The rule is simple; starting on the first of December, you have to avoid hearing “Last Christmas” by Wham. A colleague’s daughter thought she had lost but, to her relief, had only heard a cover version. My own daughter lasted until the 21st of December but her simple ploy was to come straight home from school and play Fallout 4. Walking into a shop, or switching on a mainstream radio station, could easily lose you the game.
It’s not a song I have any real problem with – it’s from the days when George Michael still wrote tunes rather than dirges or resorted to samples – but it does show up one thing: a lack of Christmas songs.
Christmas music has been boiled down to no more than twenty songs that probably fit onto one CD. Imagine you work in a shop: you will have this hour of music repeated and repeated all through your working day over the distended season in the run up to Christmas. If you actually do work in a shop, you may have already chewed your left hand off. I know the companies have a deal with the PRS, but some bright spark did invent the MP3 player a while back; it doesn’t always have to be the same hour of music, in the same order.
I wouldn’t mind if it weren’t the musical equivalent to turkey or sprouts; some people might like it if it’s done right, some people never will, but few ever dare complain. Spotify, or an indie radio station, may try to come up with alternatives but your local supermarket is not going to put on St Etienne just for you, so dream on.
So what is this limited canon of Christmas songs?
First of all, forget anything religious, despite the fact that you know the tunes and probably the words too.
Merry Xmas Everybody just repeats the same few bars again and again to drag itself out to full length, but is always played until the end because of the “it’s Christmas” shout at the finish. Slade wrote better songs than that. I prefer a lot of Roy Wood songs over I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day, but at least it knows how to keep my interest for four minutes.
When did Santa Baby become a thing? It just horridly panders to every stereotype about gold-digging women.
Fairytale of New York is the band for people who pretend to be Irish singing a song for people who pretend to hate Christmas. That’s one hell of a Venn diagram.
Shakin’ Stevens may have made his name as a rockabilly revival act but, oddly, his pension seems to be riding on Merry Christmas Everyone. He’d be coining it even more if he had written it.
So much of what you hear is a cluster of songs from about 1973/74 with another peak around 1984/85, on a never-ending loop. The Pogues and Mariah Carey are as recent as it gets. Some things appear to be falling out of fashion. Anything from Phil Spector’s Christmas Gift… album has been pushed aside, which is a shame. Last time I looked, The Ronettes weren’t gun nuts serving a prison sentence for killing someone. I hear the John Lennon/Yoko Ono song less each year (this might be the Phil Spector effect again.) Relative oddities like Merry Christmas by The Waitresses seem to have had their day, too.
Is there a Christmas song you’d want added? Please remember to think of anyone less fortunate than yourself at Christmas, such as anyone paid minimum wage who has to endure this stuff for two months.