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Iron Maiden, X Factor and Rage: why British are mad about the Xmas number 1 (and Spanish don’t care)

Por: | 12 de diciembre de 2014


“Alex,” I call to my long-suffering Catalan girlfriend, “what was number one they day you were born?”

Thud thud thud her boots resonate across out hispanically uncarpeted floor.  “What, in terms of music?” she asks, her eyes narrowing.

No: in terms of fishing, I want to say in an attempt at some festive humour. But the baby’s been ill, no one is sleeping and I suspect it might go down badly. “Yes, music,” I say instead.

The eyes narrow further. “I don’t know,” she says. “Maybe that’s something for you to investigate.”

The correct answer, of course, was “I don’t know. How about you?”, to which I would have happily replied “Donna Summer’s I Feel Love”, this being the kind of question I love to be asked. But I have a theory here, so I need to press on.

“And what do you think is going to be the Christmas number one?” I ask, my agenda narrowing. 

“No idea,” she says happily and wanders off.

And thus my theory is proved. You see, the Spanish love music, much like the British. We’re both, dare I say it, musical nations. But if there’s one thing the British love almost as much as music, it is a nice tidy list, one that gently ushers all the uncertainties and worries of everyday life into an easily digested, one to 100 rundown.

Combine music and lists, then, and the British are in hog heaven. And that is why the British are so obsessed with the musical charts.

Don’t believe me? OK - then ask any British people within earshot what was number one the day they were born. I’ll guess some 60% of them will be able to tell you straight off, while the rest will go and look it up. And that percentage increases when you talk to people in their 30s and 40s, setting those who have no interest in the British pop scene circa 1977 off at the risk of a serious boring. Honestly, there are whole websites and apps devoted to this number one on your birthday phenomenon.

This phenomenon extends into the current charts. OK, things in Britain aren’t quite what they once were, when weekly chart-based music show Top of The Pops regularly attracted audiences of 10m plus and having a number one record had serious cultural cachet. 

But people still like to keep a vague eye on the charts in the UK. In Spain, however, I don’t think it would be going too far to say that no one gives a flying cahoot about the charts, not even those who work in the music industry, and having a number one record here is little more than an oddity. (You can apparently top the Spanish charts with something like 8,000 sales, which might have something to do with it.)

Never stronger is the UK’s love affair with the charts than at Christmas. If having a number one is a pretty big deal in Britain at the best of times, then having a number one at Christmas is like winning the lottery while scoring a date with Penélope Cruz at the clásico.

The British Christmas number one is big news, in other words: front page of the paper news; breathless chart battle news; genuine round the water cooler news. Every year - and Spaniard might find this British eccentricity a little hard to stomach - people in the UK bet millions of pounds on what song they thing is going to top the charts at Christmas. 

The favourite this year, for example, is the single from the X Factor winner (announced, conveniently, just before Christmas) at 2/7, with Band Aid 30 coming in second at 9/2 with Do They Know It’s Christmas, and Iron Maiden’s The Number of the Beast coming in at third, on odds of 8/1.

The number of the, er, what now? Confused readers may be asking.

But yes, that’s hoary old heavy metal group Iron Maiden as third favourite to top the Christmas chart, with a 30-year-old song. Because, much as the Christmas number one is an immensely big deal, so to is sabotaging - for want of a better word - the festive chart.

For this  - as with so many things - you can blame X Factor supremo Simon Cowell. It used to be the the British Christmas number one would throw up some real oddities, happily lurching from pop supergroup the Spice Girls in 1996/7/8 to children’s TV character Bob The Builder in 2000 and Gary Jules’ spooky cover of Mad World (from Donnie Darko) in 2003. It was, in other words, a kind of brilliant, ludicrous chaos.

And then the X Factor came along, sweeping record TV audiences before it, and from 2005 to 2008 the X Factor winner made the Christmas number one slot their own. Suddenly, competition for the sacred Christmas number one looked boring and predictable, a one-horse race that no one was even watching.  And that - for the Christmas-chart-loving Brits - just wouldn’t do.

So someone took action: Jon Morter, a part-time DJ rom Chelmsford, launched a campaign to get Rage Against The Machine’s Killing in the Name to Christmas number one. And against all odds he succeed, with the song selling half a million copies in the Christmas week to beat X Factor winner Joe McElderry to the number one slot. 

Ever since then, no December has been complete without a least one online campaign to beat the X factor winner to number one at Christmas. Frequently, in fact, there have been more than one, with a campaign this year dedicated to getting LFO’s bleep classic LFO to number one to mark the death of the group’s founder Mark Bell.

Why am I telling you all this? Because few things, I think, help to understand the obtuse British mentality more than these Christmas chart campaigns, which are born of the kind of spirit-of-the-underdog, perverse humour that the British have made their own.

