Military Wives, Italian Donkey Song, Nirvana: The Always Entertaining & Bizarre Race For UK's No. 1 Christmas Single
Military Wives, Italian Donkey Song, Nirvana: The Always Entertaining & Bizarre Race For UK's No. 1 Christmas Single

The U.K.'s ever-idiosyncratic Christmas singles market is producing its usual entertaining race for Yuletide chart honors, with contestants including a choir of soldiers' wives, the latest YouTube sensation and a 1960s song about an Italian donkey.

The battle to be No. 1 for Christmas has always made the U.K. singles market in the second half of December an eccentric law unto itself. This year, as usual, various perennial Yuletide anthems by artists ranging from Slade and Wizzard to Shakin' Stevens and Band Aid have been pumping endlessly from every media outlet. In the download era, many of those tracks continue to chart every year alongside an extremely mixed bag of novelties, Facebook-created hits, weird reissues and, of course, the heretofore all-powerful "X Factor" winner. This year, it seems, the tide is turning against the talent series, and the singles scene is about to produce a new runaway champion from a different field

confirmation of the prestigious Christmas No. 1 titles in both singles and album charts due on the afternoon of Christmas Day. As widely predicted, midweek sales data suggests that the Military Wives, a choir of wives of British servicemen assembled for a BBC TV documentary, and featuring Gareth Malone and Paul Mealor, are a certainty for the singles crown with "Wherever You Are" (Decca/Universal), sales of which stood at 450,000 up to midnight Thursday, according to Official Charts Company data. Michael Bublé's "Christmas" (Reprise/Warner Music) is heading for the top of the Christmas album chart, with 205,000 new sales to last night.

"Wherever You Are" stands way ahead of the current No. 1, Little Mix's "Cannonball" (Syco Music/Sony Music Entertainment), with 87,000 sales. In marked contrast to the almost complete absence of physical singles sales most of the year round, the Military Wives' track has sold the majority of its total on CD, a current tally of 335,000 compared to 115,000 digital sales.

The wild card in the Christmas race is the late, New Jersey-born Lou Monte's 1960 recording "Dominick The Donkey" (Dexterity), at No. 3 in the latest "midweeks" after extensive support from BBC Radio 1 morning drive presenter Chris Moyles. Monte found fame in the U.S. with the Italian-styled novelties "Lazy Mary (Luna Mezzo Mare)" in 1958 and "Pepino The Italian Mouse" in 1962, but he was unable to give his donkey friend any chart recognition, and never charted at all in the U.K.

Other singles selling well in the festive market include unsigned British artist Alex Day's "Forever Yours" (Nermie Army HQ) and Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" (Geffen/Universal). Day is proclaimed on his website as "now the biggest independent UK solo artist on YouTube with 470,000 subscribers," and he says of the track "it's not a cover, an X Factor song, a novelty or comedy song. It's just a song people like." A share of the profits is going to World Vision, a charity for whom Day volunteered in Zambia.

A Facebook campaign to get the Nirvana classic to No. 1, much as Rage Against The Machine's "Killing In The Name" became the festive chart-topper in 2009, is falling short, with the track currently placed at No. 9. That earlier campaign was aimed at stopping the chart domination of the annual "X Factor" winner, with the 2009 victor, Joe McElderry, thus being held off the top with "The Climb" (Syco Music/Sony Music Entertainment), although he did still reach No. 1 the following week.

Last year, "X Factor" reasserted its Christmas supremacy as Matt Cardle's "When We Collide," also on Syco, went to No. 1 with 439,000 sales in six days. This year's winners, Little Mix, hit the summit last Sunday with 210,000 sales, but are clearly about to be denied the Yuletide No. 1 spot.

Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas Is You" (Columbia/Sony Music Entertainment) and "Fairytale of New York" (Warner Bros./Warner Music) by the Pogues featuring Kirsty MacColl both look likely to miss out on the festive top ten, dipping to Nos. 19 and 14 in the current data. But two new Christmas covers are set to reach the top 40: a rendition of Wham!'s "Last Christmas" (Global/UMTV) by the cast of the popular U.K. TV series "The Only Way Is Essex" and Stacey Solomon, former "X Factor" contestant and winner of the tenth series of "I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here!" Dec. 4, singing Chris Rea's "Driving Home For Christmas" (Conehead).