Christmas is coming and with its onward approach comes the inevitable soundtrack to shopping featuring dusty old over-familiar favourites (and not so favourites) from yesteryear. The very best thing about January - and let's face it, there's not much to celebrate in January - is the wonderful aural relief of no longer having to hear Last Christmas or Mary's Boy Child 50 times a day.
Since the advent of the Official UK Singles Chart in 1952, the Christmas number one slot has been the most coveted in the music business. Whilst the Beatles are the only band to have had four Christmas number ones, it was 1973 when competition for the top slot over the holiday period really hotted up with the release of Slade's Merry Xmas Everybody. That record ushered in an era of fierce competition amongst the acts of the day and many of the records that we still hear today when we walk round the shops were released in the seventies and early eighties. Some of those records were truly timeless, some of them were shockingly corny, it doesn't seem to matter which category a Christmas hit falls in, it will still be wheeled out year after year once we hit December. I can remember the eager anticipation we all felt when we heard that our favourite band or artist was releasing a Christmas record and the bookies would publish the odds on who was going to make the top slot.
I have a friend - he will remain nameless - who wrote a Christmas hit. It didn't make the number one slot in the UK but every year it gets endless plays on the radio and in the shops and he makes enough money from PRS and PPL to keep him happy for the rest of the year. It used to be every songwriter's dream to write a Christmas hit for that very reason. Of course, there are two types of Christmas number one, the Christmas themed song and the non-Christmas themed song which just happens to make the top slot during the holiday break. I feel sorry for the writers of the latter as they don't get the annual bonanza but my main regret is the fact that we don't seem to get any quality Christmas-themed singles any more. Are we really going to be stuck listening to Slade, Roy Wood, Cliff, Wham etc for the rest of our December days? As great as some of these records may be, it would be nice to hear something fresh.
In recent years the battle for the Christmas number one has been dominated by the reality television contests with the X Factor taking the number one slot on five occasions. Who amongst us didn't enjoy the fantastic success of the Facebook campaign that propelled Rage Against The Machine's Killing in the Name to the top spot at the expense of the X Factor winner Joe McEllderry in 2009? Well, I guess that would be Simon Cowell and poor old Joe. Killing in the Name was, at that time, the most downloaded single in a week in chart history but regardless of the massive sales, you most definitely won't hear that particular record when you visit a department store in December or at any other time of the year for that matter.
Looking at the betting odds for the number one slot this Christmas, The X Factor winner is the odds on favourite again with ACDC playing the Rage Against The Machine card. Lily Allen, with the John Lewis Christmas ad Keane cover is up there, the SuBo/Elvis duet rendition of O Come All Ye Faithful is also on short odds and then there is Gary Barlow, Robbie Williams, Katy Perry, Adele, Emeli Sande and a plethora of choirs and choir boys filling up the race card. The big problem is that there is nothing here that looks like being a sure-fire evergreen (or should that be everwhite?) annual Christmas hit and that, for me, is a great shame.
So it looks like we are destined to spend the rest of our December days trudging round the shops to the same old soundtrack. I can't conclude this piece without making my own personal tribute to a fairly recent and, as established above, relatively rare addition to the Christmas song pantheon: The Darkness's Christmas Time (Don't Let The Bells End). Quite apart from the fact that this is just about the best title of a Christmas record ever, it's a cracking track in the grand old tradition of Christmas songs, I never mind hearing that one. So, for this year, dear reader I will conclude by wishing you season's best and quoting from that mighty Christmas paean: Don't let the bells end, Christmas time, just let them ring in peace.