This Day in Music, December 13: Must Be Santa

By , Contributor

On this day in 1955, Dickie Valentine was at No.1 on the UK singles chart with "Christmas Alphabet", the first Christmas song to reach the No.1 position. Valentine was a huge star in the UK in the late '50s; he even had his own television series, Calling Dickie Valentine. Sadly, Dickie was killed in a car crash on his way to a gig in 1971.

Ah, Christmas records — don’t you just love ‘em? Well, yes, I do and it would appear the art of making a good Christmas record is a dying one. Okay, Justin Bieber has “Mistletoe" out, but that doesn’t count. That’s just Mr Record Company coining it in. What’s his new album again? Under The Mistletoe. Oh yes, and I guarantee that hundreds of copies will be stacked up in car boot and garage sales across the land over the next few years.

But every year as we venture out to undertake the grim prospect of Christmas shopping, we are greeted in the stores with the same old tunes: Bruce Springsteen's “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town”, Wham's “Last Christmas”, Elton John's “Step Into Christmas”, Brenda Lee's “Rocking Around The Christmas Tree”, Jona Lewie's “Stop The Cavalry” — all great evergreen Christmas hits, but we’ve heard them so many times!

320x240.jpgThen you have Christina Aguilera's “The Christmas Song”, Michael Bolton's “White Christmas”, Johnny Mathis' “When A Child Is Born”, and Bing Crosby and David Bowie's “Little Drummer Boy” (David, what where you thinking?). No, I can’t take any more!

My point is that very few people are making good Christmas records. Don’t get me wrong, some are good — I think Bob Dylan’s “Must Be Santa” is brilliant. Bob sounds like a drunk Tom Waits jamming with The Pogues while an oblivious choir chirps away underneath him. Now there's a good Christmas song — The Pogues with the late Kirsty MacColl and "Fairytale of New York", first released in 1987. The Pogues were at the time being produced by Kirsty MacColl's then-husband Steve Lillywhite, who asked his wife to provide a guide vocal of the female part for a demo version of the song. The Pogues liked MacColl's contribution so much that they asked her to sing the part on the actual recording. And there we have it — a timeless, classic Christmas song.

Long before Pop Factor and X Idol, artists would battle for pole position in the charts over the Christmas period. They didn’t have to have a Christmas feel, but some did.

During the '60s, The Beatles recorded special Christmas records that contained spoken and musical messages from the Fabs that were posted out on flexi-disc at Christmas time to members of their official fan clubs in the United Kingdom and the United States. Now, that was a nice touch. Get yours on eBay now.

By coincidence, also on this day in 2002, music channel Music Choice analysed all the Christmas No.1 singles from the past 30 years and identified criteria for their success. These included the use of sleigh bells, children singing, church bells, harmony, and references to love. They concluded that Sir Cliff Richards 1988 hit “Mistletoe and Wine” was the perfect Christmas hit.

Well, I think they’d be at the Christmas sherry.

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A former musician, Neil was in the 80's group The Cheaters who were once signed to EMI's Parlophone label, and released three albums. He was also a radio presenter and is still a regular music pundit on various BBC stations. Neil is the founder of the award winning web site This Day in Music which is…

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