Entertainment Music

Saturday 24 February 2018

'It's Chriiiiiistmaaaassssss!'

Forty years after Slade's ear-splitting lyric in 'Merry Xmas Everybody', Joe O'Shea asks why new Christmas tunes haven't replaced the old classics

Christmas classics: Slade help provide the predictable soundtrack to every festive season
Christmas classics: Slade help provide the predictable soundtrack to every festive season

Joe O'Shea

Pop music trends and stars come and go. But it seems that all we want this Christmas (and every other December) is Mariah Carey. And Slade, The Pogues, Wham, Paul McCartney and Cliff Richard.

When it comes to Yuletide pop, they really are not writing 'em like they used to.

The likes of Miley Cyrus, Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber and Mumford & Sons may have dominated the music scene in 2013.

But as we hurtle towards the 25th and our turkey dinners, the song topping the iTunes Store Holiday Page is Mariah Carey's 'All I Want For Christmas'. And that evergreen staple was first released in 1993.

It's not as if the big acts of today are not trying. Lady Gaga released a seasonal song titled 'Christmas Tree' in 2008 and Coldplay's 'Christmas Lights' came out in 2010. Neither track has given Shakin' Stevens any sleepless nights.

Try as they might (and everybody from Justin Timberlake to The Killers has) no artist has managed to get a "new" Yuletide classic into the line-up in two decades.

In the UK, the Christmas song that will get the most plays on radio, TV and in retailers this year will be Slade's 'Merry Xmas Everybody', a song Noddy Holder & Co recorded 40 years ago.

Slade and the other artists and publishers who hold the rights to Christmas classics can expect huge post-holiday season paydays.

A list of PRS royalties (earned through radio, television and retailer plays as well as compilation album sales) for 2013 reveals the huge royalties still being generated by these Yuletude staples.

Slade top the charts with 'Merry Xmas Everybody', which will earn around €954,000 in plays this year, while the Mariah Carey track will rake in at least €542,000.

The Pogues' track, 'Fairytale Of New York', will generate an estimated €620,000 by the end of 2013 (even if it will take some time to collect the royalties and pay them out). And that makes the bitter-sweet tale of down-and-outs in New York the second highest earner after the Slade song.

When it comes to recent additions, a look at the Top 10 Christmas Songs (in terms of UK earnings) reveals that not one new tune has been added since 'All I Want For Christmas' in 1993.

Major artists still record and release Christmas songs but none have come close to entering the public consciousness in the way the songs of the 1970s and 1980s have.

RTé radio DJ John Creedon, who will this year present his own Christmas favourites for a special, mid-morning Christmas Day show on Radio 1, says the days of the monster Yuletide hit appear to be long gone.

"It is remarkable that we haven't really had a big Christmas song come along in a long, long time. I can't think of one song from the last 20 years that you will hear every year in the same way we do with the Slade or Mariah tunes," says John.

"There are probably lots of reasons for this; the way we buy and listen to music has changed dramatically, obviously, in the past few years. Christmas singles used to be such a big deal in the days of Top of the Pops, it was a real ritual.

"But I think a lot of it has to do with nostalgia. Christmas is that one time of year when everybody wants to go back to their past, to the Christmases they might have had as kids in the family home.

"And if you think about it, a lot of the songs the wider public associates with this time of year, and love, are really looking back to that idealised family Christmas of the past, like Paul McCartney's or Slade's, they are all about hanging up tinsel and gathering around the fire with the family.

"Of course, those kind of sentiments may not be anywhere close to the reality. I don't think many families can claim to have that perfect, idealised Christmas experience, either in the past or today. But it's what we want. Or at least what we think Christmas should be. The classic songs kind of reflect that."

John admits to not being a fan of many of the cheesy Christmas classics we tend to hear in every department store and café at this time of year.

"My real Christmas horror song would be Mel & Kim's 'Rocking Around the Christmas Tree'. And I'm not that fond of Chris Rea's 'Driving Home for Christmas' either. That one actually has the same problem as a lot of perfectly good Christmas pop songs, you've just heard it so many times."

Irish singer-songwriter Julie Feeney has recently recorded her first stab at a Christmas tune, a duet with singer Jack L on 'The Little Drummer Boy', a 1950s tune made famous by the unlikely pairing of David Bowie and Bing Crosby in 1977.

And the Galway-based singer says working on the old Christmas standard gave her a new appreciation of the genre.

"I think 'Drummer Boy' is probably my favourite Christmas song now," says Julie.

"It's different when you work on a song and get inside it. But I wouldn't be a huge fan of a lot of the standard Christmas songs."

Julie believes the fragmentation of the music industry is the main factor behind the demise of the blockbuster Christmas No 1, which goes on to become a standard.

"Record companies just don't push one song like that anymore. In the 1970s and 1980s, the Christmas number one was such a huge deal, people would wait weeks for that edition of Top of the Pops, there would be a huge buzz and it was a real shared experience.

"These days, it's all so fragmented. People get their music from everywhere and anywhere. And X Factor kind of replaced Top of The Pops, you don't have these huge, established stars doing big new songs," she says.

Julie has tried to write a seasonal song herself on a couple of occasions but not really succeeded.

"It's hard, I've tried to write about this time of year but it all goes a bit off centre very quickly, not very tinsel-y," she says.

Julie and her fellow songwriters should probably keep trying. As the royalties prove, if you can write one Christmas song that makes it on to that list, you are virtually made for life.

JOHN CREEDON'S CHRISTMAS SHOW IS ON RTé 1 ON CHRISTMAS DAY FROM 11AM TO 1PM. THOSE LIVING ABROAD CAN MAKE INTERNATIONAL REQUESTS FOR FRIENDS AND FAMILY BY TWEETING JOHN DIRECTLY -- @JOHNCREEDON

Irish Independent

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