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This opinion article was first published on CLUAS in December 2004

CLUAS Opinion

Novelty, Sentimentality, Charity...

In the 5th CLUAS Opinion piece, Kierry decides it's time we went a bit seasonal and so takes us on a brief history of the Christmas charts...


Well, here it is, Christmas, the Silly Season. The time of year when people put aside their taste and dignity to cover their house in gaudy tinsel and annoying, flickering lights. It is a time when people feel those most beautiful human emotions: guilt, obligation and stress. A time when Mr. Blobby can outsell everything else to get to Number One and no, I'm not talking about Louis Walsh. I'm talking about novelty records, comedy songs, and simply terrible music. How can so many people spend their hard earned cash on crap that they will probably never listen to again? Maybe never even listen to at all? Band Aid 20, I'm looking at you. I think we're all aware that the public doesn't know what's good for them, just look at Pop Idol and other shows of that ilk. I mean, does anyone really sit down with a brandy and a "Cliff's Greatest Hits" compilation? Where did it all go wrong?

Well, it wasn't always this way. Ever since Al Martino had the first British Christmas Number One in 1952 with "Here In My heart" there have been some classic songs at the top on December 25th including four Beatles tunes, "I Want To Hold Your Hand", "I Feel Fine", "Day Tripper" and "Hello Goodbye" all made it to Number One. Everything was going fine until 1969, and a certain Mr. Rolf Harris. The first ever novelty record to hit the Christmas Number One "Two Little Boys" arrived, and brought with it the notion that to sell lots of records and make loads of money you didn't have to have a great song. The floodgates had opened, never to be closed. Shortly afterwards, in 1971, Benny Hill took the Number One at Christmas with "Ernie, The Fastest Milkman In The West".  Other terrible songs like "Long Haired Lover From Liverpool" soon followed to occupy the top of the charts like tuneless angels on a Christmas tree. In 1973 the first of the big seasonal songs arrived. "Merry Xmas Everybody" was Number One for five weeks from the beginning of December, and would keep Slade in furry boots and dodgy haircuts for life. The next year delivered Mud's "Lonely this Christmas" and from then on the festive charts have been dominated by novelty, eccentricity and just plain creepy. For example "There's No-one Quite Like Grandma" by St Winifred's School choir, bless them, in 1980; possibly the worst song ever to reach Number One, let alone the saintly Christmas peak.

In the Eighties record companies had begun to realize the potential of this yearly goldmine and the labels began scheduling specifically for December to ensure maximum sales. Greatest hits packages began to appear, first on 8-track and then on cassette. A big seller at Christmas could make wallets bulge, and everyone sat up and took notice. Midge Ure and Bob Geldof certainly did and, in 1984, a motley crew of singers, musicians and Phil Collins recorded and released "Do They Know It's Christmas", the most successful charity single ever. They did it again in 1989, with a watered-down line up, making it the only song to go straight into the Christmas Number One spot twice. Odds are on that it'll be Number One again this year, which isn't bad for a song so wet from sentiment.

Speaking of wet from sentiment, we come neatly to Cliff Richard. Cliff is another tradition retrieved from the attic and dusted down around this time of year, with three Christmas Number Ones in the December Top Ten. Sir Cliff seems to do well with Christian ballads, like "Saviors Day" and "Millennium Prayer", which just missed out on Number One in Britain and Ireland in 2000, as well as soppy stuff like "Mistletoe and Wine" and "I Love You".

So, considering that Cliff, Band Aid, Michael Jackson's "Earth Song", "Stay Another Day" by East 17 and "I Will Always Love You" by Whitney Houston were all found in millions of stockings in the Nineties, is it sentimental stuff that people buy" perhaps putting the word "Christmas" in the title works? Band Aid did it, Dickie Valentine's "Christmas Alphabet" did it, as did the aforementioned Mud, even Shakin' Stevens did it, wishing "Merry Christmas Everyone". This tactic didn't work for The Vandals however, as their singles "My First Xmas (As A Woman)" and "Christmas Time For My Penis" tragically, never troubled the Christmas charts. It also didn't help Run DMC's 1987 attempt to crack the Yuletide market "Christmas In Hollis", which informed us that "the rhymes you hear are the rhymes of Darryl's / but each and every year we bust Christmas carols".

It's not all bad though. "Another Brick In The Wall" was a Christmas Number One, as was "Bohemian Rhapsody", twice. For their fan club every year REM release a cover of a different Christmas classic, and you won't pay less than $100 on E-Bay for any of them. No self respecting soul man would be without James Brown's Legendary "Funky Christmas", which contains such classics as "Santa! Go Straight To The Ghetto" at this time of year and, if you're treating yourself, you could do worse than getting a copy of "Christmas" by Low.

So what have we learned kids? Well, perhaps we now know that novelty, charity and sentimental songs dominate the Christmas charts, and that taste, like snow, is rarely seen. At least we'll always have those traditional Carols, "Fairytale Of New York" and "White Christmas".  Hmm, maybe it's not so bad after all...

Have a Merry, Funky Christmas!

Kierry

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