Whatever happened to Christmas songs?

I started thinking this earlier on, when the radio started blaring out something Christmassy – Stop the Cavalry, maybe, or Santa Baby, or I don’t know. It was a song from before I was born.

And I thought, when was the last Christmas song released which everyone actually knows?

I still vaguely think of Wham!’s Last Christmas as a modern classic. But it’s not that modern – it’ll be three decades old next Christmas. Fairytale of New York, the greatest and bleakest of all Christmas songs but cruelly overplayed, was released in 1987. Paul McCartney’s glutinous Wonderful Christmastime was 1979. Slade’s Merry Christmas Everybody, 1973. There are dozens of well-known songs about fireplaces and presents from that period up until 1987. Then, nothing.

It wasn’t that the Seventies and Eighties were a golden age of Christmas music. Eartha Kitt and Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra did all their crooning Christmas classics in the Fifties and Sixties. Jingle Bells (originally titled One-Horse Open Sleigh) was written in 1857.

But for some reason, in Christmas 1987, the Western world apparently decided: that’s enough Christmas music, thanks.

More seasonal blog posts

• Is this the campest 1970s Christmas Special ever?
• This Christmas, spare a thought for Jesus Christ
• Lie, and lie again: a parents’ guide to Christmas

That’s not quite true, I should admit. I asked Twitter about this earlier on and they pointed me to All I Want For Christmas Is You, by Mariah Carey. That is, of course, a Christmas classic. (My criterion for “a Christmas classic” is: will everyone in the pub be able to shout along to the chorus, not necessarily with the right words or in tune but at least in rhythm?) So much a Christmas classic, in fact, that I’d assumed she’d covered it and it was originally by Cilla Black in 1965 or something.

But even Mariah released hers, originally, in 1994, almost 20 years ago. It’s been two decades since we took a new Christmas song to our hearts.

As someone pointed out, Slate published a piece about this a couple of weeks ago, so I’m not the first to notice this. And as Slate point out, there have been dozens of attempts to make a new Christmas hit, by people from Lady Gaga to Justin Bieber to Coldplay to the Killers. We’re just not interested.

Maybe it’s to do with the fragmenting of popular culture or the internet or something, or the secularisation of society (although it’s hardly as though the above songs are all carols), or I don’t know. I’ll leave the cod sociology to someone else for once. What I’ll do is say: guys, give The Darkness’s Don’t Let The Bells End a chance. It’s actually quite good. And it’s 10 years old, so it’s probably about ripe by now.

More by Tom Chivers

• A small step for Stevenage, a giant leap for mankind
• No, 100,000 Christians will not be martyred this year
• Nelson Mandela showed a divided country how to forgive



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