There is so much kudos attached to the UK’s Christmas number one single. It guarantees a place in pop folklore. But what of the songs that didn’t quite make it to the top in time for Christmas Day? Here’s a selection of the records to find themselves in the unenviable position of No.2 on Christmas Day. Be prepared to be surprised.
Selected Christmas No.2 singles:
1955 – Bill Haley & His Comets “Rock Around the Clock”
Dickie Valentine’s syrupy “Christmas Alphabet” kept this legendary song off top spot – but either side of Christmas, “Rock Around the Clock” spent six weeks at number one. It re-entered the charts in September 1956, 1968 and 1974 and was the UK’s first million selling single.
1960 – Elvis Presley “It’s Now or Never”
The King was denied by Cliff Richard, who in this period was Britain’s answer to Elvis. Cliff and The Shadows hit the top with “I Love You”. Presley would secure his only Christmas No.1 in 1962.
1963 – The Beatles “She Loves You”
The Beatles were number one this year anyway with “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and remain the only group to fill the top two places on the charts at Christmas – a feat they repeated in 1967.
1964 – Petula Clark “Downtown”
Poor Pet couldn’t contend with Beatles power. But she could console herself with a chart-topping success with this song in the USA in January 1965. After which, I bet she felt fine.
1972 – Chuck Berry “My Ding-a-ling”
Little Jimmy Osmond topped the pile, so the lyrically suggestive and controversial Chuck Berry song was denied its Christmas No. 1 billing – much to the relief of British morality campaigner Mary Whitehouse, who tried and failed to get the song banned. In spite of – and maybe because of – the protests it did reach number one on both sides of the Atlantic.
1975 – Greg Lake “I Believe in Father Christmas”
Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” prevented a third successive Christmas No.1 with “Christmas” in the title. That would have been a UK charts first. To this day, the “Christmas title” hat trick has never materialised.
1977 – Brighouse & Rastrick Brass Band “Floral Dance”
No brass band has ever had a Christmas No.1. This famous Yorkshire ensemble came closest – only to be denied by Paul McCartney’s Wings and “Mull of Kintyre”.
1978 – The Village People “YMCA”
Boney M’s reworking of “Mary’s Boy Child” edged out the song that many, in a perhaps more innocent time, failed to grasp was a gay anthem.
1979 – ABBA “I Have a Dream”
For all their numerous hits, ABBA never had a Christmas No.1 single. They did, however, have two chart-topping Christmas albums. Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)” kept them at bay in the UK singles chart this Christmas.
1982 – Shakin’ Stevens “Blue Christmas” (EP)
Shaky was thwarted by the chubby, moustachioed, Italian-in-a-sweater Ronato and his curious blonde sidekick Renee. They warbled the dreadful “Save Your Love”. But Stevens would rebound from the blues with the 1985 Christmas No.1.
1984 – Wham! “Last Christmas/”Everything She Wants”
Wham!’s misfortune was to release their only Christmas single at the time Band Aid came to be. “Last Christmas” remains the best-selling festive song not to be number one on Christmas Day. George Michael at least led some of the vocals on “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” and remains the only artist to occupy the top two chart places at Christmas with two different groups. “Last Christmas” finally took top spot in the UK chart just after Christmas 2020. Still not a Christmas No.1, but number one nonetheless.
1987 – The Pogues feat. Kirsty MacColl “Fairytale of New York”
Pet Shop Boys took top spot and, decent as their version of “Always On My Mind” might be, it remains a Christmas travesty that “Fairytale of New York” has never been UK Christmas No. 1.
1988 – Jason Donovan & Kylie Minogue “Especially For You”
Kylie is one of the pop superstars never to enjoy a solo Christmas No.1 – and was denied in duet mode with her then boyfriend Jason Donovan by Cliff’s “Mistletoe and Wine”. Kylie and Jason did, however, contribute to Band Aid II’s chart-topper in 1989.
1990 – Vanilla Ice “Ice Ice Baby”
Cliff’s “Saviour’s Day” to the rescue, otherwise Vanilla Ice would be on the UK Christmas charts roll of honour. Vanilla Ice’s real name is Robert Van Winkle.
