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The Best & Worst Christmas Number One Singles

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by Chris Henniker (subscribe)
There are 6m postcodes in London, what's happening in yours?
Published December 3rd 2012
Destiny Music Ltd/BMG

It's that time of year, when you're panicking about what to get your best friend's dog for December 25th, whether the turkey's been wrapped and the presents have been stuffed and are ready to go in the oven. Come the big day, you find the smell of molten plastic filling the kitchen and the kids miffed to find that all they have to play with was a frozen bird. As soon as the Christmas Dinner's served, you realise that you're serving up a roast Nintendo Wii with potatoes, stuffing and sprouts. You can either let the fur fly or sit back and listen to the Christmas Number ones with a stiff drink. You'll need one after cocking up the first day of a whole week of festivities as you contemplate putting your head in the gas oven.

Since 1952, The Christmas number one has been much anticipated on the last Sunday of advent. Bets are taken and anticipation of whether it's something good or dire mounts over advent as the second coming is by fundamentalist Christians and Muslims everywhere.

The Good

Jona Lewie - Stop the Cavalry

It's unusual that a highly politicised song becomes a Christmas hit, as did Rage Against The Machine's "Killing In The Name Of.." when I was back at college in 2009. This anti-war song has all the hallmarks of a song you hear at Christmas: The Oompah brass section that has a vaguely militaristic overtone, the seemingly sentimental line, "I wish I was home for Christmas", but a reference to nuclear fallout makes its message as timely and relevant as ever. Especially as the possibility of war in Europe edges closer, it reminds us the early Christians were pacifists.

The Pogues - Fairy Tale of New York

Two Skid Row losers meet in this touching story with the most callous and backhanded language ever committed to music: "Lying there almost dead on a drip in your bed." Even this takes on a playfully ironic tone as an affectionate gesture, which is a sign that love and affection transcends everything, even if it's for twelve days. Since Kirsty MaColl's playing a smack head, it brings our attention to the less fortunate at this time of year. Even they can enjoy Christmas, no matter that their circumstances are dire. At a personal level, what got me interested in music was story telling as well as rock'n'roll.

The Sonics - Don't Believe in Christmas

Being a fan of The Sonics (and 60's garage in general), I love Gerry Roslie's refreshingly cynical approach, with a witty delivery that could have influenced Bob Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues". Being a cynical bastard, I think this is one of the best Christmas songs ever written, for the simple reason it's so pithy and succinct, not to mention witty. If rock'n'roll is about rebellion, then it's one more reason to question Christmas.

The Sonics - Santa Claus

A wonderfully raunchy R&B influenced garage stormer that's the flip side of "Don't Believe in Christmas", it seems like a dream Christmas list. Mine, perhaps? Let's see. A 1963-65 Buick Riviera or a 1957 Chevrolet Bel-Air (preferably pillarless), Fann Wong, Joanne Peh or some other exquisite & rich Oriental Beauty (If she has 5000 years of civilisation behind her, I can learn something from her), some rare 60's garage and freak beat recordings...

Man Or Astroman - Frosty The Snowman

Camp as Christmas and just great fun, but many surf bands did Christmas instrumentals, lest you think it's inappropriate for them to do so.

Are you really drunk yet? If you are, It's time to come over to the darkside.

The Bad

Cliff Richard - Misseltoe and Wine

In 1988 The English Elvis delivered another turkey like a rock'n'roll Santa, as he does every year. Like Wizzard's song (mentioned above), it has the formulaic Christmas conventions, such as a brass section straight out of a Salvation Army band, angelic choral singer, sentimental lyrics that trot out every cliché about the time of year, saccharinising it in the process. The best one I can give is:

"Christmas is love, Christmas is peace
A time for hating & fighting to cease"

Ironically, this is the time when there are more domestic arguments and rows than at any time of the year. Doubly ironic the same government used it in a drink-drive public information film broadcast over Christmas, for it used "wine" in the lyrics. The juxtaposition would hammer home the message, subconsciously, that it's morally wrong to drink and drive through the use of irony to show the consequences. I even wonder why he didn't do a Presley-esque rocker called "Simon The Boxing Day Arsonist".

Cliff Richard - The Millenium Prayer

The Lord's Prayer set to the tune of Robbie Burns "Auld Lang Syne" is as middle of the road as you can get. Bland as Perrier soup, but it works on a musical level. A far cry from his early stuff in the mould of Elvis Presley, James Brown, Little Richard (where he took his stage name from), Ray Charles, Eddie Cochran, Jerry Lee Lewis, Gary "US" Bonds and Bo Diddley. That's quite sad he descended into Middle of The Road mediocrity when "Move It" shown so much promise.

Wizzard - I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday

It reminds me of the skit in Monty Python's "Meaning of Life", where it's Christmas every day in heaven. One of the most terrible things you can wish for, wrapped up in the most celebratory lyrics of the 1970s. Is it any wonder why the British Government used it in a public information film warning of drink driving? It could be the archetypal Grim Reaper wishing for more fatalities for Christmas, which would be ironically appropriate a juxtaposition of grisly deaths and joyous music.
A choir of angelic kids? Check. Snow in the Lyrics? Check. Wishing someone well? Check. Wishing to be in an eternal present? Check. It's like a tick list for how a Christmas song is assembled, .

Mr Blobby's Eponymous Novelty Hit

This was a Christmas number one that made me cringe as a teenager. Not only because it was annoying, but it wasn't music. It made Whigfield's "Saturday Night" seem like Handel's "Water Music", it was that abysmal. There is a Campaign on YouTube to get it to get it to Number 1 for Christmas 2012, which has been going since 2011. No, I'm not kidding. This is what the YouTube page says:

"Let's all unite together and campaign for Mr. Blobby's Christmas Song to become Number 1 on the UK Charts once again in the year 2012. Remember to request the song on your local radio stations up and down Great Britain. We must win our campaign this Christmas , we have started up early, to rally support across the country! SHOW YOUR SUPPORT, NO MORE X FACTOR #1'S AND MORE MR BLOBBY!"

I don't know what Jesus of Nazareth's views on art were, but they were a product of their time. If he was alive today, even I think he would cringe at Mr Blobby. I think if this is indicative of the collective taste of the UK, then it's no wonder why he masochistically chose to be crucified for his beliefs, just to get away from it. If that's historically true, then I'd rather listen to The Sonics. Either that, or stick my head in the gas oven. If you want me, I'll be in the kitchen. Damn, I forgot: it's electric.
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Your Comment
Chris did you really have to remind me of those dire Cliff Christmas offerings with three weeks still to go? I'm having to try exceptionally hard to keep them out of my poor brain. Even Bing crooning about a white Christmas would be preferable. Give me Shane and Kirsty's irony above all the predictable schmalz that surfaces at this time of the year.
by Sandra Lawson (score: 3|1280) 3653 days ago
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