Posted on Sunday, December 23, 2012 by Paul in Music
Merry Christmas! Yes, this is the Christmas chart, and you know what that means – everybody in their right mind runs a mile, leaving us with a two horse race between a charity record and a bloke who won X Factor but told everyone they should buy the charity record. (Despite which, he was still ahead on iTunes for some of the week – so it wasn’t a complete thumping.)
But further down the chart, it’s a bit of a wasteland, truth be told. Quite simply, releasing a record in the week before Christmas is almost entirely the province of charity records, novelty acts, and lunatics, giving us one of the stranger charts of the year. All part of the glorious tapestry, though.
Two belated re-entries from the Christmas back catalogue. “Driving Home for Christmas” was the lead track from an EP that Chris Rea released in 1988, but didn’t make the top 40 until the download era, when it achieved the dizzy heights of 33. Even so, it keeps coming back (perhaps because a lot of people genuinely don’t own it). “Last Christmas” spent five frustrating weeks at number 2 in Christmas 1984, stuck behind Band Aid.
33. Ellie Goulding – “Figure 8”
Somebody needs to buy Ellie Goulding a calendar. This is the only “proper” new entry of the week, and it’s mainly succeeded in demonstrating why nobody else bothers. This is not a good time to be promoting new releases, or at least, that’s got to be the spin. After all, this is only the second single from her current album “Halcyon”, and the first one made number 5 just two months ago, so the promotion shouldn’t be going cold this quickly. Nor is this a case of the track charting on the strength of the first album track downloads – this is the actual single release, and the promotion for it started in November. It’s a bit of a disappointment, really.
Actually, one other major act did have a single out this week – Robbie Williams, who released “Different” as the second single from his album “Take the Crown”. But since he’s on the Hillsborough track, he’s deliberately stopped promoting it, making it a release in name only. It lands at 64.
29. One Pound Fish Man – “One Pound Fish”
This year’s media-endorsed novelty hit, though as you can tell, it hasn’t really set the world alight – whatever the papers may have told you about it being in contention for Christmas number one.
Muhammad Nazir is a stallholder in London who does this schtick to, well, sell fish. A video of it went viral on YouTube earlier in the year. This record is the obligatory novelty cash-in. But there’s a difference between something like this and, say, “Gangnam Style” – which, if you need it spelled out, is that “Gangnam Style” was a proper record in the first place. Still, there have been far worse Christmas novelty records than this. In a spirit of seasonal generosity, I would go so far as to describe it as tolerable.
This peaked at number 34 in November, but for some reason it’s now made a comeback. I’m honestly not sure why that is – did he get a TV appearance, or have they just been playing the iPod advert a lot more?
Another of the occasional releases from YouTube songwriter Alex Day, following from last year’s “Forever Yours” (number 4) and April’s cover of “Lady Godiva” (number 15). Day has a large online following and his records tend to be one-week wonders on the strength of concerted buying campaigns. He’s certainly an interesting figure, in that his strategy of cultivating an online fanbase and self-releasing singles has bypassed the conventional music industry entirely, and appears to be having some degree of success. (He is also a member of Chameleon Circuit, a band who make songs entirely about Doctor Who.)
On the other hand, you have to wonder how much three singles is really doing to turn that following into an income. At this point in time, Day is basically an endearing/annoying (delete according to taste) amateur who pops up in the charts from time to time, and serves as a healthy reminder to the chart ecosystem that there are other options. But at this stage he doesn’t really seem poised to grow beyond that. Officially, his goal with this release was to get all his followers to buy it in one hour and try to propel it to the top of the iTunes chart on the day of release. Not sure it worked.
1. The Justice Collective – “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother”
A charity single raising money for the legal costs of the families of victims of the 1989 Hillsborough Stadium disaster, in which 96 people were killed and 766 injured by crushing at an FA Cup semifinal between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest. Inept crowd control was identified as the main cause in the original inquiry, but more recently further evidence has emerged of deliberate attempts by the police to shift the blame onto the fans. Unsurprisingly, this has sparked a new round of inquests and litigation, which the proceeds from this record are supposed to be helping to fund.
“He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” was originally recorded in 1969 by Kelly Gordon, but the best known version is the Hollies’ cover version from later that year. It made number 3 on its original release and number 1 when re-issued in 1988 (on the strength of being used in an advert). Apparently it features an uncredited Elton John on piano.
A full list of people appearing on the Justice Collective version would take forever; the bigger names include Paul McCartney, the aforementioned Robbie Williams, Mel C, Holly Johnson, Beverley Knight and Shane McGowan. The record continues what is now an established tradition of the Christmas Number One bearing little or no resemblance to regular pop music; in recent years, everything has been either a charity record, an X Factor winner’s single, or (in the case of “Killing in the Name”) an online campaign against X Factor. And while the people behind that campaign may have claimed that they were promoting “real” music, it was always disingenuous to claim that Rage Against The Machine’s 17-year-old record bore any more resemblance to contemporary pop music than Simon Cowell’s efforts.
So the Christmas number one has existed in something of a parallel world from regular pop music for over a decade now, and that’s not likely to change any time soon – although X Factor seems to be out of the way, that’s merely cleared the way for zeitgeist friendly charity records that no regular act would want to compete with anyway. Best just to accept it for what it is.
Over on the album chart… well, absolutely nothing, obviously. The Christmas number one over there is “Our Version of Events” by Emeli Sande, so if you’re wondering what music people are actually buying for presents this year, that’s probably your answer.