Page last updated at 08:42 GMT, Thursday, 24 December 2009

The stories of the Christmas hits

Clockwise, from left: Slade's Noddy Holder, Shakin' Stevens and Jona Lewie
Clockwise, from left: Slade's Noddy Holder, Shakin' Stevens and Jona Lewie

By Liam Allen
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

The same selection of festive pop songs can be heard every Christmas on the radio, on TV, in pubs and in shopping centres.

Following last year's stories of the Christmas hits, the writers and co-writers of three more yuletide tracks recount their experiences.


How did the song come about?

Jimmy, my co-writer on the song, his mother-in-law had asked him why we'd never brought a song out, something that could come out every year like Happy Birthday or a Christmas-type song and we set about writing it from there.

It was right in the middle of an economic crisis. Miners were on strike, bakers were on strike, grave diggers were on strike, electric workers were on strike - so TV was going off at 10 o'clock at night.

The country was in real turmoil. I think Merry Xmas provided a real optimistic outlook - 'look to the future now it's only just begun'.

People will always associate Slade with that record even though we had 40 other hits.

But it has kept the band's name around for all those years because it comes around every year. It's been a longevity boost for the band and the band's product as well.

Do you get bored with it?

Noddy Holder
The song, co-written by Holder with bassist Jim Lea, was Christmas number one for Slade in 1973
Holder, 63, says the "working-class family song" has sold "a few million over the years"
His last performance of the song, "six or seven years ago", was "a reggae version with a reggae band" at his friend's birthday party
The song is featured on the new Slade compilation Merry Xmas Everybody: Party Hits
His favourite other Christmas song is All I Want For Christmas Is You by Mariah Carey because "it reminds me of a 50s feel"

No, no, I'm very proud of the song. To me, it doesn't date - it seems to me as if it sounded as though it was recorded yesterday.

I think it appeals, and always has over the years, to the very young right the way through all ages to the very old. It seems to cross all barriers somehow.

It's great when I get young kids coming up to me saying, 'oh, we've just sung your song in the Christmas concert at school'.

What are your memories of the chart battle with Wizzard's I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day [the festive number four in 1973]?

We got the number one spot but we didn't realise that Roy was doing a Christmas song that year and Elton John brought out Step Into Christmas as well.

Nobody had really done it before - it was really just a coincidence, none of the three of us knew the others were doing it and it was very strange.

Has the song provided you with your pension?

It is definitely a pension plan, yes. It was never designed to be that way but it has taken on a life of its own, definitely - it just goes its own way.

It's been used for adverts, it's been used in movies, it's been used for all sorts of things.


How did the song come about?

It was really just starting off with a lyric idea, I think I called it Can You End the Gallantry?

It was a thing about the Crimean War where people were just in the charge of the light brigade just basically charging to their deaths.

With regards to marching to and from the enemy, that was a little bit like the trench warfare in the Great War - backwards and forwards - and thinking about how hungry and cold you would get in that situation.

And then it comes to Christmas Day and it's even worse because you're not in a nice warm place having a nice dinner with your family.

Jona Lewie
Christmas number three for Jona Lewie - real name John Lewis - in 1980
Lewie, now 62, says the record sold 900,000 copies
He last played the song "at a ukulele festival in the summer backed by a lot of ukulele players"
Is about to release an as-yet untitled studio album - only his third in a 40-year career
Favourite other festive songs are Greg Lake's I Believe in Father Christmas and Elvis Presley's Santa Claus Is Back in Town
Says a current TV advert featuring the song "has been done very well". "I'm quite chuffed about it, frankly," he adds

The brass line, I did that on a kazoo and it was only later - once the whole thing started to mould itself into something - it seemed like a good idea at the time to use a military brass band from Yorkshire.

They're English, they're going up the hill like the Hovis bread thing - Mary Bradley was the girl in the song and Bradley was a northern name.

I absolutely did not sit down with the idea of writing a big Christmas hit - I don't think I would have been able to.

But it does have the lyric line of, 'I wish I was at home at Christmas'.

Do you get bored with it?

No. When I hear it, there are various ways of feeling. Sometimes it goes over my head in the sense that, 'Oh God - that was the track'. I sort of realise afterwards.

Sometimes I think it's surreal or fascinating. It's one step removed in a way sometimes, if you know what I mean.

It must be disappointing that the song didn't reach number one.

It reached number three at the very moment when John Lennon was assassinated and his assassination led to him occupying the number one and number two positions.

So I was very happy to be number three and I never thought at the time, 'oh it's a pity it's not number one'. I thought, 'it's bloody marvellous it's number three'.

Has the song provided you with your pension?

It's played a major role in terms of looking at my whole catalogue. It's provided about 50% of the total income stream.


How did the song come about?

I did have Shakin' Stevens in mind because, previous to that, he had a hit with my song Cry Just A Little Bit, which was quite a big hit.

Because I was in there, I thought there was a good chance so I did a demo and I did it exactly in his style.

To be honest, I've always wanted to have a Christmas hit.

If you crack it, it's an evergreen and it goes on forever and, even though your career might be over, you've always got that. It reminds you, as well, what you used to do.

In those days, I would set up a drum machine, a rhythm, and just get a keyboard together and a mic in front of me and just start messing about.

Bob Heatlie
Christmas number one for Shakin' Stevens in 1985
It knocked Whitney Houston's Saving All My Love For You off the top spot
Heatlie, 63, from Edinburgh, also wrote 1981 smash hit Japanese Boy by Aneka. "Let's keep that one between us," he says
Favourite other festive songs are Fairytale of New York by The Pogues and I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday by Wizzard
The song re-entered the charts in December 2007, reaching number 22, and last year reached 36.
Says he last played the song 14 years ago. "I used to play in a club just to stop me getting bored, actually. I didn't need the money."

It was in the middle of a heat wave which is unusual in Scotland.

It was pretty hot and I remember standing in my shorts and nothing else, recording these jingle bells and the sweat was just pouring down me.

There was the studio heat with the equipment as well and, plus, it was a really hot day. I thought, 'this is crazy singing about Christmas while I'm sweating like a pig'.

Do you get bored with it?

To be honest, I like it myself even though I wrote it. I still like it as a Christmas song - it's a wee party song.

I suppose once a year you can get bored with it.

I was in a shopping mall in Edinburgh and two young girls were walking past me and they were singing along with it and having a good time.

I thought, 'wow'. I felt like saying, 'I wrote that'. But I didn't do that.

Have you written any other Christmas songs?

I have actually. I wrote one for Cliff a while back that never got to him, I don't think.

Has the song provided you with your pension?

I get about eight grand a year for it, around about springtime. That's the really good thing about it.

It's actually on the Andrex advert just now which probably says a lot about the quality of the song. Toilet paper!

And the strange thing is I always wanted Cry Just A Little Bit to be on a tissues advert.

What is your favourite Christmas song?

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The stories of the Christmas hits
22 Dec 08 |  Entertainment

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