For most of us a pension fund is something we contribute to on a weekly or monthly basis with varying degrees of enthusiasm but a firm eye on the hoped-for future. For anyone earning a crust in the fickle world of popular music things are slightly different. Lest Dame Fame looks the other way it seems all they have to do is write a song with the words Christmas or Xmas or Snow or even Winter) in the title and they are made for life (or at least retirement). Supermarkets and shopping malls ring out the festive favourites from what seems like Easter through to New Year and whilst most of us can still turn a deaf ear to the goodness-knows-how-many seasonal ditties Saint Cliff Richard has released over the years it has always (well, since 1973 at least) been impossible to ignore the less than dulcet invitation of Merry Xmas Everybody offered by Slade’s raucous frontman Noddy Holder together with his quieter co-writer Jim Lea and the less well remembered guitarist Dave Hill (apart from his daft hairstyles and worryingly stage outfits) and drummer Don Powell. Obviously for every Christmas cracker there’s a whole host of Xmas puddings – being accepted in the Cool Yule compilation catalogues isn’t easy. The albums may well be called “The Best,” and “Now That’s What I Call Christmas” but their limited space is less accessible to change than Masonic membership. Just try telling Jonah Lewie that his Stop The Cavalry is no longer Christmassy enough or that Ronan Keating and Marie Brennan should leave Fairy Tale of New York to The Pogues and Kirsty McColl. It’s unlikely though that there’s ever likely to be a usurper prepared to snatch the holly berried royalty crown from Slade. Even when it was first released in 1973 it felt as though it should have been around forever. Well, after a lifetime of Andy Williams, Bing Crosby and Dean Martin crooning their way through anodyne years of Two Way Family Favourites wasn’t it just wonderful to hear Noddy bellow: “Are you hanging up your stocking on your wall It’s the time when every Santa has a ball Does he ride a red nosed reindeer Does a ton up on his sleigh Do the fairies keep him sober for a day?” No wonder it beat Wizzard’s equally timeless I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday to the top spot. The timing couldn’t have better. By 1973, having long since shed their brutish skinhead image, Slade were one of the most popular bands in Britain, having achieved two number one singles – Cum On Feel The Noize (yes, they had a winning way with spelling) and Skweeze Me Pleeze Me – in three months. They had both entered the charts straight at number one, a feat unheard of since The Beatles with Get Back in 1969. During that year, manager Chas Chandler (a former member of The Animals) suggested that Slade write and record a Christmas song. Hill and Powell weren’t keen until Lea came up with the basis of the song while taking a shower combining the verse melody with a song Holder had discarded in 1967 when the band were named the ‘N Betweens. Buy Me a Rocking Chair was Holder’s first solo work and Merry Xmas Everybody used the melody of that song for the chorus, with Lea’s melody as the verse. Speaking to Record Mirror in 1984, Lea revealed: “Nod had written the chorus of it in 1967. In those days it was all flower power and Sgt Pepper and Nod had written this tune. The verse was naff but then he came to the chorus and went ‘Buy me a rocking chair to watch the world go by, buy me a looking glass, I’ll look you in the eye’ – very Sgt. Pepper. I don’t use tape recorders, I just remember everything and if something’s been written 10 or 15 years ago, it stays up there in my head. I never forgot that chorus, and I was in the shower in America somewhere thinking – Bob Dylan, Bob Dylan – and suddenly out came “are you hanging up the stocking on the wall” and I thought that’ll go with that chorus Nod did in ’67. So I rang Nod and said what about doing a Christmas song and he said alright, so I played it to him and that was it.” Holder added in a 2007 interview with the Daily Mail: “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.” A cracker which shows no signs of fading away and has seen unlikely covers including Oi! band The 4-Skins, Oasis, Girls Aloud and even Tony Christie. As for that pension fund Holder is the first to admit it’s not a bad one. In 2015 it was estimated that the song still generated £500,000 of royalties per year and it has been credited with popularizing the annual race for the UK Christmas Number One Single. Not bad for something Melody Maker described as “another stomper” and “highly danceable.
|WRITERS:||Noddy Holder, Jim Lea|
|GENRE:||Glam Rock , Christmas|