Issue 247 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published December 2000 Copyright © Socialist Review

Stack on the back

Loony tunes

As the annual battle for the Xmas number one hots up, Pat Stack picks his favourite

It's Xmas time, and that means that annual and breathtaking battle for the Xmas number one. Ever since Bing Crosby (younger readers should at this point consult your grandparents) first 'crooned' (ask your great-grandparents) his way into the record books with 'White Xmas', the battle to be number one has been an annual event. Such is the excitement that the rest of the festivities pale by comparison.

Each year we have had to endure some awful anthem, as well as having to listen to such previous classics as Slade's (your parents might be able to help you with this one) 'Here it is Merry Xmas' or Wizard's 'I wish it could be Xmas every day'. Just to make the genre completely unbearable, the sickly god squadder Cliff Richard (enquire of any ageing relative who suffers from dementia or has had a complete taste bypass) releases his own Xmas song every year. As he 'mistletoe and whines' his way through yet another 'classic', one begins to lean further towards Scrooge, and further away from dear old Bob Cratchit.

There has been the odd good Xmas song. John Lennon's 'Happy Xmas (War is Over)' may seem a tad sentimental now, but at the time it was recorded the Vietnam War was coming to an end and therefore carried a lot more meaning. The only true 'Xmas classic' in my opinion was the Pogues' (I suggest a middle aged uncle or aunt with Irish connections) 'Fairytale of New York'. A tale of emigration, loneliness, shattered dreams and desperate hope set against a background of drunken Xmas revelry, it seems to me to get nearer to reality than any other Xmas song I've heard. The song is exceptional; as I say, dross is the norm.

This year, though, looks much more promising. First there is the modern day crooner Tony Blair, with his storming 'Don't give to beggars at Xmas (because it isn't Christian to beg)'. Tony's popularity has taken a bit of a nosedive of late. His two singles this year, 'Get old, go cold' and 'Only yobs throw up in the street', didn't make the top 100, so he will be hoping for a return to form. However, I think 'Beggars' may just put him back up there. I love the Christian clarity of the song:

Incidentally, Ian Paisley has issued a jokey cover version called 'Don't give to Fenians at Xmas--peace shouldn't be given a chance'.

Blair, though, is being challenged for that vital number one slot. There's the Geoffrey Robinson/Peter Mandelson comedy duet 'Remember what I gave you last Xmas? (I'm sorry that seems to have slipped my mind!)'. Mandelson badly needs a Xmas hit after last year's disastrous flop 'You'll find a Dome in your stocking this Xmas'.

Ken Livingstone has released the rather disappointing 'Hush not a word' this Xmas. William Hague, the unlikely Yorkshire rocker, has released an interesting new title 'Throwing up at Xmas'. The wild man of rock lives up to his reputation with this irreverent bacchanalian Xmas ditty.

It's a while since there has been a woman with a Xmas number one, but country and western diva Ann Widdecombe's 'My Xmas joint was ruined in the cabinet, now they're casting shadows over me', might just break that duck.

Chris Woodhead

Meanwhile Chris Woodhead's final ballad before retirement, the re-release of the classic 'She was only 16' is unlikely to make it. After all, it's not even a Xmas song. The opportunist Woodhead has just added a verse with a few references to mistletoe and holly.

Old balladeer Frank Dobson has released a sad little tune called 'Xmas without friends is a lonely, lonely time', and Jack Straw is continuing his new image of white soul brother with a hardened edge with his rather grumpy 'There ought to be a law against Xmas'. The B side, incidentally, is a duet with glamorous former Spice Girl Barbara Roche called 'Are you genuine at Xmas? If so, here's a voucher from us all'.

Meanwhile our friends across the Atlantic are offering a serious challenge. Big Bill Clinton has released a jazzy blues classic double A side 'I want to smoke you all over at Xmas honey' and 'Dropping bombs at Xmas (really makes the party swing)'. Old Bill may not be the force he was, but he can still spin a yarn.

Meanwhile slick popsters Bore and Gush have released a whole album of Xmas songs, a number of which might end up as a Xmas number one. Songs such as 'My brother gave me Florida for Xmas', 'Counting all the way to Xmas', 'There's no Xmas horrider than one spent in Florida', and 'I may not be legitimate, but neither was Jesus' all stand a good chance. My own favourite, though, is 'The last time I had any substance it was illegal (so can I have some gravitas for Xmas?)'.

Xmas is also a good time for choirs, and though not entirely seasonal, the Israeli army male voice choir's reworking of Wizard's classic 'Xmas every day' may take us all by surprise. The song has been slowed down and retitled 'It feels like Bloody Sunday every day'. It's a clever reworking:

Have a good one, pop pickers.

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