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Sunday, December 02, 2012

Merry Xmas Everybody

Just in case you missed yesterday's blog entry, this is the beginning of an event that I like to call “The Pop Culture Addict's Advent Calendar”. From now until December 25, all the entries in the blog will have some sort of holiday reference.

Yesterday, we took a look at the holiday special “Olive, the Other Reindeer”, as part of the Saturday Holiday Special day...and today we're going to be featuring a Christmas themed song as part of the Sunday Jukebox.

This year, our Sunday Jukebox spotlights will have two twists to them. The first twist is that all of the songs featured during “The Pop Culture Addict's Advent Calendar” will be seasonal favourites. And the second twist is that all of the featured songs were recorded by artists from the United Kingdom. Believe me, I had no shortage of subjects for the Sunday Jukebox this year, as so many great artists from the United Kingdom released some holiday favourites that people have listened to while wrapping gifts and sipping on hot apple cider.

All right. Enough babbling from me. Let's just get right into the selected song for today. And today's song is such that depending on which country you live in, the song is either wildly popular, or virtually unheard of.

Take people in the United States and Canada, for example. This particular song is quite rare in both of those countries. The song failed to make an impression on the charts in either country, and I'll readily admit that the first time I ever heard the song was on an episode of the BBC dramatic series EastEnders years ago. So, for those of you who are reading this blog in the United States or Canada (and there's a lot of you out there, as those two countries are the ones who read this blog the most), consider this an introduction to a brand new Christmas tune.

Now, for those of you who are living in England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales, you'll likely recognize this song right away. First things first, the song was a number one hit for the band who performed it. Secondly, the song managed to sell half a million copies during its first week of release! The single was certified UK Platinum in December 1980 (seven years after it was first released), and as of November 2012, it is estimated that the single has sold almost 1,200,000 copies in the United Kingdom alone!

The song was so successful in the United Kingdom that it ended up charting for years after its 1973 release. The song has made the top 100 list from 1980-1986, again in 1989 and 1990, 1998, and from 2006-2011!

So what song could have such staying power, and be beloved by so many in the United Kingdom?

Have you ever heard of the band known as Slade? The band formed in Wolverhampton, West Midlands, United Kingdom, and its original members were Noddy Holder, Jim Lea, Don Powell, and Dave Hill. The group began releasing albums and singles in 1969, and were a huge force to be reckoned with during the glam rock movement of the late 1960s/early 1970s.

Their career in their native country was phenomenal. During their time together, Slade released thirty albums, and it is estimated that the band spend a total of 531 weeks on the UK charts!

(That's a little over TEN YEARS on the charts, people!)

And let's talk about Slade's success on those very charts in great detail, shall we? Aside from beating out other established artists on the charts including Suzi Quatro, Wizzard, T. Rex, Gary Glitter, Roxy Music, and David Bowie, here are some more stats about Slade's hit singles.

  • Twenty-three Top 30 UK hits between 1969 and 2012.
  • Seventeen consecutive Top 20 hits between 1971 and 1976.
  • Six #1 singles.
  • Came very close to surpassing The Beatles record of most Top 10 records in a single decade during the 1970s.

Now, I suppose that some of you might be wondering why Slade never really seemed to catch on here in North America when they did so extremely well in the United Kingdom. I'm not entirely sure why this was the case. Listening to old Slade songs in preparation for this particular entry, I have to admit that they were a fantastic band, and had I grown up during the 1970s, I would have had them blaring from my record player all hours of the night! But, it wasn't as though Slade didn't try to make it big in the United States. In 1975, at the height of their popularity, the band tried to do some tours down there, and attempted to get noticed down there, but they found that success wasn't as easy to achieve in North America as it was in Europe.

The band did have a couple of singles charting in the United States during the 1980s with “Run Runaway” and “My Oh My”, though. And they did perform at the Reading Rock Festival after Ozzy Osbourne pulled out at the last minute in the early 1980s, which saw the band enjoy revived popularity. And even though the band officially split up in 1992, Powell and Hill have managed to reform the band with different members, and still perform together as of 2012.

Slade has also been a major influence on many bands which formed after Slade made it big. Some of these bands include Oasis, Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, The Clash, Quiet Riot, Twisted Sister, Def Leppard, Cheap Trick, Sex Pistols, and The Ramones.

That's quite a roster of bands, isn't it? I guess it just goes to show just how well loved they were by the public.

And I can't think of a better song to spotlight than this one.

SONG: Merry Xmas Everybody
ALBUM: N/A (strictly a single release)
DATE RELEASED: December 7, 1973

Now you know where the Christmas connection comes into play here.

