Foreign Thursday: Chapter 2
What has ITALY ever done for pop music?
There comes a time in your life when you have to accept that you’re not going to be the best at everything. This may be in school, where you can be top of you class in maths, science, languages and many other academic subjects, but you’re probably not going to be the best at sport. Anyone who manages to master of those subjects is worthy of your suspicion, like the guy who lives in the room opposite you at university, he is stupidly good looking, athletic, intelligent, a musician, and worst of all, pleasant to talk to and easy to get along with. You know that that person is going to fail in some field, but it’s not obvious what. Excluding these social anomalies, we just have to acknowledge that this is just the natural order of the world, people have their strengths and they have their weaknesses, and he who is the jack of all trades will be the master of none, as the saying goes.
When you think of what Italy has given the world, what first comes to mind? It’s probably food. If food immediately springs to mind, don’t think this means you need to start doing sit-ups every morning, or heaven forbid, take out a gym subscription, Italy is accepted by many people to have the best food in the world, but then most people outside of the UK don’t understand the sheer joy that can come from a good savoury pie. The Italians have their food and they have their fashion, if you’re into that, but have they put in much effort with their pop music? This is the big question.
If you do a little digging, you can probably find that in your music library you’ve got a few tracks by secret Italians, although they’ll probably be dance tracks. Eiffel 65 gave us the anthem of our generation, ‘Blue (Da Ba Dee)’ in 1999, which bizarrely went on to sell over a million copies, becoming the second biggest song of the year in the UK (behind …Baby One More Time), but thankfully the second single tanked and Eiffel 65 dropped off our radars but not before doing a few ghastly remixes (“Just speed it up a lot, alter the pitch and add the sound effects from Blue! Does this count as a remix?”)
We shouldn’t write off all Italian pop because of that though:
1989’s biggest selling single was cheeky samplers’ Black Box’s Ride On Time, and they were from Italy.
Fellow cheeky samplers and chimney specialists The Tamperer were also from Italy.
Club Classics staple ‘Point of View’ by DB Boulevard was Italian.
However, perhaps making Italy’s best contribution to pop music is Giorgio Moroder. The super producer and disco pioneer created the instrumental for Blondie’s second best single “Call Me” (which is the best part of it, as the lyrics are rather bad, “Come up off your colour chart”). He also co-wrote the equally uncomfortable and incredible Donna Summer moanfest ‘Love to Love You Baby’, the perfect soundtrack to a sensual massage, perhaps, or maybe if you’re especially unsociable and you have new neighbours but want to assure that they don’t come round to say hi. For good old Donna, he also wrote electronic trailblazer ‘I Feel Love’ and produced stippers’ anthem ‘Hot Stuff’. Then when you add into the equation ‘Together In Electric Dreams’ with Human League frontman Phil Oakey and working with King of Music, David Bowie, Moroder’s contribution to pop and dance music seems even more significant that of even Eiffel 65.
Finally, in my humble opinion, I don’t think you can discuss the output of Italy without including Raffaele ‘Raf’ Riefolo, who co-wrote and originally performed the Laura Brannigan’s 80’s classic ‘Self Control’. If you thought Self Control was good enough in the better-known Brannigan version, imagine how it would sound stretched out to six minutes and with an awkward 80’s white man rap shoved in the middle. Perfect, that’s how.
So that’s a little of Italy’s contribution to pop music. Perhaps the names aren’t as big, but the Italians have more of a tendency to be the ones behind the scenes in pop, producing the beats and provoking the earth-trembling orgasms. As I said earlier, the Italians can’t be best at everything, but they still have a little go, so we’ll respect them for that at least. Pop is obviously not their main genre, they have a few musical baskets and a lot of their sonic eggs go into opera, but every now and again you (literally) can’t hold back one of the operatic heavyweights when he wants to dip his toes into pop’s waters, as seen in this video of the unlikely pairing of the Spice Girls and Pavarotti, singing a ridiculous/fantastic version of ‘Viva Forever’.
