularly charting in their respective years.  Which is why the backlash against the X Factor wasn’t really about reclaiming the Christmas number one for “real music”, despite what some people claimed.  It was about reclaiming it for other sorts of random nonsense and dislodging a monopoly.

That said, between 1970 and 1999, there were still some completely normal songs which did make Christmas number one, and it’s this list which Clean Bandit now joins.  (2002 is something of a transitional case – “Sound of the Underground” by Girls Aloud, their winners’ single from Popstars: The Rivals, but released before reality domination took hold, and a record which could credibly have been a number one at any time.)  The list is, on the whole, a pretty good one:

So that’s 12 basically normal Christmas numbers 1s in a thirty year stretch, followed by none at all this century.  Hence Clean Bandit coming as a surprise.

A big factor here is the inclusion of streaming data in the charts.  Reality show singles, charity singles and campaign downloads are all hobbled by this because they have one thing in common: people don’t buy those records in order to listen to them, and so they get no traction on the streaming services.  And indeed, if this had been a purely sales based chart, things would have been different – but not as much as you’d think.  Clean Bandit would not have been number 1 – but “Human” by Rag’n’Bone Man would, and that’s a record in the same category.

And below that… Little Mix.  In fact, none of this year’s charity releases made the top ten even on the sales charts.  Perhaps there were too many for the public to coalesce around any particular one.  Perhaps the cause just wasn’t there this year.  The one that did best was the London Hospices Choir version of “The Living Years”, which made 12 on sales, but lands at 81 on the combined chart.

Two download campaigns would have made the top 10 on sales.  Rangers fans were buying “Glad All Over” by the Dave Clark Five – a number 1 for two weeks in 1964 – because they’re using it as a terrace song right now.  It made number 4 on pure sales, and lands at 31 on the combined chart.  And “Saturn 5” by the Inspiral Carpets, as a tribute to recently deceased drummer Craig Gill, would have made number 7 on pure sales…

…but winds up at 48 on the combined chart.  (It got to 20 on release in 1994, and the band’s biggest hit remains “Dragging Me Down”, which got to number 2 in 1994.)  Is it a bad thing that this stuff is now being screened out of the top 40?  Depends what you think the chart is there for.  If it’s meant to be measuring actual popularity, then arguably screening out the disproportionate effect of download campaigns is a good thing.

Also on this week’s singles chart (there’s nothing to report on the album chart):

  • “Human” by Rag’N’Bone Man climbs to 2, and must be on course to be the next number 1.
  • “Touch” by Little Mix jumps from 23 to 4.
  • “All I Want For Christmas Is You” by Mariah Carey is up to 5, continuing its highest run in years.
  • “I Would Like” by Zara Larsson climbs to 6, entering the top 10.
  • “Fairytale of New York” by the Pogues featuring Kirsty MacColl reaches this year’s peak at 15.
  • “Last Christmas” by Wham! makes it to 16, its highest position since 2007 – this one obviously might stick around next week, but that’s a story for another time.
  • “Merry Christmas Everyone” by Shakin’ Stevens climbs to 22, again its highest position since 2007.
  • “Driving Home For Christmas” by Chris Rea climbs to 26, for a new all-time chart peak.
  • “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday” by Wizzard climbs to 27, matching last year’s peak.
  • “Glad All Over” by the Dave Clark Five re-enters at 31; see above.
  • “Do They Know It’s Christmas” by Band Aid re-enters at 35; it was last in the chart in 2012.
  • “It’s Beginning To Look a Lot Like Christmas” by Michael Bublé re-enters at 38, again for a new chart peak.
  • “Merry Xmas Everybody” by Slade re-enters at 39, another of the crop not seen since 2012.

Bring on the comments

  1. Joe S. Walker says:

    If “Last Christmas” does jump up next week’s chart, won’t it be rather inappropriate? “Young Guns Go For It” would be a better tribute.

Leave a Reply