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The Race For Christmas Number One – Does Anybody Really Care?

Sunday, 11 December 2011 Written by Rob Sleigh


Two years ago, chart history was made when, after a four-year occupation by The X Factor, a Facebook campaign ended the hit TV show’s reign on the Christmas Number One spot by persuading over half-a-million people to go out and purchase an unlikely contender – Rage Against The Machine’s ‘Killing In The Name’. It only kept Joe McElderry’s cover of ‘The Climb’ by Miley Cyrus from the top spot for one week, but that was enough to claim that year’s Christmas Number One and become the most successful campaign of its kind.

Rage Against The Machine’s first-ever Christmas Number One was seen as a coup of epic proportions, not to mention a victory for rock music over pop. Even hardcore fans of the LA quartet couldn’t deny feeling just a tiny bit proud of this dubious accomplishment. However, just one year later, Simon Cowell and co were back to reclaim their rightful place at the top of the chart. In addition to snatching the Christmas Number One back from those meddling rock fans, the award-winning talent show added insult to injury by borrowing one of their own beloved songs for the same purpose – Biffy Clyro’s ‘Many of Horror’.

Later this month, the race for the Christmas Number One is due to begin once again and, as usual, there are a few potential winners waiting hopefully at the start line. Fighting for the rock corner this year is, of course, Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ – a respectable contender, celebrating the 20th anniversary of its original release. Also in the running are the Military Wives from BBC’s ‘The Choir’, whose bid ‘Wherever You Are’ has also gained a great deal of public support. Others include 10-year-old Arianna Morgan with her own version of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Songbird’, the cast of ‘The Only Way is Essex’ and Ricky Gervais’s mate Karl Pilkington with Chas N Dave. As The X Factor’s ratings have been seen to be dwindling somewhat since the start of the latest series, there’s a good chance that any one of these contenders – or even one of the many outsiders – could end up at the top of the chart for Christmas. But probably the most important question here is… does anybody really care?

Of course, some of this year’s hopefuls are trying to raise money for a chosen charity or even offering proceeds to an equally good cause. In these cases, it would be difficult to argue that they aren’t worthy of this kind of promotion and that they don’t deserve any resulting success. But for those hoping to keep The X Factor from the Christmas Number One - is either outcome really that important? If TV talent shows aren’t really your thing then it’s also likely that the pop charts – and the Christmas Number One in particular – probably aren’t for you either. Over the years, rock music fans have intentionally steered clear of singles in general, opting to get their money’s worth with the purchase of whole albums instead. A well-placed position in the singles chart has rarely been seen as an important goal for most rock bands, with some even avoiding singles releases altogether.

This year’s winner will have the honour of being the 60th Christmas Number One since the inception of the chart back in the ‘50s. Take a quick look at its history and, apart from a few notable exceptions, you won’t find many credible festive chart-toppers. Bob the Builder, Mr Blobby, Cliff Richard, the Spice Girls, Westlife, Cliff Richard… For the most part, it’s far from a pretty sight, and certainly not the place for any respectable rock music. Face it - the Christmas Number One belongs to pop.

That 2009 Facebook campaign proved, as Rage Against The Machine themselves were keen to point out, that if enough people get together to achieve something, the possibilities are endless. Another bonus in that particular example, of course, was that the LA band’s on-off career was revived once again for a number of UK dates, including their well-received free concert in London’s Finsbury Park, which they organised as a thank-you to their British, single-buying fans. However, anyone hoping for a similar response from Nirvana probably needs to do their research.

ImageIt was great to see a rock song claim the Christmas Number One in 2009, if only for the novelty value, and it will be equally impressive to see Nirvana do the same this year. However, if similar campaigns are going to keep cropping up year after year, the satisfaction that many of us experienced the first time around is going to wear thin quicker than The X Factor’s ratings. On the other hand, the race for the Christmas Number One has been going on long before Simon Cowell had any involvement, and if these social networking campaigns can help to keep things interesting and take the control away from the music industry moguls then maybe they can’t be a bad thing.

The problem is that, in the end, it’s those pop music fat cats that always seem to come out on top. By promoting a bit of seemingly healthy competition, we’re also improving the chances of those we set out to defeat by encouraging their supporters to retaliate in droves. Although Rage Against The Machine and the Facebook campaign’s many followers managed to kick Joe McElderry’s ass royally in 2009, it’s likely that the 18-year-old X Factor winner ended up selling more singles than he might have done had the battle not taken place. That’s how competition works – even the loser comes out a winner.

So, if you’re hoping to see a particular song get to Christmas Number One this year, then by all means buy it. As previously-mentioned, several of the potential winners are doing it for a good cause, so there are definitely a few credible reasons for taking part. However, if you’d just like to see The X Factor kept from the top spot once again, you may want to consider saving your money. After all, are you really that bothered? Particularly if it means buying another copy of a song that you already own.

Those people who haven’t yet bought a copy of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ in the twenty years since its release were probably never going to buy it anyway, and the sole purpose of making it Christmas Number One hardly seems like the proper justification for purchasing what is a genuinely great song. Besides, the track itself is merely a small part of the classic that is Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’, and if you want to celebrate the 20th anniversary of such a stunning release, then go out and buy the complete package rather than just one song. Hearing ‘Teen Spirit’ played in between Christmas pudding and the Queen’s Speech will hardly do it the justice it deserves. If it really means that much to The X Factor to have their sixth Christmas Number One, then let them have it and allow them to enjoy their short-lived and utterly forgettable moment of glory. After all, do you think we’ll be celebrating the 20th anniversary of Matt Cardle’s ‘When We Collide’ in 2030? It seems highly doubtful.


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