Plus points (/10) : 6 points for Moroder
Minus points (/10): -3 for the numerous house acts and their uncredited samples. Very naughty.
Bonus points for Eurovision ’12 entry (/3): 2, Very good effort from Nina Zilli.
Score: 5. Well done, Italy.
This is the second article in the What has ____ done for pop music? series. Click here for article 1: Denmark.
Remembering Nadia Oh
In 2011, something amazing happened when a woman seemingly came out of nowhere (at least if you weren’t aware of her previous ‘work’) and released one of the weirdest songs of the year, an ode to the swag of Kate Middleton, titled “Taking Over The Dancefloor” and released in time for the royal wedding. Nadia Oh had taken it upon herself to introduce the house-reggaeton fusion genre/absolute racket of moombahton to a pop audience and this was her way of doing it, by repeating the word moombahton again and again over a dance beat. The song had more autotune than you could throw a disco stick at and sounded like the music had been composed by a bunch of women on a hen night, blowing on Anne Summers willy whistles and toy trumpets. Her lyrics weren’t much better either:
Don Julio Patron
We get it poppington
Up in the clubbington
We we we Kate Middleton SWAG
We we we swagginton
Don Julio Patron
You wouldn’t catch Wordsworth making up nonsensical words by adding suffixes to make them rhyme with the name of the Queen-to-be, but Nadia’s doing so just made the whole thing more absurdly endearing. Despite everything about it being 100% awful, there was something oddly compelling about it. You could imagine Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge going into the club at Saint Andrews’ student union, showing her swaggington and telling Prince William to throw his wallet in the sky. It sounds like the kind of scene you would expect to see in the American dramatic retelling of their relationship that was broadcast on TV around the time of the wedding. Imagine if they had had Taking Over the Dancefloor as their first dance? It’s pretty unlikely though, William probably hates moombahton. What started off as listening to TOTD as a joke, became so much more when, one day, one of my housemates expressed their dislike of the song, which made me play it more. It was then brought to my attention that it was also a brilliant way to wind up somebody with a hangover, and soon became a feature on all playlists from then on.
Another thing that made Nadia Oh such an enigmatic character was her online presence. Her music videos are as short as possible, with Taking Over the Dancefloor only lasting a minute and a half, compared to the six-minute epic on the album. In the video she just stands there with her hand on her hip while the misspelt karaoke lyrics pop up along the bottom. The images from the video look like they’ve been made up on MS paint and the music itself isn’t exactly world class, but strangest of all, producer Space Cowboy, who produced the whole album (and the one before that (!!)) worked with Lady Gaga on several tracks from her first two albums, yet Nadia Oh seems to be the one he has taken under his wing as his protégée. Another of her music videos, Jump Out The Window sees the music constantly interrupted as a mystery voice asks Nadia questions and she replies with short-as-possible answers (“Who’s your favourite band?” ‘JLS, they’re cute! Lol!’).
In the video for second, and even better, single ‘No Bueno’, (“He knows his lines like Taran-Tarantino”) Nadia parades around with her hand on her hip in numerous T-shirts quoting her other songs. A lot of the time she references her own ‘oeuvre’, as if she’s in on the joke. She continues this trend on Twitter, where she has sadly been a bit quiet recently, last reminding us that it was ‘Halloween #VampireNight’. At the end of every tweet she posts, she adds a hash tag quoting one of her own songs or lyrics, such as “Trying 2 get addicted 2 tweeting #NoBueno lol;)!”, “Happy Bank Holiday UK, hope it’s a #Slapper(Ayye) lol;)!”, “Studio 2day in London #CosIAmBasedInLondon lol;)!”. As you can see from those nice little examples, she’s also very fond of emoticons and saying ‘lol!’, like a 13 year old girl. That last hash tag is a reference to another of her lyrics, where she sings the beautiful line “The girls they call me London, cos I am based in London.” That line is also followed by “I am so cold, I make the boys froze, they wanna know my digits, but they are ‘fqn’ midgets’. So deep.
