It cannot have escaped your notice, dear reader, that there is a war going on, but the bloodshed will be counted in terms of downloads, kudos lost and gained, and bruised and inflated egos. I refer to the battle for the Christmas number one, which in the past was decided on how many pieces of vinyl crossed the counter by certain artists, but is now a war of wits between Simon Cowell and Rage Against The Machine. The latter is being touted as the upstart that will end the X-Factor reign of terror on the Christmas Number One position this year, and I write this wearing my former hat as the progenitor of the mildly successful I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday blog, which disappeared up its own Santa hat last year simply because it was making too much work for me…but that’s not the issue here.
Let’s put aside our feelings about Simon Cowell and his show. This, it seems to me, is squarely a tussle between two camps: Those Who Like X-Factor (and everything it stands for) and Those Who Don’t. It really is that simple. On the face of it. we are seeing a backlash against the control over, let’s face it, an over-rated pole position. I say this because being the most highly sold single artist at this time of year is not necessarily a guarantee of a rich and rewarding career: in fact, of those who have had such an accolade thrust upon them in the past, it’s quite often the last one they ever get. Step forward Danny Williams, Emile Ford & The Checkmates, Mr Blobby and Renee and Renato, to name only a few who do not grace our ears any longer except in retrospective. Moreover, it has been possible to ‘fix’ the charts in such a way as to promulgate exactly the result you want: how else could one explain John Lennon’s immortal Happy Xmas (War Is Over) being beaten to number one by St. Winifred’s School Choir in 1980? (In case it interests you, there was no chart compiled for the week that would have seen it top the chart, as these were days before computers).
Moreover, even when faced with quality Christmas songs to buy, the ever fickle public (and it is they, the unseen masses who buy the records heard in the top 40) invariably choose the novelty over the festive. That Bob The Builder could top the first festive chart of the new century is a testament to the fact that misty-eyed reminiscences about the days of Wizzard and Slade making it to the top (even though the former never managed it, despite a plethora of re-releases) that I have seen over and over again on message boards across the Net are totally unjustified. Consider these anorak facts. Since the establishment of the singles-based charts in 1952 (previous to this, they were based on sales of sheet music), only 12 of the 57 charts have had a specifically Christmas-related record top the chart in the last week of December. The 1960s featured not a single one, so the ‘golden era’ that people probably remember begins with Slade in 1973 and ends with Cliff Richard in 1990. Since then, only one record (Band Aid 20) has had anything to do with the Festive season, and it wasn’t even an original.
Thus, Christmas songs do not have a god-given right to be at number one at Christmas. This seems to be an argument that would favour both Cowellites and non-Cowellites: Simon says that not having a Christmas number one would not make much difference to his life (although one wonders why he bothered to raise the issue if this is true), and the Facebook group that gathered en masse to purchase Killing In The Name make great play of the fact that, out of the nine top pole Christmas records this century, five are the results of reality talent shows. What are we seeing here? A ‘cynical’ backlash against the X Factor monopoly on our ‘beloved’ number one? It seems to me that the song chosen is irrelevant. The only factor involved is the toppling of Cowell’s juggernaut, so that if they had chosen All Want For Christmas Is You, French Kiss or Love Will Tear Us Apart is a random matter. No, something more insidious is going on here. Money is being extracted from punters’ pockets whichever way you look at it, and it would not surprise me to learn that both parts sensed a golden goose in the making. What is this year’s Christmas Number One? Whichever song it will be, ‘profit’ will be writ large for one party, if not both in a covert collaboration. I think we should be told.