Posted on Monday, December 26, 2011 by Paul in Music
Welcome to the strangest chart of the year.
As I’ve explained before, the British take the Christmas Number One inexplicably seriously. This made a degree of sense when people bought singles as stocking fillers, and the Christmas week was one of the biggest sales of the year. But the idea doesn’t go away. A generation grew up being told that the race for the Christmas Number One was a really, really big deal, and it’s stuck with them.
For years, however, the Christmas Number One has been dominated by the X Factor winners’ singles, which were always timed to enter at the top of the Christmas chart. This annoyed a lot of people, which is why 2009 saw a Facebook campaign launch “Killing In the Name” by Rage Against The Machine to the top of the charts. (Normal service was resumed in 2010.)
But this year is different. This year, the X Factor single came out a week earlier than usual, timed to reach number one in the week before Christmas. And that leaves the way for other people to have a go.
In fact, as it turns out, the X Factor schedule change was something of a red herring. Viewing figures are down this year; Little Mix were one of the lower selling winners. Even if it had come out in Christmas week, it would have been squashed flat by this year’s Christmas number one.
This is “Wherever You Are”, credited to Military Wives with Gareth Malone.
Christmas singles don’t get much more BBC than this, though it’s doubtful that anyone seriously expected the Military Wives Choir to become quite such a phenomenon. This single is a spin-off from BBC2′s show The Choir, in which Gareth Malone trains novices to form choirs and attempts to bring the joy of choristry to people who would not otherwise think of it. They’ve done several of these shows since 2006 (most in a three-episode format following a particular new choir), and the Military Wives show is the latest.
The choir is made up of the wives and girlfriends of British soldiers serving in Afghanistan. The original idea was to train them up so that they could perform a song at the Royal British Legion’s Remembrance concert in November. That proved to be such a success that they recorded it as a charity single. The song is original; the lyrics are apparently a patchwork of fragments from the women’s letters to their partners, set to music by composer Paul Mealor. Judged on its merits as a record, it’s actually a lot better than you might expect; nothing wrong with a bit of sentimentality when it’s sincere.
By an odd coincidence, they’re the first choir to have a number one hit since the notorious 1980 Christmas number one, “There’s No One Quite Like Grandma” by the St Winifred’s School Choir – not so much a recording as an aural Hallmark card. It occurs to me that overseas readers may never have had the pleasure of witnessing this astonishing lapse of popular taste, which spent two weeks at number one, sandwiched between two posthumous John Lennon singles. Yes, that’s right – in Christmas week 1980, this record outsold “Imagine”. Roll that around your mind for a bit.
But let us return to this week’s chart.
Here’s the irony. The people who organised the Rage Against The Machine campaign two years ago claimed that the point was to support “real music”. Of course, Rage Against The Machine had nothing whatsoever to do with “real music” in 2009; it was a record chosen first and foremost to make a point. And this year’s crop of Christmas week releases are equally unrelated to anything we’d expect to see on the chart in the rest of the year. There are three new entries in the top ten, and they’re all the product of chart campaigns.
Number 3 is “Dominick the Donkey” by Lou Monte, which is being championed by Radio 1 breakfast presenter Chris Moyles for the sole purpose of annoying his newsreader Dominic Byrne. Monte, who died in 1989, was an Italian-American singer responsible for a number of novelty records playing up his Italian-ness, of which this is one. If you haven’t heard it, and you really want to, then click here… but I don’t recommend it. He’s probably better known in America for his song “Lazy Mary”, which reached number 12 in 1958, and is apparently played at New York Mets games. He has never previously charted in the UK.
At number 4 is a slightly more interesting chart campaign – “Forever Yours” by Alex Day. Day is a YouTube songwriter with pushing half a million subscribers, who has decided to have a crack at the Christmas chart. It should be noted that Day has released a ton of remixes of this song, which is basically a device for his supporters to make multiple purchases without triggering the anti-hyping rules, so a slight asterisk needs to go next to the chart placing. Nonetheless, the actual song’s not bad. The video… well, to be honest, I’ve watched this several times and I still don’t follow it, but maybe one of you can explain it in the comments. (It’s got a low-fi charm to it, but… seriously, what the hell is meant to be going on?)
This is Day’s first solo hit, though he was also a member of the Chartjackers, who scraped the bottom end of the chart in 2009 with “I’ve Got Nothing”. That was a BBC-sponsored chart campaign intended to raise money for Children in Need through the exciting modern techniques of Crowd Sourcing, which died on its arse, and the less said about it the better.
At number 11, we have a decidedly underperforming campaign to get Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” to number 1. Not a chance in hell. Yes, it’s a classic, but come on. We did this joke two years ago. The moment has passed. (The song reached number 7 on its original release in 1991. Weirdly, their highest UK chart placing was actually for “Heart-Shaped Box”, which peaked at number 5 thanks to the anticipation factor.)
Further down the chart, dubious Christmas novelty singles! Atnumber 27, “Driving Home For Christmas” by Stacy Solomon, who was an X Factor contestant in 2009, and then jumped into TV presenting. This is her first single (though of course she was on the 2009 X Factor charity single), and apparently she has an album out in the new year. It’s a charity single, to be fair, but it’s also being used on the soundtrack of an advert for Iceland, which is at least a change from their usual efforts to persuade customers that the height of celebrity chic is a party where you too might join Kerry Katona and Christopher Biggins to cluster around a defrosted vol-au-vent.
Iceland used the Chris Rea original of this song in adverts in the late 90s. The only reason I know that is because they came up on YouTube as related videos. Surely Iceland don’t think everyone has fond memories of their 1997 advert campaign? Do they? Interestingly, the original re-enters at number 36, presumably as a spillover from the advert exposure. The single’s never made much impact in the UK; on its numerous releases, it’s never made it above 33.
Are you hating pop culture yet? No? Well, here’s something to put you over the edge! At number 33, it’s The Cast of the Only Way Is Essex, with their characteristically thoughtful take on “Last Christmas”. ”The Only Way Is Essex” is an ITV2 reality show which is perhaps the single most powerful argument for Scottish independence. Now, granted, I figure most people watching TOWIE (and appearing in it) are doing so ironically. But for the life of me, I don’t get how any level of irony is going to make this worth your time…
Next week, it’s the annual dead chart, when nothing comes out at all! (Why do people never try and run their chart campaigns for that week, when they might actually win?)