This little bit of information is about as good as it gets for any insight into who Nadia actually is/was. She must surely have a real job that funds this musical endeavour, unless she’s just living off a huge inherited fortune. There’s very little proof that Nadia Oh is actually a real person and not just one of these very realistic Japanese robots, but then there’s also a video of her trying to use chopsticks in a restaurant and failing completely, so that’s probably not the case. She very rarely gives interviews, and when she does, all of her responses are in CAPS LOCKS with the emoticons and the LOLs. In one interview she claims she makes good cupcakes, but then she released a promo video of herself making a cake from a packet mix, which has now been taken down because it presumably gave away too much information and destroyed the illusion.
The beauty of the whole thing was that Nadia Oh seemed to be self aware, unlike some of the hapless young pop things these days who get dragged into the game with the promise of riches. Nadia seemed to be in on the joke and committed to keeping this robot-like image alive. But then when you see her standing around staring into the sky, or trying to cut up her dinner with a pair of chopsticks, you can’t help wondering if she would even be capable of dressing herself in her Hot Like Wow T-shirts.
Since the digital-only release of the album ‘Colours’, Nadia has only released one more single, the not exactly beautifully titled ‘Slapper (ayye)’, which featured a heavy and irritating sample of On a Ragga Tip and another (but this time full-length) video of her standing around, hands on hips. There was discussion of her releasing a mix tape (who isn’t releasing a mix tape these days?) but then that never came to fruition, so I can only assume that all the parties involved in the whole ‘Nadia Oh’ joke got bored and moved on. Luckily they left behind a moombahton legacy that won’t be matched for a while to come, I’m sure.
All together now: Bueno, bueno, oh no! No bueno, bueno, no, no!
Patrick Wolf – Sundark and Riverlight
Some artists may commemorate a decade in music by releasing a standard Greatest Hits album, with all of their hits and a few new (usually sub-par) tracks tacked onto the end. Celebrating a tenth anniversary this year are Girls Aloud, who are releasing their second Greatest Hits album with 14 of their top 20 singles, a few poor tracks from the last one taken off and the more recent singles added on, plus a few more songs to make fans actually buy it. This is the kind of thing you can get away with if you’re lucky enough to have had 20 hit singles in your decade in the industry, a minimal effort release with guaranteed profit. All you need to do is put on an orange dress and do a Children In Need performance and the sales will no doubt roll in.
Unfortunately Patrick Wolf can’t get away with any of that. He wouldn’t be invited onto Children In Need in the first place, because he’s not well-known enough and he certainly wouldn’t perform in an orange dress. Black dress, perhaps, or leather cape and headdress made of feathers, but certainly not an orange dress. To celebrate his own decade in music, if he were to release an album of ‘hits’ that charted in the top 200, it would stretch to five songs. Even during the phase when his label tried to make him into a pop star, when he appeared on T4 and he started wearing colourful clothes and riding carousels, his one single that may be known to most more than a handful of people, The Magic Position, didn’t even make the top 40.
So instead Patrick decided to record an acoustic Greatest Misses album with orchestral re-recordings of some of the best tracks from his five album career. There are three tracks from each album and one from the post-Lupercalia ‘Brumalia’. The track listing is then split in half and onto two discs, for what could have easily been one disc of music. The first disc is called Sundark (which isn’t a real word), and contains the supposedly angsty tracks, whereas the second disc is called Riverlight (also not a real word), and is for the more lovey-dovey half.
But who is this album for? It doesn’t serve as a very good introduction for new fans, of course the songs are good, but they’re not in their original form and a lot of his bombastic pop elements have been taken out. It’s a good demonstration of Patrick’s musical ability and voice but you can’t help feeling that new listeners would be better off downloading the track listing from the relevant albums and compiling the album themselves. With this being Patrick, you can be sure that the album is supposed to be bought as a physical release in order to benefit from all of his scrawled artwork and random paraphernalia that may come with. I’m pretty sure he only releases a download version because that’s where the money is. It’s probably an album to listen to when you’re out and about, so you’d need a physical copy if you’re on your travels, or in the car, driving home on a rainy night and trying to decide whether it would be worth just steering off the road and ending it all.
