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The UK's unlikely No.1 singles: The surprising chart-toppers in British music

·Freelance Writer
·5-min read
Dame Vera Lynn receives the applause from the audience and fellow performer Cliff Richard during a concert in Hyde Park May 6 commemorating the 50th anniversary of the end of the second world war in Europe
Dame Vera Lynn performing during a concert in Hyde Park commemorating the 50th anniversary of the end of the second world war in Europe. (Reuters)

Following the BBC’s decision to have Land of Hope and Glory performed at the Last Night of the Proms without lyrics, a campaign saw it reach number one in the iTunes charts.

The Vera Lynn rendition of the song reached the top after actor Laurence Fox urged his 230,000 Twitter followers to buy the song in defiance of the BBC.

Multiple versions of the song shot up the charts, with the Vera Lynn version reaching the summit on the same day the campaign started.

Vera Lynn's rendition of Land of Hope and Glory topped the iTunes chart following a Twitter campaign. (iTunes)
Vera Lynn's rendition of Land of Hope and Glory topped the iTunes chart following a Twitter campaign. (iTunes)

But it is not the first time a politically-motivated – or just downright unlikely – song has seen chart success.

Here are a few other unlikely songs that beat all the odds and reached the top end of the pop charts…

Zack de la Rocha, left, and Tom Morello of the band Rage Against the Machine perform during their headlining set at the "L.A. Rising" concert at the Los Angeles Coliseum, Saturday, July 30, 2011, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)
Rage Against the Machine perform during their headlining set at the 'LA Rising' concert at the Los Angeles Coliseum in 2011. (AP)

Rage Against The Machine – Killing In The Name Of

While being an alternative classic since it first came out in 1992, Killing In The Name Of by American rockers Rage Against The Machine only peaked at number 25 on its initial release.

It wasn’t until 2009 that the protest song – written about revolution against institutional racism and police brutality – reached number one and making it the festive chart-topper that year.

The song was re-released as part of a battle to stop the X Factor winner achieving the Christmas number one slot for the fifth year in a row.

The campaign was a big success, with 500,000 downloads of the song being sold – and stopping Joe McElderry achieving the number one both he and Simon Cowell expected.

Welsh folk singer and language campaigner Dafydd Iwan performing at the funeral of rugby star Ray Gravell (15-11-07) Picture David Jones/PA   (Photo by David Jones - PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images)
Welsh folk singer and language campaigner Dafydd Iwan performing in 2007. (Getty)

Dafydd Iwan – Yma O Hyd

Former Plaid Cymru president Dafydd Iwan became an unlikely chart-topper this year with his folk song Yma O Hyd – which was initially released in 1981.

The song’s success was down to a campaign by Welsh independence movement YesCymru, as well as its popularity at local rugby matches.

Yma O Hyd – which means ‘still here’ English – topped the iTunes chart in January, ahead of The Weeknd and Tones and I.

The Wolfe Tones – Come Out Ye Black And Tans

It seems as though 2020 is the year of the political statement song as Come Out Ye Black And Tans also reached number one on the iTunes chart in January.

The Irish rebel song, performed by The Wolfe Tones, saw a surge in popularity after the Irish government postponed a planned commemoration of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) in February after a backlash.

Several politicians said they would not attend the commemoration after a public backlash to its links to the Black and Tans – constables recruited into the RIC as reinforcements during the Irish War of Independence.

LadBaby – Sausage Roll Songs

There are some songs that were just never seen as likely to get to number one – until they did.

In fact, LadBaby scored the Christmas number one twice – most recently with his classic I Love Sausage Rolls, which became 2019’s fastest-selling download in the process.

The song, a sausage-roll themed cover of I Love Rock ’n’ Roll, was YouTube star Mark Hoyle’s second festive chart-topper in a row, following 2018’s epic We Built This City On Sausage Rolls.

Both songs were raising proceeds for food bank charity The Trussell Trust.

Mr Blobby, the character who shot to fame on Noel Edmonds' House Party on BBC Television, celebrates in London, after hearing that he may topple Meat Loaf off the No. 1 spot, when the Top 40 singles chart is released.
Mr Blobby, the character who shot to fame on Noel Edmonds' House Party on BBC Television, celebrates in London, after hearing that he may topple Meat Loaf off the No. 1 spot, when the Top 40 singles chart is released.

Mr Blobby – Mr Blobby

Away from songs with a political statement behind them, there are some that defy belief by reaching number one just by being bad.

Step forward Mr Blobby – the one-time king of Saturday night television who managed to nab the Christmas number spot in 1993 and selling 600,000 copies in the process.

If you haven’t heard it, it might be best to keep it that way as it has been featured in many ‘worst song of all time’ lists.

Soldiers are seen during the annual Remembrance Sunday memorial at The Cenotaph, in Whitehall, London. (Photo by Steve Taylor / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)
Soldiers are seen during the annual Remembrance Sunday memorial at The Cenotaph, in Whitehall, London. (PA)

The Royal British Legion – 2 Minute Silence

Just missing out on the top spot in 2010, the two minutes of complete silence to commemorate Remembrance Day fittingly reached number two.

A campaign was started to get the silent song to number one so people would be more aware of the annual two minutes of silence, that was not always able to be observed by certain businesses and offices.

Britain’s Premier Margaret Thatcher as she makes a statement to mark her 10 years in office outside No. 10 Downing Street, London, on May 4, 1989.  (AP Photo)
A campaign was started to get Ding Dong the Witch is Dead to the top of the charts following the death of Margaret Thatcher. (AP)

The Wizard Of Oz Cast – Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead

One of the most famous songs from 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz peaked at number two in the charts in 2013 following the death of former prime minister Margaret Thatcher.

A campaign was started by anti-Tory activists to get the song to number one to celebrate the passing of the divisive first female PM.

BBC Radio 1 only partially played the song during its chart rundown, a move that still angered opponents of the campaign.

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