It occurred to me recently whilst compiling a list of the Top 25 Best Christmas Songs, that most, if not all of them were created in the 70s and 80s. It’s almost as if singers and songwriters gave up making Christmas songs after the 80s (at least good ones) and by the late 90s and 00s they all but disappeared.
This is a problem specifically for the UK, after all, the majority of the best Christmas Pop songs were created by British musicians, and now that no more are being produced, you can feel something lacking in our country during this time of the year. In countries like the US, they always release some Christmas cover song by the latest Pop singer; Destiny’s Child, Justin Bieber (I know he’s Canadian), and Chris Brown have all released Yuletide rehashes in the 00s for example. But in the UK we used to get original Christmas songs, they were made and released every year like clockwork during the 70s and 80s, and most of the time they topped the charts and became synonymous with the season itself.
The UK Singles Chart Christmas Number 1 has also been affected by this lack of merry-music. Even as far back as the 50s we in Britain had festive Pop songs such as Harry Belafonte performing ‘Mary’s Boy Child’ reaching the top spot in 1957. Although many non-Christmassy songs made it to the top of the charts after this record was released, from 1973 having a festive Pop track reaching Number 1 became a musical trend, and these credible novelty songs made for some great sounding Christmases. Christmas Number 1s from that period included Slade’s ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’, Mud’s ‘Lonely This Christmas’, ‘When A Child Is Born’ by Johnny Mathis, and ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ by Band Aid, and even though these particular songs reached the top of the charts, there were many other notable Christmas tracks that vied for the Number 1 spot, all of which are now in the long past.
All the way to 1990, Christmas songs were not only created, they made it to the Number 1 position in the UK charts, the last one being Cliff Richard’s ‘Saviour’s Day’. But once Mr. Blobby’s shitty self-titled track made it to Number 1 in 1993, it was obvious that the music business were more focussed on novelty than longevity. There were of course, a few decent Number 1s that were non-Christmassy at this time; from Whitney Houston’s ‘I Will Always Love You’ to East 17’s ‘Stay Another Day’, and at least the accompanying music videos contained snow – that’s more than can be said about Christmas Number 1s today.
Once the British Music Biz realised that you don’t have to put any effort into making a hit during Christmas, music released in December changed from festive to non-festive and the charts have never been the same again. In the 90s, the Christmas Number 1 became a place for the latest put-together boy or girl band or some horrid novelty record; first it was three back-to-back non-Christmas songs by The Spice Girls in 1996, 1997, and 1998, followed by a Westlife track in 1999, and then Bob The Frigging Builder got to Number 1 in 2000. This was a far cry from Slade’s ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’.
To add insult to injury, once “talent” shows like Pop Idol and later The X Factor became a British TV staple during the winter months, it became a given that the winner of the contest would release some hollow, money-grabbing throwaway track and automatically get to the top position at Christmas. From that moment on, Yuletide Pop music has never recovered.
Ever since ‘Popstars: The Rivals’ got to Number 1 in 2002 with ‘Sound Of The Underground’ by Girls Aloud (a very ironic title given the content), almost every year since it’s been a non-Christmassy bag of crap reaching the top spot. If you’ve forgotten the amount of shite that’s reached Number 1 during the 00s directly because of so-called talent shows, I’ll remind you; in 2005 there was ‘That’s My Goal’ by Shayne Ward, in 2006 ‘A Moment Like This’ by Leona Lewis, in 2007 ‘When You Believe’ by Leon Jackson, in 2008 “Hallelujah” by Alexandra Burke, in 2010 ‘When We Collide’ by Matt Cardle, in 2013 ‘Skyscraper’ by Sam Bailey, and in 2014 ‘Something I Need’ by Ben Haenow, that’s more than a decade of pure back-to-back crap.
Amongst this sack of tripe of course we had the anti-X-Factor protest in the form of Rage Against The Machine’s ‘Killing In The Name’ getting to Number 1 in 2009, but even though I agreed with the Facebook-orchestrated take-back from The X Factor, it still left a non-festive track at the top of the charts.
Of course it isn’t all about the Number 1, brilliant Christmas songs like ‘Stop The Cavalry’ by Jona Lewie and ‘I Believe In Father Christmas’ by Greg Lake never reached the top of the charts (they got to number three and number two respectively) but that never stopped songwriters from creating enjoyable and meaningful Christmas-related songs. From Chris De Burgh to Elton John, tracks that are now played every Christmas were made with relevance to the season in which they were released and this made for some brilliant Christmas songs that will forever be played during our Yuletide festivities.
The Darkness at least tried to make a pastiche of the old 70s Christmas Rock song in 2003, but their wannabe clever and wannabe authentic take on the genre for some reason included a double entendre (‘Don’t Let The Bells End’) and therefore it lost its credibility. There have also been some horrendous, overtly-novelty Christmas songs like ‘Once Upon A Christmas Song’ by “Geraldine McQueen” aka Peter Kay in 2008 and ‘Proper Crimbo’ by “Bo’ Selecta” aka Leigh Francis in 2010, but songs like this have been unashamedly cheap, tacky, and ultimately forgettable. Crappy Christmas songs like these will never be remembered and spoken of alongside classic tracks like ‘A Spaceman Came Travelling’ or ‘Fairytale Of New York’.
There have also been the odd charity single getting to Number 1 in recent years, which in of itself I have no issue with, but for the most part these tracks have been downright horrible to listen to, including the miserable ‘A Bridge Over You’ by Lewisham & Greenwich NHS Choir and that skinny cunt Gareth Malone with the annoying-as-shrapnel Military Wives and their militarism disguised as a charity song ‘Wherever You Are’. These utterly dire songs got bought because the public loves to be seen “giving” during the Christmas period, and this goes hand-in-hand with people who love to show that “they care” for a certain issue by attracting attention to their so-called act of charity. But I guess that’s for another article entirely.
Aside from these two aforementioned charity Number 1s, it can’t be ignored that The X Factor has hi-jacked Christmas music. Simon Cowell and the rest of those so-called judges of talent have a lot to answer for when it comes to the ruination of Christmas Pop songs. Once they got their grubby hands on the Christmas Number 1, things have only gone from bad to worse. But that being said, it’s not like non-X-Factor singers are prevented from making festive tracks, but it seems that even established Pop stars can’t be bothered to compete with this talent-show juggernaut. Pop music and Pop musicians have been in a decline for many years regardless of Christmas, these fuckwits can’t seem to make decent Pop music 11 months of the year, so why would they be any different in December?
This festive music drain is very noticeable these days, especially after Guy Fawkes or Bonfire Night when the mainstream media begins to play festive music. From the late 90s onward, if you turn on the radio or turn to a music channel in November or December, if they’re playing Christmas songs (and they usually are) there’ll only be a handful endlessly repeated on every channel. This in turn gets very monotonous – year in and year out we have the same two dozen or so Christmas tracks being forever repeated on every channel – variety at this time of the year is all but dead.
Surely it’s time we ask the industry; can contemporary singers and songwriters get their thumb out of their talentless arse and write a decent Christmas hit or are we going to have to listen to “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday” by Wizzard for the millionth time this Christmas?