I’ve followed Patrick’s career for five of these ten years, in which I’ve seen him perform twice. The first time I saw him was when it was announced that the planned headliner of the second stage at Latitude Festival had dropped out so Patrick had been bumped up. Before I went, I checked out his then current album, The Magic Position, and his two albums before that and was blown away at his performances (and his nice violinist lady). The second time I saw Patrick, he was still pretty good. He was touring The Bachelor album, which I had invested in, having become a big fan. That whole Bandstocks thing fell flat and I never got my shares back, although they probably would have only been worth a pound or so in total [Sort it out, Paddy]. During this second performance, Patrick was all dolled up in his weird leather stuff and cape, and at one point he introduced a new up and coming act who ran in a circle around the stage and then disappeared again, but overall it was pretty good (and he had been upgraded to the main stage).
With his back catalogue, there is a huge number of excellent songs to choose from to put on a greatest hits album but how many of the tracks are an improvement on the original? Let’s have a quick look… Bear in mind, Patrick is my favourite ukulele-bothering musician (sorry Amanda Palmer) and my favourite solo artist, but I’ll try my best not to be too biased.
1) Wind in the Wires (from 2005’s Wind in the Wires)
Wind in the Wires doesn’t sound too different from the original, which was pretty toned down anyway. The new version lacks the haunting backing vocals of the original, but it does have the inclusion of nice new strings towards the end. The Sundark version is also around 30 second shorter, so you’re getting less Paddy for your pound, and of its 3:55 length, half a minute of that is an a new outro, which isn’t as good as the spooky noises version.
Better or worse? Not too different, a little worse.
Worth Greatest Hits inclusion? If I had to limit the track listing to three songs per album, I would swap in ‘Lands End’ for a Patrick best of.
2) Oblivion (from 2009’s The Bachelor)
This version of Oblivion seems to have had all of the anger sucked out of it. What was one of the best tracks of the crowd-funded, half finished and fairly patchy The Bachelor (The Patchelor?) album has been stripped back so much that it’s now just Patrick backed by one instrument. There’s no wailing strings in the chorus, no gun SHOT (in the dark), no longer the bizarre inclusion of actress Tilda Swinton giving Patrick some mid-song words of encouragement “Wait a second, have you come so far for it to end like this? … GET BACK UP, what are you so afraid of??!”. Patrick does however acknowledge that he didn’t come this far for it to end like this, which is nice but all of the funny voices are missing. My strangely trendy (mid-life crisis experiencing?) father had the original Oblivion as his ring tone. I don’t think he would do the same with the new version.
Better or worse? Undoubtedly worse. Also cut short by 30 seconds or so.
Worth GH inclusion? Without a doubt one of the standout tracks of The Bachelor, this re-recording removes all the good bits from the original, which is a huge backwards step.
3) The Libertine (from Wind in the Wires)
Frenetic Wind in the Wires opener The Libertine seems to have been sped up just a touch and thankfully the wailing violins (the main feature) remain intact and perhaps even more screechy. A weird plucky outro is added to the end but Patrick keeps in the part where he screams about bowing down before false idols so all is not lost.
Better or worse? Definitely good, edging towards better. A good acoustic reworking.
Worth GH inclusion? For sure. Patrick at his angry best.
4) Vulture (from The Bachelor)
Making an acoustic version of 100% electronic Vulture was going to be hard. You can actually hear the lyrics now though, as Patrick just sings over his piano backing and the song seems much sadder and you certainly can’t imagine Patrick in his bondage gear singing this one, which is for the best actually.
Better or worse? Vulture was always one of Patrick’s weirder singles but it is again drained of all attitude.
Worth GH inclusion? I would rather have had Damaris, if sticking to the 3 songs per album rule.
5) Hard Times (from The Bachelor)
Aah, good old Hard Times, the one that should’ve been a huge hit. Despite the acoustic reworking, Patrick’s calls for revolution are not completely muted and the passion is still there.