This was the band's sixth and final #1 single in the UK, and many people would consider this seasonal favourite the band's signature hit.

The year that this song was released was the same year that Slade was at a career high. Their previous two singles that were released in 1973 (“Skweeze Me Pleeze Me” and “Cum On Feel The Noize” - the latter also being a hit for Quiet Riot) both debuted on the UK charts at number one, a very rare feat.

It was a mutual decision between Slade and their record company, Polydor Records, to come up with a Christmas release to end off the year 1973. To prepare for the song, Noddy Holder and Jim Lea did a lot of planning, even going through some of the old material that they had written as a band.

The melody for “Merry Xmas Everybody” was created by Lea in, of all places, his bathroom shower! As for Holder's contribution, it stemmed from a 1967 composition that he had put in the reject pile while the band worked under its previous name of the “N'Betweeners”. The song's title was originally “Buy Me A Rocking Chair”. By combining the melody of Holder's song with the melody that Jim Lea had come up with while showering, it formed the basis of the song's instrumental section. Lea's melody became the verse, while Holder's melody formed the chorus.

Of course, a great Christmas song couldn't work without lyrics, and Holder was the main man responsible for composing the verses for the song, which he did in one draft after a night of drinking.

In a 2007 interview with The Daily Mail, Holder went into further detail about how “Merry Xmas Everybody” was created.

We'd decided to write a Christmas song and I wanted to make it reflect a British family Christmas. Economically, the country was up the creek. The miners had been on strike, along with the grave-diggers, the bakers and almost everybody else. I think people wanted something to cheer them up – and so did I. That's why I came up with the line 'Look to the future now, it's only just begun'. Once I got the line, 'Does your Granny always tell you that the old ones are the best', I knew I'd got a right cracker on my hands.”

NOTE: I'm not very fluent in British slang, but from what I gather, “up the creek” is a phrase describing hardships, and “right cracker” I believe is slang for “a hit”. Maybe some of my British friends can help a confused Canadian here.

But you know something? Given the description that Noddy Holder gave in that interview, I think he succeeded in what he wanted the song to be all about. Why else did the song become a huge hit just one week after its release in December 1973? Why else has the song charted as recently as 2011? Why else do so many people from the United Kingdom reflect so fondly over this song?

It's because it mixed the flashy glam rock of the 1970s with traditional values of Christmases gone by. In short, the song really did have something for everybody.

TRIVIA: The song may very well have been a song filled with warmth and Christmas tradition, but the band suffered a setback about ten weeks before the song was recorded. Around that time, Don Powell and his girlfriend, Angela Morris, were involved in a serious car accident. Tragically, Angela was killed in the crash, and Powell was left in a coma for almost a whole week. The band had to wait until Powell recovered from his injuries to record the song.

So, what kind of legacy has “Merry Xmas Everybody” left on the world? Well, lots.

I already explained about the sales of the single, as well as the fact that it repeatedly appears on UK music charts around the holiday season, but that's just the tip of the iceberg. The song is still continually played at nightclubs and pubs all across the United Kingdom around the holiday season, and the song was listed at #2 for the Best UK Single of the 1970s.

Peter Buckley described the song as “arguably the best Christmas single ever” in The Rough Guide To Rock, and the song has appeared in many Christmas soundtracks and compilations throughout the years. The song has also spawned many cover versions by other UK acts including 4 Skins, The Mission, Westlife, and even the Spice Girls, believe it or not!

As for my take on the song, I actually wish it had been released here in North America. Yeah, sure, the lyrics tend to reflect a British Christmas season, but I think that the lyrics could apply to a modern-day 2012 North American Christmas as well. I think that many of us get so caught up in the materialism and commercialism that Christmas seems to be known for nowadays that we sometimes take our traditions and put them on the backburner. For me, Christmas would NOT be Christmas without the family traditions that we all take part in...traditions that Slade successfully sang about thirty-nine Christmases ago.

So here it is, merry Christmas
Everybody's having fun.
Look to the future now,
It's only just begun...

So, that wraps up Day #2 on the Pop Culture Addict's Advent Calendar. But like Slade says in the song, it's only just begun.

Day #3 will feature the first of the holiday Monday Matinees. And the only clue you get for tomorrow is that I looked at the original movie last year around this time. This year, we're examining the sequel. So, grab yourself a cheese pizza and sit down to watch “Angels With Filthier Souls”...the Monday Matinee Christmas edition starts tomorrow.

1 comment:

  1. “up the creek” basically means you are in some kind of trouble usually caused by something you did or were going to do. In the 70's we used to say "man, your gonna be up the creek without a paddle"...