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Not quite Top of the Pops: Stuck at Number Two for Christmas

For decades, megastars have felt the ignominy of coming second to a festive novelty record

It is every pop and rock star's nightmare: missing out by the narrowest of margins on the coveted Christmas Number One spot because of the public's unnerving appetite for "novelty" tracks such as Mr Blobby or, for the past four years, the inescapable X Factor.

Almost since the charts started 50 years ago, musicians have been frustrated by the nation's fondness for froth. This year, however, record-buyers (and downloaders) are in revolt. The latest spawn of Simon Cowell is being held off the top spot by an expletive-laden alt rock anthem recorded 17 years ago. Rage Against the Machine have gone head-to-head with The X Factor's Joe McElderry. So far, Geordie Joe is behind on points, with today his last chance to land a knockout blow.

Zack de la Rocha's "Killing in the Name" could not be further from the Hannah Montana ballad "The Climb", this year's offering from the ITV talent show. Whether or not Rage win the top spot battle, it could still be said that they – with the help of a huge Facebook campaign – won the war, with 60,000 sales more than Joe last week.

Dave McAleer, record historian for the Official Charts Company, spoke for many yesterday, saying he'd love to see X Factor kicked off the number one pedestal. "It works wonderfully well," he said, "but I can't wait for it to stop working wonderfully well."

Rage guitarist Tony Morello, who has pledged that his unexpected royalty bonus will go to Britain's Youth Music charity, told BBC6 Music: "This is a grassroots effort. Your country has such a rich history of exciting rebel music. It's a little dose of anarchy for the holidays; it's good for the soul."


Kenny Rogers and the First Edition – Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town

"Success is never what drove me – I always loved the music," Kenny said after he lost out to Rolf Harris and "Two Little Boys". "It wasn't so much that I could make great money or do this, that or the other; it was that I could do everything that I truly loved for a living."


The Village People – YMCA

"'YMCA' was meant to be a filler on an album," David Hodo of the Village People said in 2007. "Neil [Bogart, president of Casablanca Records] said, 'No, no. This is the hit. This is the one we're gonna push.'" Sure enough, despite being kept at bay by Boney M's "Mary's Boy Child" for two weeks, it went to number one in the New Year.


John Lennon – (Just Like) Starting Over

"All through the taping of 'Starting Over', I was calling what I was doing 'Elvis Orbison'," Lennon said in his last Rolling Stone interview in 1980. "It's like Dylan doing Nashville Skyline, except I don't have any Nashville, being from Liverpool. So I go back to the records I know – Elvis and Roy Orbison and Gene Vincent and Jerry Lee Lewis." It is now lauded as one of his best tracks, but was still pipped by St Winifred's School Choir's "There's No One Quite Like Grandma".


Whitney Houston – Saving All My Love for You

"I'm very proud to be among those artists who have achieved a number one, with a really traditional Christmas song – especially as it has become a classic that continues to chart, without any physical product," said Michael Barrett, aka Shakin' Stevens, responsible for ousting Houston from number one with "Merry Christmas Everyone". He knows how it feels to be second, however – his EP was kept off the top spot by Renée and Renato with "Save Your Love" in 1982. "It was frustrating to be at number two."


The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl – Fairytale of New York

It's got harder to perform the classic Christmas hit since Kirsty MacColl's death in December 2000, said accordion player James Fearnley. "The issue of guest singer on 'Fairytale of New York', since Kirsty's death, has been a problematic one. We've had varying degrees of success with guest singers." Nevertheless, many would argue it's still the greatest Christmas song never to be number one, beaten that year by the Pet Shop Boys' "Always on My Mind".


Take That – Babe

"If a song does well and I don't like the song then I'm not going to get a great feeling from that, or if the critic says that the album's rubbish but I know I've done my best, then I'll just think, 'Fair enough, that's your opinion, but I like it,'" said Take That's Mark Owen. "Babe" was replaced after just one week at the top by the pink-and-yellow TV "star" Mr Blobby with the eponymous "Mr Blobby".


Westlife – What Makes a Man

Brian McFadden was infuriated when Bob the Builder beat Westlife to the top with "Can We Fix It?". "We had seven number one hits in a row," he told Alastair Campbell. "If it had not been for him we would have had 12 number ones consecutively, something nobody has ever done."


Nizlopi – JCB Song

Adolescent folk duo Nizlopi's ballad, an ode to a father-and-son relationship, was an internet hit, but failed to triumph when faced with the winner of the second X Factor series, Shayne Ward. His debut single, "That's My Goal", became the fastest-selling Christmas number one and third fastest selling track at that time in UK music history. He was the first but by no means the last of the X Factor winners to storm to festive glory. In 2006, Leona Lewis beat Take That's "Patience" with "A Moment Like This"; in 2007 Leon Jackson's "When You Believe" won out over a remake of Eva Cassidy's "What a Wonderful World" featuring Katie Melua; and in 2008 Alexandra Burke's reprisal of "Hallelujah" beat both the Leonard Cohen original and the Jeff Buckley cover, both of which made it to the charts after fans mounted a Facebook campaign. " X Factor has replaced the novelty single," said Dave McAleer. "What we need now is a return to a strong children's TV character; a new hero like Mr Blobby, who can come in and knock X Factor off the top spot."

