Christmas in Britain is a time of tradition. There's goose and mincemeat pie, there's Boxing Day -- and there's the race to the top of the pops. Music fans and oddsmakers spend the weeks before the holiday theorizing about what single will take the sales-only U.K. Singles Chart's top spot during Christmas week, an honor that's conferred annually by a frenzy of last-minute holiday shoppers. Past chart-topppers have included Band Aid's 1984 charity single "Do They Know It's Christmas?" (and
%%DynaPub-Enhancement class="enhancement contentType-HTML Content fragmentId-1 payloadId-61603 alignment-right size-small"%% its 1989 and 2004 sequels), TV-spawned girl group Girls Aloud's 2002 "Sound of The Underground," and kiddie cartoon Bob the Builder's "Can We Fix It."

In recent years, there's been another tradition: Christmas charts dominated by the sharp-tongued talent mogul Simon Cowell. Since 2005, the winner of Cowell's TV talent show X Factor, which he hopes to bring to these shores, has been crowned as the Christmas no. 1. Last Sunday, when baby-faced singer Joe McElderry took home the title, Cowell's joint venture with Sony (SNE), Syco Music, immediately released McElderry's début single, a cover of Miley Cyrus's hit "The Climb," to digital music outlets.

But the presumed climb of "The Climb" has been disrupted. A faction of music fans, fed up with the prospect of yet another Cowell Christmas, are throwing their weight behind a 17-year-old tune by a very different, very unlikely Sony artist: the politically charged U.S. thrash-rap band Rage Against the Machine.

Rage Against Simon Cowell

Shortly before the final X Factor episode aired last Sunday, a group on Facebook called "RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE FOR CHRISTMAS NO.1" proclaimed its mission to "protest . . . the X-Factor monotony" by persuading consumers to buy, en masse, Rage's 1992 single "Killing In The Name."

The Facebook group quickly attracted some 236,000 members -- and the notice of an irritated Cowell, who derided the Facebook campaign as "stupid," "cynical," and "very Scrooge." Other observers note that Rage's U.K. label, Epic, is another division of Sony Music Entertainment -- enfeebling any claim of raging against the Cowell-powered machine. Rage's lead singer, Tom Morello, told the BBC that his band is proud to have its song selected for the protest: "The thing the listeners need to know is, it's a really close race and its a real liberating musical revolution and we're honored to be a part of it."

Sony Can't Lose

Still, early returns suggest that the X Factor dissidents might be raining on Cowell's parade. Earlier this week, Rage's single was beating McElderry's by a reported 10% margin. But McElderry's single was released on CD on Wednesday, which could tip the scales in his favor, given its stocking-stuffer capability. A report Thursday morning said some 100,000 copies of "The Climb" were sold after the CD went on sale.

The U.K. chart closes for the week on Saturday, and the no. 1 single will be announced on BBC Radio 1 on Sunday afternoon.

But no matter who wins this race, the real winner is Sony, which is enjoying happy holidays thanks to the horse race between its two battling labels, Syco and Epic.

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