So here it is at long last, the chart countdown which through a combination of history, economics and tradition easily ranks as the most important chart of the year. At the centre of this is the race to go down in history as the single that is topping the charts as the nation celebrates Christmas Day. In a year when a new record has topped the charts almost every week, setting new records for chart turnover along the way, it would be wrong to ignore suggestions that the Number One single has somehow become devalued as a result. It is therefore somehow reassuring that there is one time of year when topping the chart is as important as it ever has been. What makes this even better is when there is a good old-fashioned fight to the finish for the honour - and this year has delivered in spades.
1 CAN WE FIX IT (Bob The Builder)
The Christmas Number One position was dominated for three years in a row by the Spice Girls between 1996 and 1998 whilst last year, of course, it was the turn of Westlife to ascend to that particular throne. This year it is almost a pleasure to report that manufactured pop has taken a back seat. Instead, the noble tradition of the British public throwing their weight behind a novelty hit for Christmas has been proudly restored. After leading all week long in the shops and with sales at a level that mean it could wind up as the biggest seller of the year, Bob The Builder has done what no other act in chart history has yet managed and outsold a Westlife record in its first week on release, thus claiming a second week at the top of the chart and the title of Christmas Number One 2000. We haven't had a novelty single atop the seasonal chart since 1993 when Mr Blobby but this now means that Bob The Builder can be mentioned in the same breath as Christmas chart-toppers such as Renee and Renato with Save Your Love in 1982, the St Winifrid's School Choir in 1980 (There's No-One Quite Like Grandma) or even Little Jimmy Osmond with Long Haired Lover From Liverpool in 1972. In all of this, the semi-forgotten man is actor Neil Morrissey who is the voice of Bob The Builder. One of his best known TV roles was as Tony in the hit comedy Men Behaving Badly and his chart success comes four years after two of his co-stars, Caroline Quentin and Leslie Ash, teamed up to record a version of Tell Him which reached Number 25 in July 1996.
2 WHAT MAKES A MAN (Westlife)
People sometimes ask me if it is possible to guarantee a Number One hit. It isn't of course. Record companies have got the promotion of big chart hits down to a fine art and with the right amount of TV performances, public appearances, interviews and fan club mailshots you can confidently predict a high new entry. The one factor you cannot ever control is actually getting people into the shops to spend enough money on your record to ensure it outsells all others. That is why the practice of releasing your "dead cert" Christmas Number One in the very last week possible always carries a certain element of risk, the small chance that something else will prove to have too much momentum to shift. Over the last four years both the Spice Girls and Westlife have taken this gamble and pulled it off. This time the gamble has failed to come off.
As always a certain amount of perspective is required here. What Makes A Man has taken advantage of the Christmas rush to post a huge first week sale and as a result is a massive chart hit at a crucial time of year. The problem is that it is "only" a Number 2. When the release dates of Westlife's latest batch of singles were plotted, this was the one that was going to be Christmas Number One. This was the track that was to become their eighth successive chart-topping hit. For the moment at least it is neither. Now I'm tempted not to wax too lyrical about just how significant this is as there is absolutely no reason why What Makes A Man should not depose Bob The Builder sometime in the next couple of weeks. For the moment however it is possible that this single formally brings to a close the most astonishing career-opening streak of hits in chart history. No other act has ever seen their first seven records go straight in at the top and only The Beatles have ever put together a longer run of consecutive Number One singles. This alone will surely mean that Westlife will not be having too many sleepless nights over the holiday period but the fact remains that What Makes A Man is the first Westlife single to "fail" [and it did so despite a massive and at times panic-striken promotional push, everyone involved with the project instructed to do whatever it too to overhaul the Bob The Builder single. It isn't actually a bad thing they failed is it?]
5 WHO LET THE DOGS OUT (Baha Men)
So what of the Christmas Top 5? It consists of the Christmas Number One, a big seasonal smash from the biggest pop band of the moment, two former Number One hits from S Club 7 and Eminem - and the Baha Men. With another surge in sales, the veterans remain locked at Number 5 for a second week in what is now their ninth week inside the Top 10. Just to put that it perspective it can now rank as the most enduring hit single of the year with a Top 10 run that is longer than any of the records that have actually topped the chart this year.
