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Old chestnuts roasting: ghosts of Christmas music past

Eight of the current Top 40 hits are time-honoured festive evergreens. What is it about these songs that keeps people buying them? Ciar Byrne tells their stories

"All I Want For Christmas Is You" - Mariah Carey

Chart position: Reached No 2 in the UK singles chart in December 2004, losing out to East 17's "Stay Another Day". Currently at No 8.

Written by:: Mariah Carey and Walter Afsanieff for the singer's fifth album, Merry Christmas the best-selling Christmas album of all time.

Background:: Described by The New Yorker magazine as "one of the few worthy modern additions to the holiday canon", the song has been covered by My Chemical Romance, Samantha Mumba and the Cheetah Girls, and was sung by Olivia Olson for the soundtrack to the romantic comedy Love Actually. The song reached the top 10 in several countries including Japan and in 2006 became the best-selling holiday ring tone of all time in the US.

Memorable lyrics:: "I don't want a lot for Christmas/ There is just one thing I need/ I don't care about the presents/ Underneath the Christmas tree... All I want for Christmas is / You."

"I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day" - Wizzard

Chart history: Reached No 4 in 1973, No 41 in 1981, and No 23 in 1984. Currently at No 27 in the UK singles chart.

Written by:: Roy Wood, in 1973. He said: "I decided it was about time there was a real rock'n'roll Christmas record everyone would like."

Background:: Wood provided the lead vocals and played most of the instruments on the single, which was written during a week in February, but recorded on a boiling August afternoon. Credits on the sleeve include The Suedettes and "Miss Snob and Class 3C", who provided "additional noises". Wood has said that he failed to make much profit from the single.

Memorable lyrics:: "Well I wish it could be Christmas every day/ When the kids start singing and the band begins to play."

"It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year" Andy Williams

Chart history: Currently at No 25 in the UK singles chart. Featured at No 11 in a 2006 all-time top holiday songs chart brought out by the American Society of Composers, Authors & Publishers.

Written by:: Eddie Pola and George Wyle.

Background:: Was released in 1963 on The Andy Williams Christmas Album, which also includes covers of "White Christmas" and "The Little Drummer Boy". When Ronald Reagan was president, he declared Williams's voice to be a "national treasure".

Memorable lyrics:: "It's the most wonderful time of the year/ With the kids jingle belling/ And everyone telling you 'Be of good cheer' ... There'll be parties for hosting/ Marshmallows for toasting/ And carolling out in the snow..."

"Last Christmas" - Wham

Chart history: Reached No 2 in 1984, when it was pipped to the No1 slot by Band Aid's "Do They Know It's Christmas". But George Michael also appeared in the Band Aid single. Reached No 6 in 1985. Currently at No 23.

Written by:: George Michael, one half of the best-selling 1980s pop act Wham!, wrote this song about a failed relationship.

Background:: In the spirit of Band Aid, Wham! donated the profits from "Last Christmas" a double A-side release with "Everything She Wants" to the Ethiopian famine appeal. The single sold well over a million copies and has been covered by Billie Piper, Jamelia and the Manic Street Preachers.

Memorable lyrics::"Last Christmas I gave you my heart/ But the very next day, you gave it away/ This year, to save me from tears/ I'll give it to someone special."

"Fairytale of New York" - The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl

Chart history: Reached No 2 in the UK singles chart at Christmas 1987 and No 1 in the Irish chart. Currently at No 12 in the UK singles chart; last year it reached No 10. It was also re-released in the UK in 1991, when it reached No 36 and in 2005 when it reached No 3.

Written by:: Shane MacGowan and Jeremy "Jem" Finer.

Background:: Was voted the nation's favourite Christmas song two years' running in a poll by VH1 in 2004 and 2005. The female vocalist was intended to be the Pogues' bassist Cait O'Riordan, but she left the band in 1986. The Pogues were being managed by Steve Lillywhite, whose wife, Kirsty MacColl, recorded the song as a guide vocal. They liked her so much, they kept her on. When the song was performed on Top of the Pops in 1987, the BBC made MacColl sing "ass" instead of "arse".

Background:: "You scumbag, you maggot/ You cheap lousy faggot/ Happy Christmas your arse/ I pray God it's our last."

"Merry Xmas Everybody" - Slade

Chart history: Reached No 1 in 1973, relegating Wizzard's "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day" to No 4. Re-entered the UK Top 40 singles chart in 1981, 1983, 2006 and 2007. Currently at No 37.

Written by:: Noddy Holder

Background:: When Slade were recording the song, in New York in 1973, John Lennon was working on his album, Mind Games, in the next studio. Lennon's harmonium turned out to produce just the sound Slade's producer Chas Chandler was looking for. In a recent poll commissioned by MSN Music, 37 per cent of the British public voted "Merry Xmas Everybody", which has sold more than a million copies, their favourite Christmas song.

Memorable lyrics:: "So here it is/ Merry Christmas/ Everybody's having fun/ Look to the future now/ It's only just begun."

"Do They Know It's Christmas?" - Band Aid

Chart history: Went straight to No 1 in the UK when it was released on 3 December 1984, and became the fastest-selling single of all time, selling a million copies in its first week and ultimately selling more than three million.

Written by:: Bob Geldof and Midge Ure.

Background:: Geldof secured the use of a recording studio for just 24 hours on 25 November 1984 and enlisted the services of fellow musicians for free, including Boy George, Bono, David Bowie, Sting, Phil Collins, George Michael, Paul McCartney, Duran Duran, Bananarama and Spandau Ballet. A 1989 version of the single, produced by Stock, Aitken and Waterman, has been quietly erased from musical history, but managed to reach No 1 for three consecutive weeks.

Memorable lyrics:: "And there won't be snow in Africa this Christmas time/ The greatest gift they'll get this year is life/ Where nothing ever grows/ No rain nor rivers flow/ Do they know it's Christmas time at all?"

"Merry Christmas Everyone" - Shakin' Stevens

Chart history: Reached No 1 at Christmas 1985, staying in the top slot for two weeks Shaky's fourth and final No 1. Currently at No 33 in the UK singles chart.

Written by:: Bob Heatlie, who still earns 8,000 a year from it.

Background:: Originally scheduled to be released in 1984, "Merry Christmas Everyone" was postponed for a year because of Band Aid's "Do They Know It's Christmas?" It reached No 1 on 15 December 1985. The video was shot in Lapland, but it wasn't snowing, so they had to bring in snow machines.

Memorable lyrics:: "Snow is fallin', all around me/ Children playing, having fun/ It's the season, love and understanding/ Merry Christmas everyone."