It might seem a strange time to post about Christmas songs in October, but believe it or not, last Saturday night I played (after a request) my first of this year; Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas is You"! The song was requested by some lovely people in their teens/early 20s and I find it fascinating that this age group choose a song that was released almost 25 years ago!
Before it came a huge range of classics from the likes of Wizzard, Paul McCartney, John and Yoko, Wham!, Bing Crosby, Slade, Elton John, Queen, and a whole host of others. Christmas hits go all the way back to the birth of the UK charts; in 1952. White Christmas was the big hit of that year and it also has the accolade of being the top selling single of all time!
The high-water mark of the Christmas single occurred during the '70s. Then, almost every year featured a Christmas classic. We had Slade in '73, Mud in '74, Greg Lake's masterpiece "I Believe in Father Christmas" in '75, "When a Child is Born" in '76, Boney M in '78 and Macca wrapping up the decade with "Wonderful Christmas Time" in '79.
The 80s was similar and in '87, the London-Irish Folk Band "The Pogues" released their immortal classic "Fairytale of New York" with the wonderful opening line of "It was Christmas Eve, babe, in the drunk tank". In some ways the song was an unusual festive hit; it had fighting, foul language and a great deal of bitterness. Despite this, it reached number 2 in the charts, becoming a Christmas classic and part of the musical landscape surrounding the festive period. The next few years saw Cliif Richard ("Mistletoe and Wine" and "Saviours Day") and Band Aid top the charts at Christmas before Mariah Carey got to number 2 with her classic "All I Want For Christmas is You" in 1994.
Then something strange happened; artists stopped writing great Christmas songs. Fast forward 24 years and other than the odd releases (such as Coldplay's Christmas Lights) which haven't achieved huge chart success, there hasn't been a truly great Christmas song. That's not to say there haven't been some great songs in the charts during Christmas, just none that most would recognise as a great "Christmas Song".
Walk around a busy town centre in December this year and you'll hear all the familiar songs of the past. Last December one radio station even devoted it's entire airtime to playing classic Christmas songs! What happened to the new, fresh, festive material?
I've seen many arguments for why Christmas Song died and in many ways it echoes the death of the classic party song. We certainly live in a different world to the '70s and 80's. Then, families would gather round the TV on Christmas Day to listen to the charts while music is now so easily available with brands such as "The X Factor" holding massive power. So we've been "blessed" with works from the likes of Matt Cardle, Sam Bailey, Shayne Ward and Leon Jackson.
Perhaps artists got bored of writing about their sickly-sweet dreams of everyone having great fun on a wonderful white christmas with Santa bringing presents for all to enjoy? Maybe people got sick of sickly-sweet choirs, clanging bells, corny lyrics and the upbeat mood that so many songs of the genre featured. The Pogues certainly thought so; they spent years changing the song before finally releasing it. Maybe that's what we need; something genuinely new for Christmas without the clichés of the old songs? Either way, my Christmas playlist this year will probably be the same as last year and the same as the year before and the same as the year before that. Not that I'm complaining; I love the classics but it would be great to have some great new material that people would remember in the years to come. Here's hoping...