What links a pet rat, the ‘70s kung fu craze, an anti-IRA outburst and a Vegemite sandwich? All four feature in songs which hit number one in Australia at Christmas time! While earning a Christmas number one has always been a highly prized plaudit in the UK, here in Australia we’re a bit more blasé about the glory – maybe we’re just suffering lethargy after too many beers, ham and Christmas pudding?
1968 The Beatles - Hey Jude/Revolution
A song so glorious it still closes the main set of Paul McCartney’s live shows, “Hey Jude” (along with John’s AA flip “Revolution”) hit the number one spot in Australia 50 years ago this week. Despite the animosity which was already infiltrating the Fab Four’s Abbey Road sessions, The Beatles managed five more number one singles in Australia: “Ob-La-Di-Ob-La-Da”/”While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, “Get Back”/”Don’t Let Me Down”, “The Ballad Of John & Yoko”, “Something”/”Come Together” and “Let It Be” also topped the charts here.
1971 Rod Stewart – Maggie May
Lifted from the classic 1971 album Every Picture Tells A Story, Rod Stewart has suggested “Maggie May” was written about him losing his virginity as a teenager around a decade before the song was written. “Maggie May” was Rod’s first solo hit single in Australia – he wouldn’t chart another number one Down Under until “You’re In My Heart” in 1977.
Enjoy the MTV Unplugged version...
1972 Michael Jackson – Ben
A number one for eight weeks across 1972 and 1973, Michael Jackson’s solo single was written for Ben, a horror film about killer rats. “Ben” was Michael’s first top 10 hit in Australia, with his previous chart high being #14 with The Jackson 5’s 1970 hit “ABC”. Eddie Vedder later referenced the song in the final line of Pearl Jam’s Vs track “Rats”.
1974 Carl Douglas – Kung Fu Fighting
Using a similar Asian scale riff to The Vapors’ “Turning Japanese”, Jamaican-born singer Karl Douglas cashed in on the heightened interest in martial arts in the 1970s with “Ku Fu Fighting”. A number one around the world and eventually selling more than 11 million copies, the song was also rehashed by UK act Bus Stop in 1998, which only ascended to #15 on the ARIA Singles Chart.
1979 The Buggles – Video Killed The Radio Star
UK musician Trevor Horn might be better known for his production work with Yes, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, ABC and Seal, but it was as a member of The Buggles when one of his songs first topped the Australian singles chart. Australia was particularly susceptible to the kooky sounds of this track, with the sleeve notes of the reissue of The Buggles’ album Adventures In Modern Recording even claiming it was the “biggest record in Australia for 27 years”. Two years later, “Video Killed The Radio Star” famously became the first video ever played on US television station MTV in 1981.
1981 Men At Work – Down Under
There aren’t too many Aussie tracks which have hit number one in the festive season, so let’s raise a glass to the closest thing we’ve got in this list (co-writer Colin Hay might have been born in Scotland and spend most of his time in the US, but we’ll still take it). The third single from the number one debut album Business As Usual, "Down Under" hit a nerve with Aussies, despite the ridiculous nature of some of those stanzas (“Where women glow and men plunder”? Really?). The track was number for six weeks across 1981 and 1982, before making a return to the public consciousness in 1983 when it became the unofficial soundtrack to Australia’s America’s Cup victory. A better option than the banal ‘Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oi Oi Oi’, to be sure.
1983 Lionel Richie – All Night Long (All Night)
Back in 1983, the sunset-in-the-Caribbean feel of Lionel Richie’s single “All Night Long (All Night)” must have gone down easier than a six pack of West Coast Cooler. Following 1981’s Diana Ross duet “Endless Love” making it to number one in Australia, “All Night Long” saw the former Commodores frontman again at the apex of the chart. Follow-up single “Running With The Night” (arguably a far better song) only made it to #24 in Australia the following year, but Richie would ascend to the #1 spot again in 1984 with “Hello”.
1984 Madonna – Like A Virgin
Lifted from the album of the same name, the corseted Madonna’s debut ARIA number one “Like A Virgin” sat at the top of the chart for the duration of December 1984. “Like A Virgin” might have been her first (pun intended), but it was followed by 10 more number one singles in Australia across the ‘80s, ‘90s and 2000s, concluding with the Justin Timberlake and Timbaland collaboration “4 Minutes” in 2008.
1989 The B-52’s – Love Shack
After the ‘80s murder of John Lennon, the AIDS crisis, the Chernobyl meltdown and Challenger disaster, music-lovers obviously wanted to finish the decade with a perennial party song. Already more than 10 years into their recording career, The B-52’s first big hit since 1981’s “Private Idaho” was a deliriously fun and out-there pop song produced by Don Was. It might not have been ‘cool’, but that was part of the point – if you can’t enjoy a “Love Shack” shimmy, you’re obviously a Christmas Grinch.
1994 The Cranberries – Zombie
Having found plenty of radio success with their first album Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We’s singles “Dreams” and “Linger” a year earlier, 1994 saw fey Irish group The Cranberries turn up the guitar amps for this rage against the Irish Republican Army and its bloody attacks. Proving how the ‘alternative’ scene had bled into the commercial realm, “Zombie” was also the first time the Australian Christmas number one topped the Triple J Hottest 100 (the same thing would occur four years later with The Offspring’s “Pretty Fly (For A White Guy)”.
1995 Coolio – Gangsta’s Paradise
It might be a stretch to remember Michelle Pfeifer’s 1995 film Dangerous Minds, but anyone born post-1970s will have muscle memory when it comes to rapping the film’s soundtrack hit “Gangsta’s Paradise”. Heavily indebted to a sample from Stevie Wonder’s “Pastime Paradise” from his supreme Songs In The Key Of Life album, Coolio won a Grammy for Best Rap Solo Performance for the song, beating out the street cred likes of Tupac, Notorious BIG and Dr Dre. The song was later memorably recrafted by Weird Al Yankovic as “Amish Paradise”.
1998 The Offspring – Pretty Fly (For A White Guy)
Turning up the cartoonish elements of their breakthrough 1994 album Smash, Californian skate punks The Offspring turned a throwaway tune about a try-hard poser into pop gold in 1998. Using a Def Leppard sample from “Rock Of Ages” to kick off the song, the track found love on both Australian commercial radio as well as Triple J, where it hit number one on the Hottest 100 (interestingly, to align with their punk values of not selling out to compilation CDs, the track wasn’t included on the Triple J Hottest 100 CD release of that year). Just like Coolio’s tune above, “Pretty Fly (For A White Guy)” was also the subject of a religious-based Weird Al Yankovic parody – this time as “Pretty Fly For A Rabbi”.