Better or worse? A pretty good acoustic version, not too much lost.
Worth GH inclusion? Certainly. The most accessible song from The Bachelor
6) Bitten (from 2011’s Brumalia EP)
A strange one to include, considering it’s a non-album, non-single, EP track. It’s a nice track and, for the not so obsessive fans it’s a reminder that Patrick’s EPs exist and can tide you over until he makes another proper album.
Better or worse? I wasn’t familiar with the original version before this album so it’s hard to say.
Worth GH inclusion? I can’t help feeling that Bitten’s place on the album could have been taken up by The City, Accident and Emergency, or Tristan, to name a few actual singles.
7) Overture (from 2007’s The Magic Position)
Sonically, the Magic Position’s opening track is probably one of Patrick’s most joyful songs from his whole back catalogue, so I’m not sure why it’s on the angsty album. Perhaps if you listen to the lyrics questioning the point of war etc it might seem slightly more moody, but I just get lost in the lush string arrangements. As excellent as the original is, a lot is lost underneath the incessant industrial noises, so this version is extremely pleasant to the ear, even if it does lose the heartbeat-like drums.
Better or worse? Not worse, perhaps the first track that is even better than the original, therefore not a surprise it was the first to be released to radio. And by radio I mean Radio 2.
Worth GH inclusion? It’s up there with the best.
8) Paris (from 2003’s Lycanthropy)
Paris, due to being on the debut album, has quite an industrial sound due to all the machines Patrick used early on in his music career, and the drum machine is pretty irritating, so this stripped back version is a good example of the point of the whole album: exploring the songs that sometimes got lost under all the production and funny firework noises. The drums are toned down nicely, allowing the violins to shine. Some nice little HEY HOs are added too, which I am obviously fond of.
Better or worse? Better, less is more.
Worth GH inclusion? Probably the second best song on Lycanthropy, so of course.
9) Together (from 2011’s Lupercalia)
When Patrick released a little taster of what was to come on his crowd-funded ‘Battle’ double album that never came to fruition. Battle was due to be comprised of two discs, a lot like this album, with one angry one and one happy one, but the angry one was the only one that got made, much to my annoyance as an investor. All of the tracks ended up on the Bachelor, except ‘Together’, which was destined for The Conqueror. Eventually ‘Together’ resurfaced on Lupercalia and was a favourite track for many fans, but not for me. It seemed a bit cheesy and like the Pet Shop Boys-esque instrumental didn’t suit the song, so it is more suited to a simple string arrangement, without that woman wailing at the end.
Better or worse? Better
Worth GH inclusion? It shouldn’t have taken the place of Time of my Life, should it?
10) The Magic Position (from The Magic Position)
As far as most people are concerned, The Magic Position is the big one, in that it was played on T4 once and around that time Patrick appeared on Never Mind The Buzzcocks. It was the single that was given the big push and when it didn’t all work out, the label dropped him for not being enough like Mika. The main instrumental hook in this version sounds less like a fairground, so the slightly cheesy edge is taken off. An acoustic rendition allows Patrick’s vocal to take centre stage and it sounds a little bit less like he’s singing about bumming, which may have put people off in the first place. He was singing about being in a position where he is able to love! Not a magical sexual position.
Better or worse? A refreshing listen but not as joyous as the should-be classic.
Worth GH inclusion? It wouldn’t be a greatest hits album without one of Wolf’s two top 80 hits!
11) Bermondsey Street (from Lupercalia)
I don’t know why Bermondsey Street made its way onto the Greatest Hits album, it wasn’t even one of the best on Lupercalia. I know it’s about free love between all people/genders/living things and Patrick’s really into that, but both verses are the same and as a song it’s a bit lazy. So what better way to mark its inclusion on Riverlight than by adding weird Russian and Spanish monologues onto each end of the song and padding it out by an extra minute and a half?
Better or worse? Worse. The monologues make for a very odd and uncomfortable listen. Russian isn’t a sexy language for pop music. Imagine if Shaddup You Facefed off Russian stereotypes, would people have bought it?… I don’t know why they did in the first place but I would guess at no.
