Belfast Telegraph

Bah humbug to you Simon

So who's going to scoop the Christmas No 1 this year? Will it be yet another X Factor winner ... or could there be a dark horse thundering up on the outside? Jane Graham takes a sideways glance at this year's contenders

Even those of us with a penchant for sweet, shy-eyed Scottish crooners with hair like Steve Marriot of the Small Faces (who, me?) may feel a wave of weariness and cynicism when we turn our thoughts to the subject of this year's Christmas No 1.

Lothian's Leon Jackson defied the bookies when he beat Welsh vampire Rhydian to win 2007's X Factor, but one can assume that William Hill will not be taking any chances on the probability of his new single When You Believe hitting the top slot in time for turkey.

Like X Factor winner Shayne Ward in 2005 and X Factor winner Leona Lewis in 2006, X Factor winner Leon Jackson is as likely to miss out on a Christmas No 1 as Dannii Minogue is to bail out of a botox appointment.

In other words, if it happens, half of the music industry will keel over in disbelief.

It's hard to feel truly resentful of an 18-year-old kid who set out to ease his lone-parent mother's financial burden by entering a TV talent contest, but it's easy to hate Simon Cowell, so let's concentrate on doing that. The caricature of Cowell as the Grinch that stole (the) Christmas (battle for No 1) is now a popular one in the British media, with many observers mourning what was once a fun part of the run-up to the festive season in the UK.

It may be hard for youngsters now to believe but huge numbers of us used to convene in pubs to argue about what would and should be top of the hit parade on Christmas Day. Betting shops used to make huge amounts of money from punters willing to take a risk and try to guess which of any number of singles would fire the imaginations of the record-buying public in that most important of weeks.

Record companies used to painstakingly plan out artists' release schedule for months in advance to give them a good chance of taking the most hyped (and usually financially extra-rewarding) chart position of the year.

Then along came reality talent shows. In 2002 Girls Aloud won ITV's Popstars: the Rivals and released their first single, The Sound of the Underground, the week before Christmas. The next chapter in a top-rating primetime TV story that millions had followed slavishly for 16 weeks, Underground shot to No 1 without any real competition (ironically replaced after four weeks by another reality TV winner, David Sneddon of BBC's Fame Academy).

When Popstars was replaced by The X Factor two years later, executive producer Simon Cowell was well aware of what gold-dust he had at his fingertips.

Cowell rarely misjudges the British public, which is why the last two years have seen X Factor winners sell tens of thousands more than any other record the week before Christmas and why this year the same thing will happen.

In response, the record industry has put its tail between its legs and almost given up trying to compete; there are few releases likely to give overly fretful Leon Jackson (whom Ladbrokes are no longer taking bets on) a moment of concern this year.

There are still some runners and riders though, and we all know that Christmas is a time of miracles. Sugababes have become a masterly singles band and their new release, Change, is the bookies' second favourite at 4/1. Adopted Belfast girl Katie Melua has inventively teamed up with the late Eva Cassidy to do a cover of Louis Armstrong's What a Wonderful World and as a charity single (it's for the Red Cross) exclusive to Tesco - and currently No 1 - it ticks a lot of boxes, if lame sugary death-by-cover-singles are your thing.

And we mustn't forget the power of the yuletide kids' market (past No 1s include Mr Blobby and Bob The Builder). This year the funniest, cleverest children's TV character in years, Shaun the Sheep, is releasing a single with vocals from Vic Reeves. It could be a dark horse. Or a shady sheep.

The greatest and most subversive X Factor riposte, however, would be a No 1 hit from the man least likely to have a Christmas No 1 since ... well, since the dawn of time really, since even Benny Hill's success with Ernie The fastest Milkman in the West was more plausible.

Arch miserablist Malcolm Middleton, once half of sex-obsessed self-flagellating nihilist duo Arab Strap, is releasing We're All Going To Die in answer, he says, to Simon Cowell's ruination of the Christmas chart.

With lyrics like "What if there's nothing, we'll all have to face this alone", Middleton's oddly exhilarating and ultimately rather wonderful ode to joy has gone from bookies' odds of 1,000/1 to 9/1 in the last few weeks, after Radio 1's Colin Murray launched a campaign to send it to the chart jackpot.

However, while many will fail to see the humour and the 'carpe diem!' reasoning behind Middleton's single, if enough of us get together to buy it and send a chill up Simon Cowell's high-trousered backside, Christmas will once again be a time of cheer for thousands of fed-up Brits.

Altogether now: "We're gonna die, we're gonna die, we're gonna die alone ..."

Notable number 1s from Christmas past

Two Little Boys, Rolf Harris

After a ridiculously cool bunch of Christmas No 1s from the likes of The Beatles and Elvis in the 1960s, Rolf introduced the UK to the novelty record, kindly opening the door for Benny Hill's speedy milkman two years later

P 1973:

Merry Christmas Everybody, Slade

The battle between Slade and rivals Wizzard for this year's Xmas chart-topper caught the public imagination and kicked off the media obsession with 'the race for Christmas No 1' that has increased in intensity every year since

P 1975:

Bohemian Rhapsody, Queen

This deserves a special mention as the only single to reach the coveted slot twice in exactly the same form - the re-released single in 1991 repeated the achievement. The single has often been voted the UK's favourite single by public polls and is Radio 1's most played release

P 1977:

Mull of Kintyre, Wings

Notable again for being one of the most loved and successful singles in UK history. Paul's elegy to his and Linda's favourite hideout was at No 1 for nine weeks and was the UK's biggest-selling single of all time until another Christmas hit knocked it off its perch

P 1980:

There's No One Quite Like Grandma, St Winifred's School Choir

The kids' choir (featuring Sally Lindsay of Corrie fame!) hit the top spot with one of the most clawingly irritating and schmaltzy No 1s of all time - why we all remember it nearly 30 years on

P 1984:

Do They Know Its Christmas, Band Aid

The supergroup formed by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure recorded this charity single in one day. The result became the biggest-selling British single of all time (until Elton John re-released Candle in the Wind for the dead Diana). The same track bagged two more Christmas No 1 spots, re-recorded by Band Aid II in 1989 and Band Aid 20 in 2004.

P 1988:

Mistletoe and Wine, Cliff Richard

No Christmas single list would be complete without a mention of the British King of Christmas, St Cliff of Richard. This classic, which no one outside the Cliff fan club admits to liking, is only one of Cliff's three festive chart-toppers (the others in 1960 and 1990)

P 1996:

2 becomes 1, The Spice Girls

This marked the first of three consecutive Christmas No 1s by Posh and friends (or, more realistically, 'colleagues') - a remarkable achievement equalled only by The Beatles. Too Much did the job in 1997 and Goodbye in 1998

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