Christmas songs soundtrack every festive season, but even some of the best-loved hits we hear every year never got to number one on Christmas Day itself.
With almost no time left before the 25th, we’re closer than ever to finding out which tune will become the official Christmas number one for 2023.
This year, it looks to be a straight fight between The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl’s Fairytale of New York and charity TikTok ensemble Creator Universe.
However, festive classics by Mariah Carey and Wham! will have something to say about that, while Sam Ryder is in with an outside chance of seizing the crown.
If The Pogues, Mariah, or Wham! were to be the winner in 2023, it would be the first time in chart history that any of them were the official Christmas number one.
You read that correctly, and they’re not the only popular acts of the holiday season who have never achieved the coveted honour everyone wants.
Here are the best Christmas songs that never made it number one…
The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl
First released in 1987, The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl’s Fairytale of New York has become a festive favourite and the love for it has been passed down the generations.
2023 has given us a stark, if melancholic, reminder of just how beloved it is, following the death of its writer and singer, Shane MacGowan.
The classic song did get all the way to number two back in the late 80s, but was held off the top by Pet Shop Boys’ Always On My Mind for two consecutive weeks.
Since then, Fairytale of New York has re-entered the chart on a further 21 occasions, but has never managed to get any higher than its original 80s peak.
Happy Xmas (War Is Over)
Originally released in 1971, it took John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s peace-promoting festive anthem nine years to climb to its highest chart position.
Shortly after the singer’s death in December 1980, sales of Happy Xmas soared, sending it all the way to number two in January 1981, held off number one by another Lennon song: Imagine.
The song was given a spruce up in 2003 when a cover by a group of Pop Idol contestants, including Michelle McManus, sent the song back to number 5. But that’s been it for the Lennon-Ono number.
The moon may have been right for Sir Paul McCartney in 1979 but it wasn’t quite right enough for his merry melodies to beat Pink Floyd’s Another Brick in the Wall to the top spot.
It seems the British public wasn’t in the mood for education or thought control at the time – so much so that they denied Sir Paul the chance at reaching the summit, with the song only getting to number six.
It’s continued to chart down the years but has never managed to break the top 10 again – sorry, Sir Paul! The spirit might be up but your song has only headed down the charts since the late 70s.
Walking in the Air
Little Aled Jones is fondly remembered for his angelic rendition of Howard Blake’s composition and its association with the 1982 film The Snowman.
However, his 1985 cover of the beloved classic only reached number 5 the year that Shakin’ Stevens reigned supreme with Merry Christmas Everyone.
His red umbrella didn’t convince enough people, unfortunately.
Fun fact: McFly released a cover of Walking In the Air in 2021, reaching number 25 on the UK Downloads Chart, but sadly never reached the proper chart.
Now, Wham!’s 1984 classic Last Christmas has been number one before. In fact, it’s been number one on four occasions in the last three years.
But it’s never been number one on Christmas day.
Back in 1984, it became the highest-selling single of all time never to reach the top of the charts, and eventually sold 1.9million copies before it finally, finally reached the summit in the early 2020s.
What kept it off the top in 84? Band Aid. Frankly, as soon as Do They Know It’s Christmas? was released, nothing else ever really stood a chance, did it?
Christmas Time (Don’t Let the Bells End)
Glam rock and Christmas go hand in hand, and Suffolk-based rock band The Darkness took full advantage of a glam revival in the early 2000s to bag themselves a few top 10 hits.
Among them was their entry into the race for Christmas number one in 2003, which is perhaps the last classic race of its kind to date. Three huge songs were all vying for the big prize.
On that occasion, Gary Jules and Michael Andrews’ cover of Mad World shifted over 200,000 copies in a week to pip The Darkness and Bo Selecta to the post.
Despite losing out on that day, The Darkness’ raunchy rocker has remained a festive classic and has continued to re-enter the top 100 in recent years.
I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day
If you ask anyone over the age of 50, they’ll say the race for Christmas number one was never more exciting than during the 1970s – and they’d probably be right.
The main draw to Top of the Pops in those days was glam rock – outrageous clothes and make-up, fast rhythms, and choruses that got stuck in your head for months.
Slade, Mud, Queen, all gave it a go – as did Wizzard, whose song I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day looked to be heading to number one on the big day.
Until Slade crashed the party with Merry Xmas Everybody and left Wizzard back at number four. The song was re-released and reworked on no less than four different occasions – in 1981, 1984, 200, 2007 – but has never claimed the top spot.
Step Into Christmas
Sir Elton John might have finally got his hands on the Christmas number one in 2021, when he teamed up with Ed Sheeran and LadBaby for Sausage Rolls for Everyone, but it took him a heck of a long time to get there.
This is despite him already having his name on two Christmas songs: another with Ed Sheeran, Merry Christmas, released in 2021, and Step Into Christmas, in 1973.
It might be one of the most popular UK Christmas songs but it barely troubled the top 30 upon release, only reaching a peak of number 25 at the time.
It wasn’t until 2019 that it reached a new peak of number 8, repeating the achievement a year later, proving its enduring popularity.
Who knows, one day it could reach the top on the 25th.
First recorded and released by Bing Crosby in 1942, White Christmas is a decade older than the UK chart itself. The first ever UK number one was also a Christmas number one: Al Martino’s Here In My Heart.
It first charted in the UK in 1977, when it got all the way to number 5 as Sir Paul McCartney held onto the top spot with Mull of Kintyre.
White Christmas has sold over one million copies in the UK to date but has never gone any higher on the chart, despite entering the top 100 on 12 more occasions since the late 1970s.
Even Michael Bublé’s rendition has never charted.
All I Want for Christmas Is You
Like Wham!, Mariah Carey’s 1994 Christmas hit has reached the top spot before, on two occasions in fact, but never on December 25 – you can blame East 17 and five years of LadBaby for that.
However, it has come awfully close to finally being Christmas number one on more than one occasion in recent years and remains one of the most popular festive songs with the British public.
Could 2023 be its year after all?
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