1 GOODBYE (Spice Girls)
Having been the runaway odds-on favourites to be Christmas Number One for several weeks there were a few eyebrows raised midweek when preliminary sales figures put the Spice Girls in the lead but by a comparatively narrow margin. In the end, any fears by those who held betting slips on the girls proved to be unfounded as, recording for the first time as a foursome, the Spice Girls write themselves even further into chart history. First of all, it should be pointed out that this is their third successive Christmas Number One after 2 Become 1 and Too Much both ruled the roost in 1996 and 1997 respectively. Only The Beatles have ever done this before, their trio of seasonal chart-toppers being I Want To Hold Your Hand, I Feel Fine and Day Tripper/We Can Work It Out in 1963, 1964 and 1965 respectively. Indeed The Beatles hold the record for being Number One at Christmas having also had the Xmas Number One in 1967 with Hello Goodbye. Back to the Spice Girls, this is of course their 8th Number One hit out of the nine singles they have released to date. Thus they match the record for consistency set by Take That in the first half of the decade but more importantly cement their reputation as far and away the most successful all-girl group in chart history. Amongst females only Madonna can claim to match their achievements, Frozen having become her 8th Number One hit earlier this year.
That, as they say, is that for another Christmas. There is still of course one more week to go before the big day itself but as the chart next week will also count sales of records on Boxing Day, December 26th this week is considered the official Christmas chart. Record sales as always are the highest they have been all year and I am inclined to think that the diversity of acts - from the Spice Girls, Steps and Billie through the Honeyz to Bryan Adams, Johnny and Denise and, er..Chef - represented in this week's Top 10 is a very healthy reflection on the way the UK singles market is open to just about any musical form you care to name. That is what makes it the most vibrant and most exciting such listing in the world and why it is my enormous pleasure to sit and write about it each week. I hope you will continue to enjoy it throughout 1999 here on dotmusic. Merry Christmas.
2 CHOCOLATE SALTY BALLS (Chef)
So this is the record that gave the Spice Girls a run for their money in the chase for Christmas Number One. As in America, the cartoon series South Park has gained an enormous cult following with the merchandising flowing accordingly. Like The Simpsons before it, South Park has proved an ideal excuse for a novelty album and Chef Aid is the result, ostensibly a recording of a charity concert thrown in one of the episodes of the second series but in reality an ideal medium for a variety of crude, bizarre and always very entertaining tracks. The standout track is the one that has made it as a single, Chef singing what sounds like an incredibly rude song inviting you to suck his balls, the rudeness of course existing only in your mind as this is really the most soulful cookery lesson ever committed to plastic. As is well documented the voice of Chef is soul legend Isaac Hayes who until now had only ever had two chart hits in this country. The first of these was the famous Theme From Shaft which made Number 4 in early 1972 whilst he also made Number 10 in 1976 with Disco Connection. Who would have thought that over two decades later he would be having his biggest ever chart hit. One of the few comedy records that still sounds funny after repeated plays Chocolate Salty Balls will certainly have its own place in chart infamy and there is no questioning the childish delight many people will feel at the way such a juvenile song can sell so many copies. Only in Britain.
3 ESPECIALLY FOR YOU (Johnny And Denise)
[Yes, this happened. Deal with it]. Especially For You began life as a record that was genuinely born out of public demand. After turning Kylie Minogue into a star in 1988 the production team of Stock, Aitken and Waterman had also signed up her Neighbours co-star Jason Donovan for a recording deal. With the pair playing lovers on screen and at the time dogged by rumours of a real-life relationship it seemed an obvious course of action to pair them up on record. In the way these things usually work the record that was never planned turned out to be one of the biggest singles any of Minogue, Donovan, Stock, Aitken or Waterman would ever be involved in. Released in November 1988 it flew to Number 2 and stayed there for four weeks over Christmas before moving into pole position for three weeks in the new year. At a time when singles sales were at an all-time low and the days of million selling songs were but a distant memory Especially For You sold almost 900,000 copies. A quite remarkable feat. So who are Johnny and Denise? They are Johnny Vaughan and Denise Van Outen, departing co-hosts of the Channel 4 show The Big Breakfast. At the end of November the pair appeared on the annual BBC telethon Children In Need and sang a tongue in cheek version of Especially For You, a rendition that was so well received it was decided to turn it into a single. Consequently the charity disc found itself a late contender for the Christmas Number One position, ultimately falling some way short but nonetheless bringing the forgotten classic back into the Top 10 exactly ten years since it first charted. Incidentally this isn't Denise Van Outen's first connection with the music business. As well as being the high-profile girlfriend of Jamiroquai's Jay Kay she first found fame as one half of the ill-fated pop duo Those 2 Girls whose short career peaked with the Number 36 hit All I Want in March 1995.
