Rock band Rage Against the Machine ended Simon Cowell’s four year domination of the Christmas charts tonight after a hugely popular Facebook campaign helped the Los Angeles nu-metallers snatch the Christmas number one slot from X-factor’s Joe McEdlerry.
More than half a million people downloaded the band’s famously anti-authoritarian and expletive laden track “Killing in the Name” in what was seen as a broad protest against the increasing influence of manufactured pop music.
It is the first time a non-X-Factor song has made it to Christmas number one for four years and represents a major snub to the show’s creator Cowell who angrily described the campaign to deny him another number one slot as “very Scrooge”.
X-Factor winner McElderry was less than a year old when Rage Against the Machine stormed onto the LA rock scene in 1992 with their self-titled debut album which went triple platinum and effectively gave birth to the nu-metal rock scene by blending heavy metal guitar riffs with politically charged rap lyrics. Earlier in the week he listened to “Killing in the Name” for the first time and described it as “dreadful”.
But last night the 18-year-old Geordie singer, whose cover of Miley Cyrus’ “The Climb” sold 50,000 fewer copies than his rivals, was noticeably more magnanimous in defeat.
"Fair play to the guys who have organised the Facebook campaign - it's been exciting to be part of a much-hyped battle and they definitely deserve congratulations," he said. "This time last year I never thought for one minute that I'd win The X Factor, never mind about having a debut single out, so I'm just delighted to be in the charts.”
Speaking on BBC Radio 1’s Chart Show, Rage frontman Zach de la Rocha said his band getting to number one said “more about the spontaneous action taken by young people throughout the UK to topple this very sterile pop monopoly and less about the song and the band. We are very proud to have had the song chosen as the vehicle by which to do this."
Krissi Murrison, editor of the NME, which publicly backed the anti-X-Factor campaign, hailed Rage’s victory. “It proves not only that the public have better taste than Simon Cowell gives them credit for, but that it there is actually an alternative to the pap we have been fed by X Factor for the past six Christmases,” she said.
Overturning the X-Factor’s dominance of the Chritmas charts, she said, was no mean feat.
“The assumption was obviously that no-one could topple the combined power of ITV and X Factor - especially not a grassroots campaign with zero marketing budget. But this just proves that anything is possible. Does this mark a permanent change? Yes, and one that X Factor have brought on themselves. The public has had enough of them hi-jacking the charts with second-rate karaoke cover versions, and this is our way of showing that.”
For the past four years the Christmas number one has effectively been a forgone conclusion and this year was expected to be no different when McElderry won the latest series of X-Factor.
But a Facebook group called “Rage Against the Machine for Christmas No 1” quickly transformed itself into a major grassroots protest against the X-Factor attracting more than 980,000 followers. The campaign took on an increasingly anti-corporate and pro-social justice tone with followers encouraging each other to donate to the homeless charity Shelter which received £65,000 in public donations. Rage Against the Machine also lent their support to the campaign, promising to donate their royalties to Shelter and to play a thank you gig in the UK next year if the campaign was successful.
Despite the growing success of the campaign most bookies still expected McElderry to be this year’s Christmas number one and made him the favourite. By Friday Rage Against the Machine were a mere 9,000 copies ahead of McElderry but as the Saturday midnight cut off point for the Christmas number one slot loomed, Rage fans went into a download frenzy according to industry insiders.
Steve Wheeler, from Recordstore.co.uk, one of the largest independent music online traders, said: “Between 8pm and midnight there was a sudden jump in the number of Rage downloads. I think people suddenly realised the race was a lot closer than they thought and that they could effect some meaningful change.”
Bookies are set to make a major loss from the Rage victory. Rupert Adams, from William Hill, said. “We’ll probably take quite a hit, quite possibly a six or seven figure hit. The last time we had such an unpredictable Christmas number one was with Mr Blobby which badly stung bookies because no-one expected that track to win.”
A BBC spokesperson said Radio 1 and Radio 6 would continue to play the clean edit of “Killing in the Name” which cuts out the 17 swearwords at the end of the song. Radio Two will not play the Rage track but will play McElderry.