Best (& Worst) Christmas Songs of the Seventies
Hits UK: Christmas Songs of the 1970s
For many years, the record industry in Great Britain has rightfully looked to the run up to the Christmas period as a time when huge sales of records (or CDs and downloads nowadays) can be made.
The industry geared itself up to either promote a new artist's song or to cash in on the seasonal cheer by having an established singer or band record and release a Christmas themed song. The intent was to see if that particular song could achieve the coveted position of No.1 on the charts over Christmas. The competition became so intense over the years that even the bookies were taking bets as to which record would eventually climb to the summit of the Top 40.
While there had been plenty of Christmas songs before the 1970s, not many of them had been aimed at those all important younger record buyers. And so it was that around 1972, singers and bands that appealed to the 13-30 age group started to release contemporary Christmas ditties, that have continued to be popular to the present day.
So, here is a rundown of those songs that appeared on the British Singles Chart during the 1970s, although many of them never achieved that much sought after No.1 spot.
The Hits of 1969, 1970 & 1971
The Number 1 Christmas song of 1969, Two Little Boys by Rolf Harris, was evidence that the Christmas offerings for the early years of the 1970s were going to be either novelty songs or sugar-coated syrupy goop (but really nothing to do with Christmas).
1970 saw the release of Grandad by Clive Dunn, an actor best known for his role as Private Jones on the BBC sitcom, Dad's Army. The single sold by the truckload on the back of seasonal sentimentality, but unfortunately for Dunn, never quite made it to the top of the charts for Christmas. It stalled at Number 2, allowing Dave Edmunds' I Hear You Knockin' to remain at the summit over the Christmas period. However, better news for the song came in January of 1971, when it finally topped the charts for three weeks.
It came as no surprise then (although it was for some) that one of the most popular entertainers of the time, Benny Hill, would see his innuendo-laden comedy song Ernie (The Fastest Milkman In The West) top the charts for Christmas 1971. Originally featured in one of his television shows, a new filmed sequence was produced to accompany the single, with Henry McGee starring as Ernie's arch rival, Two-Ton Ted from Teddington. The song stayed at Number 1 for four weeks.
1972: John Lennon / Yoko Ono: Happy Xmas (War is Over)
The contemporary Christmas single continued to be a rare entry on the UK charts, but 1972 produced one which resonated the world over, and continues to be played and bought to this day.
Originally recorded and released in the US in 1971, Happy Xmas (War Is Over) by John Lennon and Yoko Ono was conceived as a protest song over the continuing US involvement in the Vietnam War. It followed a poster campaign initiated by the pair in the late 1960s.
While the song hit the US Billboard Top 5 in December 1971, its UK release was delayed by a publishing dispute until the following Christmas. During December 1972, the single peaked at Number 4 on the British Chart.
Immediately following Lennon's death at the end of 1980, the single was re-released (along with much of his back catalogue) and peaked at No.2 early in January 1981.
The actual Christmas No.1 for 1972 was Long Haired Lover From Liverpool by Little Jimmy Osmond.
By the end of 1973, the Glam Rock phenomenon was celebrating its best selling year to date. The Glam artists were highly popular and two of the most well-loved exponents of the genre were riding high in the charts of Christmas 1973. Battling it out for the coveted Number 1 spot were three songs that were specifically Christmas related:
Merry Christmas Everybody: Slade were one of the most popular bands in Britain in the 1970s, and their Merry Xmas Everybody became one of the most enduring Christmas songs ever in the UK. It is affectionately held in similar regard by Britons as Bing Crosby's White Christmas is by Americans. It was the single that held the No.1 spot over Christmas 1973, and it re-entered the UK Top 40 singles chart several more times - 1981, 1983-1986, 2006-2013 - eventually selling one million copies.
I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday - Wizzard: Beaten to No.1 by Slade was Roy Wood's Christmas offering, which again has gone on to become a Christmas standard in the UK. Along with Slade, this single gets ample airplay every Christmas season, allowing it to also feature on the UK Top 40s of 1981, 1984 and 2007-2013. In 1973 its peak position was Number 4.
Step Into Christmas - Elton John: The third charting song for Christmas 1973 was a single by Elton John that only reached Number 24 on the UK chart. Although it can be heard each Christmas, the single has never re-entered the British charts, but has been included on several Christmas compilation albums. Its B-Side was Ho! Ho! Ho! (Who'd Be a Turkey at Christmas).
Glam Rock was still going strong in 1974, and another of its popular bands, Mud, thought that they would have a stab at recording a Christmas song. It was a wise decision, as the group saw Lonely This Christmas soar to Number 1.
Television in 1974 was also having an influence over the record buying public. This year saw the emergence in popularity of The Wombles, an early evening children's program that spawned a string of hit records produced by Mike Batt.
The other popular show was The Goodies, an anarchic comedy program starring Bill Oddie, Tim Brooke-Taylor and Graeme Garden who recorded Christmas songs in both 1974 and 1975.
Lonely This Christmas - Mud: This was Mud's second Number 1 single, following the earlier Tiger Feet. Written by the highly successful partnership of Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman, the group's lead singer, Les Gray, sang it in the style of an Elvis Presley ballad.
Wombling Merry Christmas - The Wombles: The Wombles were all over the place between 1973 an 1975. Created by author Elisabeth Beresford, The Wombles became a popular children's television program and thereafter spawned several chart entries written and produced by Mike Batt. This was the seventh single release which peaked at Number 2 on the UK charts.
