10 ways to have a Christmas hit
13th Dec 2013 | 08:51
As Slade, Wizard, Cliff Richard and numerous other artists will tell you, there's nothing quite as heartwarming as having a Christmas-time hit.
And though we'd never be as cynical as to suggest that Christmas is a good time to rake in cold, hard cash, there's no denying that Christmas singles also have the aura of the word 'pension' about them.
There's just one problem: how do you write a good one? There's an entire graveyard's worth of failed Christmas anthems out there, jingling away in the hellfire. 'Surely', your inner-conscience is saying, 'surely there must be an easy way to come up with a festive favourite!?'
Well you're right: there is. Step this way to claim your guaranteed Christmas hit!
Embrace the glam
It's time to salute artists such as Slade, T. Rex and Wizzard, who not only looked like walking Christmas trees, but who can also summon the festive spirit with just a few crunchy chords.
Glam rock songs are easily written. Start with a lead riff (ideally played on a distorted Les Paul), set it to the glam beat and get kinky with your vocal delivery. Bellbottoms are, you'll be pleased to know, mandatory.
Buy glitter make-up from town. Try not to look shifty in process.
Throw the kitchen sink at it
Christmas anthems have been known to feature lone choirboys, perched on cold cathedral steps, with perhaps a harp for backing.
These ones are always rubbish. To really capture the crazed, boozy and ultimately merry spirit of Christmas, you're gonna need to wrap the thing up in tinsel and call it a tart.
"It can work if you keep it simple," say Best Friends of their Christmas single, When Christmas Comes, "but we probably recorded more overdubs than we have for any other track. There are vocal harmonies, piano, glockenspiel, sleigh bells (obviously) and probably other stuff, too…"
Hire marching band, trumpet-playing Santas etc.
Tap into familiar themes
To really tap into the Christmas spirit, remind your listeners of their own memories of the day. As Monty Python said, it's "the Sound Of Music twice an hour, and Jaws one, two and three."
Tim Orchard, co-author of the Glam Chops single Countdown to Christmas, says that this shared experience is essential to the success of your single.
"Christmas records have to capture something about Christmas that people can identify with. Lonely This Christmas taps into the fact that Christmas can be a vulnerable time of extreme highs and lows - you want your loved ones around you on the day."
"When we wrote Countdown To Christmas, we listed the things that people couldn't live without, like the the Radio Times. People circle the films that they want to watch, then fall asleep and miss them."
Give Uncle bottle of sherry. Take notes.
Become Cliff Richard
This one's easier said than done, of course, but if you can somehow disguise yourself as the king of smoothness, your odds of hitting Christmas number one will be notably increased.
Cliff's wholewheat charisma, hazelnut eyes and impressively lean physique have propelled him to three Christmas number ones, a feat only equalled by The Spice Girls (and - we admit - beaten by The Beatles. But that was ages ago).
Become the Peter Pan of pop.
Repeat the word 'Christmas' until people go insane
Nine tenths of your potential audience will be absentmindedly pushing a trolley round a supermarket when they hear your music for the first time.
Comrades: now is the time to pounce. There is no room for subtlety. You must drill it into their brains that THIS IS YOUR AWESOME CHRISTMAS SINGLE.
Says Christmas music expert James Russell: "If you can, say the word 'Christmas' in every line of the damn thing. This is the reason that East 17's Stay Another Day isn't a real Christmas song."
Put down the rhyming dictionary. Abandon dignity.
Press the nuclear button
If you can't manage glam rock, tinsel, beards and baubles, then there is always the option to go the other way and write the most depressing song of all time.
At Christmas there usually a few lonesome souls around, whose gloomy emotions are ripe for exploitation. Maybe they've had a family argument. Maybe they're just Scrooge-brained imbeciles. Either way, they will buy your single.
For proof, listen to Mad World by Michael Andrews and Gary Jules. The thing is miserable. MISERABLE! Yet it rocketed to number one at Christmas in 2003.
Binge on Radiohead for three months and start songwriting.
It's easy to forget, but once upon a time you ran about slobbering, giggling and screaming because Christmas was the best thing ever.
Remember this, and you might be onto something. “When we are young our feelings are heightened and Christmas is a special time," says Tiny Wood of Ultrasound, whose Christmas single Modranicht is out now.
"It's not necessarily due to receiving presents or anything religious, of course. There is a feeling of intense excitement and tense expectancy, and snow just adds to that feeling of being enveloped in warmth and protected in the family bosom.
"If you can tap into that feeling you had as a child just a little bit, then you can write a song with universal Christmas appeal.”
Get regressive hypnotherapy, watch Muppet Show DVD.
Take down the government
In 1979, Pink Floyd released Another Brick In The Wall Part 2. It was a dystopian attack on the totalitarian state and its soul-crushing military industrial complex. Naturally, it was the Christmas number one.
Why? Blame the sneaky pranksters who like to 'stick it to The Man' by delivering these revolutionary hymns into the charts. (See also Killing In The Name Of by Rage Against The Machine).
Get Che Guevara poster, find out who this 'Lenin' geezer is.
Donate all proceeds to charity
This might sound counter-productive, but actually giving your proceeds to charity is a very good idea.
First of all, it'll help the charity. Second of all, it'll make you feel content. And third of all, when that charity goes into administration in twenty years' time you'll still get your pension! Everyone's a winner. Except the charity. In the long term.
Find charity, inform charity of intentions.
Bring on the sleigh bells
Need we say more?