It’s Christmas – Volume 1

With Christmas just around the corner, the Space office has seen the reintroduction of the festive playlist, complete with the usual clutch of ‘classics’, traditional ditties and a few random novelty or cringeworthy entries just for good measure. Well, it IS a time for tolerance and understanding after all.

In any case, it got us thinking about the history of Christmas songs and particularly, the much coveted number one spot – which has often been held up as a holy grail of music accolades. Upon closer inspection though, it’s actually surprising to see the quality and type of songs that have achieved that honour, as well as those that didn’t get anywhere close.

When you think of compiling a list of Christmas songs to revist, would you really be quick to include tracks from the likes of Pink Floyd, Tom Jones, Pet Shop Boys, The Human League and The Beatles? Probably not, but technically, they should be there as they’ve all been big number ones at Christmas…. but let’s be honest, they aren’t the first names that spring to mind with musical examples of snow, Christmas, Santa, season’s greetings and merriment are they?

Many of the songs that will be played on radio stations and at Christmas parties across the land this year simply haven’t made it to the top – much to our surprise. For example, ‘Last Christmas’ from Wham!, ‘All I want for Christmas Is You’ from singing chipmunk Mariah Carey, ‘Santa Claus is Coming To Town’, ‘Jingle Bell Rock’, ‘Happy Xmas (war is over)’ by Lennon and countless others are rightly associated with Christmas but much like hymns and carols, they are rarely bothering the top of the festive charts.

Indeed, Messrs Tennant and Lowe must be the cause of many pub quiz debates, seeing as their version of ‘Always on My Mind’ kept ‘Fairytale of New York’ by the Pogues and Kirsty MacColl from being the festive topper smash hit that many people believe.

   

In days gone by, battles for the Christmas number one used be played out in record shops, playgrounds and offices around the land – but can now be decided by one or 2 factors, often one with an X  in front of it. As recently as  2009 of course, there was the much publiced anti-Christmas and anti-X Factor dual campaign that succeeed in getting 1992 expletive-fuelled hit from Rage Against The Machine to end the dominance that ITV’s largest talent show held since 2005. And most probably, also ensured a few red faces in some British homes after the Queen’s speech with kids having a singalong with Grandma and Grandad.

Pop Idol and The X Factor have, in recent years, treated the Christmas chart as their own personal celebratory back slap to demonstrate their success at persuading teens and tweens to text in and vote for their favourites over the preceding weeks. In reality, aside from the occasional song that captures the imagination of the public, it’s almost impossible in today’s climate to compete with a marketing campaign that effectively runs for 12 weeks, has prime time airplay across the networks and is at the heart of society’s lust for celebrity and  reality shows.

In addition, social media and downloads played a huge role in that particular pyrrhic victory by Rage Against The Machine, which also affects the chart during the rest of year too nowadays on a regular basis, especially with such a wide range of format and playback devices in use. Price wars and incentives too increasingly offer record labels and artists the chance to take advantage of current single buying apathy, with some outlets offering tracks for 29p, or free with other products and also tapping into album releases. It might not be how it was in the old days, but they all count and certainly with the threshold for a number one often being lower.

  

Talking of the old days, Sir Cliff Richard has suffered in recent years with his fanbase (literally) dying out, but also as a victim of the digital download generation and the zeigeist of records that resonate across popular culture, irrespective of quality control. The Knight of the Round Xmas 45 himself used to loiter around the top of the festive charts so often, that there are rumours of HMV, Our Price and Woolworth’s staff leaving out mince pies and sherry for him every Christmas Eve instead of Santa. In fact, he’s been either number 1 or 2 in the Christmas charts no less than 7 times – all before the (ahem) advent of digital downloads and crossovers with TV shows and multi-channel marketing.

Mind you as an aside, in 1999 Westlife managed to keep Cliff’s ‘Millennium Prayer’ off the top spot – so at least the Irish lads did something worthwhile for society during their hit making era.

And that’s as good a place as any to leave it for now.

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