It's almost time for the yearly tradition that is the battle for the UK xmas number one single. For five of the last six years the winner of X Factor has taken the title with only Joe McElderry's The Climb failing to do so in 2009 due to a successful anti X Factor campaign that saw Rage Against The Machine's Killing In The Name top the charts, selling half a million copies in a week in the process. This year it's all looking very different - nowhere near as much a foregone conclusion as usual. In my mind there are three genuine contenders but before I get to those, I'll list some of the other outsiders.
Amongst the bookies tips for the top are the Cast of The Only Way is Essex with their cover of Wham!'s Last Christmas and X Factor 2009 finalist and I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! winner Stacey Solomon's long awaited debut single, a cover of Chris Rea's Driving Home For Christmas. I very much doubt that either of these will go anywhere near the top, and will probably be lucky to be more than a one or two week wonder in the top 40. Highly tipped singles from Arianna Morgan, The Smiths, The Wombles and Chas 'N' Dave will also go nowhere. And you have to wonder why these acts have such short odds when acts and songs that are currently in the iTunes top five as I write - Coldplay's Paradise, Leona Lewis' cover of Nine Inch Nails' Hurt and Olly Murs' Dance With Me Tonight all have odds as long as 100/1. They're long shots up against the three main contenders but all three surely have more of a chance than The Wombles and Stacey Solomon...
But three contenders have come to the front of the pack in the race to claim the 2011 Xmas #1;
Nirvana - Smells Like Teen Spirit
Nirvana's iconic grunge anthem Smells Like Teen Spirit, which thus far shockingly only has a UK peak position of #7, has been chosen as the front running anti X Factor campaign this year. The Rage Against The Machine group worked in 2009 because it was the first time that the idea had been tried, there was a media frenzy which led to huge sales and almost a million members of the Facebook group, of which it was estimated less than 50% ended up ultimately downloading the song. Nevertheless it managed to top Joe McElderry by around 50,000 sales - many of these thought to be the same people buying multiple versions of the song. The idea was tried again last year with Surfin' Bird by The Trashmen. That went to #3 with around 60,000 sales with X Factor's 2010 winner Matt Cardle absolutely thrashing them with When We Collide.
The Nirvana group has so far got 130,000 or so 'fans', assuming a conversion rate of 50% at absolute best then this should translate to a sale of around 60,000-70,000 copies, which won't be anywhere near enough to get it the Christmas #1. An idea that's been tried, tested and achieved before, to attempt it for a third year on the trot rather dilutes the impact of the successful 2009 campaign. It will do well but I don't see it being a realistic contender for the top and I expect Smells Like Teen Spirit to be #3 at best in the Christmas chart. Kudos for whoever chose the charity that proceeds raised will go to though - Rhythmix, the children's charity that battled to get the X Factor girl group to successfully change their name to Little Mix...
Little Mix - Cannonball
...And so then to Little Mix, who were crowned winner's of X Factor at the weekend, the first ever group to win the competition. Put together by the judges in boot camp and mentored by N-Dubz singer Tulisa, the group - consisting of Perrie, Jesy, Leigh-Anne and Jade - has built up a fanbase that has grown througout the competition until they eventually became the most popular act, winning both the semi final and obviously the final. It was in fact Irish singer Janet Devlin that had led the voting for the majority of the series, until a dire performance of Hanson's Mmmbop put her into the bottom two for the first time with the judges wasting no time to send her home. You suspect that Cannonball, the winner's single and thus Little Mix's debut release, was in fact chosen for the winner when Janet was comprehensively leading and expected to win the competition. The Damien Rice song would have suited her vocals and persona a lot more than a girl group who were becoming known for their more contemporary edge.
Nevertheless, they won and were lumbered with this as their debut single (it's a pleasant version of a pleasant song but it's no Sound of the Underground is it!). It went on sale late on Sunday night and has so far managed to shift over 60,000 copies. This is way below the opening sale that Matt Cardle's When We Collide managed last year and even with CD sales in the mix (no pun intended!), it looks as if Cannonball will open with a sale of under 300,000 copies, a direct reflection of the fact that the girls were never absolute favourites from the start in the way that Matt was twinned with the fact that the show has had far lower ratings this year. For the first time, the winner's single has been released a week earlier than usual which means that Cannonball could be on course for a Christmas/second week sale of around 150,000 copies at best - which is easily beatable, perhaps not by Nirvana but certainly by another unknown quantity...
Military Wives with Gareth Malone - Wherever You Are
And to my tip for Christmas #1 - a choir brought together for a BBC2 TV show by choirmaster and presenter Gareth Malone. The choir consists of around 100 women whose husbands are out serving their country in Afghanistan and next week they will be releasing a song called Wherever You Are, an original composition by Welsh composer Paul Mealor with lyrics taken from some of the letters sent between the wives and their husbands. The collective have already performed the song live on Strictly Come Dancing and the CD single has become online retailer Amazon's biggest ever pre-ordered music item. Whether it will be downloaded in such quantities remains to be seen but huge demand very much seems to be present for this song and I expect that it will do big business both digitially and physically.
It should easily get past the 150,000 or so second week tally expected of Little Mix and will almost certainly be the first Christmas #1 since 2004's Band Aid 20 that isn't X Factor related in any way, be it the winner's of the show or a campaign against it. It's a wintery sounding, haunting and touching song which is delivered beautifully by the lead vocalist, shy Scottish 28 year old Samantha Stevenson. Perhaps not an obvious contender for Christmas chart topper considering some of the songs that have topped the festive listings in the past but this does look like the one to beat at the moment. Anybody keen to see X Factor miss out this year might as well move their attention from Nirvana over to this, as it's definitely the one to beat.