Belfast Telegraph

Seeing our pop demi-gods go a little silly at Christmas was one of the joys growing up

The music business takes itself and society far too seriously today to pen festive tunes, writes Gail Walker

Video killed the radio star, but culture police are still baffled as to who killed the Christmas single. And let's face it we miss it. Like mistletoe and Advocaat, we may pooh pooh the idea, but the season just isn't the same without it.

What's Christmas without Shane McGowan romancing Irish-American squalor in Fairytale of New York with its references to betting, drunk tanks and scumbags.

The irony has worn thin and now we just see it as part of the Christmas tapestry - no different in essence to Wizzard's I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day, complete with sleighbells, alpine horns and the obligatory children's choir looking about as angelic as a knife fight in a borstal.

But nothing speaks of the real Christmas season more than Wham's Last Christmas. George in his bouffant prime, glowing with health and not falling - both literally and metaphorically - asleep at the wheel.

And I was there with them all, as a child for the Christmas single's glam rock heyday - Slade, Wizzard, Showaddywaddy, Mud. Even 'serious' artists had a go - Greg Lake and David Bowie. Paul McCartney elegantly straddling both horses with his self-consciously delightful Wonderful Christmastime.

Even John Lennon tucked in with the dreadful Happy Xmas (War is Over) from 1971. "For yellow and red ones/Let's stop all the fight", anyone? Yeah, that's the Chinese and Native Americans to you and me - never done rowing, that lot! No Nobel Prize for the Scouse lyricist there.

And I was there. Loving every tiny bit of it. Christmas Top of the Pops. It was a way of measuring time, giving a kind of shape to our young lives.

And it was to continue right throughout the 1980s - a tad more sophisticated but still with a great big cheesy heart. Kate Bush promising that December Will Be Magic Again. Madonna channelling Marilyn with Santa Baby. Everyone who was anyone had a go. Queen, Depeche Mode, XTC, Bananarama and, keeping granny amused, Shakin' Stevens, the Elvis of south Wales.

The Pretenders proved yet again that even post-punk rockers were tempted by the vast royalties Noddy Holder and Roy Wood were said to make from Slade and Wizzard festive singles respectively. Mind you, with "Sometimes in a dream you appear/Outside under the purple sky/Diamonds in the snow sparkle", you would be tempted to pay them just to stop singing those lyrics.

And yet why not? It's good to realise that, for all the time we spend pretending we are thoughtful, sensitive and intellectual, we actually need a break from ourselves and reach out to others - it's better than listening to Coldplay. Radiohead may be more profound, but Dave from accounts can't dance to it.

After all, if we were taking a break from being the people we feel we have to be, well so were our heroes. Being profound for most of the year can leave you po-faced. It was refreshing to see our pop demigods show themselves to be as silly as ourselves. Even The Cocteau Twins had a go at Frosty the Snowman.

How could you not like that? Then, like the fall of the Soviet Union and Iron Curtain, it was all over ...

Perhaps it was due to Simon Cowell and The X Factor behemoths. Perhaps pop changed. No longer were singers out to please everyone from kids to grannies. No, they appealed to niche audiences and niches tend to take themselves very seriously. Why risk embarrassment and loss of street cred? Add to that the explosion in R&B and dance culture where silliness and camp is strictly forbidden and you can see why the Christmas single is a thing of yesteryear. But it's also to do with the odd fact that, in spite of the internet, globalisation and mass social media, our society is actually more fractured than ever.

There are fewer common reference points across the generations than ever, fewer commonly-held beliefs, fewer 'stars', too, recognised as such across the generations. So as Ali, Bowie, Wogan, Haggard, Cohen, Palmer, Prince and even Zsa Zsa Gabor depart the planet, we are left with fewer faces who can instantly unite millions with a common thought of recognition.

Kanye West, who had a nervous breakdown recently, could walk unmolested down any high street in Britain. It's unlikely his Christmas single, if there were such a thing, would disturb the dance floors or after-dinner slumbers in Grimsby or Groomsport.

And it's like that with Christmas. Or The Holidays. Or The Season. Or The Festive Period. Or The Solstice. Or The Break. Or whatever other euphemism we use to avoid the idea that there might be a common perception of what Christmas actually is. The raucous party tunes of the 70s were prompted partly in reaction against the pieties of The Little Drummer Boy, Mary's Boy Child, A Child is Born and traditional Christmas carols with all their cliches deep and thick and even.

Back then, there was a whole culture that understood about the crib, the Three Wise Men, Mary in blue and white, angels in pink dresses, nasty Herod and the little donkey and knew the actions to accompany Away In A Manger as automatically as those to YMCA.

That's all over and, like the highlight of sport being the FA Cup Final, 20 million viewers for a single programme and national agreement around Sports Personality of the Year, it won't be back.

Nowadays at the office party you watch twenty and thirtysomethings dancing to the Crimbo tunes of their parents and grandparents' generations. Wham and Slade and Shaky and Macca. They're our tunes!

Fact is Christmas itself has become an antique - something for the Roadshow or Bargain Hunt. It passes a few hours at the end of the year, like Morecambe and Wise, Dad's Army, It's A Wonderful Life and Downton. No more reason to have a song of its own than Hallowe'en or the peace process, but with a lot more feelgood marketing attached to it.

If the poor get a few extra quid from charities at this time of year, all the better. But no need to make a song and dance about it.

Belfast Telegraph


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