Simon Cowell vs The Internet: The Battle of the UK top 40, Round 2.0
It’s that time of year again. When the snow starts falling on the ground causing all transport to grind to a halt, when all the presents you ordered get sent to the post office depot, for you to collect 5 miles away and when the unemployed dig out their Santa costume for another year vowing that this will be the last time.
It’s also the time when the biggest chart battle of the year gets underway; the battle for UK Christmas #1.
When I was a child I’d look forward to sizing up the contenders for the prize, picking my favourite and then backing it to win, without actually setting foot in a music shop and buying it. The xmas #1 was always fun, a handful of hopefuls all wanting to go down in history if only to be forgotten the following year. However not all were forgotten and who could forget classics like Mr Blobby, an in depth self portrait of a giant pink and yellow doted irritant of the same name, and the equally unforgettable “Can we fix it?” by Bob the Builder, whose optimistic “Yes we can” response to the question posed in the title, was clearly plagiarised by the current president several years later.
The History of the Xmas #1
The xmas #1 got a festive theme in 1973 when Birmingham glam rockers Slade hit the top spot with Merry Xmas Everybody. Even today this song provides a never ending soundtrack to Christmas shopping. From then on it was seen as traditional to have a Christmas orientated song at #1. Other memorable Yuletide tunes include Merry Christmas Everyone by Shakin’ Stevens and the poignant Do they know it’s Christmas, which has gained the top spot on 3 separate occasions , raising an enormous amount for charity.
The other category of contender for the title would be a song that is popular but just happened to be released during Christmas. The Spice Girls utilised the enormous sales that the festive period brings by dominating the charts from 1996-98, however the closest they got to a Christmas themed record was to put a bit of snow in one of their videos.
Every year the battle ground was set: novelty song vs Christmas song vs popular song. May the best man, woman, plasticine builder or giant pink alien thing win. This was up until 2002 when everything changed.
Bob the Builder with his 2000 hit of the same name
Pop stars: the rivals was a reality TV show broadcast on ITV, born out of the mother of all reality music shows: Popstars. This was manufactured pop at its most manufactured. The whole process of putting a pop group was documented, from auditions through to their first single. Popstars: the rivals was nothing new at the time, in fact it was just a twist on the popstars/pop idol format that had become so popular on ITV Saturday nights. However the timing of the show meant that the two winning groups from the programme would face off directly, releasing their singles into the Xmas battle ground. There was no contest, both of these singles finished one and two in the charts. This provided the template for these reality shows to act as a prolonged advert in the run up to December, almost guaranteeing the top spot at Christmas.
The Simon Cowell produced juggernaut Xfactor used this technique effectively from 2004-2008, the winner of the show would always be at number one regardless of the competition. However in 2009 a man named John Morter started a facebook group that was to change this trend. The now famous campaign to get Killing In The Name by Rage Against the Machine ahead of the Xfactor winner Joe McElderry was successful and a song riddled with swearing and revolutionary lyrics prevailed.
In 2010 and midway into the week where the xmas #1 sales get counted and there is another contender. Surfin’ Bird by The Trashmen has emerged as the internet’s favourite challenger to Cowell, having already fought off other facebook campaigns from John Cage and his 4’ 33’’ of silence amongst others. The song has been made popular by its use in an episode of family guy where it is played by Peter Griffin to the irritation of everyone around him. This is the overall aim of this campaign, to bring back the novelty side of Christmas and to annoy anyone who is thinking of buying Matt Cardle’s single When we collide (which itself is a rip off of the Biffy Clyro track Many of Horror ).
Come Sunday we will find out if Cowell has claimed his throne back or if people power has officially unseated him for the long term. Whatever the result, it is nice to see the competition returning to this annual prize and the anticipation of the big reveal at the end of the week is nostalgic. Of a time when I would be genuinely excited about what the masses have chosen to buy. Early indications show that Cardle is still favourite to win but, even if this is the case and the Xfactor continues to dominate the charts for years to come, at least there will always be one contender that represents the true spirit of Christmas; to annoy and irritate ones fellow man.