It takes two to write a Christmas hit

PRS for Music top 20 most played Christmas song chart reveals ‘two’ is the magic number

Mariah Carey with Santa - credit Rex/Shutterstock
Mariah Carey with Santa - credit Rex/Shutterstock

Songwriting society, PRS for Music, has revealed that it takes two people on average to write a Christmas hit. Analysis of the organisations’ database of 22.2 million musical works and top 20 most played Christmas songs on UK radio, found that two minds are better than one when it comes to conjuring up a festive chart-topper.

Overwhelmingly, ten of the most played Christmas songs on UK radio, have two songwriting masterminds behind the nations favourite Christmas hits, including big band favourites, ‘Fairytale of New York’ by The Pogues, Band Aid’s ‘Do They Know It's Christmas’ and Slade’s ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’. 

Even some of the most famous solo acts have had a helping hand with their Christmas hit; Elton John’s ‘Step Into Christmas’ was penned with long-term collaborator, Bernie Taupin, while Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’, was co-written with Walter Afanasieff aka Baby Love (also known for co-writing ‘Butterfly’ and ‘Hero’ for Mariah and producing Grammy Award winning ‘My Heart Will Go On’ for Celine Dion).

To date, Chrissie Hynde is the only woman to have singlehandedly penned a top 20 most played Christmas song with ‘2000 Miles’, released by English-American rock band The Pretenders. While Paul McCartney and Chris Rea, are the only solo songwriters in the top 20 to have written and performed their own solo Christmas hits, ‘Wonderful Christmastime’ and ‘Driving Home For Christmas’.

Today’s original festive tracks, those written and released post-2000, often see more songwriters on them than the traditional ‘classics’; ‘You Make It Feel Like Christmas’ released by Gwen Stefani this month sees four songwriters credited, Kylie’s ‘Every Day's Like Christmas’ (2016), five songwriters, and Kanye West’s ‘Christmas in Harlem’ (2010), also credits five songwriters. Leona Lewis’ ‘One More Sleep’ (2013) is the only post-2000 track to feature in the PRS top 20 most played chart, ranking at number 14, and was also penned by five songwriters.

Christmas Trivia: Girls Aloud Christmas song, ‘Not Tonight Santa’ (2005), was penned by an unusually merry bunch of songwriters officially credited as, S Claws, Holly Bush, Henry Mistletoe, Festiv Gifts and Beth Lehem.

PRS for Music represents songwriters, composers and music publishers in the UK and around the world. As a not-for-profit membership organisation, it ensures creators are paid whenever their music and songs are played, performed, downloaded, broadcast, or reproduced in public.

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The essence of any successful Christmas song is its ability to conjure the festive spirit, be it as a celebration or as a deeper reflection of the season. At its core, this can only truly be achieved through writing the kind of lyric and melody that resonates with all our feelings at this time of year, and it’s why, so many of the same classic Christmas songs have been covered and played countless times across the years. It takes exceptional songwriting talent to pen a long-lasting hit that speaks to many generations.

Simon Aldridge, Head of Writer Relations, PRS for Music

Traditional Christmas standards ‘Winter Wonderland’ and ‘Santa Claus Is Coming To Town’ have both been covered no less than 200 times each by artists including Ella Fitzgerald, Elvis Presley, Bruce Springsteen, Frank Sinatra, The Jackson 5, Andrea Bocelli, Mylie Cyrus, Justin Bieber, Neil Diamond, Rod Stewart, and Michael Bublé.

Top 20 Most Played Christmas Songs on UK Radio 2012-16

*Source: officialcharts.com 
Rank Song Title Originally Performed By Written By Released Top UK Chart Position*

1

Fairytale Of New York The Pogues Jem Finer, Shane MacGowan 1987 2

2

All I Want For Christmas Is You Mariah Carey Walter Afanasieff, Mariah Carey 1994

2

3

Last Christmas Wham! George Michael 1984 2

4

Do They Know It's Christmas Band Aid Bob Geldof, Midge Ure 1984

1

5

I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day Wizzard Roy Wood 1973

4

6

Driving Home For Christmas Chris Rea Chris Rea

1988

26

7

Stay Another Day East 17 Dominic Hawken, Rob Kean, Tony Mortimer

1994

1

8

Merry Xmas Everybody Slade Noddy Holder, Jim Lea 1973

1

9

Merry Christmas Everyone Shakin' Stevens Bob Heatlie

1985

1

10

Wonderful Christmastime Paul McCartney Paul McCartney

1979

6

11

Happy Christmas (War is Over) John & Yoko/Plastic Ono Band with the Harlem Community Choir John Lennon, Yoko Ono

1972

2

12

Step Into Christmas Elton John Elton John, Bernie Taupin

1973

24

13

Santa Claus Is Coming To Town

Tom Stacks

John Frederick Coots,
Haven Gillespie

1934

43

14

One More Sleep Leona Lewis
Jez Ashurst, Bradford Ellis, 
Iain James, Leona Lewis, 
Richard Stannard

2013

3

15

Sleigh Ride The Andrews Sisters Leroy Anderson, Mitchell Parish 1948/50 6

16

Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas Judy Garland Ralph Blane, Hugh Martin

1944

51

17 2000 Miles The Pretenders Chrissie Hynde 1983

15

18

Winter Wonderland Richard Himber & Hotel Ritz-Carlton Orchestra Felix Bernard, Richard B. Smith

1934

17

19

Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) Darlene Love Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich, Phil Spector

1963

47

20

Christmas Wrapping

Waitresses

Chris Butler

1981

45

The chart above shows the most played Christmas songs on UK radio throughout the month of December in the last five years, as reported to PRS for Music by commercial and non-commercial radio stations. Ranking includes both original and cover versions of each song.

  • The only official duet to rank in the PRS top 20 most played Christmas song chart, was written and performed by John Lennon and Yoko Ono; ‘Happy Christmas (War is Over)’, ranks at number 11 in the chart. A version of the duet was later released with the Harlem Gospel Choir in 1972. 
  • Even though the PRS top 20 most played Christmas songs, cumulatively achieved over a staggering 163 million seconds of airplay in the last five years, festive tunes are not guaranteed a UK Number 1 chart position. ‘Stay Another Day’, by East 17, ‘Do They Know It's Christmas’, performed by Band Aid, Slades ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’, and Shakin' Stevens ‘Merry Christmas Everyone’ are the only tracks in the top 20 most played list to reach pole position. 
  • Originally released by Band Aid in 1984, charity single, ‘Do They Know It's Christmas’, is the only ‘most played’ Christmas song to have more than one version make it to the UK No.1 Official Chart position; three further cover versions of the song also made it to No.1, including, Band Aid II (1989), Band Aid 20 (2004), and Band Aid 30 (2014).
 

About PRS for Music

PRS for Music represents the rights of songwriters, composers and music publishers in the UK and around the world. As a membership organisation it works to ensure that creators are paid whenever their musical compositions and songs are streamed, downloaded, broadcast, performed and played in public. With over 100 representation agreements in place globally, PRS for Music's network represents over two million music creators worldwide. In 2017, 6.6 trillion performances of music were reported to PRS for Music with £717m collected on behalf of its members, making it one of the world’s leading music collective management organisations.

PRS for Music’s public performance licensing is now carried out on PRS for Music’s behalf by PPL PRS Ltd, the new joint venture between PPL and PRS for Music.