08 December, 2010

Advent Calendar in Song: I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday

Battle of the UK Christmas Singles

This is a phenomenon I hadn't really anticipated when I expatriated myself from North America. The British take a few things fairly seriously, the pop charts, and Christmas. Put them both together and you get the Christmas Single. The Christmas Single isn't unique to the UK, of course US artists put them out, Springsteen's off tempo Santa Claus is Coming To Town comes to mind. But only in the UK do artists and record companies regularly release Christmas singles in a bid to have the number one song in the pop charts at Christmas, creating a ludicrous derby in the charts every December. Over the last few years, the single charts being increasingly irrelevant, the industry has mostly foisted drek from the barely talented winners of reality TV shows like X Factor and Britain's Got Talent (although you wouldn't know it from this lot). This pissed people off so much, that a campaign to defeat the X Factor single last year, led to a download only 1992 single Killing in the Name of by Rage Against the Machine taking the number one spot.

It's not always a Christmas song that wins, but that doesn't stop hopeful attempts. Artists you might not expect such as the Pogues, Jethro Tull, Bowie, The Darkness, Squeeze, Kate Bush, Greg Lake, Sting, Jona Lewie, Queen, Wham! et. al. have put out singles for the UK Christmas market. The biggest UK Christmas Single whore is Cliff Richard, the British Frankie Avalon that did "The Young Ones" the song the classic alternative sit-com referenced heavily in name and title tune; he put out two christmas no. 1's Mistletoe and Wine and Saviours' Day and a handful of number two and lower efforts, all the equivalent of pumping muzak through a particularly shit filled manger.

Wizzard I wish it could be Christmas Everyday vs Slade Merry Christmas

It's not that strange that I lump these two songs together in my mind. Both are nice upbeat little rockers. They did vie for the Xmas number one in 1973, with Slade the victor. Both acts are on the rockier side of British glam rock, Wizzard was formed by a post ELO Roy Wood with some Brummie session musicians, Slade has the charisma of their mutton chopped frontman Noddy Holder. Neither are particularly known Stateside, although Slade hit, Come on Feel The Noise was given a successful but inferior cover in the US by Quiet Riot. Wizzard probably show more musicianship and throw a kids choir at the thing, but Slade have more of that raucous energy, they're fun. They'll probably hurl a deadly mix of cider, beer and mulled wine at the base of your tree, but Roy Wood looks set to scare all the kiddies away.

I wish it could be Christmas Everyday - Wizzard

Merry Christmas - Slade

Winner: Wizzard. I'm going to cheat slightly here and mark Wizzard down as the winner, but not because they're better, I think they're much of a muchness. I've given it to Wizzard because I've met Charlie Grima. He's the afro haired drummer in the foreground of the video. In the early '90's he was adding jobbing actor to his CV and he was doing some improvising with London Theatresports. I nearly ended up performing with him at one of their shows, when their weekly show was still at the Hen and Chicken's before they moved to the Tristan Bates Theatre in the West End. I didn't know Charlie, or even know of him, although someone tried to explain he'd played on this Xmas single I'd never heard of, but he seemed like a nice guy, so Wizzard win this one.

Bonus: Lennon vs McCartney

Look, I'm not one of those people who bashes Paul McCartney for not having John Lennon's sardonic wit, or for surviving longer to have such a varied post-Beatles output that includes both gems and embarrassments, or for his naff collaboration with Michael Jackson (which I feel he made up for with his Costello co writes). But I'm going to make an exception here, Wonderful Christmas is just awful, it's really like he's not even trying. Granted, there are elements in the Lennon / Ono Happy Xmas (War is Over) that have it teetering on the edge of po faced sermonizing. If you watch the second of the videos made for the song, below, with it's wall to wall world poverty, refugees and suffering, you may find yourself longing for the plastic saccharine of Wonderful Christmas.

Happy Xmas (War Is Over) John and Yoko and The Plastic Ono Band with the Harlem Community Choir (1971)

Link to more disturbing version of the video for the War is Over Campaign.

Wonderful Christmastime by Paul McCartney

Winner: Do you really have to ask? I was surprised to find out that George Harrison's solo career produced a Christmas single Ding Dong Ding Dong. But, though I like Harrison, the fact that I'd not heard of it, ever, does suggest it's very scary. So, I'm letting the research drop there.

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