The cash register ‘ka-ching’ at the start of Wizards “I Wish it could be Christmas Everyday” signalled that Roy Wood knew he was onto something that would ensure he always received a Christmas bonus. It’s something that’s become a modern myth; get a Christmas hit or a Christmas number one single (even if it has nothing to do with Christmas) and you’ll be set for life. It sure seems that if you’re lucky enough to land a catchy Christmas tune then you’ll never have another frugal Christmas again. But of course this is far from the truth. First of all I’ll address the obvious flaw in that model, the Christmas Number One single.
The trouble with grabbing that coveted number one slot on the singles chart at Christmas is you have to sell a hell of a lot more singles than at any other time of the year to even get in the Top 40. Even today with digital downloads, both illegal and legitimate clawing away at singles sales you still have to sell roughly 2500 or more units per week just to chart. Say you’re lucky though and manage to sell the units required to hit the jackpot and score a Christmas Number One single, does your song actually have anything to do with Christmas anyway?
Grab any Christmas compilation album and name the songs that appear on it which have little if anything to do with Christmas. You’re probably looking at a very small number of songs, you’ll have the obligatory East 17 song “Stay Another Day”, maybe the previous years Christmas Number One single whatever it may be (although I have yet to see Rage Against the Machine’s “Killing in the Name of” appear on any commercial Christmas album) and Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “The Power of Love” – apart from the video did that really have anything to do with Christmas? So the ruling must be that unless you’re incredibly lucky to get a song that has nothing to do with Christmas into people’s minds as being a Christmas song or you’re a boy band from East London then you’re Christmas Number One has a limited shelf life.
So what about Christmas songs that really are about Christmas? Most Christmas songs don’t actually get to the Christmas top slot anyway but will nevertheless prove to be a considerable pension fund for the writer. However it’s not all plane sailing to Treasure Island, how many times do you hear the same Christmas song played on the radio in one day? Chances are that you’ll hear the same old songs played year on year, every year even though there are literally thousands of other Christmas songs that hardly ever get played on air.
It seems bagging a surefire cash winner is a difficult thing to achieve, even if you have a good enough song. Just like with any single you need heavy backing from commercial radio stations and music press to stand any chance whatsoever. When it comes to Christmas songs you are not only competing with major artists releasing ‘normal’ songs but hundreds of other chancers who think that they’re onto a winner because they’ve written a Christmas song. Add to the fact that you need to sell at least three times the normal amount at Christmas in order to even reach the Top 40 and you soon realise it’s not as easy as it sounds, even if you write a corker of a Christmas song.
Many folks wonder why established artists don’t try and expand their income by releasing a Christmas song but the evidence shows it’s not as simple as that. Besides even if you do manage to write a Christmas themed song that manages to be a hit it might derail your career. UK rock band ‘The Darkness’ is testament to this, sure many rock fans were already unsure if they were a serious band or just a parody. When they released “Christmastime (Don’t Let the Bells End)” it turned a lot of the fence sitters off and their career nose-dived (bringing many other rock bands of the time with them may I add – ahem).
It may seem an easy mark but writing a Christmas song is wrought with many dangers and is far from being a surefire Christmas Cash Cow. So before you stick on your usual Christmas compilation why not spend a bit of time and find some lesser-known Christmas tunes? And if you do let me know what you’ve found!
Merry Christmas folks,