I’ve long thought that finishing second is the worst place to be. You win, you’re a hero. If you come third, you can chill on the podium, cigarette in hand laughing at your luck. Even if you come last you can still turn into an Eddie The Eagle like hero, dining out for years on your mediocrity.
My viewpoint changed suddenly in on Sunday, July 8th 2012. Andy Murray, my favourite sportsman of the last decade lost a heartbreaking Wimbledon final to Roger Federer. Prior to this match Murray had been a pariah in the press, frequently lambasted and criticised for everything from his personality to his haircut.
In his post match interview, Murray gave a heartbreaking interview, speaking with raw and genuine emotion that the majority of the British public had never seen before. He broke down in tears, apologising for his performance and promising to come back stronger next year, which he duly did.
It was after the match and interview that the truth finally dawned on me. The British public love a loser, in sport, and definitely in relation to Christmas songs. Throughout this countdown I have written about countless Christmas number two hits that would have been worthy number ones. For that reason, number two in this countdown is the best Christmas number two songs of all time.
Some of the tracks in this top ten were number one hits at some point, but not in the crucial Christmas week where perhaps they would have been more deserving.
So who are the Arsenal’s, the Frank Bruno’s, the Ed Miliband’s of the Christmas charts? Read on…
10. Build Me Up Buttercup by The Foundations
Number two in 1968 behind Lily The Pink by The Scaffold. It’s a scientific fact that Build Me Up Buttercup is one of the most cheerful, upbeat songs ever written. It’s in the echelon with tracks like Move On Up by Curtis Mayfield or Can’t Touch This by MC Hammer that just make you want to dance and sing as soon as you hear the opening bars.
9. JCB Song by Nizlopi
Number two in 2005 behind That’s My Goal by Shayne Ward. Despite Shayne Ward behind my favourite X Factor winner ever, there is something so sickly sentimental in JCB Song that just hits my emotions every single time I listen to it. These lads are the classic example of one hit wonders, but when better to have your hit than during the Christmas period?
8. Especially For You by Jason Donovan and Kylie Minogue
Number two in 1988 behind Mistletoe And Wine by Cliff Richard. Cliff was a worthy number one, but Especially For You is one of the best ballads of the eighties, sung beautifully by the two Australian neighbours. This is the bestselling Stoke Aitken Waterman single ever, which considering the fact that the trio penned 13 number one singles is a sign of its everlasting wonderment.
7. Caravan Of Love by The Housemartins
Number two in 1986 behind Reet Petite by Jackie Wilson. Reet Petite is a song with a great story – its success upon release in 1957 helped Berry Gordy fund the legendary Motown label. By 1986 however, singer Jackie Wilson was three years dead, but Reet Petite saw a resurgance in popular due to a clay animation video featuring the song which had aired on BBC2.
The Housemartins featured Paul Heaton on vocals who later went on to be the focal point of The Beautiful South, and Normal Cook on bass who went on to become Fatboy Slim. Caravan Of Love was an a capella version of a Christian R&B song which had achieved popularity a year earlier in America. This song was better the 1984 Christmas number one which was another a capella song, a cover of Only You by The Flying Pickets.
A very strong top two with a duo of great songs, but I feel The Housemartins deserved it a little more, for injecting a little bit of new gospel into the charts, rather than Wilson’s song which was nearly 30 years old at the time.
6. I Believe In Father Christmas by Greg Lake
Number two in 1975 behind Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen. It’s hard to begrudge Queen being number one, but Greg Lake’s anthem was a worthy runner up. The music and vocals were by Lake, who had reached fame in the seventies for being involved in prog rock bands like King Crimson and Emerson, Lake & Palmer, so the quiet and contemplative acoustic sound of this record.
The lyrics were penned by Peter Sinfield who was also a founding member of King Crimson. Lake spoke of the song as a protest against the commercialism of Christmas, while Sinfield maintained it was instead about a loss of innocence and childhood beliefs.
