[The Christmas chart for 1997, and whilst the top end was a foregone conclusion there were a number of quite notable and indeed notorious singles entering for their one week of glory lower down].
1 TOO MUCH (Spice Girls)
After all the hype, anticipation and not a little frantic purchasing, the moment finally arrives, as ever with a certain sense of anticlimax. Although the predicted 3-way tussle for the top never emerged the race to be the official Christmas Number One for 1997 was still a very close run thing, the Spice Girls having edged into the lead by midweek but with the narrowest of leads over the Teletubbies. Nonetheless teen phenomenon has won out over pre-school TV cult and the Spice Girls continue their astonishing 100% strike rate. Six single releases and six Number One hits, a totally unprecedented feat that is surely unlikely ever to be repeated [oh you'd be amazed...]. Even with their famous mid-autumn PR wobble and the largely indifferent reviews to 'Spiceworld The Movie' which opens later this week, their stars continue to shine as brightly as ever. Too Much was perhaps an obvious choice for a Christmas single, in the same vein as 2 Become 1 complete with strings, acoustic guitars and exquisite harmonies with the voice of Mel C powerfully to the fore. The aforementioned song was of course Christmas Number One last year making the Spice Girls the first act since the Beatles almost total domination of the seasonal honours in the 1960s to have consecutive Christmas Number One hits.
6 BARBIE GIRL (Aqua)
After an impressive nine weeks in the Top 3 which included four weeks at Number One Aqua suddenly take a rather unexpected tumble that is all the more surprising given the continuing popularity of the single. The explanation is the old-fashioned chestnut of enforced deletion, a phenomenon that fortunately only appears to rear its ugly head at this time of year. Released at the end of October, Barbie Girl has now sold almost 1.5 million copies making it the years third biggest seller. The record company are now keen to push the new single 'Doctor Jones' which is due for release in January but which will struggle to gain airplay whilst its predecessor continues to sell in vast quantities. Hence the deletion, no new stocks of the single being available and you can expect one of the year's most annoying hits to drop like a stone over the coming weeks.
10 FEEL SO GOOD (Mase)
It was a brave move to release a new single by a totally new act this close to Christmas but when the tactic works it can be quite spectacularly successful. The recent American smash hit duly lands with a splash and is now ideally placed to attract attention from the gift-token brigade who will descend on shops in their thousands beween Christmas and New Year.
13 TELL HIM (Celine Dion and Barbra Sreisand)
Here is a curiosity, despite the availabilty of the new single 'The Reason', Celine Dion's older hit still continues to sell and holds firm at Number 13 whilst 'The Reason' slips to Number 16, an unusual example of a single outlasting the follow-up. Funny how deletion is considered appropriate for some singles and not for others isn't it?
14 NO WAY NO WAY (Vanilla)
Another bold piece of release scheduling has led to the debut single from Vanilla released just in time for Christmas and gaining a toehold in the seasonal Top 20. Another all-girl pop group hailing from London, they fall into the All Saints mould of hip, streetwise girlies with attitude who don't need to endorse potato crisps to sell records. No Way No Way is a credible enough start, bold and catchy and again with the potential to take advantage of the post-Christmas lull to make them one of the big new prospects for 1998. [Well that is how they were sold to us anyway. Over the years this record has acquired a notoriety all of its own, thanks to a long-standing rumour that an anonymous manager or executive (Bill Drummond it is said) laid a wager that he could market the worst record ever made to the top of the charts. I inadvertently stirred that pot when I talked about it on a "World's Worst Pop Records" show on Channel 4 in 2003, but listen to it carefully and you can see how the rumour has credence. There's no attempt made to disguise just how inept the girls are despite their enthusiasm].
