Mrs Dwight's Boy Child

From the moment Ed Sheeran's broad hunts about his Christmas single turned into a formal announcement, it was pretty much set in stone that his Elton John collaboration Merry Christmas would be a nailed on No.1 single, whether before or even at Christmas itself. The track took an early week lead it was never likely to relinquish, posting a huge sale of 76,700 (22,100 purchases and 7.6m streams) that none even Adele herself could hope to match. 8,100 of those paid sales were as good old fashioned CDs incidentally, far and away the biggest of the year so far.

I'm not personally enamoured with the track, the sound of an old fart and his younger equivalent sitting down to write something unabashedly festive but at the same time rather soulless. But in this column's unwritten rule of never directly dissing a chart-topping single I'll hand the only comment of the week over to a man who has his own pedigree of producing a terrible festive period hit.

So let's deal with the facts. Merry Christmas is Elton John's ninth No.1 single, the twelfth for Ed Sheeran and the second and third of the year respectively for both men. It further means that in the second half of this year the only artists to have topped the charts have been Ed, Elton and Adele (with due acknowledgement to Dua Lipa). Never mind that of the first 26 weeks of the year, Olivia Rodrigo was top of the charts for 14 of them. It has been that kind of year.

This is also the second year running that a Christmas-themed song has topped the charts, following the belated success of Mariah Carey exactly one year ago - although pedants will note that Last Christmas was No.1 on a chart published on January 1st so this is technically the second Christmas hit to top the charts in 2021. When was the last time that happened? Not since the end of the 1980s believe it or not, with Cliff's Mistletoe And Wine in 1988 being followed by both Jive Bunny's Let's Party and the Band Aid II version of Do They Know It's Christmas in 1989. Cliff was also on top of the charts in December 1990 with the song Saviour's Day but once again we can be pedantic and note that it doesn't reference Christmas (or indeed identify the "saviour") anywhere in the lyrics.

Yet there's an intriguing twist in the tale. Another open secret was that the pairing of Ed and Elton were also colluding with reigning Christmas No.1 thorn in the side Ladbaby as part of his own desire to land a fourth straight Christmas No.1. Today (Friday) they revealed the nature of that collusion because just in time for the Christmas chart all three acts will release a sausage roll re-versioning of Merry Christmas. I'm presuming that because this is a specific charity release it will be considered an entirely separate product, leaving open the possibility that Ed Sheeran and Elton John will replace themselves at No.1 with a different version of exactly the same song. And needless to say that has never happened before.

This has, incidentally, completely knackered up the ante-post market for Christmas No.1 betting. The single that has just debuted at the top is now longer odds to be there in a fortnight than it was before it was actually released. Which is most enjoyable.


Finally on the No.1 single for now, we should note that the arrival of Merry Christmas has brought the chart run of Ed Sheeran's Bad Habits to a premature end. Sheeran is considered the lead artist on the new hit meaning the former No.1 is now his fourth-biggest hit of the moment and so suddenly disqualified from the countdown.

Not Her Year

The changing of the guard at No.1 thus bumps Adele down to No.2 with Easy On Me. Rather fascinatingly the annual Wham/Mariah battle for the biggest classic Christmas hit is unusually playing out in favour of the older hit. Exactly a year ago All I Want For Christmas Is You climbed to the top for the very first time. This week it is alas languishing at No.4, a place behind Last Christmas at No.3. I'd be fascinated to see the exact streaming numbers for both hits. Back in January when the Wham classic topped the charts for the first time it actually did so with fewer plays to its name than Mariah Carey's hit - but crucially more of them were the more valuable paid plays giving it a calculated chart sales advantage. That isn't the case this week, as the Wham track is top of the streaming chart this week, just ahead of Mariah Carey in second. Merry Christmas incidentally was only the 8th most played track of the last seven days.

There's actually little else to do this week other than track the inexorable progress of Christmas songs. Notable moves include the 20-9 leap of It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas from Michael Buble, here in the Top 10 for the third time after peaking at No.7 in 2018 and 2020 although this is by far the fastest progress it has ever made. Brenda Lee's Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree jumps to No.10, making the Top 10 for the first time since 2017. It has so far yet to surpass the No.6 peak it scaled when first recorded in 1962.

Of more contemporary recordings Kelly Clarkson's Underneath The Tree (first sighted in 2013) is at No.17, chasing down its all-time No.15 peak that it scaled last year. Ariana Grande's Santa Tell Me has also shot to No.19 and is again on course to sail close to the No.11 it ended up at a year ago. It is amusing to see given that both women have teamed up on Santa Can't You Hear Me as heard on Clarkson's new festive album When Christmas Comes Around. Despite being unencumbered by ACR rules as a brand new recording that single languishes this week at No.66. Which is a shame, given it is 1000 times better than Ed/Elton's piece of fluff.

Cutting Remarks

Plaudits should go to the brave souls who put out new singles this week. SZA debuts at No.38 with I Hate U which duly becomes her fourth Top 40 hit of the year. It landed just over 14,000 sales which would ordinarily be enough to place the single just outside the Top 20. 

Also worthy of a mention in dispatches, Wandered To LA from Juice WRLD and Justin Bieber at No.59, and seeing as a commenter was asking after it last week the new ABBA festive song Little Things hoves into view at No.61 but as a track from an already well-purchased album I'm unconvinced it has any prospects of fighting its way much further.

Finally for this week we really should not overlook Adele's 30 remaining on top of the albums chart for a third successive week, selling another 73,000 with 81% of those purchased. It is the first album to do so since Taylor Swift's Folklore in August 2020, although Olivia Rodrigo's Sour has of course enjoyed five weeks at No.1 this year across four different runs.