562. ‘Merry Christmas Everyone’, by Shakin’ Stevens

Oh what sweet joy it is to be listening to this next chart-topper on a sweltering August day…

Merry Christmas Everyone, by Shakin’ Stevens (his 4th and final #1)

2 weeks, from 22nd December 1985 – 5th January 1986

From the glossy, classy soul of Whitney Houston, to Shaky’s festive smash. Cheap and cheerful, that’s the order of the day here. In fact, this might be one of the cheapest, and the cheerful-est, #1s of all time. There’s an oompah beat, a rock ‘n’ roll sax, some shoobeedoobees and, of course, liberal helpings of sleigh bells.

It harks back to both the old fifties classics – ‘Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree’ etc. – and the glam Christmas hits from Slade, Wizzard and Mud. The lyrics are a check list of cliches: the season of love and understanding, girls under the mistletoe, wishing every day was Christmas, parties, presents, and snow falling all around. Except it lacks both the class of the classics, and the anarchy of the glam hits. And even though it’s a very retro sounding song, the long fingers of the ‘80s can still be heard in the tinny production and the drum machine.

It’s basic, is what it is. It’s never been one of my festive faves, but it’s fine. It’s catchy and light-hearted. Hearing it a few times every year, when well-oiled on mulled wine, and you could almost become fond of it. Except, for some reason, ‘Merry Christmas Everyone’ has in recent years become one of the big Xmas perennials, surpassing the likes of Slade, and settling in behind the untouchables: Mariah, Wham! and The Pogues.

Sadly, I think this is indicative of what modern pop music has become, where inoffensive and blandly streamable is the order of the day. Is ‘Merry Christmas Everyone’, then, actually a hugely important record, and Shakin’ Stevens a man thirty years ahead of his time? Did he somehow predict that nobody would bother to skip this trifle when it popped up in a festive Spotify playlist…? Maybe, maybe…

The fake ending, and the ensuing key change, have always annoyed me. It would be the perfect time to end the song, keep it short and sweet, but no. It keeps going for another chirpy minute. However it’s hard to begrudge Shaky one last number one, as he does seem like one of the good guys. It may have been almost four years since ‘Oh Julie’, but he’d been consistently scoring Top 10 hits in between, making him the UK’s biggest singles-seller of the decade! Post-‘Merry Christmas Everyone’ he still had six Top 20 hits in his locker, until the singles dried up in the early 1990s. Interestingly, this record had actually been recorded and was ready for release the year before, but was shrewdly shelved to avoid it clashing with Band Aid.

Stevens is still touring and recording, and he even remade his big festive hit in a bluegrass style in 2015. To my ears, it’s much more palatable than the original – partly because I haven’t heard it five hundred times, and partly because it isn’t so darn perky. Anyway. Here ends 1985 – an interesting year which has brought us some of the best and the worst excesses of the entire decade. Roll on ’86…

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