By Dave Devereux
It might be difficult for the youth of today to envisage, but there was once a time when the The X Factor didn’t have a vice-like stranglehold on the Christmas number one spot.
For at least four decades getting to the top of the charts during the festive season really meant something and it was a highly coveted prize that artists would be eyeing for months in advance.
Nowadays the predictably of it all, powered by the music industry’s money-making machine, means that it has lost its charm entirely, which would make more seasoned listeners yearn for a time when a Christmas classic could come out of the blue to light up the yuletide season.
The Irish Singles Chart was compiled for the first time in 1962, with Elvis Presley’s ‘Return to Sender’ achieving the accolade of Ireland’s first Christmas number one.
A host of international stars have filled the top spot since then, including classics like ‘Day Tripper’ by The Beatles, Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ or festive favourites like Slade’s ‘Merry Christmas Everybody’ and ‘Mistletoe and Wine’ by Cliff Richard.
Throughout the last five decades of so there’s also been a number of Irish acts that have sat proudly at the top of the Christmas tree at the most wonderful time of the year and a mere mention of those tunes will take you on a fond trip down memory lane.
1963 – No More by Brendan Bowyer
Just a year after the formation of the Irish charts Brendan Bowyer and the Royal Showband became the first Irish act to claim the Christmas number one spot.
Earlier that year the Waterford man had become the first homegrown artist to top the fledgling charts with ‘Kiss Me Quick’ and he later went on to have his greatest success with in 1965 with ‘The Hucklebuck’, which topped the Irish charts for seven weeks.
1967 – Treat my Daughter Kindly by The Airchords and Pat Lynch
Treat My Daughter Kindly was the first number one for The Airchords and Pat Lynch and what a time of year to get it. The band, formed by members of the Irish Air Corps, came together in 1960 but Corkman Lynch didn’t come on board until 1965 when he replaced Joe Fitzmaurice as lead vocalist. Lynch proved to a major success and the band claimed the coveted Christmas number one spot in 1967.
1971 – Oh Holy Night by Tommy Drennan
Singer and pianist, Tommy Drennan was an 11-year-old boy soprano in 1953 when his rendition of ‘Oh, Holy Night’ was recorded at Mount St. Alphonsus Church. The recording was stored in a old suitcase for nearly 20 years before being restored.
After hearing the demo, executives as EMI in Dublin got Drennan into the studio to record a new verse with an orchestra. The old and new recordings were then combined and it was released as a single in time for the Christmas market and shot to the top of the charts, where it remained for five weeks.
1972 – Whiskey in the Jar by Thin Lizzy
A well-known Irish traditional song about a highwayman who was betrayed by his lover, ‘Whiskey in the Jar’ gained international exposure when it was regularly performed by the Dubliners, but it wasn’t until the Phil Lynott fronted Thin Lizzy recorded a rock version of the song that it took the charts by storm.
Not a traditional Christmas tune by any means, but a mighty fine song nonetheless.
1984, 1989 and 2004 – Do They Know It’s Christmas by Band Aid
There was a massive Irish influence in supergroup Band Aid as Dubliner Bob Geldof, along with Midge Ure, was the driving force behind the charity single.
The original was written in reaction to the famine in Africa and led to the Live Aid concert which took place in July, 1985.
Geldof’s fellow Dubliner Bono contributed to three Band Aid recordings.
1985 – Thank You Very Much Mr Eastwood by Dermot Morgan
‘Thank You Very Much Mr Eastwood’ by the late, great Dermot Morgan of Father Ted fame was an unlikely Christmas number one.
The song was a parody of world champion featherweight boxer Barry McGuigan’s habit of thanking his manager Barney Eastwood after every victory.
The comedy single featured impersonations of McGuigan, Ronald Reagan, Bob Geldof and Pope John Paul II.
1987 – Fairytale of New York by The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl
Fairytale of New York is widely regarded as one of, if not the, best Christmas song ever, an all-time classic which never grows old.
The song tells a bitter-sweet tale of an Irish immigrant’s relationship that was blighted by drugs and alcohol addiction. The late Kirsty MacColl’s harmonious singing provides a beautiful contrast to Shane MacGowan’s husky tones, resulting in a timeless classic.
1990 – Christmas No. 1 by Zig and Zag
It takes a lot of confidence to call your debut single ‘Christmas No. 1’ but that’s exactly what puppet duo Zig and Zag did, and their faith proved to be well founded.
The furry extra-terrestrials from the planet Zog made their television debut in 1987 on RTE’s Dempsey’s Den, taking the country by storm.
‘Christmas No. 1’ stayed at the summit for five weeks and they went on to top the charts with their album ‘Never Mind the Zogabongs…Here’s Zig and Zag’ and their follow up single ‘Zig Zaggin Around’.
1995 – Father and Son by Boyzone
Boyzone made it to the top of the charts with their cover version of the Cat Stevens classic ‘Father and Son’. The song focuses on a father who can’t quite grasp his son’s desire to make a new life for himself and a son who finds it hard to put his exact reasons into words but know that the time has come for him to make it on his own.
1999 – I Have A Dream/Seasons in the Sun by Westlife
Westlife’s double A-side reached the top of the charts at the turn of the millennium.
‘I Have A Dream’ was originally recorded by Abba, while ‘Seasons in the Sun’ had been a worldwide hit for Canadian singer Terry Jacks in 1974.
The single was also the Christmas number one in the UK, and it spent 17 weeks in the charts across the water.
2005 – Leave Right Now by Mario Rosenstock
The original version of ‘Leave Right Now’ by Will Young was the Irish Christmas number one two years earlier and Mario Rosenstock brought it firmly back into the limelight with his Gift Grub version.
The parody which related to the circumstances surrounding Roy Keane’s departure from Manchester United was released as a charity single and until last year, when ‘Uptown Funk’ by Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars topped the charts, it was the last Christmas number one that wasn’t a winner of The X Factor.
2011 – Cannonball by Little Mix
(Written by Damien Rice)
‘Cannonball’ originally featured on Damien Rice’s 2002 album ‘O’ but the song came to worldwide prominence when it was The X Factor’s winner’s single in 2011.
British girl group Little Mix reached the number one spot in both the UK and Ireland with their debut single, but Rice’s beautifully haunting original version remains head and shoulders above their effort.