The 12 musical days of Christmas

From Wham! to The Beatles and the Bay City Rollers – fascinating facts from pop music history to celebrate the 12 days of Christmas.

It just wouldn’t be the festive season without a bit of pop trivia.

To mark the 12 days of Christmas, we’re not just counting down geese, lords and drummers, but we’ve got a pop history countdown spanning the past seven decades.

The author of the best-selling pop music trivia book Don’t Stop the Music, Justin Lewis, has compiled this Christmas dozen for Saga and says that the festive season has traditionally been a busy time for the popular music industry.

Lewis told Saga: “As ever, there’s tremendous interest in new releases, whether it’s Take That or Taylor Swift, the Rolling Stones or Peter Gabriel. And Christmas is still the one time of the year when everyone wonders what’s going to be number one.”

A turntable with a vinyl record with a father christmas hat in the backgroundCredit: Shutterstock / Maryshot

“I think Christmas continues to be about our own traditions, collectively and personally, with our families and friends, and so the nostalgia of pop music continues to resonate. Hence Wham!, Mariah and Slade are still being played and celebrated after all these years.

“But as we’ll see, pop music events over the 12 days of Christmas haven’t only been seasonal.”

First day of Christmas – a partridge in a Pear tree

25th December 1984

Do They Know it’s Christmas? by Band Aid enjoyed a five-week spell as the UK’s number one. At the time, it was Britain’s fastest-selling single of all time, shifting a million units in its first week alone. Not counting its three remakes, it has sold 3.83 million – 5.31 million if you add in streaming.

The song still re-enters the Official Chart every Christmas, so is likely to retain its position as the best-selling Christmas number one for some time.

Second day of Christmas – two turtle doves

26th December 1967

The Beatles film Magical Mystery Tour premiered on BBC1 at 8:35pm where it received a baffled and hostile reception. It wasn’t the usual Boxing Night fare of Brigadoon or Petula Clark.

The film was repeated on 5th January to a warmer reception.

Third day of Christmas – three French hens

27th December 1988

She Drives Me Crazy was released by the Fine Young Cannibals on this day. The single, recorded at Prince’s Paisley Park studios, in Minneapolis, made them one of the hottest bands in the world the following year.

Who's had the most UK Christmas number ones?

YouTube star LadBaby has had the most number one singles in the UK, with five chart-toppers between 2018 and 2022.

Mark Hoyle, with his wife Roxanne and their two sons, have hit number one every year with a series of songs featuring punning reworks of classic rock songs – chiefly centred on sausage rolls.

The previous holder was The Beatles, who notched up four number ones in 1963, 1964, 1965 and 1967.

Fourth day of Christmas – four calling birds

28th December 1976

Disco Inferno was released on this day by Philadelphia soul group The Trammps. It was inspired by the disaster film The Towering Inferno, where a disco on top of the building was involved in the fire.

The single only achieved mainstream chart success after it was used in the soundtrack for Saturday Night Fever a year later.

Fifth day of Christmas – five gold rings

29th December 1987

Released on this day, was I Should Be So Lucky, by Kylie Minogue. Though her first single with producers Stock Aitken and Waterman, the Australian star of TV’s Neighbours had already topped the charts in her homeland with a remake of The Loco-Motion.

Sixth day of Christmas – six geese a-laying

30th December 2010

Exactly 94 years after the death of Grigori Rasputin and in the same city of St Petersburg, Bobby Farrell, of the group Boney M, died at the age of 61.

The quartet had scored a worldwide hit with Rasputin, in 1978.

Famous Christmas songs that never made it to No 1

  • I Believe in Father Christmas by Greg Lake – number two, 1975, behind Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody.
  • Fairytale Of New York by The Pogues was beaten by Pet Shop Boys with Always On My Mind in 1987.
  • Stop The Cavalry by Jona Lewie was trumped in 1980 by St Winifred’s School Choir and There’s No One Quite Like Grandma.
  • Chris Rea’s Driving Home for Christmas – first released in 1986, yet its highest position ever has been number 10 in 2021.
  • Wombling Merry Christmas by The Wombles – number two, 1974, behind Mud’s Lonely This Christmas.

Seventh day of Christmas – seven swans a-swanning

31st December 1991

On this day, after nearly 60 years on air, Radio Luxembourg closed as an analogue service. Its final record, which mentions the station as a tribute, is Van Morrison’s In the Days Before Rock and Roll.

Many familiar BBC DJs began their careers on the station including Kid Jensen and Steve Wright.

Eighth day of Christmas – eight maids a-milking

1st January 1964

The first edition of Top of the Pops was broadcast at 6:35pm, from a converted Methodist chapel, Manchester. Appearing on the show were Dusty Springfield, The Rolling Stones and the Hollies.

Nineth Day of Christmas – nine ladies dancing

2nd January 1986

The Bangles’ Different Light album, which opens with the band’s breakthrough single Manic Monday, was released on this day. It went on to sell more than three million copies in the US alone.

Tenth day of Christmas – 10 lords a-leaping

3rd January 1976

Scottish teen idols the Bay City Rollers reached number one in the US with Saturday Night, a single which had flopped on its previous release in the UK in 1973. Its chanting introduction would surprisingly be an influence on New York punk pioneers Ramones.

The biggest selling Christmas single worldwide

According to the Guinness Book of Records, this honour falls to Bing Crosby’s White Christmas, which has sold more than 100 million records around the world, with at least 50 million sales as singles.

Eleventh day of Christmas – 11 pipers piping

4th January 1969

The Jimi Hendrix Experience was banned from the BBC following its performance on Lulu’s Saturday night variety show, Happening for Lulu, when they abandon their live rendition of Hey Joe (‘We’re gonna stop playing this rubbish’) in favour of an impromptu take on Sunshine of Your Love, as a tribute to Cream.

Twelfth day of Christmas – 12 drummers drumming

5th January 1973

Two enduring rock acts unveiled their debut albums on this day. Aerosmith released its self-titled album and 23-year-old Bruce Springsteen launched Greetings from Ashbury Park, N.J.

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Phillipa Cherryson

Written by Phillipa Cherryson she/her

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Phillipa Cherryson is a senior digital editor for Saga Exceptional. Phillipa has been a journalist for 30 years, writing for local and national newspapers, UK magazines and reporting onscreen for ITV. In her spare time she loves the outdoors and is a trainee mountain leader and Ordnance Survey Champion.

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