A Christmas Song Is No. 1 in the UK, Too — Ellie Goulding’s Cover of Joni Mitchell’s ‘River’

While Mariah Carey’s quarter-century-old “All I Want for Christmas Is You” continues to top the singles charts in America, in Europe a very different holiday anthem has made that ascension to No. 1 — Ellie Goulding’s cover of Joni Mitchell’s “River,” a song about having a blue Christmas.

And with that, the artist to whom Variety gave its Decade Award at a Hitmakers celebration earlier in December has unexpectedly ended up being the UK’s final chart-topper of the decade.

Carey’s perennial was not being ignored across the pond. Actually, Christmas songs claimed the top four slots in the final BBC chart of the year and decade. “All I Want for Christmas Is You” came in at No. 2, followed by Wham!’s “Last Christmas” at No. 3 and the Pogues’ and Kirsty Maccoll’s “Fairytale of New York” at No. 4.

Goulding’s “River” was the only newly recorded song to land in that top quartet. That it made it to No. 1 on the Dec. 27 chart was perhaps more remarkable in that it wasn’t available on Spotify or most of the usual digital services, being an Amazon Music exclusive, although the video could also be viewed on YouTube.

In a statement published by OfficialCharts, Goulding said, “I’m so over the moon that I got the chance to sing such a beautiful song so close to my heart by one of the best songwriters of all time – someone who inspired me greatly for the next album — and it makes me so happy that people have also become new Joni fans as a result. It’s been a rollercoaster of a year, but can’t think of a better birthday present than being the last No. 1 of the decade.” (Goulding’s birthday is Dec. 30.)

The “River” video carries an ecological theme, with Goulding and friends picking up discarded plastic on the beaches of Dungeness and using the litter to make a zero-waste Christmas tree. Goulding reminded fans that “every single piece of plastic ever made is still on this planet. It’s a material that will last for hundreds of years, so we need to have a plan. We wanted to show something different and to incorporate a different type of Christmas message while creating something reusable and beautiful.”

“River” first appeared on Mitchell’s classic album “Blue” in 1971, and was never released as a single at the time. For decades, it was rarely thought of as a Christmas song, despite having the opening line “It’s coming on Christmas,” perhaps because of its melancholy theme or the lack of a holiday reference in the title. But it gained popularity as a carol starting around the turn of the century, and has become Mitchell’s second most covered song, with interpretations by James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt, Barry Manilow, Sarah McLachlan, Idina Menzel, the “Glee” cast and dozens of others.

“River” is Goulding’s third song to top the UK chart, following “Burn” in 2013 and “Love Me Like You Do” in 2015.

In pure streaming numbers, neither the Goulding nor Carey songs were on top in the UK for the week. That honor goes to Wham!’s “Last Christmas,” which was streamed 17.1 million times, a figure that beat a record previously held by Ariana Grande’s “7 Rings.”

On the UK albums chart, holiday collections claimed two of the top four spots, with Michael Buble’s resurgent “Christmas” at No. 2 and Robbie Williams’ new “The Christmas Present” at No. 4. But the top spot on the albums chart was taken by a Rod Stewart collection of orchestrated greatest hits.

Goulding has not released a new album since “Delirium” in 2015, but has been working on a fourth full-length collection for some time, and said in her statement that she “can’t wait for you to hear the album early next year.”

More Music

  • CDBaby logo

    CD Baby Is Shutting Down Its Retail Store

    As if the name “CD Baby” weren’t already an anachronism, the independent distributor announced late last week that it is shutting down its retail store, although it will continue to distribute physical product through other channels. “CD Baby’s mission is to help artists monetize and promote their music in the best ways possible,” a message [...]

  • Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters

    Foo Fighters Reveal 'Van Tour' Dates to Mark 25th Anniversary

    The Foo Fighters are revisiting their past with a tour to commemorate their first-ever outing as a band in 1995. Dubbed “The Van Tour,” the spring trek will kick off in Phoenix on April 12 and wrap in Hamilton, Ontario on May 12. Each stop will feature a sneak peek at frontman Dave Grohl’s new [...]

  • Harry Styles arrives for the Brit

    Harry Styles Walks Brit Awards Red Carpet After Reported Robbery in London

    Harry Styles walked the red carpet at the Brit Awards in London Tuesday night, shortly after it was reported that he was robbed at knifepoint in his Hampstead neighborhood three nights earlier. Without naming Styles by name, Scotland Yard confirmed Tuesday that an incident seeming to match the circumstances of the alleged assault on the [...]

  • Amazon Music Puts Spotlight on Kane

    'Velocity' Puts Spotlight on Kane Brown as Subject of Amazon Music's Fifth Mini-Doc

    For the fifth entry in its line of mini-documentaries, Amazon Music is putting the spotlight on Kane Brown with a behind-the-scenes look at the young country star that will arrive Thursday, accompanied by a live EP. “Velocity” captures moments leading up to Brown’s headlining appearance at L.A.’s Staples Center Jan. 9, with his wife, managers, [...]

  • American alternative rock band Pearl Jam

    Pearl Jam Tell Congressmen BOSS Ticket-Reform Act Is ‘Flawed’

    UPDATED: The BOSS Act is legislation designed to crack down on improper practices in the secondary ticket market — bots, price-gougers and the like — spearheaded by New Jersey Democratic Congressmen Bill Pascrell and Frank Pallone Jr. The bill, which is officially named the “Better Oversight of Secondary Sales and Accountability in Concert Ticketing Act” [...]

  • Sofar Sounds Unveils a Battery of

    Sofar Sounds Unveils a Battery of New Programs for Artists

    Sofar Sounds — which has made a name and a business for itself by staging “secret gigs and intimate concerts” featuring emerging artists for an invited, engaged audience — today unveiled a series of new programs intended to serve artists better, including a new payment model that will see artists paid more for playing bigger [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content