What’s more, for any Spanish people living in the UK, this should serve as a kind of guide to what you should say when a drunk Briton corners you at the office Christmas party and asks you for your views on the Christmas number one. (“I’m backing LFO”, incidentally, is the coolest thing to say).

More than anything, though, it is this kind of celebratory festive prank that I miss about living in Britain, more so than mince pies, mistletoe and even mulled wine. 

And so if anyone wants to come up with a Facebook campaign to get Slayer’s Raining Blood to number one in the Spanish charts this Christmas, you have my full backing.

Hay 4 Comentarios

Maybe it's more to do with the fact that the music scene (by that I mean pop/rock music) in Spain has always been pretty crap. People just aren't that interested as a result.
In the UK and the States we've been quite spoiled over the years- (I know, there's a lot of rubbish in the charts there, too, but there's usually something worth listening to, even if you have to look for it). Spain quite simply doesn't have the legacy of pop artists that exists in the English speaking world. I imagine the reasons are numerous. 40 years of right wing dictatorship during the heyday of rock 'n' roll and the Sixties probably didn't help matters much, either..
The only Spanish acts that make it internationally usually have to resort to singing in English unless they limit themselves to the South American market. Also the live music scene here (in Madrid) is a joke. So many obstacles are put in the way of live bands who might have something to offer that many just don't get to see the light of day, The result is a music scene that is just not happening. Most Spanish friends of mine really have very little interest in music at all; those who do tend to download illegally anyhow (Spain is notorious for the amount of illegal downloading that goes on). This doesn't promote music , it just turns it into an accessory.
Publicado por: Rex English |

Hi Ula, Thanks for the comment - I never thought about the problems of security questions! Ben

Christmas #1 is definitely a weird thing for us Spaniards... We are not fond on gambling (the Lottery is our national tradition), we are not fond of rankings (that's why it gets so difficult to answer to those 'security questions' that many websites ask you to protect your data... What the heck is my 'favourite' song, or film or first toy that I would remeber efortlessly whenever I forgot my password... Explain that to british or american software engineers, urgently!) and our 'villancicos' are simply scary!

Thanks to introduce us to cultural diversity ;-)

Its fantastic, thanks

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Authors (Bloggers)

Chris Finnigan is a freelance journalist based in Barcelona. He writes for Barcelona Metropolitan and is a book reviewer and reader for The Barcelona Review. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics. You can find him on twitter @chrisjfinnigan

Ben Cardew is a freelance journalist, translator and teacher, now resident in Barcelona after growing up gracefully in Scotland via Norwich. He writes for The Guardian, the NME and The Quietus, among others, on everything from music to digital media. You can find him on Twitter @bencardew

Fiona Flores Watson is a freelance journalist, guide and translator who has lived in Seville since 2003, and has been a writer and editor for more than 20 years. She writes for the Guardian, Telegraph and Sunday Times Travel Magazine. Originally from Essex, Fiona is also Consulting Editor of and has her own blog, Scribbler in Seville. She has been contributing to Trans-Iberian since 2014 and tweets at @Seville_Writer

Jeff Brodsky is a freelance writer. He arrived in Barcelona in 2013 via an admittedly indirect route, living in Chicago, Arizona, Seville, Amsterdam, North Carolina and Madrid. Despite not having stepped foot in Seville for over five years, he still speaks Spanish with an Andalusian accent. Jeff’s writing has been published in newspapers and magazines in America and Europe.

Koren Helbig is an Australian freelance journalist and blogger enjoying a life of near-eternal sunshine in Alicante. She writes for publications in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, focusing on stories exploring smart and positive approaches to social issues. She hangs out on Twitter at @KorenHelbig and keeps a selection of her favourite stories at

Julie Pybus lives in a small off-grid house on a hillside in Catalunya. She usually focuses on helping charities and social enterprises with their publications and websites, but has also written for The Guardian, Country Living and The Observer. Julie launched and runs a hyperlocal website which endeavors to increase understanding between the different nationalities in her area @JuliePybus

Paul Louis Archer is a freelance photographer, multimedia storyteller and artist educator. A cross-disciplinary worker, who endeavors to encompass the mediums of photography, audio design and writing. Born in Hertfordshire of an English father and Spanish mother. Based in the United Kingdom. @PaulLouisArcher

Vicki McLeod is a freelance writer and photographer. She has lived in Mallorca since 2004. Vicki writes about her beloved island for The Majorca Daily Bulletin, the only daily English language paper in Spain; produces regular columns for the Euro Weekly News, and articles for Vicki runs PR strategies for several businesses in Mallorca and London as well as working on her own blogs and projects. She and her husband, Oliver Neilson, supply photo and text content for private clients via @phoenixmediamlr. She tweets at @mcleod_vicki.

Born in Newcastle upon Tyne and based in Barcelona, Alx Phillips writes about contemporary art, dance and theatre in a way that human beings can understand. For more previews, reviews, interviews and extras, check:

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