So this is Christmas… And what have you done?
‘Happy Xmas (War Is Over)’, by John & Yoko with The Plastic Ono Band & The Harlem Community Choir
reached #4 in December 1972 / #2 in January 1981
Not many festive hits start in such an accusatory tone. Not many festive hits sound like this classic, though. Yes, there are jingling bells and a choir. But there’s no talk of Santa, or snow, or stockings stuffed with presents. This record has it sights set higher: peace on earth.
In my post on ‘Imagine’, which hit #1 shortly after Lennon’s murder, I said that nowadays it could feel a little too idealistic, and a little preachy. Why, then, can I tolerate this song year after year? Is it just because I’m more receptive to songs about war being over, if I want it, when I’m stuffed full of mulled wine and mince pies? Maybe…
I think actually that it’s Phil Spector’s production: taking Lennon’s song and giving them his full Christmas treatment. Strings, chiming bells, beefy drums… It may not have worked on ‘Let It Be’, but it really does here. Despite not actually being much about Christmas, this song sounds like Christmas should.
I’m not posting this song just because I really like it, though. I do, but I also think there’s a chance that it genuinely should have been #1. In its first chart-run, in 1972, it made #4 fair and square, behind the likes of T. Rex and Little Jimmy Osmond. But in 1980, re-released in the wake of Lennon’s death, it also made #4 for Christmas, while the delights of St. Winifred’s School Choir wafted down from top-spot.
Back in those pre-computer days, when everyone at the chart-keeping company was on Christmas holiday, the post-Xmas chart was usually a copy-paste of the previous week’s. St. Winifred’s remained top, John and Yoko at #4. The week after, though, it rose to #2, behind the also re-released ‘Imagine’. I wonder… If the sales of the ‘Happy Xmas’ – which was presumably selling very well in the days leading up to Christmas – were counted, and the chart hadn’t simply been repeated… Could it have been a number one? I guess we’ll never know.
Though it never made #1, ‘Happy Xmas (War Is Over)’ makes the chart every year now thanks to festive streaming. It’s currently perched at #34 in the charts, and will presumably rise even higher next week. With that, I’d like to wish all my readers a very merry Christmas, and a happy new year… Let’s hope it’s a good one… wherever this holiday season finds you. (I’d also like to wish for war to be over, but I think I may be overreaching…)