MERRY XMAS EVERYBODY
There had never been a Christmas record quite like it – but then it had been years since there had been a band as popular as Slade. Unbelievable as it now might seem, in 1973 they were the biggest thing in Britain. Their fourth chart-topper, Cum On Feel The Noize, was only the seventh record to enter the British charts at Number 1, the first since the only time The Beatles achieved the feat with Get Back in 1969. Incredibly, three months later Slade did it again with Skweeze Me Pleeze Me. With their record company pushing hard for a December release, the band set a target of three direct hits in a year – but it would have to be a monster of a song to go straight into the charts in the run-up to Christmas.
Singer Noddy Holder and bassist Jim Lea set about penning the hit they needed, but it came from the strangest of sources. In the back of his mind, Lea remembered a song that Holder had written years earlier and recalled that musically the chorus had seemed slightly festive. “It was one of the first bits of melody I ever wrote, dating back to 1967,” explains Noddy Holder. “We’d written it in the psychedelic days – the original lyrics were ‘Buy me a rocking chair to watch the world go by/won’t you buy me a looking glass to look you in the eye’. Six years later we used the melody and changed the lyric.”
Welding Holder’s chorus to a verse of Lea’s, the Slade singer and principal lyricist was now just in need of the words to turn it into a hit. After an evening of heavy drinking in Walsall, he ended up back at his mother’s house for the night, where he drunkenly drew up a list of Christmas words and phrases. Within a couple of hours he had nailed the chorus and by 7am the song was complete.
Having departed for a tour of the States, and with release schedule’s looming, one warm and sticky September day in 1973, Slade found themselves in the Record Plant in New York, recording a Christmas song.
“Despite the fact that it was the middle of a hot and steamy summer, we tried get a bit of the Christmas atmosphere in the studio,” recalls Holder. “The studio was high up in this skyscraper and to do the big chorus we went into the corridors of the office building. All the Yanks were getting in and out of the lifts and here were four English nutters singing ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’ in the middle of a boiling hot summer .”
Before 1973 Christmas records had traditionally been cover versions of festive standards appearing on themed cash-in albums – no-one had ever made a serious Christmas ‘rock’ record. Slade changed all that. Paired down and raw, featuring no obvious jingle bells or yuletide sounds effects, it was a gutsy piledriver powered entirely by the strength of the song and Holder’s raucous vocal performance. Before it was even released it had sold half a million copies in pre-orders, entering the charts at Number 1 (a feat not achieved again until The Jam’s Going Underground seven years later). It hit the million mark by Christmas, and 30 years later it’s still going strong.
“Every year it comes on the radio, every year they play it in clubs, and loads of bands include it in their set as an encore at Christmas. As a song it stands up in its own right and we’re proud of it,” says Holder. “It was a powerful record, it’s been good to us – and it keeps the bank manager happy too.”
© Words copyright Chris Hunt 2007