The big race to be the UK's Christmas Number One? Well to tell you the truth it was no more of a contest than it normally is, with the runaway winner being a lock from almost the very earliest sales flashes. Whilst it may not be the X Factor winner for a change, the single which tops the British charts for Christmas week this year is still very much the creation of a TV series.
The Military Wives Choir is the end result of the third series of The Choir, a show which features choirmaster Gareth Malone turning the unlikeliest of congregations into professional sounding ensembles - in this case the wives and girlfriends of serving army officers with the intention of staging a performance at the Remembrance Day concert at the Royal Albert Hall. The reaction to this series was so positive the women recorded the song they performed for a charity single release - the result being "Wherever You Are" which tops the charts as easily as one might swat away a fly.
After just two days on sale the single had sold over 242,000 copies, a total which kept on increasing at a similar rate during the week. By the time the survey closed on Saturday night it was clear the Number One single had outsold the rest of the Top 10 put together, shifting in the end a massive 556,000 copies - the highest single week sale for any record since Alexandra Burke sold 576,000 copies of "Hallelujah" for Christmas 2008. It isn't hard to see why. This may not be the most conventional pop record ever to top the charts but its production is immaculate, the song itself a masterpiece and the effect is to create a record quite impossibly moving and extremely hard to fault. Gareth Malone becomes the first conductor and arranger to receive a direct credit on a Number One single since the days of Mantovani and Perez Prado back in the 1950s, but somehow right now this seems the very least of his achievements with this single. Of all the singles which could possibly have topped the charts this week, this track is easily the most appropriate of them all.
Watch Military Wives sing "Wherever You Are."
Whilst much will be made of the fact that the X Factor winners Little Mix do not have the Christmas Number One this year, as we all know their moment of glory came some time ago, and if they had topped the charts this week it would have merely been by default. As it stands they do at least have the satisfaction of being the runners up, in the process comfortably outselling several singles which have largely been bought with the express aim of beating them to the punch.
Here is the problem. Once the genuine musical high point of the year, the Christmas chart now suffers from an invasion of hyped to the hills singles, all tactially bought with the express aim of trying to corrupt the race to be Christmas Number One. It means the chart this week is possibly the most unrepresentative of the year, with a series of singles arriving after online plots to see them bought in bulk in an attempt to fix the listings and bearing no relation to the actual musical tastes of regular singles buyers. It is therefore quite satisfying to see none of them quite succeed in their aims.
Leading the way is a track promoted for a laugh by Radio One presenter Chris Moyles. The 1960 Lou Monte recording of "Dominick The Donkey" would have remained unfamiliar to British ears, but for its use by the DJ for the past three years as a recurring festive motif on his show. This year he casually suggested that people might like to buy the single to blast it into the charts, resulting in the novelty American Christmas hit making its first ever UK chart appearance at Number 3. It is all rather pointless and needless to say the single will vanish from the charts as quickly as it came next week, but given that it has managed to outsell all other potential contenders for the "alternative" seasonal chart-topper almost without trying and put some online noises out of joint by doing so, I say more power to it.
The power of the Internet is responsible for the new entry at Number 4 as unsigned performer Alex Day makes his solo chart debut with the track "Forever Yours," as placed here by an army of dedicated fans. Day is a YouTuber, a wannabe star whose public performances are limited to the videos he posts online on a regular basis. With his videos attracting a word of mouth audience in the thousands, he too has attempted to grab a slice of festive glory by arranging for the full release of his own song, donating proceeds to charity in the process. Part of his strategy was to release a whole string of "remixes" of the single, sales for all of which contributed to his chart position. This inevitably makes his level of support seem rather more than it is, but anything that makes the army of teenage girls whose music consumption is generally limited to leaving breathless and badly spelled comments on YouTube uploads actually go out and spend money on music can never be a totally bad thing. Whilst this might be Alex Day's first ever hit single under his own name, it isn't quite his first foray into the Top 40 as he was one of the performers on the Chartjackers single "I've Got Nothing" which hit Number 36 in November 2009.
By far the most seemingly random Top 40 arrival this week though has to be Nirvana's 1991 breakthrough single "Smells Like Teen Spirit." A rather po-faced attempt to gatecrash the party with a mass purchase of a rather unlikely seasonal hit, this seems to have attracted a level of support inversely proportional to the amount of noise they attempted to make about it and in the process despite breathless pledged of mass purchases of as many as seven different versions of the track by some acolytes, the single makes a miserable Number 11 - four places lower than the peak originally scaled by the track 20 years ago.
Naturally being Christmas nobody is going to be so bold as to release a brand new album so the long players chart has a comfortingly familiar look to it. Michael Buble grabs the honour of having the biggest selling collection of the holidays, Christmas grabbing the honour of becoming the first ever Christmas Number One album to be themed around the season itself. Naturally his sales too have gone through the roof. After just a few weeks in the shops, Christmas has sold over a million copies (over 200,000 of which were in the first few days of this week) and it is already the third biggest seller of the year.
All that remains is to mop up the ultimate fate of the other seasonal classics which will have now shot their bolt for another year. Once again the favourite seasonal song in Britain is "Fairytale Of New York" which locks firm at Number 13, having the beating of "All I Want For Christmas Is You" which slumps to Number 17. Lower down the chart we have the bizarre sight of some other well worn classics competing with some rather painful cover versions by more modern acts. Chris Rea's 1988 flop single "Driving Home For Christmas" is at Number 36, outsold by 2009 X Factor contestant Stacey Soloman who makes her solo chart debut with her Number 27 take on the song. Worse is to come though as the assembled cast of scripted reality show The Only Way Is Essex do their best to massacre "Last Christmas" and in the process reach Number 33, one place ahead of the Wham! original.
So that was how Britain did Christmas 2011. Hope it was as good for you. Merry Christmas to all About.com readers. See you next week for the final sales chart of the year.