Worth GH inclusion? Not at all. The Future was another big lovey one from the same album and was far better. It’s irritating that Tristan didn’t make the album and this did.
12) Bluebells (from The Magic Position)
Bluebells is the best track from The Magic Position and its acoustic version is nice without the fireworks, which could be quite distracting in the original. However, considering it’s another of his best songs, it is unforgiveable that it is cut a minute and a half short. I do actually quite enjoy whistling along to the firework noises, now I think about it.
Better or worse? Worse, I miss the bangs and whistles and Bluebells should nick her extra time back from Bermondsey Street.
Worth GH inclusion? Certainly. Paddy should have whipped out his penny whistle though.
13) Teignmouth (from Wind in the Wires)
The more I think about it, the more certain I become that Wind in the Wires is Patrick Wolf’s best album, it’s certainly the one I go back to most, as it’s so downbeat and so damn melancholy. During my three years living the West Country, I loved going through Teignmouth and listening to the song. Teignmouth itself had pretty good charity shops and award-winning public toilets and a nice little village on the end, perched on a hill overlooking Teignmouth beach. I liked to pretend that all the people there never made it out of the village and hunted all their food with sticks. The Riverlight version of Teignmouth definitely benefits from having the annoying drum machine taken out, as with other songs, but aside from that this version isn’t too different.
Better or worse? Not much difference.
Worth GH inclusion? It is undoubtedly beautiful but it’s not in my WitW top 4.
14) London (from Lyncanthropy)
London, like some of the others, was pretty acoustic in the beginning so this isn’t much of a reworking, just a rerecording .
Better or worse? Probably as close to the original version as any of the others.
Worth GH inclusion? One of the more listenable tracks from Lycanthropy, for sure.
15) House (from Lupercalia)
During the Lupercalia album campaign, Patrick was playlisted twice on Radio 2, which usually signals the death of a career, whether it’s when a DJ hits 40 and becomes too old for Radio 1, or an artist is no longer cool enough (see: Robbie Williams). House was a pretty good song though, Patrick at his happy best, and the video had lots of nice animals in it, which is always a winner, and no pretend girlfriend like the The City video. This version on Riverlight has all of the exciting bits taken out though.
Better or worse? Worse. Drained of sing-along joy.
Worth GH inclusion? Yes, of course. Not enough people sing songs of appreciation about their houses and other inanimate objects. He did move out of the house this year though and put all of his possessions into storage, so maybe his intense love for this house is debatable.
16) Wolf Song (from Lycanthropy)
Wolf Song is in my top 3 Patrick songs so it is very pleasing to see it on his greatest misses album. I don’t know what made me forge such an emotional attachment to Wolf Song. It’s short, Splenda sweet and a great shower sing-along. Maybe it’s because I feel like a lone wolf looking for my pack, maybe it’s because of that time in my first year of university when everybody left for a night out before me and I was left behind in the corridor of our halls, dressed as a lion and wailing Wolf Song with a bottle in my hand. Either way, it’s probably my favourite Patrick song and a good way to finish the album. The acoustic version doesn’t add much, and as with most of the songs, is shortened, so that’s not ideal.
Better or worse? Not too different as it wasn’t one of the songs where everything was buried under a massive amount of production and noise.
Worth GH inclusion? YES. THE MOON, LET IT GUIDE YOU AND I SHALL FIND YOU A HOME IN OUR HEARTLAND, A HEART IN OUR HOMELAND, UNTIL THE MOON IS DOOOWOOWOOWN.
Overall, I can’t help feeling that Patrick compiled this album for Patrick. It will tide fans over until his next album, but aside from that, most of the tracks aren’t as good as the original form. I think the idea was to strip back the over the top production on his songs, but as half of the track listing was mainly acoustic in the first place, this seems needless. It’s a pretty peaceful listen, which I can’t deny. It’s of course all beautiful, but I think you’d just be better off listening to Wind In The Wires in full instead.
