How to make a Christmas No.1 hit: the perfect formula has finally been found

9 December 2019, 10:47 | Updated: 23 November 2021, 12:05

The perfect formula for a Christmas number one has been found
The perfect formula for a Christmas number one has been found. Picture: Getty Images / Classic FM

By Sofia Rizzi

The mystery formula for the perfect Christmas song has been determined by music experts.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to write a Christmas No. 1 hit? Now there's no need to wonder, as experts from UK music label Ostereo have found the blueprint for the perfect Christmas song.

By analysing every Christmas No. 1 from the past 50 years, from Band Aid’s ‘Do They Know it’s Christmas?’ to Ed Sheeran’s ‘Perfect’, Ostereo found the winning combination of four different components: song duration, key, tempo and the artist's age.

They also found most Christmas hits tend to be ballads and cover versions – and they are almost all about something other than Christmas.

Read more: This tiny baby can sing ‘O Holy Night’ better than you

The perfect formula

1. Song duration of 3:57
2. In the key of G major
3. Tempo of 114 bpm (beats per minute)
4. Performer is 27 years old

“I think we’re a long way from an algorithmically-generated Christmas number one,” said Howard Murphy, founder of Ostereo. “But certain characteristics do make a song more likely to resonate with audiences at Christmas.”

If the formula is applied to all the Christmas No. 1 songs from the past 50 years, the song that comes out on top is the Pet Shop Boys' 1988 cover of Elvis Presley's 'Always On My Mind'. The duo covered the song in G major at a speed of 125 bpm, and the song lasts 3:55.

One of classical music's most famous Christmassy associations is Tchaikovsky's Christmas ballet The Nutcracker, of which one of the most famous tunes is 'Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy'.

This is often roughly conducted at around 114 bpm, or a similar tempo, and the key of the piece is in E minor, the relative minor key of the 'perfect' Christmas key, G major.

Add this to the festive instrumentation and theme of the ballet, and you have a classical contender for a No. 1 Christmas hit!