Friday, December 17, 2010

The Race for the UK Christmas Number One Single 2010

I don’t suppose being the Christmas No 1 single is as important as all that, but this year the fight has been more vigorous than usual.

Until last year, the X Factor winner was guaranteed number one spot, but the Rage Against the Machine campaign successfully knocked Joe McElderry into number 2. This year, the campaign to get John Cage’s 4’33 to number 1 has gradually built momentum, cleverly (or confusingly, according to some) called Cage Against the Machine. You can download the single from here and it will count as a UK chart sale. All the money raised will go to the charities detailed at the link, very worthwhile charities too. However, there have been problems in recreating last year’s success.

Some people don’t like the idea of downloading 4.33 minutes of silence (well, it’s not quite silence, which is the point, as this Guardian article makes clear). And so an alternative song has been mooted, Bird is the Word, recently revived by a famous episode of Family Guy, as Peter Griffin’s favourite record. I’ve heard supporters say that this stands more of a chance because it’s more commercially viable to a wide public. Um...but why not just buy Matt Cardle’s X Factor single then, if we’re taking commercial viability into account? The money raised by the Bird single will go to the record company and the Trashmen, the band who recorded it. Nothing will go to charity.

I’ve also heard supporters of the Bird campaign claim that ‘Christmas is all about fun. The Bird record is fun. The John Cage definitely isn’t fun.” It’s news to me that Christmas is all about ‘fun’. I thought it was supposed to be about giving, sharing, caring, a time for reflection, and (for those so inclined) a time to celebrate the birth of Christ. The John Cage record, whatever else it does, offers a break from running about, from noise, from bustle, from ‘fun’. Fun is over-rated as a way of life, as anyone finds out at any point when circumstances make fun difficult or impossible. I always liked the Housemartins single, ‘Five Get over Excited’, not because it had great poetry or musical arrangements, but because it exposes the ridiculous idea of fun-as-moral-system ('live for the moment!') as a total sham inside three minutes. The John Cage record might create a space where we and other fun-loving people remember people for whom Christmas isn’t much fun at all. What could we do to help them this Christmas?

Another bizarre campaign is for the original Biffy Clyro single, which Matt Cardle is covering. This reached number 20 in the charts at the beginning of this year, which I think accurately demonstrates its average quality as a song. Buying this is just more money to the record company and, of course, Biffy Clyro will also be getting all the songwriting royalties from the X Factor single.

And there have been a few other songs recently mooted as potential Christmas number ones. Divide and rule, anyone? We’re going to let Matt and Simon Cowell take the Christmas number one spot by default with all this arguing. That's what's happening at the moment. Apparently, Matt is way ahead on sales and Rihanna, who - not coincidentally - appeared on the X Factor Final as a guest artist last week, is at number 2.

I’m definitely all for the Cage single. It makes a point, it’s uncommercial, the money is going to good charities, the campaign is well organised, and it actually has some resonance of meaning that people of many different beliefs can unite around. We have until Saturday midnight to get John Cage shooting up to the top spot. Let’s go for it!

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