On the highway to Christmas No 1 hell

Lily Allen may hit a metal wall on her way to the top spot


There’s actually an interesting race for this year’s Christmas No 1 song. The tune is normally the preserve of hysterical reality TV stars enjoying their 15 seconds of fame or some horrendous choir over-emoting, but this peculiar year sees both The Special AKA and AC/DC in the running for the prize.

They thought it was all over when Lily Allen teamed up with a department store to cover Keane’s Somewhere Only We Know. La Allen is still in with a chance of winning, but she’ll have to contend with whatever rubbish is given to this year’s X Factor winner.

Occupying the refusnik Rage Against the Machine slot are AC/DC. The boys are urging their global fan base to put Highway to Hell (festive relevance: absolutely none) at the top of the Christmas charts in order to mark the 40th anniversary of the band’s existence. It’s all about timing with these sort of campaigns, and if all works to plan, AC/DC it will be.

But the real dark horse is The Special AKA with Jerry Dammers’s Free Nelson Mandela. However, there’s very much a split vote here – some think it would be a fitting tribute to Madiba while others fret about the song’s integrity being compromised by something as tacky as vying for the Christmas No 1.

Odds have also been slashed on U2’s Ordinary Love single, which was written for the upcoming Mandela biopic. It sure would be strange if two Mandela-related songs were to feature in the Christmas top five.

Away from the probable winners, you really are entering into a slime-pit of desperation, with any amount of chancers, has-beens and irritants shoving out anything with sleigh bells on it in the hope they can resuscitate their C-list career. The cast of the TV show The Big Reunion – 911, Blue, Atomic Kitten and Liberty X – are flinging out a cover of Wizzard’s I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday. For which they should be imprisoned.

There are good Christmas songs out there. It’s just they don’t have the requisite amount of saccharine and cheap, emotionally manipulative themes. See Joni Mitchell’s River, The Blue Nile’s Family Affair, El Vez’s Feliz Navidad (he’s a Mexican Elvis impersonator who puts PIL’s Public Image into his Christmas song – brilliant), Sufjan Stevens’s That Was the Worst Christmas Ever and Vashti Bunyan’s The Coldest Night of the Year.

But screw art and true emotion when there’s lots of money at stake. If you can write a half-decent Christmas song, you’ll never have to work again – which sort of explains why there are so many of them.

According to new figures, Slade’s Merry Xmas Everybody makes £512,000 (€606,830) every year in royalty payments – and it’s only ever played in December. That’s an impressive amount, given the song has been minting Noddy Holder money since 1973. Shane MacGowan and Jem Finer, the two Pogues who wrote Fairytale of New York, earn £386,270 (€458,000) each year from their song. Even The Pretenders’ 2,000 Miles, which wasn’t a big hit, earns £45,000 (€53,300) a year. Hardly surprising, though, when you consider that more singles/downloads are bought in December than in the other 11 months combined.

As Noël Coward once had it: “Strange how potent cheap music is.” And there’s nothing cheaper than festive musical detritus. I’m going with The Special AKA.

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