Christmas Number Ones... and Twos: Festive pop's winners and losers


1. Cliff Richard and the Shadows – I Love You

2. Elvis Presley – It's Now or Never


1. Danny Williams – Moon River

2. Frankie Vaughan – Tower of Strength


1. Elvis Presley – Return to Sender

2. Cliff Richard and the Shadows – The Next Time/Bachelor Boy


1. The Beatles – I Want to Hold Your Hand

2. The Beatles – She Loves You


1. The Beatles – I Feel Fine

2. Petula Clark – Downtown


1. The Beatles – Day Tripper/We Can Work It Out

2. Cliff Richard – Wind Me Up


1. Tom Jones – Green, Green Grass of Home

2. Donovan – Sunshine Superman


1. The Beatles – Hello, Goodbye

2. The Beatles – Magical Mystery Tour


1. Scaffold – Lily the Pink

2. The Foundations – Build Me Up Buttercup


1. Rolf Harris – Two Little Boys

2. Kenny Rogers and the First Edition – Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town


1. Dave Edmunds – I Hear You Knockin'

2. McGuinness Flint – When I'm Dead and Gone


1. Benny Hill – Ernie (The Fastest Milkman in the West)

2. T Rex – Jeepster


1. Little Jimmy Osmond – Long Haired Lover from Liverpool

2. Chuck Berry – My Ding-a-Ling


1. Slade – Merry Xmas Everybody

2. Gary Glitter – I Love You Love Me


1. Mud – Lonely This Christmas

2. Bachman Turner Overdrive – You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet


1. Queen – Bohemian Rhapsody

2. Greg Lake – I Believe in Father Christmas


1. Johnny Mathis – When a Child Is Born (Soleado)

2. Showaddywaddy – Under the Moon of Love


1. Wings – Mull of Kintyre/Girls' School

2. Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band – The Floral Dance


1. Boney M – Mary's Boy Child

2. The Village People – YMCA


1. Pink Floyd – Another Brick in the Wall

2. Abba – I Have a Dream


1. St Winifred's School Choir – There's No One Quite Like Grandma

2. John Lennon – (Just Like) Starting Over


1. The Human League – Don't You Want Me

2. Cliff Richard – Daddy's Home


1. Renée and Renato – Save Your Love

2. The Shakin' Stevens EP


1. The Flying Pickets – Only You

2. Slade – My Oh My


1. Band Aid – Do They Know It's Christmas?

2. Wham! – Last Christmas/Everything She Wants


1. Shakin' Stevens – Merry Christmas Everyone

2. Whitney Houston – Saving All My Love for You


1. Jackie Wilson – Reet Petite

2. The Housemartins – Caravan of Love


1. The Pet Shop Boys – Always on My Mind

2. The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl – Fairytale of New York


1 Cliff Richard – Mistletoe and Wine

2 Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan – Especially for You


1. Band Aid II – Do They Know It's Christmas?

2. Jive Bunny and the Mastermixers – Let's Party


1. Cliff Richard – Saviour's Day

2. Vanilla Ice – Ice Ice Baby


1. Queen – Bohemian Rhapsody/These Are the Days of Our Lives

2. Diana Ross – When You Tell Me That You Love Me


1. Whitney Houston – I Will Always Love You

2. Michael Jackson – Heal the World


1. Mr Blobby – Mr Blobby

2. Take That – Babe


1. East 17 – Stay Another Day

2. Mariah Carey – All I Want for Christmas Is You


1. Michael Jackson – Earth Song

2. Mike Flowers Pops – Wonderwall


1. Spice Girls – 2 Become 1

2. Dunblane – Knockin' on Heaven's Door/Throw These Guns Away


1. Spice Girls – Too Much

2. Teletubbies Say Eh-Oh!


1. Spice Girls – Goodbye

2. Chef (Isaac Hayes) – Chocolate Salty Balls


1. Westlife – I Have a Dream/Seasons in the Sun

2. Cliff Richard – The Millennium Prayer


1. Bob the Builder – Can We Fix It?

2. Westlife – What Makes a Man


1. Robbie Williams and Nicole Kidman – Somethin' Stupid

2. Gordon Haskell – How Wonderful You Are


1. Girls Aloud – Sound of the Underground

2. One True Voice – Sacred Trust/After You're Gone


1. Michael Andrews featuring Gary Jules – Mad World

2. The Darkness – Christmas Time (Don't Let the Bells End)


1. Band Aid 20 – Do They Know It's Christmas?

2. Ronan Keating and Yusuf Islam – Father and Son


1. Shayne Ward – That's My Goal

2. Nizlopi – JCB Song


1. Leona Lewis – A Moment Like This

2. Take That – Patience


1. Leon Jackson – When You Believe

2. Eva Cassidy and Katie Melua – What a Wonderful World


1. Alexandra Burke – Hallelujah

2. Jeff Buckley – Hallelujah