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Crowning the True #1 Christmas Single

In the modern Christmas classic Love Actually, one of the many subplots concerns fading crooner Billy Mack, who hopes to stave off the blokes from a boy band called “Blue” to earn the coveted “#1 Christmas Single” in the UK. In pursuit of this goal, our dear Billy floods the airwaves with his reworked “Christmas is All Around” tune, offers crass soundbites to any hot mic within earshot, and vows (threatens?) to perform unencumbered by clothing if he were to win. In a movie overstuffed with storylines, this one’s significance is the easiest to overlook.

This is because, to American audiences, the “#1 Christmas Single” competition seemed like an obvious MacGuffin; surely, no proud society would turn its many eyes toward something so fleeting and obviously subjective, right? In what world does winning “#1 Christmas Single” even matter?

As it turns out, in the UK, it does. Following the grand tradition of items that are so totally British -- naughty names for food, creative ways to curse, the troubling murder rate in the county of Midsomer, etc. -- the “#1 Christmas Single,” and the cachet that comes with it, is very much a real thing. It even has its own Wikipedia page.

But apart from what is found on this list of #1 singles -- your expected smattering of songs from The Beatles and Spice Girls and X-Factor winners, along with three different versions of the insipid “Do they Know it’s Christmas?” -- this list is more notable for what’s missing, and that’s what led me to the songs that finished #2 in their respective years.

You’ve got “The Fairytale of New York” by The Pogues, a truly great song that makes my father-in-law drop whatever he’s doing and dance a full 12 months of the year. There’s also “Last Christmas” by Wham!, which is notable if only so you can watch the music video that leans heavily on George Michael’s bedroom eyes and impeccable facial hair.

But if the runner-up status of these two songs cause you to raise a concerned People’s Eyebrow, the tally from 1994 might send you directly to your brandy slush supply: “All I Want for Christmas is You,” sung by living legend Mariah Carey, lost out to something called “Stay Another Day” by East 17. This of course is a travesty of the highest order.

For those of us old enough to remember the release of Mariah’s legendary Christmas carol, it was an unrivaled cultural behemoth. I even remember that its debut coincided with a special on VH1, wherein Mariah fed bananas to reindeer for some reason. And, while the feeding of bananas to reindeer perhaps doesn’t cement this song’s greatness, the fact that I vividly recall it more than two decades later probably does.

So is it truly the #1 Christmas Single? By my estimation, it has two things going for it that lend this theory credence. One, it has the dual quality of being nearly impossible to cover adequately, but this does very little to prevent other, lesser singers from trying. So, with every subpar version of her song that comes out -- Cee Lo, Miley Cyrus and Mumford & Sons have all taken a swing at it -- the obviousness of Mariah’s supremacy only becomes more pronounced.

And two -- and this is very important -- the song is a blast. So many Christmas songs reflect a certain amount of melancholy, which makes the unabashed joy of “All I Want for Christmas is You” such a standout. A dour goddess such as Adele could never hope to catch such lightning in a bottle with her glass-half-empty, London-fog POV.

So, nearly 25 years after being robbed of her rightful crown, we have the opportunity to make amends. Claim your prize, Mariah; you are the rightful champ, even if Wikipedia disagrees.

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