Patrick’s albums in my order of preference:
Listen here to the unofficial:
GREATEST MISSES PLAYLIST
(IMPROVED TRACK LISTING, ORIGINAL VERSIONS)
Why are there no longer any decent Christmas songs?
Very recently, Heart FM made the largely unpopular, if my household is anything to go by, decision to start playing Christmas music in mid-December. This means it’s that time of year where Mariah Carey awaits her annual pay cheque and John Lennon gives us the depressing reminder that another year is over, while a haunting chorus of children squeals ‘war is ooo-ver’ on a day where the BBC’s main news story is ‘Gaza deaths mount in Israel raids’, yet the most shared stories are ‘Does chocolate make you clever?’ and ‘Drunk Australian rides crocodile’.
I don’t want to get too involved in the whole Christmas number one race, as that doesn’t really have anything to do with Christmas anymore. At least the X Factor producers are releasing the winner’s single a week earlier to allow someone else to have a go again, but who’s saying the winner of the ‘chart race’ will be a worthy one? Last year’s Military Wives song was another dreary reminder of war and conflict and the last non-X Factor one before that was sleigh bell-free Christmas classic, ‘Killing In The Name’ by Rage Against the Machine. Skimming through the list of number ones and number twos, past Teletubbies, the JCB song and Bob the Builder, it’s obvious that things weren’t much better before X Factor, probably even less respectable. The last original Christmas-based Christmas number one was calendar bestseller Cliff Richard. But these days it’s all X Factor and ‘campaigns’.
Why is nobody making a song like Wham’s any more?
A great song and a naff video featuring all the necessary ingredients: Pretend Christmas with friends in a chalet or log cabin, snowball fights, a grand meal, pretend girlfriends (to fool the record-buying public into thinking you’re attainable), brooding looks at love rivals and less talented members, Pepsi, Shirlie, collecting firewood, an awkward glance across fallen tinsel, a sultry voice whispering ‘Merry Christmas’. All the magical elements that make not just a Christmas video, but a good old family Christmas too. No dwarves though. The beautiful thing about Wham’s effort is that there’s no shame (if you forget the pretend girlfriends); it’s a blatant Christmas song and not afraid to say the C word and limit itself to just a couple of weeks of relevance per year. Nothing matches the beauty of the whole family chiming in with the first chorus, “Once bitten and twice shy, I keep my distance but you still catch my eye”, before everyone tails off until they perk up again for each of the subsequent choruses. I listen to it all year round, it’s so good. In fact, it’s so good, notoriously choosy and high brow musical artistes Crazy Frog and he ‘TOWIE’ cast covered it.
So why are there so few Christmas-themed Christmas singles these days?
One reason why bands might not record a typical Christmas single these days is that they’re worried about coming out of it badly. Firstly, why would you ruin your perfect chart singles run by releasing a single in the busiest chart week of the year? It could be career suicide as was the case for, for example, Mini Viva, who followed up their no 7 hit ‘Left My Heart In Tokyo’with a Christmas week second single, which charted at 73. All momentum for the campaign was lost, the third single also bombed, and they were dropped before their album was released. They were last seen when Twitter gold Britt Love auditioned for X Factor, and the other one featured in a ‘Wowcher’ advert.
Maybe artists these days are just lacking a sense of humour and are too afraid of making fools of themselves. This is the same reason nobody decent is willing to represent the UK at Eurovision. They know it’s a label they’ll have for the rest of their careers and they’re too afraid of not winning. Luckily there are a few bands who are still fighting the cause and willing to have some light-hearted festive cheer.
What some consider to be the last memorable Christmas song was beaten to number one by the Gary Jules/Michael Andrews cover of ‘Mad World’ in 2003. Seeming ahead of its time, this version was a completely unnecessary cover, slowed down and with all traces of personality taken out, a bit like what John Lewis have been doing for the last few years with their ridiculous, cheesy adverts. Apparently, the whispery cover of ‘The Power of Love’is a contender for Christmas number one this year, which only makes me wonder if the youths buying it have ever heard of the original and are just hypnotised by the stupid tale of snowman romance.
