Music Mayhem: Rage Against Simon Cowell

U.K. Christmas chart upset by anti-Cowell Facebook campaign.

December 21, 2009, 11:13 AM

LONDON, 21 Dec, 2009— -- It is being hailed as one of the biggest shocks in the history of the U.K.'s music charts -- and a slice of humble Christmas pie for pop mogul Simon Cowell. Anarchist rockers Rage Against the Machine beat X Factor winner – and Cowell's latest pop offering – Joe McElderry to capture the coveted crown of Christmas Number One.

"Killing in the Name" – the expletive-infused anthem of '90s angst originally recorded by Rage Against the Machine in 1992 – was dusted off and resurrected from the rock closet by an Internet campaign designed to rage against Cowell's X Factor machine and its stranglehold on the top festive spot for the last four years.

And rage it did! The single sold 500,000 downloads in one week, soundly beating Joe McElderry's version of the Miley Cyrus song, "The Climb," by 50,000.

It was the most competitive battle for the British pop charts in years – a battle of the cool, old-school underdog versus the latest commercial confection. And it was a virtual rock revolution – launched via a grassroots campaign on the social networking site Facebook by a husband-and-wife team who were exasperated with the predictable X factor monopoly. (In the United Kingdom, "The X Factor," created by Cowell, is the rough equivalent of "American Idol.")

"Fed up with Simon Cowell's latest karaoke act being Christmas number one? Me too..." Jon and Tracy Morter wrote on the Facebook group page launched in November. Their rallying cry struck a chord, and the page amassed more than 950,000 supporters.

Still, not many expected Rage Against the Machine to trump Cowell's corporate might. Some bookmakers opened with odds of 150/1, and the betting industry is estimated to have lost £1 million on the upset.

In a phone interview for "The Chart Show" on BBC Radio 1, Zack de la Rocha of Rage Against the Machine said the band members were "very ecstatic" about the surprise outcome.

"It says more about the spontaneous action taken by young people throughout the U.K. to topple this very sterile pop monopoly and less about the song and the band," de la Rocha said. "We are very proud to have had the song chosen as the vehicle by which to do this."

Simon Cowell told the U.K.'s Daily Mirror newspaper he was "gutted" at losing the seasonal battle but "genuinely impressed" by the Morters' inspired campaign. He called the couple with his congratulations and said he was "no sore loser."

"I offered them jobs at my record company. It could be in marketing or even running the company!" Cowell told the Daily Mirror. "I wanted them to come and work for us. I was deadly serious, but they haven't taken me up on the offer."

So what's next for Jon Morter, a 35-year-old part-time DJ, and his wife Tracy, 30? Today, they unveiled plans to spearhead a new campaign for a chart-topping hit to mark the 2010 World Cup. Stay tuned.

But don't feel sorry for Cowell just yet. It's not all coal in his Christmas stocking this year. He maintained a hold on the album chart courtesy of "Britain's Got Talent" sensation Susan Boyle. Her album, "I Dreamed A Dream," remained at the top spot for the fourth consecutive week.

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