In the modern era, there always seems to be some confusion at this time of year. I am talking, of course, about the Christmas Song. Normally Old Rope doesn’t get too worked up about this kind of thing, but repeated misunderstandings and a string of aural crimes on the radio have led me to conclude that the confusion is endemic. Allow me to clarify things for everyone.
The Christmas Pop Song is something that has for decades been considered Very Important in Britain, where distractions from the miserable weather and the mundane drudgery of our daily lives are never more important than at this festive time of year.
The annual fight for the coveted title of Christmas Number One is well-documented, as is the supposed recent decline of this musical tradition in the X-Factor age (it seems to have gone unnoticed that all pop music is unutterably wank these days).
From these shores it does seem true that our friends across the Pond and around the world don’t have quite the same fever for Yuletide pop, clinging as they do to traditional fare, carols and the inoffensive tunes of yore. Not for them men in flares with monstrous beards singing incoherent gibberish about sleighs and granny farting after too many Brussels sprouts, nor fading pop stars in dodgy 80s woolly jumpers opining the joys of snow, sherry and snogging under the mistletoe. The silly foreign fools!
That said, just because it seems that the usual rules are broken and anything goes in the world of pop at Chrimbo-time, it doesn’t mean we should actually let anything go. We have standards to maintain, no matter how low and confusing they may be.
Good Christmas songs comprise the following, in this particular order:
- Fairy Tale In New York – The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl
- I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day – Wizzard
- Last Christmas – Wham!
- All I want for Christmas Is You – Mariah Carey
- Merry Xmas Everyone – Slade
- Feed The World / Do They Know It’s Christmas – Band Aid (original version)
All of the above have their flaws (number 1 keeps Shane McGowan in beer money; number 4 grows tiresome quickly; number 6 the simple words ‘Bob Geldoff and Phil Collins attempting to solve world hunger’, etc etc), but they try hard, wear their hearts on their sleeves and are generally good fun. All other Christmas songs can be divided into two simple categories: “Meh, s’Ok” and “Total Shit”.
Examples of the former include that McCartney one, which you always think is shit but can’t help singing along to when you hear it on the radio (known as McCartney’s Law) and more recently that rubbish Darkness one, which isn’t funny but at least gives it a go. Examples of the latter category include that shit Coldplay song by that shit Coldplay band and some other forgettable piece of poo I heard on the radio the other day.
American songs are admissible (see number 4 above, the exception that proves the rule), though generally they are not delivered with the same lunacy and joie de vivre as their British counterparts. They sort of miss the point and either go in for schmaltz or the singer’s standard fare. See The Beach Boys’s Saint Nick, or Elvis singing Blue Christmas for example: it’s all fine and jolly nice and all, but it is essentially every other Elvis song just with the word Christmas thrown in. Lazy boy Elvis! Lazy! (Conversely, Mud singing Lonely This Christmas was a non-Elvis song made to sound like Elvis). There is no shame in this, since generally America makes THE BESTEST MUSIC. By which I mean MADE the best music. By which I mean soul.
Which leads me on to my next clumsy point: Subject matter. Crow-barring the word ‘Christmas’ into your Christmas song at every Christmas juncture is Christmas obligatory, but other than that the lyrics can be as ridiculous as you like and seasoned to taste. Passing references to the festive period suggest a dubious lack of commitment on behalf of the performer and are evidence that they are trying to write a normal pop song that could, essentially, be played at any other time of the year. The scumbags. As such they are copping out and do not deserve your hard-earned Christmas bonus cash. DO NOT GIVE IT TO THEM, these pop stars are greedy shitehawks. See that shit Coldplay song by that shit Coldplay band for reference (and virtually any other contemporary Christmas pop record).
Who’s next for shaving? (As they say in Yorkshire). Ah yes, musical style. Pop songs, by their very nature, cannot escape the time in which they were recorded and the Xmas single is no exception. Eighties tunes sound like they were recorded in the eighties, all synths and 808 drum machines, seventies records are all guitar riffs, balls to the wall bearded mothers, and so on.
Unfortunately this has serious ramifications for current chart toppers, since, as already noted, all modern music is massively wassively rubbishly turd. That said, people still need to make an effort and to paraphrase the bouncer at the Cowpat and Marrow pub on Christmas Eve, “If it’s got no sleigh bells on, it’s not coming in.” See that shit Coldplay song by that shit Coldplay band for reference.
A handy rule of thumb for all aspiring classic Christmas pop song writers is this: can my song be sung at the top of one’s lungs, arms aloft, whilst pished as a fart and brandishing a big glass of brandy in the local boozer? If the answer is no, then it’s back to the drawing board my lad (or LASS! There is NO PLACE for sexism in the Christmas pop world!). All of the above six songs happily meet this criteria. Quiet, pensive, mood setting intros are acceptable (see numbers 1, 3, 4 and 6 for reference).
Maybe it is worth noting that, of the six good songs listed above, one is Irish, one is American, one is a mishmash of miscellaneous pop ephemera and two are Brummy! Birmingham must really come into its own in December, punching above its weight. The other one, of course, is Wham, who could do no wrong.
Be wary too of faux Christmas songs, such as tracks that were number one at Christmas time but are otherwise unconnected (see for reference that East 17 one, X-Factor entries and Bob the Builder). The notable exception to this rule is Walking In The Air, which is so inextricably tied to the season and feelings of festive nostalgia – what could be more Christmassy than The Snowman? Doubtless with the advent of the forthcoming sequel, which is surely bound to be shit, we will have to purge Aled Jones’s classical aria from our brainholes.
I’ve run out of steam and my mince pies need to be taken out of the oven, so I’ll leave you with this: A Christmas single put out this year by a pub in Liverpool featuring the house band (The Loose Moose Stringband plus guests). It’s for charidee and it ticks most of the boxes in my hysterical and scattergun criteria above. Merry Christmas and may gawd bless us every one.