Music · Trivia

The earliest Christmas #1

Today is the First Sunday of Advent and in keeping with tradition I have dug out our handful of Christmas-themed CDs. Also, as is now traditional with that music format, I had to track down a CD player that still works, apart from the one in the car. The first one I tried (a portable device, less than 10 years old) failed to play Disc 1, Track 1 of “Now That’s What I Call Christmas” without jumping, but my wife’s old Sony Walkman (which will celebrate its 30th birthday sometime soon) was up to the task.

The first four songs were the most famous Christmas hits by John & Yoko (and the Plastic Ono Band with the Harlem Community Choir), Mariah Carey, The Pogues & Kirsty McColl and Wham! All of them missed out on the top spot here in the UK by one place, multiple times in the case of Mariah Carey and Wham! [NOTE: In the weeks after this piece was published, both Mariah Carey and Wham! reached #1 here in the UK with their Christmas releases, prompting this piece from December 2020 and this piece from January 2021.] By Track 6 we were into Christmas #1s by, among others, Slade, Band Aid, Cliff Richard and Mud. I could confidently list the years when they topped the charts from memory (1973, 1984, 1988 and 1974).

Some years ago, at this exact time of the year, a friend who was approaching a Big Birthday asked if I knew what was #1 the day he was born. I wasn’t sure but took a stab at “The Carnival is Over” by The Seekers. He looked it up on his phone, found out I was right, and extrapolated this lucky guess into something very different. He later introduced me to some of his friends with the following claim: “Tell him when you were born, and he can tell you what was Number One on that date”. It’s not true, unless you were born on Christmas Day after 1960. I can tell you the last 60 Christmas #1s but apart from that I’d be guessing.

Since July I have been checking, most days, what was top of the charts on that date for all previous years. I figured I should at least know what was #1 on the days when friends and members of my family were born. Some of the titles are rather unfortunate: “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Any More”, “It’s All Over Now” and, indeed, “The Carnival is Over”. Last week, for just about the first time, I was able to recount, from memory, all the songs that were #1 on a specific date (26 November, to be precise). At other times I have found this task very useful for getting to sleep at night. I start in 1953 (the first full year of the UK Top 10) and am usually gone long before I get to 1980.

Over the last few days I have noticed that quite a few Christmas #1s had already reached the top by the end of November. It set me wondering: what is the earliest date in the year that a Christmas #1 has topped the chart?

As far as I can see, the answer is 11 November, the date in 2016 when “Rockabye” by Clean Bandit featuring Sean Paul and Anne-Marie reached #1. It stayed there right through to the chart dated 6 January 2017. As usual, there is a slight complication with this one. The date of the first official UK chart (according to the Official Chart Company) was 14 November 1952. Al Martino’s “Here in My Heart” was the first #1 and it was still there at Christmas. If you use earlier, unofficial chart information (like this page on everyhit.com) you could place the start of Al Martino’s reign as 25 October 1952, a whole 18 days earlier in the year than “Rockabye” topped the chart. The following year, 1953, “Answer Me” was the Christmas #1. It first hit #1 in the chart dated 6 November, in a version by David Whitfield. The following week Frankie Laine’s version of the song replaced it, and was still there at Christmas. To complicate things a little further, both versions were tied for the top spot in the chart dated 11 December 1953.

For my purposes, sticking to the official chart, and dealing with the recording that was top on 25 December, “Rockabye” was the Christmas #1 that topped the chart earliest in its year. It’s also the only Christmas #1 since 1992 that was top at the end of November. Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” hit #1 in the chart dated 29 November 1992. Before that, “Mull of Kintyre” / “Girls’ School” by Wings (#1 in the chart dated 27 November 1975) was the most recent Christmas #1 to hit the top before December.

For the record, there have been 9 records that were top of the chart on 30 November and stayed there till Christmas Day. They are listed below, and I’ll give a special mention to “Mary’s Boy Child” by Harry Belafonte, which reached #1 earlier in the year than any other out-and-out Christmas record (22 November 1957).

Christmas #1s that reached the top before December, by year

Year

Title

Artist

Date it reached #1

1952

Here in my Heart

Al Martino

14 November

1953

Answer Me

Frankie Laine

13 November

1956

Just Walkin’ in the Rain

Johnnie Ray

16 November

1957

Mary’s Boy Child

Harry Belafonte

22 November

1970

I Hear You Knocking

Dave Edmunds

22 November

1975

Bohemian Rhapsody

Queen

23 November

1977

Mull of Kintyre / Girls’ School

Wings

27 November

1992

I Will Always Love You

Whitney Houston

29 November

2016

Rockabye

Clean Bandit

11 November

Christmas #1s that reached the top before December, with the earliest in the year top of the list

Year

Title

Artist

Date it reached #1

2016

Rockabye

Clean Bandit

11 November

1953

Answer Me

Frankie Laine

13 November

1952

Here in my Heart

Al Martino

14 November

1956

Just Walkin’ in the Rain

Johnnie Ray

16 November

1957

Mary’s Boy Child

Harry Belafonte

22 November

1970

I Hear You Knocking

Dave Edmunds

22 November

1975

Bohemian Rhapsody

Queen

23 November

1977

Mull of Kintyre / Girls’ School

Wings

27 November

1992

I Will Always Love You

Whitney Houston

29 November

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