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Merry Christmas Everybody Art’s Loss?

  • December 20, 2022
  • 4 min read
Merry Christmas Everybody Art’s Loss?

The rockier end of Christmas tunes includes Santa Claus Is Coming To Town, by Bruce Springsteen, Merry Xmas Everybody, Slade, I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday, Wizzard and the iconoclastic A Fairytale Of New York, by The Pogues and Kirsty McColl. Have these successful perennials done the artists any favours? 

Leaving the Boss to one side, safe to say it’s odd to find him on a list of Xmas tunes, let’s look at the other three as a case study. The Pogues and Kirsty McColl have never been overshadowed by the dark Fairytale, while Roy Wood (Wizzard) is the highly respected former member of the Electric Light Orchestra, the Move, sundry other projects and solo work, but otherwise relatively low profile.

Fairytale’s genius at the zenith of Rock is reflected by such popularity that it is one of the few records, which were immediately uncensored by the BBC, derided for refusing to play it, forced to allow the offensive “faggot” and “slut” in their artistic context, while its principal characters retained their individuality.

That leaves Slade, whose critical historiography is perhaps the most fascinating case study from the Glam Rock era, if not the whole history of Rock. Slade has suffered critically although not commercially (Merry Xmas Everybody is said to be worth anything from £500,000 to a million every year, Merry Xmas Everyday) in part due to the success of a well-crafted Pop song that has become a cliché. With a frontman as charismatic as Noddy Holder and the extravagant talents of multi-instrumentalist fellow songwriter Jim Lea, it is perhaps art’s loss that the money was so good, and they didn’t morph from Pop into Rock in the way that the Stones had a few years before, or as Bowie was about to do, and Bolan would have done eventually once he’d straightened out (if he hadn’t died a passenger hitting a tree in a Mini 1275GT in Barnes). 

At the time, in the seventies, Slade’s nearest rivals were perhaps the T. Rex of Marc Bolan, the gaudy Brummies vying with the androgynous London boy. Slade forsook the Bowie dominated future while Bolan helped define it. You can’t sing proto-punk anthems with a smile and expect the future to take you seriously. 

Slade’s music is excellent, up there with A Fairytale of New York and Wizzard, also great songs. Whatever the teenybop stomping image, musos knew Slade were better than they looked when Van Der Graaf Generator (that icon of complicated good taste) referenced Slade in the closing bars of the masterpiece La Rossa (from Still Life). Jim Lea (who wrote most of Slade’s music) demonstrated the power of accessible melodies with the violin hooks on the now all but forgotten, Coz I Luv You. Merry Xmas Everybody has been widely regarded as a great song, and surely you don’t earn half a century’s recognition with a mediocre melody … well perhaps that’s an assumption too far.

Is Slade’s music better than its immediate contemporary rival, T. Rex (predominantly Marc Bolan)? No. Let’s not push it. However, if Bolan remains revered largely if not uniquely for Electric Warrior, I suggest that you listen to Slayed, or if that’s too obscure, which it shouldn’t be, listen to their greatest hits on Sladest which carries at least two of Slayed’s tracks, Gudbuy T’Jane and Mama Weer, All Crazee Now.

The message isn’t complicated. If you think of Slade either as ephemeral seventies nonsense, or as a one hit Christmas wonder, please think again. They could hardly be a one hit wonder. Merry Xmas Everybody was their sixth number one. The message is bittersweet for the music fan, a richly talented band that became trapped in 1973, three years before the Sex Pistols changed fashion, and Bowie changed it again and then everything else. Are Lea and Holder or even Hill and Powell bothered? Probably not. As Tom Lehrer once said, “don’t give me plaudits, give me royalties” or something like that. Like Wilde, Lehrer’s becoming more famous for the things he said rather than wrote:

“I didn’t feel the need for anonymous affection, for people in the dark applauding … Everything I did is on the record and, if you want to hear it, just listen to the record.”

 

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Douglas Shanks

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