Page last updated at 12:13 GMT, Monday, 21 December 2009

Rage Against the Machine lead rock revolution

Simon Cowell (left) and Rage Against the Machine
Simon Cowell could not stop the Rage Against the Machine campaign

By Ian Youngs
Music reporter, BBC News

In beating X Factor winner Joe McElderry to the Christmas number one, anarchic rockers Rage Against the Machine have pulled off one of the biggest shocks in UK chart history.

The campaign to break Simon Cowell's stranglehold on the festive charts was started by Jon Morter, a 35-year-old part-time rock DJ and his wife Tracy, 30, who set up a Facebook page in November.

"Fed up with Simon Cowell's latest karaoke act being Christmas number one? Me too..." they wrote, saying they wanted to break the "X Factor monotony".

Their rallying cry struck a chord and the campaign took off at the start of December, attracting hundreds of thousands of fans as the story snowballed.

Jon Morter
Jon Morter started the Facebook campaign with his wife Tracy

The Morters had some experience of running such campaigns after starting a similar protest last year to get Rick Astley's Never Gonna Give You Up to number one.

That failed to take off, but a separate crusade saw 2008 X Factor winner Alexandra Burke's cover of Hallelujah challenged by Jeff Buckley's version of the same song. In the end, Buckley went to number two but was a distant second.

But this year, the boredom with X Factor had grown and Rage's rebellious, expletive-filled anti-establishment message was carried aloft by those who wanted to give the show and its formulaic approach to pop a kicking.

Still, nobody expected Rage to beat the invincible Simon Cowell. Some bookmakers were offering odds of 150/1 at one stage, and the betting industry is estimated to have lost £1m.

The initial download sales figures showed Rage ahead but Joe was expected to overtake when his track was released on CD and fans picked it up with their Christmas shopping.

But that never happened and the snow and ice has been blamed in some quarters for keeping the X Factor army at home.

No-one seems to know quite when or why the Christmas number one became such a prized crown, and the battle so hard-fought.

Joe McElderry
X Factor winner Joe McElderry may yet go to number one after Christmas

But this very British chart phenomenon may have something to do with the peculiar national taste for festive or ridiculous pop songs and the historical obsession with the charts.

Plus, there is the cachet afforded by being number one on the widely-viewed Christmas Day edition of Top of the Pops, in front of which the whole family would traditionally gather after the Queen's Speech.

This year's campaign has made the festive number one battle interesting for the first time in years, and it will be fascinating to see how Simon Cowell responds next year.

Does he keep the winner's song as a Christmas single, and face the inevitable challengers that are bound to spring up?

Or does he move it to after the new year, open up the Christmas battle once again and move the X Factor final to Christmas Day instead, thereby loosening his grip on the seasonal charts but taking hold of Christmas TV instead?

He could always get next year's winner to cover Rage's Killing in the Name. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.



1973 - Slade vs Wizzard

Seen by some as the first true battle for Christmas number one, Slade and Wizzard released their enduring festive tunes at the same time.

Slade's Merry Xmas Everybody reached number one, while Wizzard's I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day could only reach number four. But Wizzard's Roy Wood got his revenge by throwing a custard pie at Slade singer Noddy Holder during the Christmas Top of the Pops.

1984 - Band Aid vs Wham

The cream of the pop world assembled for the Band Aid charity single Do They Know It's Christmas at the end of 1984 - and it went on to sell a million copies in the first week, and 3.5 million in total.

But it denied Wham a surefire Christmas number one. Their cosy ballad Last Christmas is the biggest-selling single never to have reached number one, having shifted 1.4 million copies.

1993 - Mr Blobby vs Take That

In one of the great upsets, Mr Blobby - the giant, manic, pink chunk of blancmange from Noel Edmonds' House Party TV show - pipped Take That's Babe to the top spot with an excruciating novelty song with lines such as: "Blobby, oh Mr Blobby, your influence will spread throughout the land."

1995 - Michael Jackson vs Mike Flowers Pops

The King of Pop's Earth Song faced a stiff challenge from a 1950s-style easy listening version of Oasis' Wonderwall by one-hit-wonders Mike Flowers Pops.

The spoof song by the former busker was championed by BBC Radio 1 and defied all expectations to be "neck and neck" with Jackson with just days to go. But the US superstar held on to the top spot and his pride.

1997-8 - Spice Girls vs Teletubbies & Chef from South Park

The Spice Girls scored a hat-trick of consecutive Christmas number ones between 1996-98 - the only act to achieve that feat since The Beatles in the mid-1960s.

In doing so, they kept two TV-related novelty songs at bay - but only just. In 1998, after Geri Halliwell had left, the girl group's song Goodbye sold 380,000 copies, just above the 375,000 for Chocolate Salty Balls by Chef from South Park.

2000 - Bob the Builder vs Westlife

Westlife's first seven singles went straight to number one, and they topped the festive chart in 1999. But the following year, they came up against a formidable opponent - Bob the Builder.

The race went to the wire but the children's TV character beat the boy band, breaking their record of going straight to the top with every release.

2001 - Robbie Williams & Nicole Kidman vs Gordon Haskell

The two global superstars, who recorded a version of the Frank and Nancy Sinatra classic Somethin' Stupid, took on unlikely competition in the form of 55-year-old pub singer Gordon Haskell.

The unknown Haskell's self-penned track How Wonderful You Are was rejected by a string of record companies before being picked up by BBC Radio 2 and propelled up the charts - but he narrowly missed out.

2003 - Gary Jules vs The Darkness

In the last true Christmas chart battle, bookmakers made ridiculous rock band The Darkness hot favourites for the festive number one with their tongue-in-cheek seasonal track Christmas Time (Don't Let the Bells End).

But they were pipped by little-known US singer Gary Jules, whose sombre version of Tears For Fears' 1982 hit Mad World took off after being featured in the cult film Donnie Darko.

2008 - Alexandra Burke vs Jeff Buckley

Alexandra was the fourth X factor winner to score the festive number one - after Shayne Ward, Leona Lewis and Leon Jackson. The chosen winner's song was Hallelujah, originally by Leonard Cohen.

But in a sign of things to come, a protest against the continuing domination of X Factor and Alexandra's interpretation of the song led to a campaign to buy the version by late US singer Jeff Buckley instead.

Buckley came at number two, but his 81,000 sales were far behind Alexandra's 576,000. Cohen's original recording also appeared in the chart at number 36.

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