Wham, The Pogues, even Chris Rea…pop music has blessed us with countless Christmas classics. This is a wave that has been ridden by artists as diverse as David Bowie, Wizzard and Mariah Carey. This is a genre of music, that once a year, can even make Slade cool again. Christmas songs are as popular as ever. Every year we are bombarded with repackaged compilation CDs all with the same songs split between them. The problem is we are getting nothing new, certainly nothing that we will still be drunkenly chorusing as a family in 15 years from now. Yes, there have been remixes and re-releases, and the likes of Michael Bublé have carved out some success in their renditions of old Christmas classics. The question remains though, where are all the new Christmas classics?
1. Classics take time to emerge
By definition, a classic can only be recognised as such once it’s had the time to establish its enduring popularity. Perhaps a handful of the Christmas songs that have been written in the last few years will go on to enjoy real longevity and become regarded as classics. Yet, somehow, we doubt it.
That being said, it can take a long time for Christmas songs to emerge from their initial obscurity into the realm of classics. Take for instance Chris Rea’s ‘Driving Home for Christmas’, which upon release in 1988 peaked at #53 in the charts. It has in more recent years twice re-entered the charts, higher than its original placing each time, and is now an established, and loved festive favourite. Perhaps, the original Christmas output of artists such as Pentatonix will gain more traction in the years to come.
2. Making the most of the golden oldies
If Cliff Richard’s ‘Millennium Prayer’, and Lady Gaga’s ‘Christmas Tree’ have taught us anything, it’s that if your Christmas song fails to hit the heights, people will not be shy in letting you know about it. Well established classics are much safer ground as their popularity is proven and all artists need to do is subtly add their own spin on them. The aforementioned Bublé has been very successful following this model.
As many Christmas songs – as in the older, hymn-based variety – are now out of copyright and in the public domain, this also means that publishers don’t have to pay a penny for their starts to record these long-loved Christmas tunes. The nostalgic, traditional aspect of these songs is also perfectly fitting for nostalgic and traditional period that Christmas is. This gives them another edge over new, original Christmas songs. Overall then, re-recording long standing classics is simply a much safer bet than trying produce a brand-new Christmas smash.
3. Christmas sounds need the screen
As we all know, TV is a big thing at Christmas. The litany of annual festive specials of our favourite shows, the barrage of Christmas films, and, more recently, the feverish appreciation of seasonal adverts, all make up a big part of the holiday season on the small screen. Once upon a time, so did music. Granted, Jools Holland’s Hootenanny is still going strong. However, by and large, shows with a focus on music are few and far between. Top of the Pops at Christmas was once considered unmissable Christmas TV. Right up there with the Morecambe & Wise shows and the Queen’s speech.
Even once TOTP’s power waned, the X Factor was there to give us a new star with a song each year just in time for Christmas. However, with 2017 marking the X Factor’s lowest ratings since the show began. Beyond that, an X Factor winner not scoring a Christmas no. 1 since 2014 (Ben Haenow, remember him?), which even then only lasted a week. We often associate our Christmas classics with how we received them. A barnstorming Christmas day TOTP performance will always beat sneaking onto a Spotify playlist. It’s fair to say then that this dwindling TV exposure isn’t helping our modern Christmas songs reach classic status.
Perhaps, in the years to come we’ll look back on this blog embarrassed, whilst blaring out a collection of Christmas belters all recorded post 2007. We probably won’t though. At least we can never lose the Christmas classics we’ve already got. Maybe it’s greedy to demand more on top of ‘Little Drummer Boy’, ‘Stop the Cavalry’ and ‘Fairytale of New York’. We’ve already been spoiled with Christmas classics.