5 TO YOU I BELONG (B*witched)
Hardly a surprise as B*witched find themselves shouldered out of the way by more heavyweight singles, making their latest reign at the top the shortest one to date. Even the most casual observer will have noticed that 1998 has seen a phenomenal turnover at the top of the chart. B*witched are officially the 19th single to spend just seven days at Number One this year. This has contributed to the quite astonishing number of Number One singles this year, the Spice Girls' record is the 29th new Number One single of the year, knocking into a cocked hat the previous record of 24 which has been set several times in the past, most recently in both 1996 and 1997. Explaining this phenomenon is an exercise best left to those with too much time on their hands. Note that in a year when the turnover at Number One has been the fastest in chart history there has also been time for records by Run-DMC and Cher to spend enough weeks at Number One to put them amongst the longest-running chart-toppers in history.
10 CRUISE INTO CHRISTMAS (Jane McDonald)
From driving instructors to hotels through airports and shopping centres, docusoap fever hit the country in 1998 as hours of primetime television were devoted to the lives of 'ordinary' people in various different circumstances. One consequence of such series is the way the people featured are turned themselves into celebrities. One such example of this was Jane McDonald. The Wakefield cabaret singer was featured on the BBC series "The Cruise" earlier in the year as the ships resident cabaret singer. Spotting the chance to make a quick buck, she was signed to a record label and recorded an album of standards, simple retreads of well known songs and was rewarded with a Top 3 album. Just in time for Christmas she makes her singles chart debut with this medley single, warbling her way through White Christmas, Winter Wonderland and Santa Claus Is Coming To Town in a manner that has not been seen since Max Bygraves stopped making records. One cannot begrudge the lady her 15 minutes of fame but the presence of this single in the Top 20 is not so much a tribute to any talent she may or may not possess but rather a welcome reflection on the vastly expanded demographic that finds their way into record shops at this time of year.
18 GOOD MORNING SUNSHINE (Aqua)
Love them or hate them Aqua have achieved a great deal in the last 12 months. This time last year Barbie Girl was still hovering near the top of the chart, on its way to becoming the second biggest selling single of 1997. Shortly after that they would follow it with two more Number One hits - Doctor Jones and Turn Back Time - to become the first ever overseas act to reach Number One with their first three singles. Curiously this single has taken a long time to appear over here. In America it was their second hit, released as the rather less successful follow-up to Barbie Girl. In the UK it finally appears as their fifth and least successful single to date. Good Morning Sunshine is more Turn Back Time-style sophisticated Aqua rather than out and out bubblegum Aqua but it will now be interesting to see which path they tread on a new album. Can carry the novelty of their unrelenting exuberance into a new millennium?
20 GIRLS NIGHT OUT (Alda)
Real Good Time was this lady's first hit, reaching Number 7 at the end of August. The follow-up is a similarly themed pop track, so similar in fact that its production and musical arrangement is almost identical to its predecessor. Not that this makes it a bad record, just one unlikely to sell in large enough quantities to become a bigger hit than this. [Alda would subsequently settle in North London and now appears to spend her time battling with High Barnet council over their unwillingness to licence her music festival. I love the way this local newspaper report makes absolutely no reference to her former life as a pop star].
21 DANCING BABY (Trubble)
It is just as well Christmas comes but once a year, any more frequently and the novelty singles would start to give people headaches. Straight from the drawer marked "obvious ideas" is this dance/rap hit based on the now infamous Dancing Baby that first found notoriety on the internet and subsequently worldwide fame thanks to the onscreen hallucinations of Ally McBeal. As is well documented the 'Ooga Chaka' chant is swiped from the music used in the TV series, Blue Swede's 1974 US Number One version of Hooked On A Feeling. What is perhaps less widely known is that the idea for that particular arrangement came from Jonathan King who turned his version of the BJ Thomas song into a Number 23 hit in 1971. It is probably King's most enduring musical contribution to the world and he has often gleefully pointed out that his songwriters royalties - from American airplay of Blue Swede's recording and now its use in Ally McBeal and as a direct consequence this record - amount to quite a tidy sum. [Either I was wrong there or he's dialed down the hype ever since, noting that you cannot copyright an arrangement and so he gets no credit of any kind for Blue Swede borrowing his idea].
30 MERRY XMAS EVERYBODY (Slade vs Flush)
Merry Xmas Everybody is arguably one of the most famous Christmas songs of modern times. It was first recorded by Slade in 1973 at the height of their fame and was an easy choice as Christmas Number One that year. The single has sold at a steady rate ever since and indeed throughout most of the 1980s could be counted on to make a brief appearance at the bottom end of the chart just in time for Christmas although it has not been seen in the Top 40 since Christmas 1983 when it reached Number 20. All that changes this year thanks to the intervention of Stefan Rundquist and Sven Olson, two members of Slade's Swedish fan club. With the full approval of the band they have remixed the track to bring it up to date for the 1990s. Alright to tinker with a much-loved musical institution is tantamount to vandalism but there is no denying the effect is far from unpleasant, the rousing singalong chorus is still intact and it does at least give Slade their first Top 40 hit since Radio Wall Of Sound made Number 21 in 1991.