Saturday, December 01, 2007

It's December!

And you know what that means - another brief window of opportunity to enjoy the same Christmas singles that they play every year, before they swiftly die from overexposure somewhere around December 14th.

The Christmas Number One used to be treated as a very big deal in Britain, even though there was never any particularly good reason for it. However, it did lead some 1970s glam rock bands to produce Christmas-themed singles which have worked out very nicely for them. Everyone knows Slade's "Merry Christmas Everybody" and Wizzard's "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day", both of which must still be delivering hefty regular royalty cheques to somebody or other (hopefully the bands) over thirty years later. For the foreigners among you, here's what they sound like:-

Good records. The fact that they get played incessantly for a month every year and still haven't died says a lot for them.

That said, it's a little harder to understand the endurance of some other options, except perhaps because they've been included on compilation albums that shops play from start to finish. "Do They Know It's Christmas" only really works as an appeal - it's a bit miserable without that context. Paul McCartney's "Wonderful Christmas Time" wasn't a great song to start with, and the arrangement hasn't exactly aged well. And as for Jona Lewie's 1980 single "Stop the Cavalry", yes, it DOES mention Christmas, and it's not a bad record, but it's bloody miserable.

Not that outright festive cheer is a necessity. John Lennon's "Happy Christmas (War Is Over)" is a decent enough record, despite Yoko's wailing. And the Pogues' "Fairytale of New York" seems to have been accepted as a Christmas classic, despite featuring a bittersweet duet of love/hate between Kirsty McColl and a slurring drunk. It is, of course, brilliant, and according to Wikipedia it never charted in America. This is baffling, but provides an adequate reason to include the video for a song that even my granny probably knows backwards.

And as for this...

...well, to be honest, I mainly included it in the hope of baffling Americans. Believe it or not, these guys had eight hit singles in 1974-75.

The Waitresses' "Christmas Wrapping" crops up surprisingly often, considering that it bombed on its release over here in 1982. Perhaps mainstream tastes have belatedly caught up with it. There's no video, so enjoy this slowly-moving picture of the seven-inch single.

Another reason for the recycling of old singles is a relative lack of new Christmas singles that aren't either novelty records, or obviously ironic. Nineties synthpop act St Etienne somehow missed the mark with "I Was Born on Christmas Day", which is a thoroughly acceptable record, but never seems to get played anywhere. Perhaps it's just not direct enough.

The last serious attempt by a major act to add to the canon was arguably by the Darkness in 2003. But the Darkness' whole schtick was tongue-in-cheek tribute to bands like Slade and Wizzard, who define the Christmas single genre for the British. And they teetered on being a comedy act at the best of times. So does it count? Hard to say. It does seem to get played, and like a lot of their stuff, you CAN take it at face value if you want.

And this year... this year, Luke Haines is having a go. Which I stumbled upon the other day, and which prompted this little screed. The last time Haines put out a single at Christmas time, it was "Unsolved Child Murder", which may have been a miscalculation. This time, he's made "Christmas Number One", a Christmas song about writing a monstrously successful Christmas single, as part of the Black Arts - an unlikely collaboration between Haines' icy compatriots Black Box Recorder, and zany indie funsters Art Brut.

It's great, and naturally, Haines has once again been sure to couple a great chorus with just enough weirdness to reduce its chance of charting to zero - not least with the bleakly lo-fi zero-budget 1970s video. But how can you not love a song with the bridge "They'll have to bring back Top of the Pops this Christmas / Because we're too big for any other show"?