One of the most quintessentially British Christmas traditions of our modern times MUST be the race to the top of the British pop charts that comes every December. Mostly, the songs that peak at Christmas nowadays are the singles from the winner of Britain’s singing reality competition “The X Factor”. They time the program so that they crown their winner and that said winner has a single out just before Christmas. It’s typically a shoe-in. X-Factor champions have taken that spot for four years running. Simon Cowell…you evil evil genius. But, it used to be that bands/singers would actually write a Christmas-themed or at least Christmas-y song to put forward for contention–things like Slade’s “Merry Xmas Everybody” and that Band-Aid track where Bono is thankful that he’s not a poor person.
We don’t quite have the same thing in America. (Does any country but Britain do this? Let me know.) The closest thing I could think of was when MTV had their New Year’s Eve countdown and I used to wait up until midnight to see what the number one video of the year was. I drank many a good bottle of sparkling grape juice in those carefree days…
This is all jolly good fun, but in my opinion–Britain’s greatest crime against Christmas was to deny today’s great thing, the number one slot:
111. The Waitresses “Christmas Wrapping”
This song–though it received loads of radio play in the UK–only ever made it to number 41 in the charts. Robbery!!!
To add insult to injury, you know who HAS had a Christmas number one? Mr. Blobby! Mr. Blobby sounds like some pervert’s name for his junk!
At the very least, “Christmas Wrapping” is much better than Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s “Power of Love” which ALMOST made it as the Christmas number one before Band-Aid kicked the shit out of it. That stuff is dire.
Though it never took the top Christmas prize, the song WAS hugely popular in the UK as it was in The States. “Christmas Wrapping” definitely holds a place in my top ten Christmas tunes (the list includes parochial and secular tracks). I like the song because it’s a catchy new-wave ode to my favorite holiday and because it does something that is exceedingly rare in today’s world of poetic lyric writing, it tells a simple story.
It’s the story of a young girl who just can’t be bothered with any Christmas celebrating one year…utterly defeated by the pace and hubbub of it all, she resigns herself to eating the world’s smallest turkey dinner for one. That is, until she runs into some dude she’s had the hots on for all year. Then it’s all jingle bells this and mistletoe that–Christmas magic in action.
Horniness is the true meaning of Christmas, apparently. Yay 80’s!
Link to the full lyrics here: Christmas Wrapping
Chris Butler, of the Waitresses, wrote the song after being pressured by his label to make a contribution to a Christmas album. They never in a million years thought that this would be their defining track. More about the Murphy’s Law-type origins of this tune to be found here…very interesting: Futurefossilmusic
A video was never produced for this track. It was released in 1981–just before labels started marketing every single release with an accompanying video. So, in lieu of what coulda woulda shoulda been a great 80’s era MTV video hit, here is someone’s Christmas lights synched up to the song. Dy-no-mite!
Now, for my money, I’ll stick with the original. Nothing beats that new-wave beat combined with Patty Donahue’s sexily disinterested alto which manages to make a clean sweep through the verbose song. The temptation to remake this hit has proved too strong for tons of musical outfits. The Spice Girls have done a version, as have Miranda Cosgrove, Save Ferris, Kate Nash, amongst many others who might chance throwing it into their set list around Christmastime.
Fans of Scottish pop-punk band Bis (at this video’s point in time, known as data Panik) might enjoy this ebullient cover. Manda Rin gets bonus points for being cute as a button. You can find it here on this blog: Moviezzz
The other cover that I give my meaningless and unofficial green light to is the one that I was lucky enough to see the other day. I went down to London to catch the Wainwright/McGariggle and Friends Christmas show. (It was actually billed as ‘Not So Silent Night’.) I’m a huge Rufus and Martha Wainwright fan but I have to say, that overall, the show was a bit of a downer. They (not only the Wainwright and McGarrigle clan, but also guest artists like Boy George and Guy Garvey from Elbow) chose mostly sombre material and some obscure Christmas folk tunes. Martha’s cover was a definite highlight and a brief, joyous, dose of mercy in an otherwise melancholy concert.
Plus, I’m loving the red shoes and feather boa.
Sadly, The Waitresses disbanded after putting out only 2 albums. Lead singer Patty Donahue died at the age of 40 from lung cancer. But, whether they intended to or not, they made a definite early 80’s Christmas record.
The grumpy little tale with a sweetly romantic ending and a killer saxophone break will forever be on my Christmas playlists.