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.