Friday, 21 December 2018

Christmas Music… Merry Christmas Everybody by Slade

DC Editor Adam writes…

At this time of year, with Christmas themed tunes blasting out at us from every turn, it's difficult not to lose patience (!) with the whole idea of seasonal music.

This year I'm aiming to stop and have not only a good listen, but also a look at the history of our favourite Christmas music, keeping a particular eye on London connections. I hope you enjoy this series and that it might help a little bit when you are cracking-up while doing the Christmas shopping on Oxford Street…

This afternoon on The London Music Tour (2pm Tottenham Court Road tube), the name Chas Chandler will pop up more than once.

Chas was bass player in The Animals, anchoring The House of the Rising Sun with a glorious, doom-laden plod. Then as a manager, he launched the career of Jimi Hendrix in the UK.

Chandler was also the manager of Slade, the biggest British act of the 70s in terms of sales with a whopping great SIX number one singles in this country.

Although they never fared particularly well in the US, Slade still occupy a place of great affection and esteem in the hearts of British music fans.

Their 1973 hit Merry Christmas Everybody is part of the fabric of Christmas in this country. Here it is…

It is played every year. On heavy rotation. Incessantly, some might say. To the extent that this jaded adult, your correspondent, hasn't actually listened to the song properly, really listened to it for what must be going on for 30 years now.

Until this three years ago.

One Wednesday morning, my (then) eight-year-old daughter Isobella was getting dressed for school. My wife had tuned the radio to Smooth Christmas FM and I was frankly a bit grumpy about it – I prefer BBC6 Music.

Inevitably the unmistakable descending scale of Slade's Merry Christmas Everybody came galumphing forth like a geek in a bad jumper pissed on cider at the Christmas party, wielding mistletoe and halitosis.

Twenty years ago, my heart would have dropped into my boots and the sound of this biggest of all Christmas clichés would have made me cross in the extreme.

That Wednesday I barely registered it. It is such a part of the Christmas landscape that acknowledging it would be akin to gasping in shock every time one saw a decorated tree in the month of December.

By the second note of the intro, however, for the first time in decades, I sat up and listened. Not because of the music, but because of my daughter's reaction. By the second note she shouted, with glee…


(I can honestly say, hand-on-heart, that I cannot remember anyone EVER saying that about Merry Christmas Everybody by Slade.)


(I realised I hadn't even LISTENED to it in DECADES.)


That was the moment when I realised… I had become a musical Ebeneezer Scrooge.

So I listened. REALLY listened. And as my daughter sang along, I really HEARD…

The expectancy in the opening line – are you hanging up your stocking on the wall? To be eight-years-old that lyric must burst like fireworks in your heart.

The suggestion that Santa Claus might be a bit annoyed to have to stay off the booze for the day and does 100mph on his sleigh (a "ton-up" in biker parlance) – good gags, daft, affectionate.

The verse I had forgotten…

Are you waiting for the family to arrive?
Are you sure you've got the room to spare inside?
Does your granny always tell you
That the old songs are the best?
Then she's up and rock 'n' rolling with the rest

… a domestic scene to rival the Cratchits and nothing less! The "room to spare" – the house will be packed on Christmas Day and someone will end up sitting on a makeshift chair but love will make space for everyone.

Once again I felt like Ebeneezer Scrooge, only this time I was throwing open the windows on Christmas morning and seeing – and hearing –  the day for the first time.

"Boy?! What song is that boy?!"

"Why, it's Merry Christmas Everybody by Slade, of course sir!"

"Most excellent boy! Run down to Reckless Records in Soho and fetch me the box set of Christmas Hits featuring Slade."

"The box set? The one as big as me?"

"Marvellous boy! If you run, there's an iTunes voucher in it for you!"

And then the closing line… "Look to the future now, it's only just begun," grins singer and writer Noddy Holder. And is that a Picardy third as he sings it? A chord full of hope, free of cynicism a pagan prayer for light in the bleak midwinter?

Like Scrooge, drunk on glee on that first Christmas Day of the rest of his life, I listened to Slade and resolved henceforth to keep Christmas music not just in my heart, but in my ears too.

Thanks to my Christmas spirits for showing the way… Isobella, Chas Chandler, Slade - Noddy Holder, Jim Lea, Dave Hill & Don Powell. And, of course, apologies to C. Dickens, not only for purloining his great Christmas Carol, but also because, for the first time ever, his beloved Christmas book has slipped to number two in my personal Christmas hit parade. I now realise that Merry Christmas Everybody by Slade is a more important British cultural Christmas artefact by far. AND you can dance to it.

Merry Christmas Everybody!

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