Father Christmas, Do Not Touch Me - The Goodies: The Goodies were a very popular trio of British comedians who created a television show by the same name. Tim Brooke-Taylor, Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie were The Goodies, and on the back of the show's success recorded several hit singles, including this one which hit the UK Top 10 over the Christmas season of 1974.
Christmas Song - Gilbert O'Sullivan: Popular Irish singer/songwriter Gilbert O'Sullivan returned to the UK charts during December 1974, with this his thirteenth UK Top 50 hit. It peaked at Number 12.
Hey Mr. Christmas - Showaddywaddy: Dressed as Teddy Boys and mostly covering American hits from the Fifties and Sixties, Showaddywaddy became very popular during the mid-Seventies to early Eighties. This was their self written Christmas contribution to the UK Top 20 of December 1974.
1975 brought a diverse mixture of Christmas songs to the UK charts. Comedy, ballads and reggae were the order of the day, as none of the popular groups and singers decided to enter the fray.
It's Gonna Be A Cold, Cold Christmas - Dana: Five years earlier, Dana had won the Eurovision Song Contest with All Kinds of Everything for Ireland. This was her third charting single since that feat and has since become something of a Christmas classic. It peaked at Number 4 on the UK charts.
I Believe in Father Christmas - Greg Lake: Famously a member of Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Greg Lake's only solo UK hit (Number 2) became the surprise success of Christmas 1975. Lake wrote the single in protest over the commercialization of Christmas and it is often cited as an anti religious song, although it is not. Great words and great melody, this is possibly one of my favorite Christmas songs.
Christmas In Dreadland - Judge Dread: Judge Dread aka Alexander Hughes holds the Guinness Book of World Records for having the highest number of banned songs of all time, 11. This was one of them. Despite receiving no radio airplay at all, Dread's records sold by the thousands. His risque interpretations of well known nursery rhymes over a reggae backing became popular with skinheads, suedeheads and skasters all over Britain, but not so much with the BBC. This naughty Christmas offering peaked at Number 14.
Make A Daft Noise For Christmas - The Goodies: The Goodies returned to the Christmas chart for the second year in a row, with this comedy offering, but barely scraped into the Top 20.
Renta Santa - Chris Hill: Hill is a British DJ who worked in clubs in and around the London and Essex area of the UK. He released this novelty record, on which he spoke his way through while snipping from lyrics of popular records of the day.
Only two singles specifically aimed at the Christmas market managed to broker the upper echelons of the UK Top 20 in 1976.
When A Child Is Born (Soleado) - Johnny Mathis: This song has been recorded in an array of languages by several artists, but the most well known remains this version by legendary MOR vocal superstar, Johnny Mathis. It was the UK Christmas Number 1 for 1976, staying three weeks at the summit, and selling almost a million copies in the process.
Bionic Santa - Chris Hill: DJ Chris Hill returned to the UK Top 10 with another record that snipped lyrics from other songs. This would be the last time to date that Hill would appear in the UK charts.
As Glam Rock was replaced by Punk Rock, it was somewhat ironic that the only Christmas song that managed to chart in the UK in 1977 was this, the granddaddy of them all!
White Christmas - Bing Crosby: Recorded for the 1942 movie, Holiday Inn, this was the first time in the history of the UK Singles Chart that this legendary recording had made an appearance there. Crosby's version has gone on to sell over 50 million copies and is estimated to be the second biggest selling record of all time.
1978 & 1979
The issue of specific Christmas singles had slowed by the end of the decade (although the Eighties saw the release of yet more classics), so much so that only four acts saw any chart action in the years 1978 and 1979.
Mary's Boy Child/Oh My Lord - Boney M: One of the most successful acts of the decade was this German-based disco outfit, which re-recorded Harry Belafonte's 1956 single in a medley with a new song, Oh My Lord. It topped the UK chart over Christmas 1978 and became one of the best-selling British singles of all time.
Christmas in Smurfland - The Smurfs: Little blue creatures invaded the UK charts in the late Seventies, thanks to the popularity of Father Abraham and his Smurfs. This was their Christmas offering for 1978, which briefly scraped into the Top 20.
Wonderful Christmastime - Paul McCartney: The e-Beatle appears to have regretted recording this song, but it has done well for him since its release in 1979. It peaked at Number 6 upon its initial chart run and has since popped up on many Christmas compilation albums. It's one of those songs that can be heard on radio playlists each festive season.
It Won't Seem Like Christmas (Without You) - Elvis Presley: Elvis recorded this song on May 15, 1971 at RCA's Nashville studios, and two years after his death it appeared in the UK Top 20 of December 1979. It is available on Elvis Sings the Wonderful World of Christmas and If Every Day Was Like Christmas.
What's Your Festive Opinion?
Of those featured, what's your favorite Christmas song?
The Christmas No.1s of the 1970s (UK)
1970: Dave Edmunds - I Hear You Knockin'
1971: Benny Hill - Ernie (The Fastest Milkman in the West)
1972: Little Jimmy Osmond - Long Haired Lover From Liverpool
1973: Slade - Merry Xmas Everybody
1974: Mud - Lonely This Christmas
1975: Queen - Bohemian Rhapsody
1976: Johnny Mathis - When A Child Is Born (Soleado)
1977: Wings - Mull Of Kintyre / Girls' School
1978: Boney M - Mary's Boy Child / Oh My Lord
1979: Pink Floyd - Another Brick in the Wall