23
Dec
08

Christmas Number Ones: A Measure of Christmas’s True Meaning

So, I was watching the news a few nights ago and this year it seems the Canadian news has bothered to report on the UK Christmas number one. Apparently, it’s newsworthy this time because three versions of Hallelujah are competing for the top spot: the original by Leonard Cohen, the cover by Jeff Buckley and the cover by Alexandra Burke, some woman from X-Factor. The saddest part of the story was the fact that the X-Factor version was winning. To be clear, I don’t ever really care what the Christmas number one is, especially when that type of thing is usually dominated by transitive pop acts and/or Cliff Richards, but this time I feel the vitriol rising in me. Maybe it’s a combination of how much I see Christmas as a hypocritical commercial sham, how much I despise music “talent” shows, and how much I loathe the popular music industry right now.

I’ve never seen X-Factor despite having lived a total of at least a year in the UK over the past eight years of various trips, but I gather that it’s like Pop Idol and all its nefarious, ubiquitous versions. To attempt a fair assessment, I did bother to listen to the X-Factor version. It boggled my mind how a song that can nearly bring me to tears when done by Jeff Buckley could make me feel so utterly devoid of feeling when sung by Alexandra Burke. I had always thought that Cohen’s song was so incredible for the very fact that its composition, lyrical and musical, made it a song that will always swell and break your heart. I thought that minor fall and the major lift was guaranteed to tap into your soul. I was wrong. Though I’ve never been hugely fond of Cohen singing the song himself, especially when compared to Buckley, Burke manages to miss the point of the song entirely. The fragility is gone. In it’s place is an overdone mess filled with so many uneccessary runs that it’s like a cheap, shredded nylon stocking. And the choir backing her just compounds the ham-fisted approach of plastic spirituality.

This musical sacrilege shouldn’t bother me as much as it does when these are the same people who bought enough singles to force that Band Aid song into the number one spot three times. Real music fans don’t care about Christmas number ones, nor about participating in them, so it shouldn’t matter. The Black Arts’ wonderful mockery of the whole stupidity of the Christmas number one, which I included in my Christmas mix, was rather predictably beaten by a long shot by another X-Factor winner last year. Perhaps equally depressing was the fact that the Christmas classic from The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl was also beaten by X-Factor. And Burke’s win this year means singles from the X-Factor have been Christmas number ones for four consecutive times. That’s abhorrent. It’s also evidence that the general public isn’t composed of music fans, which I also shouldn’t find surprising.

In the same news report about the Christmas number one, there was story about how music sold this year – apparently, in times of economic crisis, people stick with what they know, thus putting Coldplay, AC/DC and Metallica into the top album slots for this year. I don’t think this kind of consumer behaviour is restricted to economic recession – it’s what most people do on a regular basis in every facet of their life. People like to be comfortable; they don’t want to think too much or be inconvenienced for the sake of truth or multiple versions of truth. It makes me grieve a little for those who never take a chance on something new or who always desire the utterly artless and artificial, which they deem “reality.” These are the people driving the world, let alone the music industry. It only proves that the music industry as it stands is a rotting corpse for a necrophiliac public, and that music that actually is innovative art needs to find new channels and keep going if only to keep real music fans from losing their minds.

It’s now official that Burke’s version of Hallelujah trumped Buckley’s, whose version came in second. I suppose in the end it’s fitting that the musical equivalent of tinsel or a blow-up Santa on the roof won such a silly contest for a holiday that has seemingly lost all its beauty and meaning. But so as not to leave everyone on such a sour note for this Christmas, I will give you a couple of gifts that actually speak to the beauty that humans are capable of creating, a beauty that is simpler and more wonderful than the manufacturing blitz of the holiday season. Enjoy Jeff Buckley’s Hallelujah and IAMX’s spine-tingling French rendition of Silent Night. No matter what you believe or don’t believe for the holiday season, these songs will at the very least remind you that real music conveys something beyond comfort and joy.

Hallelujah – Jeff Buckley

Douce Nuit – IAMX

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6 Responses to “Christmas Number Ones: A Measure of Christmas’s True Meaning”


  1. 1 Chloé WCB
    December 26, 2008 at 8:18 am

    Wow, this blog is fantastic, really. Aside from the fact that I share a major part of your taste in music, I’m impressed by all the work this should have needed. The playlists are just awesome.

