In years to come when my grandchildren ask where I was during the great Christmas single war of 1973 I can tell them I was there at the start and saw it all… lying on the floor of the living room watching our flickering black and white telly.
This was the year the race to become the Christmas number one started in earnest, with Slade deploying the big guns of Merry Xmas Everybody against Wizzard’s heavy-hitting I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day.
In my primary class you were divided into two camps… those who thought Slade were brilliant, what with top hats with mirrors on, and those who thought Wizzard were, well, wizard with all that make up and tinsel. Ah, the heady days of glam rock, eh?
At the end of the day, Slade won the coveted top slot but that didn’t stop both tracks becoming the big Yuletide anthems they are today. It isn’t Christmas until Noddy Holder shouts it.
The young ‘uns won’t believe it, but before the battle of those two glittering (I’m going to call it … cheesy) bands, Christmas number ones were a case of ‘whatever’.
I mean, check out the two previous incumbents topping the charts for December 25… Jimmy Osmond’s Long Hair Lover From Liverpool in 1972 and Benny Hill, seriously, with Ernie (The Fastest Milkman In The West).
Post-Slade there followed more than a decade of fevered speculation and frothing excitement about who would be number one on Christmas Day – no doubt with an eye to the ever-returning royalties a Crimbo smash would give you. The gift that keeps on giving, right enough.
Mud jumped on the bandwagon in 1974 with Lonely This Christmas and cemented in the big, glittering, pantomime theme of festive songs on TOTP. The guitarist wore Christmas baubles as earrings and Les Gray sang to a ventriloquist’s dummy.
I remember clearly the following year (by now elevated to the first year of secondary) the collective wisdom was Queen and Bohemian Rhapsody were going to smash it. After all, every single one of us had taped it off the Radio 1 charts countdown on our cassette players and were singing it constantly.
So, when one our music teacher said he wanted to play us the best single of the day we were ready for thunderbolts and lightning. Instead we got All Around My Hat by Steeleye Span.
I still recall his look of bemusement at our collective groan. “This would sound like this live, not like that pop rubbish,” he said. Wasn’t at the Queen gig at the Capitol in ’75 then, was he?
The rest of the 70s and most of the 80s were a heady mix of the good, the bad and the ugly when it came to spreading Christmas cheer at number one.
The good was The Flying Pickets and Only You, (other than their bizarre appearance on TOTP as melting snowmen) the bad was the hideously cynical There’s No One Quite Like Grandma from the saccharin sweet urchins of St Winifred’s School Choir. The ugly was Cliff Richard’s bizarre gospel style swaying and waving to Mistletoe And Wine. Christian rhyme is it? What’s that got to do with Christmas?
Of course, there were many brilliant Christmas songs which, bizarrely, didn’t get to number one – even though I would have sworn blind they did.
Fairytale of New York with the Pogues and Kirsty MacColl, for example. The real version, not the bowdlerised pap being served up these days. Kept at bay by Pet Shop Boys and an insipid remake of Always On My Mind.
Last Christmas! How did that not top the charts, when Wham made it one of the biggest selling singles of all time? Because it was up against Do They Know It’s Christmas and the Band Aid crew, that’s why.
See also, Frankie Goes To Hollywood and The Power Of Love, one of my personal favourites. Not, it must be said, a Christmas song, but see what happens when you slap on a nativity video with stars and wise men?
How about Mariah Carey not getting all she wanted for Christmas because East 17 trotted out those big white puffa jackets and snowflakes.
Of course, everyone has their favourite Christmas single (Jona Lewie, Stop The Cavalry) whether it topped the charts or not, but then the whole edifice came crashing down courtesy of The X Factor.
After it turned finding “talent” into a factory, it dominated the Christmas charts by pushing its winners to the top of the charts tree. Do you remember Shayne Ward’s That’s My Goal? Thought not.
Let’s just say I applauded the successful 2009 online campaign to get Rage Against The Machine to number one over Joe McElderry to stop yet another X Factor-dominated Christmas.
It is strange how the years turn, isn’t it? About 47 years ago I watched the number one Christmas slot with almost as much enthusiasm as opening presents under the tree.
These days I couldn’t tell you who had the Christmas hit last year or who is in the running for it this year.
Clearly, this is a sign of my advancing years, even if I don’t have grandkids yet.
But when I do, I’ll be able to go all misty-eyed about the good old days and the true meaning of Christmas … number ones, that is.