Regardless, it’s a striking song, and is still played frequently on the radio and television to this day, with the video a moving and powerful film showing the horrors of the world, and I’m not just talking about Lake’s haircut in it.
5. Last Christmas by Wham
Number two in 1984 behind Do They Know It’s Christmas by Band Aid. As mentioned in the last entry, Last Christmas was a true phenomenon in terms of sales when released, and to this day is the best selling single that never reached the top spot in chart history.
George Michael and to a much lesser extent Andrew Ridgely both featured on the Band Aid track, so both enjoyed roles in the top two tracks in the Christmas charts of 1984. Wham also donated the royalties of the track to the Ethiopian appeal that Band Aid had started, so everybody won out, except the band’s bank manager.
It also has to be stated just how great George Michael’s hair was in the video, very much like a prime Princess Diana.
4. All I Want For Christmas Is You by Mariah Carey
Number two in 1994 behind Stay Another Day by East 17. It’s hard to argue against Stay Another Day beating this, but both are fantastic songs, and two certainly have a case for the best duo of Christmas songs at the top of any festive charts.
This is one of the most popular Christmas songs of recent time, a staple in karaoke bars and reality TV shows the world over. The truth is, nobody sings it like Mariah, and let’s be honest, very few have ever looked as good as her in Christmas apparel.
3. The Millennium Prayer by Cliff Richard
Number two in 1999 behind I Have A Dream/Seasons In The Sun by Westlife. The king of Christmas started this countdown with Saviour’s Day, so it only seems right to give him the props yet again. The Millenium Prayer was absolutely dreadful, using the words of The Lord’s Prayer to the tune of Auld Lang Syne. It’s every bit as bad as it sounds, but there is still a hint of charm there.
This song was Cliff’s attempt at having a number one record in six decades, and indeed was number one for two weeks in December 1999, and was the best selling single of 1999. Alas, it didn’t have the legs to reach Christmas number one and thus become number one into 2000, with Westlife getting the last number one of the millennium thus denying Cliff the joy of six, something that seems to have eluded him his entire life.
Incidentally, the first new number one of the 21st century and the new millennium? The Masses Against The Classes by Manic Street Preachers.
2. Fairytale Of New York by The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl.
Number two in 1987 behind Always On My Mind by The Pet Shop Boys. So much has been written about this song, so many documentaries, and so many covers of it in recent time. In short, this was a masterpiece, one of the best songs, never mind duets of all time, fantastic vocals from both Shane and Kirsty, as well as a symphony in the background that would have made Beethoven’s deafness to be eradicated out of pure joy had he ever had it.
It’s at number two in this list, because it needs to be there to remind people that if you let mediocrity swim, then it won’t last. The very idea that the tawdry and creepy cover of Always On My Mind by Pet Shop Boys was number one ahead of this is disgusting. Pet Shop Boys had some great songs, their cover of one of the standards in music definitely isn’t one of them.
1. Christmas Time (Don’t Let The Bells End) by The Darkness
Number two in 2003 behind Mad Word by Michael Andrews and Gary Jules. In 2003 The Darkness were one of the biggest bands in the country, and capitalised on that success with an outrageously cheesy and fantastic Christmas single which finished behind the most depressing Christmas number one of all time, apart from that Leon Jackson atrocity.
It’s number one in this chart because it’s the last time a band had the balls to try and make people care about the festive charts by releasing a self penned song celebrating the craziness of Christmas. Like The Pogues are at number two to remind people that greatness always wins out in the end, this is number one to give hope to people out there, that the dream of Christmas success can still be achieved, and it’s especially useful if you have falsetto’s, dueling guitars, and a Christmas choir.
What a bloody list, arguably the majority of these tracks are better than 90% of the Christmas number ones. Check in tomorrow for the reveal of the number one Christmas number one in my Christmas number one countdown.
Here’s a clue:
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