Saturday, December 17, 2016

Top of the Pops - The Christmas number 1 playlist

So, the festive season is upon us. To mark Christmas week I thought it would be nice to check back over the old Top of the Pops LP sequence to see how many of the yuletide number 1s we know and love were rounded up. These days you can even make yourself a playlist out of them (provided you know how to bluetooth your MP3s to your Skpye tweeter... er, or something).

Fun it may be to play the ghost of Christmas past, but you might be surprised to see a hint of Scrooge in the Pickwick offices, as revealed by the album selections available. If you thought every Christmas number 1 was a dead-cert for inclusion on the Top of the Pops albums, you'd be wrong. In fact, any hit with the word 'Christmas' in the title seemed to have given Pickwick cold feet, and you won't find the C-word cropping up too often here.

Of course we can see a logical reason for this; leading off an album with a Christmas-centric track would tend to limit the shelf-life of an LP which may well be eyed up in January by some lad, pockets sagging under the weight of bonus Christmas pocket money.

But I'm in danger of waffling, so let's get going with the first Christmas of the T.O.T.P.E. - that's the Top of the Pops Era - 1968 to 1981, in other words. Gift-wrap you lugholes around this Top of the Pops Christmas Number 1 playlist...

1968: The Scaffold - "Lily the Pink"

It's December '68, and top of the tree is this oddity by the Scaffold. Top of the Pops don't have an album out in time, and the best-of-year collections had yet to be thought up, so Scaffold fans would have to wait until January for a chance to hear Pickwick's cover version, on volume 3:

1969: Rolf Harris - "Two Little Boys"

If 60s music buffs thought "Lily the Pink" was so much nonsense, they must have been turning in their kaftans come Xmas 1969, as another kids' song topped the charts. This time it was Rolf and his "Two Little Boys". Latter-day events have put a different slant on Mr Harris's career, but let's not go there. Again, Top of the Pops weren't quite quick enough, and it wasn't until the cold light of January 1970 that a version was captured for volume 6.

Given the obvious children's appeal of the above two tracks, it's no real surprise to find that the Top of the Poppers released them again, in their Top of the Tots series. Both were on the first LP in that sub-set, and appeared on EP as well.

1970: Dave Edmund's Rockfile - "I Hear You Knocking"

Time for a proper hit single at last, albeit non-seasonal. "I Hear You Knocking" was a biggie - it first topped the charts in November and was still at the summit come February. Little wonder that Top of the Pops rounded up a version for volume 14, this time fast enough to get it under the tree for December 25.

1971: Benny Hill - "Ernie (The Fastest Milkman in the West)"

And there it is again - the novelty children's hit which is the musical equivalent of a Christmas jumper given to you by your nana - everyone smiles at the time, but no-one really likes it.

Bad choice? The Australians thought so - when this album was released there, they unceremoniously removed the song in question! Benny Hill wasn't much amused by this recording either - when he heard it he first thought it illegal, then when he learned that others could indeed mimic his stuff, he vowed never to record another song. So every cloud ... no! I'm being unfair. "Ernie" was another very successful hit single.

By the way, check out the festive sleeve art on volume 21 (December 1971) - little piles of snow on the letters. Ahhh.....

1972: Little Jimmy Osmond - "Long Haired Lover From Liverpool"

We featured Jimmy Osmond in our last post a couple of weeks ago, and in fact, this very LP - volume 28. In 1972 the Osmonds were big ... very big. Even Little Jimmy was very big. Not as big as he is now, but big. Let's quote from Mojo magazine, who mentioned this recording of "Long Haired Lover From Liverpool" in an article on September 2000:

"For Little Jimmy Osmond Tony Rivers volunteered his son Anthony. When Tony’s wife asked Anthony’s headmistress for permission to take him out of school, she was told yes, but only if he got up in assembly to tell the whole school about it."

Yep, you heard right. TOTP producer Tony Rivers had his son perform the track! Here's how it appeared in December 1972 ...

Like a couple of recent Christmas number 1s, this was essentially a track aimed at youngsters, and again you can also hear it on Top of the Tots (LP and EP) as well as the Best of 1972 collection.

1973: Slade - "Merry Xmas Everybody"
1974: Mud - "Lonely This Christmas"

Bah. Humbug. Xmas, Christmas, call it what you will - incredibly, these two classic tracks were considered beyond the pale by Pickwick. In 1973, "I Love You Love Me Love" was number 2 on Christmas morning, and you can hear it on volume 35/Best of 1973. In 1974, second spot was held by Bachman-Turner Overdrive and "You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet" (smashing!), and that's all you get - hear it on volume 42. After all, you can't have a Christmas-themed track on Christmas album released at Christmas, can you?

1975: Queen - "Bohemian Rhapsody"

All together now, Christmas angels: "Scaramouche, scaramouche, will you do the fandango".

Bo-Rap was a seriously big deal in its day. Extraordinary in scope, and with the added dazzle of a pop video, it made a major splash and was number 1 in the charts for nine weeks. The Top of the Pops version is legendary of course. It was played on Radio 1, and even released as a single in Italy! You will find it on volume 49 (above) and also Best of 1976 - yes, it was so popular it was considered worthy of inclusion on the end-of-year set twelve months on!

1976: Johnny Mathis - "When a Child is Born"

Sorry, Johnny - too Christmassy again. "When a Child is Born" was another one skipped by the crew. If you want to feature 1976 on your playlist, it will have to be the Christmas number 2 once more - see "Under the Moon of Love" on volume 56 and Best of 1976.

1977: Wings - "Mull of Kintyre"

Shades of 1975 here. The Christmas number 1 was a nine-week topper with a non-Christmas theme, included on the Best-of-Year album a full 12 months late!

The Poppers' version first appeared on volume 63, as shown. Besides also appearing on Best of 1978, it turned up some years later on a Mr Pickwick EP, Pop Around the World Vol 3.

1978: Boney M - "Mary's Boy Child"

OK, this is getting silly now. The Poppers shunned it - too Christmassy. They then watched in sell zillions and eventually included a version on volume 77, not in December 1978 but in December 1979! 

And look at the album sleeve too! We finally have some tinsel - Scrooge has left da buildin'! Oh my Lord.

1980: Pink Floyd - "Another Brick in the Wall (Part II)"

Not very seasonal. Not very seasonal at all. The Poppers didn't include it on their current album, but a version was released nonetheless, on Best of 1980

By now, Top of the Pops were not recording their tracks in-house, and this version was leased in. Consequently it is available elsewhere too - hear it on Parade of Pops, for example.

1981: St Winifred's School Choir - "There's No One Quite Like Grandma"

Too ghastly.

So there we have it - in its day, Top of the Pops captured some nine Christmas number 1s, which is almost an album's worth. Pity the seasonal classics were almost all overlooked, but there are still some memorable hits in the above listing. Get them on your iPod and have a great Christmas, readers!

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