15 I AM IN LOVE WITH THE WORLD (Chicken Shed)
Maybe just to refreshingly prove that the words 'Princess Diana Memorial Fund' printed on a single sleeve are not enough to guarantee massive sales for any singles, this has to be the biggest shock of the week as one of the leading contenders to be Christmas Number One enters the chart at a rather derisory Number 15. The community-based Chicken Shed Theatre specialises in performances by disabled and underpriveged children and was rewarded with a visit by Princess Diana in 1991 during which I Am In Love With The World was performed in what she later described as one of her favourite moments. When a full-scale multi-artist tribute album was proposed in the autumn the Chicken Shed's recording of that song was an appropriate inclusion and it rounds off the double CD set, standing out as one of the few upbeat songs in the package. Such was the popularity of the track that it prompted a single release and the inevitable prediction that it would emulate Elton John's single and shoot straight to Number One. Doubtless to the surprise of many this has not been the case. What has almost certainly harmed the single is the fact that the Diana album was released several weeks ago and has been a big seller ever since, hence a great many people already own a copy of the track, unlike Candle In The Wind which is unlikely ever to become available on an album. The logic goes that if you want to remember Princess Diana via a group of children singing a song lifted from an Carribean musical then you may as well own it on the Most Miserable Album In The World Ever and thus contribute more money that way. Actually this is something of a shame as the song is undeniably one of the sweetest singles of the year and could have been a massive hit at any time and is certainly a far more appealing tribute than Elton John's mega-selling dirge. As it stands Chicken Shed are likely to be little more than the final footnote as the world in general finally moves on from its obsession with the most famous car crash ever. [As you will have noted if you've read some of the other December '97 pieces, there was a genuine belief (fear?) that this schmaltz would fly to the top of the charts as noted thanks to the Princess Of Hearts connection. The fact that it didn't was a good sign that things were returning to normal at long last].
20 5,6,7,8 (Steps)
Worthy of a quick mention are Steps whose debut single has proved to be surprisingly enduring. Helped not a little by a series of well-drilled PAs and roadshow appearances, their pop linedance single has lingered in the charts far longer that one might have expected, six weeks around and having yo-yoed up and down in all that time, peaking at Number 17 two weeks ago.
25 BEAUTIFUL NIGHT (Paul McCartney)
Maybe Paul McCartney doesn't need to sell vast quantities of records these days but it is still something of a shame that the whole of this year's Flaming Pie album should have been so underrated. His single Young Boy which made Number 19 in May was easily one of his best releases for many a long year and he now surpasses it with the release of Beautiful Night, complete with its Beatles throwback subtext. What has helped the notoriety of the single is of course the accompanying video that had to be slightly re-edited owing to the rather explicit scenes of skinny-dipping towards the end. Still sadly not a massive hit for the legendary singer, his last Top 10 hit coming exactly ten years ago now with Once Upon A Long Ago. [Flaming Pie is generally regarded as McCartney's last album that was anything resembling "any good" and in turn, this single is his last truly great moment on record, a gorgeous and inspiring tune that was sadly wasted as a minor and swiftly ignored Top 40 entry on the Christmas chart].
32 GUESS WHO'S BACK (Rakim)
Possibly self-explanatory, after many years in the wilderness one of the original commercially successful rappers returns with a brand new single. Back in the days when no self-respecting rapper made records without his own DJ in tow, along with Eric B he notched up a string of minor hit singles, most famously Paid In Full and I Know You Got Soul which were remixed into sample-laden dancefloor hits by Coldcut.
36 I WANT AN ALIEN FOR CHRISTMAS (Fountains Of Wayne)
Funny thing, but the British charts used to be the home of the seasonal single. From the early 1970s onwards acts used to queue up to release a special seasonal single, many of which became perennial favourites and have been the soundtrack to most shopfloors since the end of October. Recently the practice appears to have died out and for Christmas singles to become big hits is something of a rare occurrence, the last big seasonal smash being Mariah Carey's All I Want For Christmas Is You which was Number 2 in 1994. The only Christmas offering this year is this novelty from Fountains of Wayne, notching up their second Top 40 single of the year and hopefully paving the way for them to become massive stars in 1998. The only other vaguely Christmas offering on the Top 40 is Walk This Sleigh, the unlisted flipside of Robbie Williams' Angels which nonetheless is picking up airplay in its own right.
38 PINK (Aerosmith)
It must make Steve Tyler feel very old to be widely described simply as "Liv Tyler's Dad" but he and the boys still churn out records regardless. The veteran rockers notch up their third Top 40 hit of the year with a fairly functional chug through one of their more average performances. Still, full credit to them for still being able to chart hits, 20 years after their US breakthrough but a mere ten since they first charted in this country.