We all have our favourite Christmas song. But have you ever wondered which festive tune is the most popular of all time?
Here we reveal the top 25 based on the revenue the songs make each year (there’s a good reason why singers are so keen to have a Christmas hit).
The Top 25 most popular Christmas songs
25. Cliff Richard - The Millennium Prayer (1999)
Sir Cliff’s amalgamation of the Lord’s Prayer and Auld Lang Syne raised £1 million for charity in 1999 and topped the charts for three weeks. But Cliff was beaten to the top spot at Christmas by those pesky upstarts Westlife.
This is the only entry in the top 25 for Sir Cliff, whose Mistletoe and Wine is a shock absentee.
Annual revenue: £75,000
24. East 17 - Stay Another Day (1994)
The edgy boy band were #1 at Christmas in 1994 with this melancholy tune, written following the death of band member Tony Mortimer’s brother.
Annual revenue: £100,000
23. Jona Lewie - Stop The Cavalry (1980)
Jona Lewie never intended his first-person narrative of a soldier at war to be a Christmas song. But his line "Wish I was at home for Christmas" saw the protest song promptly become one.
It was only kept off top spot in December 1980 by two John Lennon tracks; Lennon was murdered the day Lewie released the song.
Lewie also penned You'll Always Find Me in the Kitchen at Parties, but it’s “Cavalry” that provides Lewie with his regular income today.
“Stop The Cavalry constitutes 50 per cent of my real income,” he told the Daily Mail newspaper recently.
“If you can get a track associated with Christmas, you get annual regurgitation, and potential for earning every year."
Annual revenue: £125,000
22. Bing Crosby and David Bowie – Little Drummer Boy (Peace On Earth) (1977)
Two worlds collided in spectacular fashion when Bowie showed up on Bing Crosby's Merrie Olde Christmas television special in 1977 (legend has it that Bing didn’t know who Bowie was).
In surreal style the pair pottered through some friendly dialogue, before launching into a magical rendition of Little Drummer Boy – complete with Bowie’s Peace on Earth counterpoint.
The reason for the counterpoint is simple: Bowie disliked Little Drummer Boy and refused to sing it.
After just an hour’s rehearsal, the pair nailed it.
Bing died five weeks later.
Annual revenue: £130,000
21. Shakin' Stevens - Merry Christmas Everyone (1985)
Famed for his knitted sweaters and wiggly hips, the Welsh Elvis had recorded the song in 1984, but his record company delayed the release by a year to avoid a clash with Band Aid.
Annual revenue: £140,000
20. Aled Jones - Walking In The Air (1985)
Those who know about such things say a choirboy’s voice is at its crystal-shattering best just before it breaks.
It is St Paul’s Cathedral’s Peter Auty you hear singing the song in the 1982 animation of Raymond Briggs’ book The Snowman. But by the time of the 1985 single release, Auty couldn’t hit the high notes, and 15-year-old Aled Jones stepped in.
Auty has gone on to a strong career as an operatic tenor, while Jones has dominated early evening Sunday television for more than a decade.
Annual revenue: £145,000
19. Frankie Goes To Hollywood - The Power Of Love (1984)
The Liverpudlians achieved a third consecutive #1 hit with this power ballad, but they couldn’t keep the top spot for Christmas Day – that went to Band Aid. 1984 was quite a year for Christmas tunes (see more further down).
Annual revenue: £150,000
18. John Lennon and Yoko Ono / Plastic Ono Band - Happy Xmas (War is Over) (1971)
Lennon became the first former Beatle to record a Christmas record when he released Happy Xmas in 1971.
The remaining three all followed suit over time, with George's 1974 composition Ding Dong, Ding Dong preceding Paul’s Wonderful Christmastime in 1979. Ringo released an album of seasonal numbers in 1999 called I Wanna Be Santa Claus. No, we've not heard it either.
Annual revenue: £170,000
17. Nat King Cole - The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire) (1946)
Nat "King" Cole recorded this huge hit for four separate Christmases. The first, in 1946, was the first time a black American had sung a major Christmas number.
By the way, if you hear Nat singing the grammatically incorrect “To see if reindeers really know how to fly”, you’re listening to the original version. Nat changed it to “reindeer” for subsequent efforts.
Annual revenue: £175,000
16. Boney M - Mary's Boy Child (Oh My Lord) (1978)
How do you follow up the smash hit madness of 1978’s (ra ra) Rasputin? With a cover of Harry Belafonte’s 1956 original Mary’s Boy Child. The German act stayed at the top of the UK chart for four weeks with the up-tempo number.
Annual revenue: £185,000
15. Johnny Mathis - When A Child Is Born (1976)
Based on Ciro Dammicco’s 1974 tune Soleado, this 1976 offering was Mathis’ only UK #1, topping the chart for three weeks including Christmas Day.
Annual revenue: £190,000
14. Jose Feliciano – Feliz Navidad (1970)
It’s December 1970. A young Puerto Rican songwriter is in an LA recording studio. And he’s homesick for his 11 brothers back east.
“It was expressing the joy that I felt on Christmas and the fact that I felt very lonely,” he recently told npr.org.