1993 – Take That “Babe”
Take That have not had a Christmas No.1 single – and were kept off the top this year by none other than Mr Blobby. “Babe” had knocked Blobby off top spot earlier in December, only for the pink creature with yellow spots to return to number one for Christmas. It was the first time a song had left and then returned to number one since 1968. Take That would also sit at No. 2 in the Christmas charts of 2006, denied by X Factor winner Leona Lewis. I’m sure the irony isn’t lost on Gary Barlow, who went on to be a judge on the show. Don’t bemoan their singles misfortune for long, however, because Take That have enjoyed three Christmas No.1 albums.
1994 & 2020 – Mariah Carey “All I Want for Christmas Is You”
East 17 pulled off the Christmas coup of keeping Mariah off top spot by adding bells galore to the backing track of “Stay Another Day” in 1984 – along with furry parkas and snow to their video. Carey can take some consolation from the fact her tune annually re-enters the festive charts and is considered a Christmas classic in the UK and the US…and that she would eventually reach number one with this song in both countries. In the UK it happened in the second week of December in 2020, fully 26 years after its initial release and in its 70th week on the chart. However, it did not hang on to top spot for Christmas week. This time, Mariah was denied the Christmas No.1 by LadBaby and his latest sausage roll parody.
1997 – Teletubbies “Teletubbies say ‘Eh-oh!!’”
Another of those novelty bids for number one – thwarted by the Spice Girls in a way Take That couldn’t manage with Mr Blobby. Must be “Too Much” girl power.
1998 – Chef “Chocolate Salty Balls”
Another no to novelty – courtesy of a “Goodbye” from those pesky Spice Girls. Chef is a character from the expletive-ridden animated series “South Park”.
1999 – Cliff Richard “Millennium Prayer”
“Millennium Prayer” would hit the top – just not in time for Christmas. That honour went to “I Have a Dream” by Irish boy band Westlife: their only Christmas No.1 single. Cliff was denied his fourth. He also sang on Band Aid II’s number one in 1989, which means he was part of the Christmas No.1 three years in a row. Incredibly, Cliff has also been Christmas No. 2 on four occasions – more than any other artist.
2003 – The Darkness “Christmas Time (Don’t Let the Bells End)”
There had been no out-and-out Christmas record at No. 1 on Christmas Day since “Saviour’s Day” in 1990. The Darkness were set to change that until a remake of Tears For Fears’ “Mad World” grew an unstoppable following.
2005 – Nizlopi “JCB Song”
“JCB Song” was number one the week before Christmas. And then there was…Simon Cowell. This could have been the year would-be makers of Christmas novelty records realised they could not match the X Factor juggernaut. Shayne Ward was the programme’s first Christmas chart-topper with “That’s My Goal”. By 2007, British bookmakers decided Christmas No.1 was such a foregone conclusion because of the X Factor that they instead took bets on Christmas No.2.
2008 – Jeff Buckley “Hallelujah”
The X Factor on top again with Alexandra Burke’s “Hallelujah” – but in this new world of downloads, her success triggered interest in other versions. The late Jeff Buckley took the number two berth with his 1994 track and Leonard Cohen’s original appeared at number 36. It was the first time in 51 years that the same song occupied the first two places in the UK charts.
2009 – Joe McElderry “The Climb”
A backlash against a procession of X Factor Christmas No.1s saw a social media campaign back Rage Against the Machine’s 1997 track “Killing in the Name” – for many, the loud, explicit and angry antithesis to manufactured X Factor winners. Joe McElderry paid the price, although would reach number one the following week.
2013 – Pharrell Williams “Happy”
X Factor power restored. After two years of missing out on top spot at Christmas – Little Mix in 2011 and James Arthur in 2012 – Sam Bailey took the honours from the current chart supremo Pharrell with “Skyscraper”. The gifted Mr. Williams was number one the following week and stayed there well into 2014.
2015 – Justin Bieber “Love Yourself”
Pop superstar Justin Bieber put his weight behind a charity song, asking his own fans to buy that single and make it Christmas No.1 instead of his own track “Love Yourself”. It worked. Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Choir’s “Bridge Over You” took top spot, with Bieber at two. Justin’s kind gesture was rewarded in early January 2016 as he became the first artist ever to simultaneously occupy the top three places in the UK charts.
Elf Helper: Click here to visit our Christmas Number Ones page for a complete list of UK No.1 singles.