  2. 2 JC
    December 27, 2008 at 6:08 pm

    If Ms Burke upset you, then you really do have to give a listen to the cover of Snow Patrol’s ‘Run’ by Leona Lewis (a former X-factor winner).

    Utterly appalling.

  3. 4 KPL
    December 29, 2008 at 6:40 pm

    Very well said. I am completely on side with you and if I could issue an apology on behalf of Britain then I would.
    It’s things like this that have made me start up my own music blog, and yours is an inspiration.


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I'm much too fast to take that test

The Smiths Queen is Dead

A dreaded sunny day

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Oh, Keats and Yeats are on your side

A dreaded sunny day

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Keats and Yeats are on your side

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The Clash London Calling

When they kick at your front door

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Charles Windsor, who's at the door

At such an hour, who's at the door

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They've come to chop, to chop off your head

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Then you came with your breezeblocks

Smashing up my face like a bus-stop

You think you're giving

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Won't someone give me more fun?

(and the skin flies all around us)

We kiss in his room to a popular tune

Oh, real drowners

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Don't walk away

In silence

See the danger

Always danger

Endless talking

Life rebuilding

Don't walk away

Walk in silence

Don't turn away in silence

Your confusion

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Worn like a mask of self-hate

Confronts and then dies

Don't walk away

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You don't want to hurt me

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Unaware I'm tearing you asunder

Oh there is thunder in our hearts

Is there so much hate for the ones we love

Tell me we both matter don't we

The Associates Affectionate

I don't know whether

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For when I come over

You then put me under

Personal taste is a matter of gender

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I wake at dusk to go alone without a light

To the unknown

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I want to feel

I want this speeding

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You'll never live like common people

You'll never do what common people do

You'll never fail like common people

You'll never watch your life slide out of view

And dance and drink and screw

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All I have is words, words that don't obtain

And I feel I'm a stain on your horizon

So I stay away - it's easier that way

And there won't be no-one I need to rely on

Is it him, is it me

Or is there something only I can see

How did I get here, why do we blow around like straw dogs on the breeze

I'm a special one, what they used to say

But I've to stay on, finish levels-A

You don't need exams when you've read John Gray

The Indelicates American Demo

And nobody ever comes alive

And the journalists clamour round glamour like flies

And boys who should know better grin and get high

With fat men who once met the MC5

And no one discusses what they don't understand

And no one does anything to harm the brand

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Absolutely anyone can play the fucking guitar

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And we tried so hard

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Hide on the promenade

Etch a postcard:

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Come, come, come - nuclear bomb

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Back when we were kids

We would always know when to stop

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Nobody has gained or accomplished anything

Wire Pink Flag

Prices have risen since the government fell

Casualties increase as the enemy shell

The climate's unhealthy, flies and rats thrive

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Gunfire's increasing, looting, burning, rape

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Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you

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It's not somebody who's seen the light

It's a cold and it's a broken hallelujah

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To all tomorrow's parties

For Thursday's child is Sunday's clown

For whom none will go mourning

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My body is your body

I won't tell anybody

If you want to use my body

Go for it

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Oh it's opening time

Down on Fascination Street

So let's cut the conversation

And get out for a bit

Because I feel it all fading and paling

And I'm begging

To drag you down with me

Mansun Six

And you see, I kind of shivered to conformity

Did you see the way I cowered to authority

You see, my life, it's a series of compromises anyway

It's a sham, and I'm conditioned to accept it all, you see

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Take in the country air, you'll never win

Gentlemen take polaroids

They fall in love, they fall in love

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I know we suffer for fashion

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And told me who you are

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Valentines

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They say come back to earth and start getting real, yeah

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Going round in a circle I can't get out

Then I look around thinking day and night and day

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Psychdedelic Furs

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You're my love song

India, you're my love song

In the flowers

You can have me in the flowers

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And live our useless lives

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You're no fun

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Spit out your lies and chewing gum

Cut off your hair yeah that's it!

If you look like that I swear I'm gonna love you more

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Burning all the old folks, the witches and the liars.

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But my heart keeps watchin' through the skin of my eyelids

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Prince charming

Prince charming

Ridicule is nothing to be scared of

Don't you ever, don't you ever

Stop being dandy, showing me you're handsome


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