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Christmas and New Year Friday, 25 December, 1998, 20:09 GMT
Stars cash in at Christmas
It's Christmas bonus time, not just for overpaid city types, but for the artists whose Christmas records turn up either as re-released singles or on yet another compilation album every year.

The Spice Girls may have done it again with a Christmas number one for the third year running, but loitering quietly in the lower reaches of the top 40 are a couple of artists that have been down this road just a few times before including perennial favourites Slade and Bing Crosby.

Christmas is traditionally a time of big business and the British recording industry is no exception - around one third of its 1.8bn annual sales is done in the run up to Christmas. Seasonal hits provide artists with a regular and reliable income.

It is the time when 'proper' musicians do battle with advent arrivistes aiming to grab a slice of the biggest, juiciest chart of the year.

Some artists even make a career out of the Christmas market - Cliff Richard (Mistletoe and Wine, Saviour's Day) is a prime example. But others have had a go too: Bowie, Springsteen, Queen, the whole roster of Motown, as well as Elvis, Elton John and George Michael.

cd covers
You can choose your own variety of Christmas compilation
Making money out of the festive season is nothing new, either. White Christmas has been doing the rounds since the 1920s and 1930s, even before the film of the same name with Bing Crosby.

Then, in 1963, Phil Spector broke the mould with his album A Christmas Gift For You which sold like hot cakes.

Suddenly it could be cool as well as profitable to do Christmas.

The album reappeared in the UK charts a further four times between 1972 and 1987.

Christmas chart fever

We can't seem to get enough of the stuff. At Christmas everybody, from pre-teens to grannies, scour the record shops for stocking fillers.

For Britain 1973 was a big year for Christmas classics. That was the year of I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday by Wizzard, Step Into Christmas by Elton John and the record that was voted last year as the song that defines Christmas for most Britons: Merry Xmas Everybody by Slade. Twenty-five years later all three still are still being played.

Slade's track was back in the charts a further six times, up until 1986, when it became a standard part of The Best Of ... packages.

The record companies do a very good job of repackaging material so that we buy it all again, hence the advent of the Christmas compilation.

The classic compilation

The compilation with the widest appeal blends the old with the new, taking a little from each decade and providing a regular income for the record companies and songwriters.

This year you'll find Hanson and Whigfield nuzzling up next to the Pogues and Dean Martin.

White Christmas by Bing Crosby was always the biggest-selling single until it was toppled by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure's 1984 number one Do They Know Its Christmas?

The Phil Spector Christmas album
The Phil Spector Christmas album: ground breaking
Other favourites include Stop the Cavalry, by Jona Lewie which was a bit of an oddity when it came out but is still a regular earner for Mr Lewie 18 years later.

But Paul McCartney's Pipes of Peace and Mull of Kintyre, both Christmas favourites at the time of their release, are now largely forgotten.

Christmas 1998

This year's tasteful offerings include Chocolate Salty Balls (PS I Love You) by Chef from the cult cartoon South Park, at number two, Cruise Into Christmas by Jane McDonald at number 10, Naughty Christmas (Goblin In The Office) by Fat Les at 31 and the tradtional 'it's all for chariddy' offering from Denise and Johnny - Especially For You.

Does seasonal immortality await?

As for albums these include The best Christmas Album in the world ... ever!, The Ultimate Christmas Collection and Simply the Best Christmas all of which have 15-20 tracks in common, as well as more traditional fare such as A Gala Christmas in Vienna, featuring Sarah Brightman and Placido Domingo, or the slightly more obscure Malle Babbe Women's Choir, from the Netherlands, with Sing Choirs of Angels.

The "not available in record shops" market is also expanding, so these days you can more or less choose your own variety of Christmas compilation. Examples include A Country Christmas and A Rhythm 'n' Blues' Christmas with many now available online.

For those searching out the rarer and less obvious Christmas treat, Bing Crosby's version of Mele Kalikimaka - a Hawaiian Christmas song - is recommended and guaranteed to conjure up the spirit of the season.

This year Merry Xmas Everybody is back in the UK top 30, in a new version by the Swedish band, Flush. Meanwhile Bing has slipped to number 40 with White Christmas.

Finally and in no particular order, here is that list of all-time Christmas favourites, without which no compilation would be complete:

  • White Christmas - Bing Crosby
  • The Christmas Song - Nat 'King' Cole
  • Merry Xmas Everybody - Slade
  • Do They Know Its Christmas? - Band Aid
  • When A Child Is Born - Johnny Mathis
  • I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday - Wizzard
  • I Believe In Father Christmas - Greg Lake
  • Happy Xmas (War Is Over) - John & Yoko
  • Wonderful Christmas Time - Paul McCartney
  • Last Christmas - Wham!
  • Step Into Christmas - Elton John
  • A Spaceman Came Travelling - Chris De Burgh
  • A Fairytale Of New York - The Pogues featuring Kirsty MacColl
  • Mistletoe and Wine - Cliff Richard
  • Another Rock 'N' Roll Christmas - Gary Glitter
  • Stop The Cavalry - Jona Lewie
  • Mary's Boy Child - Harry Belafonte/Boney M
  • Driving Home For Christmas - Chris Rea
  • Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree - Brenda Lee
  • Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow! - Dean Martin
  • Walking In The Air - Aled Jones
  • Little Saint Nick - The Beach Boys
  • In Dulce Jubilo - Mike Oldfield
  • Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy - Bing Crosby and David Bowie
  • Silver Bells - Doris Day
  • Santa Claus is Coming To Town - Bruce Springsteen
  • Lonely This Christmas - Mud
  • Blue Christmas - Elvis Presley
BBC Correspondent Steve Webb: Christmas songs are cheesy, but we still buy them
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