Christmas Hits

I used to be a chart-watcher. Ten years ago, and through my late teens, I watched Top of the Pops religiously and kept an eye on what was going up and down the Singles Top 20. Even now, it’s a pretty good indication of what’s musically fashionable (although the album chart is arguably a better reflection). The charts could be fun, especially at Christmas when the singles jostling for the number 1 spot often hit the news. 2003 was a great year. Everyone and his dog had a Christmas novelty record out that year, and we all knew that The Darkness would hold the number one spot with Christmas Time. Well, at least until Gary Jules’ cover of Mad World appeared out of nowhere and pipped the Hawkins brothers to the post. The Christmas number one was exciting.

Now, before I go any further, I must say this: I like The X-Factor. I like hearing odd covers of songs and so I’ve watched most of the performances from the finals on the internet (the documentary dross in between bores me, so I don’t bother with it). Joe McElderry’s performance of Journey’s Don’t Stop Believing in week four even managed to remind the British public of a great song so well that the original recording powered to number 19 that week on downloads – that chart run is actually Journey’s only UK hit. Ever. Yes, seriously: Don’t Stop Believing didn’t trouble the UK Top 40 when it was originally released in 1982.

The problem with The X-Factor is the commercial tie-in. I can’t say I liked every Christmas number 1 before 2004, but at least it was worth running a book on. Now, the power of a 20 million strong TV audience powers the X-Factor singles to the top of the charts in perfect time for Christmas. Personally, I find this state of affairs boring. I get the same feeling about it that we’ve had for a very long time about politics: that feeling of inevitability and the sense that you can’t do anything to change the status quo. Except this year, Jon and Tracy Morter had the wonderful idea of trying to outbuy the X-Factor fanbase through an internet campaign. It’s been all over the news for a few weeks now – the idea is to buy Rage Against the Machine’s Killing in the Name of as a download track and get it to number 1. I like the idea – it gives us the sense that we can fight. Suddenly, the chart is exciting again. The best bit is that RATM have thrown themselves behind the campaign and, as they view the sales this December as something of a windfall, they intend to donate some of the profits to charity. At various times in the past week, the band have commented that they intend some of the proceeds to go to Youth Music and/or Shelter.

The interesting thing about the campaign is how much it’s rattled Simon Cowell’s cage. At first, he seems to have taken the campaign personally. Now, he’s resorted to emotionally blackmailing the British public by telling us that this whole thing is a hate campaign that is tantamount to musical snobs bullying the eighteen-year-old X-Factor winner, Joe McElderry. The irony of the situation is, Cowell claim’s he’s been doing us a favour with the timing of the X-Factor singles. Apparently, his music is superior to the Christmas number 1 typified by The Millennium Prayer. I have to say that, musically, I don’t think that the Cowell ballad is any different from that particular track. Cliff’s hit and all of Cowell’s X-Factor records follow the same formula of uplifting string orchestration, a big chorus, and a key change at the end of the song. But, hey, anyone that question’s Cowell’s right to singles chart dominance is a musical snob, so what do I know?

The best bit comes here, though. Due to the manufacturing process of the physical single, Joe McElderry’s The Climb wasn’t in the shops until Wednesday. This gave Killing in the Name of an early lead and The Climb has struggled to close the gap. Yesterday, Rage Against the Machine were still ahead. Today is the last day of sales before the Christmas number 1 is announced. The race is far from over and either single could take the lead. All I’m asking is that you contribute by buying either one of them. It will cost you less than a pound and it will make the race more interesting. However, I am biased, so I’m only going to give you a quick and easy link to Killing in the Name of:

Buy “Killing in the Name of” from


~ by Scary Rob on 19 December, 2009.

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