“Do they know it’s Christmas time at all?” warbled sundry pop luminaries, on the daddy of Christmas singles, Band Aid‘s emote-along-a-celebrity global smash hit number one single in 1984.
Well you’d have trouble not noticing the impending festive season these days, unless you live in a cave and never go shopping…
…from about October onwards.
I don’t know what it is about Christmas that, uniquely for any other time of the year, has to be trailed like some sort of blockbuster movie release, for months in advance, as if people were going to forget the timing of a religious/retail event that’s been pretty regular for, well, a couple of thousand years.
I mean, it’s not the sort of thing that gets cancelled for bad weather, or even world wars for that matter.
It doesn’t take a year off every now and again, like Glastonbury, meaning you have to go to a smaller, more provincial Christmas for a year instead. (which you’d probably enjoy more than the big, corporate Christmas, but wouldn’t admit it)
You don’t hear couples in shops on Christmas eve, saying things like; “Well, you never told me it was Christmas tomorrow did you? What if the relatives have remembered and all want to come round, expecting presents and turkey? Put it on the calendar for next year for fucksake, it was so embarrassing when the kids heard about it somewhere last year, and we’d left them with your Mum and gone skiing. I thought she gave me a funny look when we picked them up in January”
Do They Know It’s Christmas? Of course we bloody do!
So, any chart record released from November 1st onwards must, by law, have at least one sleigh bell on it, and the closer it gets to Christmas, the higher the Sleigh Bell Concentration (SBC) has to be.
It is a little-known fact that the original take of Mariah Carey’s All I want for Christmas is you had such a high SBC that the rest of the music and vocal track were completely overwhelmed, and it had to be reclassified as a sound-effect record.
Recently, she has got round the SBC rule by applying so much tweeness to the tune that it registers an 11 on the 1-10 calibrated Universal Twee Scale (UTC). This was achieved by adding Jimmy Fallon, The Roots, pop-up child elves, and toy musical instruments.
Shopping becomes a complete nightmare a good three weeks earlier than it did twenty, or even ten years ago, with whole aisles of supermarkets suddenly disappearing, in favour of “seasonal products” such as crackers, lights, plastic trees, and tinsel.
Fine, but in October? Please, it’s bad enough that we have to think about the Hell-that-is-Christmas-Shopping for a couple of weeks, let alone three months.
Oh, and let us not forget other “seasonal” madness, such as special flavours of everything from crisps to chocolate. Tesco for instance, are actually selling Christmas pudding and brandy butter flavour crisps.
A snack too far.
And you can’t escape the music there either.
Shops that would never have music playing in them for any other occasion suddenly sprout unseen speakers, filling the air-conditioned, sterile atmosphere of the temple to consumerism with the strains of what are – usually wildly inaccurately – described as Christmas Classics, often rendered even more teeth-grindingly awful by the simple expedient of getting someone armed with a Yamaha organ to reinterpret them (and yes, “armed” is the correct term).
Or Richard Clayderman.
If I worked in one of those places, I’d go to work wearing earplugs for all of December.
Or go insane, one or the other.
In any case, any sane people – i.e. the ones who only listen to music when they want to – know that there are only five acceptable Christmas records, and the sooner the rest off the world realises this, the sooner they can all stop pretending to actually enjoy the fact that Mistletoe and Wine by Cliff Richard ever existed.
The records which, if there was any justice, would be the only yule-themed tunes on any given pub jukebox, would of course be;
1) Obviously the Band Aid single is going to be included in any list of festive records, (but not, definitely not the abomination that was Band Aid 20) not only because it truly does encompass what the spirit of Christmas should be about – giving, for the sake of giving – but because for those of us that were around for the release of the record, and the subsequent Live Aid in ’85, it conjures up memories of the tail-end of a golden era in british pop when something like that could happen.
Whether it was Status Quo staggering around, off their faces on cocaine at the recording session (as admitted by them themselves in a documentary, years later) or the sight of so many mulleted egos in a room together at once, all jostling for a microphone in camera shot, whilst trying to look sincere and thoughtful, it was a genuinely feelgood record with some real emotion to it.
Relive the making of a monster here.
2) Jona Lewie made one of the most poignant Christmas records of the eighties with the sublime Stop the Cavalry, a peon to homesick WWI soldiers who wished only to be home by the fire with their loved ones, it’s “dub-a-dub-a-dum-dum” chorus almost impossible to resist.
Jona Lewie – You’ll always find him on the jukebox at Christmas.
3) Fairytale of New York by The Pogues and Kirsty McColl could easily be the greatest Christmas record of all time. The juxtaposition of the two voices, on the one hand, the delightful lilt of the sadly late, very great Kirsty McColl, and on the other, the disreputable brogue of the amazingly not late, but equally great Shane McGowan, playing off each other is an absolute classic Christmas moment.
And the fabulously atmospheric video doesn’t hurt either.
4) You have to have a proper Christmas party song in the list, so I’m going to call in some cheese and go for Christmas Wrapping by The Waitresses, an early pop-rap crossover that may not have aged well, but it’s still irresistible.
5) Probably my favourite Christmas record, if I could be said to have such a thing, contains practically all the festive cliches, – and if you’re going to make this type of tune, it may as well have as many sleigh bells, choirs, tubular bells, and rousing crescendos as you can cram into it – and that’s because it’s from the ’70s, and it’s by one third of prog rock behemoths Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Greg Lake.
And that song is I Believe in Father Christmas.
Once you’ve listened to these five songs, if you still don’t feel festive, you probably never will, so consider yourself immune to Christmas.
In which case, what you need is a novelty record, so you can have this.