The song that charted at number two in that year was the excellently-titled ‘Christmas Time (Don’t Let the Bells End) by The Darkness. Perhaps it was just written around the word ‘bellend’, but it was still an enjoyable Christmas song that most people will be able to remember It’s parodic, but it’s still your average tale of love, this time about being separated over the winter season. It has a good lyric: “Feigning joy and surprise at the gifts we despise over mulled wine”, but most importantly it has the children’s choir, fundamental to all Christmas songs.
Aside from that, The Killers are making a sustained effort to try to get a Christmas hit, having released a Christmas-themed charity single for the past six years, with a seventh to come this year. None of these has graced the winners’ end of the chart though, with ‘Don’t Shoot Me Santa’ doing best by charting at 34, with its download sales not yet being eligible at the time. Granted, not many of them are very good, but they’re trying! We should at least respect them for that.
At least their efforts have none of this nonsense of taking a run of the mill ballad and adding a wintery music video and telling people it’s a Christmas single. Sometimes this isn’t enough to fool people, such as the late November 2000 guilty pleasure, S Club 7’s ‘Never Had a Dream Come True’. It had nothing to do with Christmas, they were just wearing massive coats! A coat doesn’t make a song into a Christmas song. You need sleigh bells. You need actual references to Christmas. At the very least a choir of children singing innuendos they won’t understand until it’s too late! Luckily the S Club song didn’t make it into anyone’s annual playlist. The same can’t be said for East 17’s ‘Stay Another Day’. It has just been accepted as a Christmas song despite having nothing to do with our lord and saviour, or turkey. It was Christmas No 1 in 1994, thanks to producers just bunging some chiming bells on the end. They even re-recorded the video with massive coats on and with pretend snow around them to cash in on the market. Unlike most, this one stuck and will be on the Heart FM playlist for decades to come, so the coats paid off, but there’s still not enough effort going into this.
We need somebody to come from nowhere with a Slade-sized classic. We need beards. We need a new Wham. We need somebody to take the piss a little bit, while retaining artistic merit. But who could be up for the challenge? Girls Aloud could probably give it a good go. They’ve had one Christmas number one, which was forced due to its reality TV winners singleness, but with their new-found popularity they could have released a Xenomania-bellfest and gone for it. Instead their camp has decided to release a new single this Christmas that is about being ugly that so that will be jolly. Scissor Sisters could no doubt produce something campy enough, but they no longer have the exposure or popularity to pull it off. Any other suggestions are welcome and I’ll pass on the message.
As for the other ‘contenders’ (CONTENDERS, READY) for this year’s Christmas ‘Chart Battle’, Ladbrokes has the favourites as the Hillsborough Charity single, which will no doubt be an absolute joy, reminding us of our mortality and poor policing, the X Factor winner, One Direction, another choir effort, and the John Lewis single.
It’s not looking too rosy, but I see BE THE CHANGE! If you get started now, you can write and record your own Christmas single by next year, then you can get that number one. I’ve started already. Mine’s called ‘Come Inside From the Cold (Hot Soup)’ and it’s a beautiful track of winter love: love for soup and the warm calming feeling it brings on a winter’s day. It’s got plenty of innuendo and you can bet your Cliff Richard calendar that it’ll have a bloody choir wailing at the end.
ONE FURTHER NOTE: Let’s not forget the second best Christmas song
(HINT: It’s not Proper Crimbo):
There doesn’t seem to be a video but that’s a nice video of someone timing their Christmas lights to flash to it, which was surely time well spent on their part. Christmas Wrapping is pretty awful, but that’s the beauty of it. It’s kind of like a festive version of The Flying Lizards’ Money. If you want to hear a terrible cover of it, as it is the festive season after all, the Spice Girls tried to do a version, which was pretty bad coming from some people who had three consecutive Christmas number ones themselves.
Remember: BE THE CHANGE. I’ll expect to see contributions around June. Chop chop.
BBC Sound of 2012: What was that all about then?