Seven songs for Christmas: Slade, Merry Christmas, Everybody

Britain in 1973 was a nation in deep despair. Within a few years, this would explode in the joyful nihilism of punk, but, by Christmas 1973 the Summer of Love was a dim memory, and Britain was sunk deep into a winter of discontent.

The country was wracked by terror, strikes and shortages. Even ambulance drivers and grave diggers were on strike. Petrol rationing loomed. The Three-Day Week, electricity rationing caused by striking coal miners, had just been announced. Even the telly was cut off at 10.30pm.

Small wonder, then, that the Christmas number one that year was the joyfully silly Merry Christmas, Everybody by Slade.

Similar to the Beatles? origin in Liverpool a decade earlier, Slade emerged from Britain?s industrial heartland ? the Black Country of the West Midlands ? to become the most successful British pop group of the 1970s. Like the early Beatles, Slade made music for working-class lads and lasses to cut loose. With their thumping rock beat and deliberately sing-along choruses, Slade was just damned good fun.

Fun was something Britain badly needed, in that grim winter of 1973. ?I think people wanted something to cheer them,? said singer Noddy Holder. ?And so I did.?

The song was co-written with bassist Jim Lea, at the urging of their manager, ex-Animal Chas Chandler, who suggested that Slade put out a Christmas record. At that time, the cachet of a British Christmas number one hadn?t yet been established, so only Lea had any initial enthusiasm. Lea came up with the verse melody in the shower and used a long-discarded song of Holder?s for the chorus.

?Nod had written the chorus of it in 1967?I just remember everything and if something’s been written 10 or 15 years ago, it stays up there in my head. I never forgot that chorus.? Thoughts of Bob Dylan somehow inspired the opening lyric, Are you hanging up the stocking on the wall? Lea played what he had to Holder, who wrote the rest in a single draft at his mum?s house, after a big night out.

Reflecting on the downward slide the country was in, Holder wrote the lyrics to reflect a traditional British family Christmas and better times: hanging up stockings, Santa, playing in the snow, the house filling up with family and granny up and rock ‘n’ rolling with the rest, probably after a few good sherries. To keep up the cheerful note, Holder finishes the chorus with the uplifting reminder to Look to the future now, it’s only just begun.

Merry Christmas, Everybody turned out to be just the tonic that the British public needed. Half a million copies were ordered in advance, and the song shot straight to number one on its first week. Eventually selling over a million copies, the song remained at number one until mid-January and stayed in the charts well into spring. It regularly returns to the charts and was voted Britain?s most popular Christmas song in 2007.

To put the final seal on its status, Merry Christmas, Everybody has been adopted by another British cultural institution: Doctor Who. The song has been featured in five Doctor Who Christmas episodes.

The song was so successful that it is credited with kicking off the intense annual competition to have the coveted Christmas number one. Noddy Holder calls it his ?pension scheme?, and no wonder: The Daily Mail estimated in 2015 that it nets Lea and Holder about half a million pounds every year.

It?s money well-earned for having given Britons something to smile about, in that bleak winter of 1973.

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