“I missed my family, I missed Christmas carols with them. I missed the whole Christmas scene."
So he wrote a song. A simple song. A song, that 28 years later, would become a global sensation.
Annual revenue: £195,000
13. Andy Williams – It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year (1963)
The only song in our top 25 written in ¾ time (if you’re interested in that kind of thing).
The song was specially written for 1963’s The Andy Williams Christmas Album. While not released as a single, it quickly became a Christmas standard.
Williams knew a good thing when he sang one. He released a further seven Christmas albums during his career. It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year was on all of them.
Annual revenue: £200,000
12. Greg Lake - I Believe In Father Christmas (1975)
In 1974 Greg Lake set out to write a protest song about the commercialisation of Christmas. The following December I Believe In Father Christmas sold 13,000 copies in just 48 hours.
In answer to a Guardian reader’s question regarding whether it was possible for musicians to survive on Christmas royalties alone, Lake wrote in 2005: “I can tell you from experience that it's lovely to get the old royalty cheque around September every year, but on its own, the Christmas song money isn’t quite enough to buy my own island in the Caribbean.”
Annual revenue: £210,000
11. Brenda Lee – Rockin Around the Christmas Tree (1958)
Brenda Lee was just 13 when she recorded this Christmas smash in 1958.
The song’s writer, Johnny Marks, was a Christmas tune specialist, with Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and A Holly Jolly Christmas in his back catalogue.
Annual revenue: £250,000
10. Paul McCartney – Wonderful Christmastime (1979)
Every sound you hear in this infuriatingly catchy number is Paul McCartney. Although Wings appear in the video, they don’t play a note.
The song is not to everyone’s taste. "Love it or hate it, few songs within the McCartney oeuvre have provoked such strong reactions," writes Beatles author Robert Rodriguez.
Annual revenue: £275,000
9. Elton John – Step into Christmas (1973)
Step into Christmas was Elton’s attempt to create a “wall of sound” Christmas number akin to those produced by Phil Spector in his seminal 1963 Christmas album A Christmas Gift for You.
It reached just #24 upon release in 1973, but has grown in airplay markedly since then.
The b side, in case you were wondering, is Ho, Ho, Ho (Who'd Be a Turkey at Christmas).
Annual revenue: £280,000
8. Band Aid - Do They Know It's Christmas? (1984)
Of the many great facts surrounding the making of Band Aid’s Do They Know It's Christmas?, one of the finest is that Status Quo were originally intended to sing lead lines, but did such a bad job they were replaced by Sting and Paul Weller.
The original song raised £8 million within its first year of release for famine relief in Ethiopia.
Annual revenue: £290,000
7. Chris Rea - Driving Home For Christmas (1988)
Chris Rea only reached #53 when he released the song in 1988. However, it has clearly grown on people. The song has been in the top 40 every Christmas since 2007.
Annual revenue: £300,000
6. Wizzard – I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day (1974)
While this author likes Move-era Roy Wood the best, there’s no denying the longevity of Wizzard’s I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day.
Wood and the band recorded the hit in August, so to get everyone in the correct chilly, festive spirit, the studio engineer cranked the air conditioning up to 11.
The song reached #4.
Annual revenue: £320,000
5. Bing Crosby - White Christmas (1942)
Bing’s second entry in the top 25. Bing sang the Irving Berlin-penned number in 1942 film Holiday Inn.
"White Christmas changed Christmas music forever,” explain music writers Dave Marsh and Steve Propes.
“Both by revealing the huge potential market for Christmas songs and by establishing the themes of home and nostalgia that would run through Christmas music evermore."
Annual revenue: £350,000
4. Wham! - Last Christmas (1984)
Band Aid (which featured George Michael) kept Wham! off the top spot in Christmas 1984.
George took it well, donating all the profits from Last Christmas to the Ethiopia appeal.
Annual revenue: £360,000
3. The Pogues featuring Kirsty MacColl - Fairytale Of New York (1987)
The song was a bet. The band’s producer, Elvis Costello, didn’t think Shane MacGowan could write a Christmas song without making it soppy. Two years later, and MacGowan emerged victorious with lines such as: “You're an old slut on junk”.
Annual revenue: £400,000
2. Mariah Carey – All I Want For Christmas Is You (1994)
Mariah Carey puts her famous four-octave range to good use on this modern classic.
Carey has accrued £45 million from the song and continues to make close to £400,000 each year.
This December it finally reached the top spot in the UK charts, 26 years after its release, after 11 million streams in a single week. Mariah was pipped by East 17’s Stay Another Day first time around.
Annual revenue: £450,000
1. Slade - Merry Xmas Everybody (1973)
Stumped for their next hit, Slade reworked Noddy Holder’s unpublished 1967 song "Buy Me a Rocking Chair" into Christmas gold. PRS estimates that 42% of the global population have heard the song.
Holder’s original chorus went: “Buy me a rocking chair to watch the world go by, buy me a looking glass, I'll look you in the eye.”
Annual revenue: £1.1 million
Prices UK sales only. Sources: Hits Daily Double, PRS for Music, the Independent newspaper
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