6 NO GOOD 4 ME (Oxide & Neutrino)
They were never in the running to be Christmas Number One although they did attract one or two bets, much to the surprise of bookmakers who hadn't even bothered to offer odds on the single. For Oxide & Neutrino at least the gamble of releasing a single this week has paid off as their second hit, the followup to May's chart-topping single Bound 4 Da Reload becomes a Top 10 hit for Christmas. Bound 4 Da Reload was of course inspired by another track, the theme to the TV series Casualty and this new track follows a similar formula. No Good 4 Me is based on an old house record called You're The One which was originally sung by Kelly Charles in 1989 without ever becoming a hit. The track was heavily sampled by The Prodigy for their hit No Good (Start The Dance) which reached Number 4 in June 1994. Whilst Oxide & Neutrino use the same hook, the single actually features a re-recorded vocal supplied by So Solid Collective member Lisa Maffia.
12 NEW YEAR (Sugababes)
With this single the Sugababes can lay claim to the highest charting seasonal hit of the year. New Year (which despite the title does have a Christmas theme) is the follow-up to Overload which made Number 6 in September. The girls have been attracting rave reviews everywhere they go thanks largely to the way they are an all-girl group who are not simply manufactured bimbos. More All Saints than Spice Girls are they and in all honesty the pop world is better for it. If anything New Year is actually released a little too late. The song is so good and picking up so much mainstream airplay that they may well have got away with releasing it a week or two ago and giving it the chance to build support as the holiday approached. Doing it this way may have damaged the potential of the single slightly as its seasonal theme means it will fall away fairly quickly once January arrives. Never mind, this is still a marvellous record and I suspect the first contemporary Christmas song for a number of years that will go on to become an enduring classic [not a chance I'm afraid, although it is in all fairness a lost classic but would be destined to be lost in the mix as the Sugababes project started to implode quite spectacularly during the course of 2001].
22 I WISH IT COULD BE A WOMBLING MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYDAY (Wombles with Roy Wood)
Presenting the most totally unnecessary single of the year. Christmas may well be a time for novelties but if ever there was a bad idea that is even worse in the realisation, well this is it. Roy Wood once created one of the best Christmas records ever - I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday which was recorded by his band Wizzard in 1973. The single made Number 4 for Christmas that year and has charted several times since, most recently in 1984 when it made Number 23. He also re-recorded the track in 1989 so it could appear on Jive Bunny's Let's Party medley which topped the chart shortly before the holiday that year. This year he has decided to re-record the song yet again, only this time with an added twist. The original lyrics have not so much been joined as mated with the words to another seasonal classic, A Wombling Merry Christmas which the aforementioned TV characters (aka Mike Batt) took to Number 2 for Christmas 1974. Consequently what you have here is a new version of two established favourites that resembles neither and serves only to ruin the memories of two songs which may well have passed into the realm of cliche but which are still held in great affection by a great many people. A more pointless record you would struggle to find - at any time of year.
26 HEARTBREAK HOTEL (Whitney Houston)
Although promoted as another track for her current Greatest Hits album, most Whitney Houston fans will not be fooled by this. Heartbreak Hotel (featuring guest vocals from Faith Evans and Kelly Price) originally appeared on her 1998 album My Love Is Your Love. The track was originally released as a single across Europe in 1999 but for whatever reason never appeared in this country - until now. A lack of major promotion, airplay or even general interest means that the single rather limps into the chart this week, a long way short of the Number 7 peak of Whitney Houston's last hit Could I Have This Kiss Forever. One can make allowances for the fact that the single has rather been lost in the Christmas rush but if it progresses no further it will actually be one of Whitney Houston's smallest singles ever and her lowest charting single since I Belong To You reached Number 54 in September 1991.
That as they say, is that. The Christmas chart may well be the most important one of the year but as ever it turns out to be one of the quietest. See you next week for a chart that is often ever quieter but which has thrown up some bizarre moves in the past. For the moment, have a fantastic holiday and my thanks to everyone who has read these ramblings over the past year. Merry Christmas.