Christmas songs: Jingle sells

As Mariah Carey and Noddy Holder rake in the royalties from their Christmas classics, Gillian Orr wonders why there hasn't been a decent festive hit for nearly 20 years

In Nick Hornby's novel About a Boy, the protagonist, Will (played by Hugh Grant in the film version), enjoys a charmed life. He decorates his stylish pad with sleek Bang & Olufsen products, sports designer footwear, and takes a string of women out to fancy restaurants, all without ever having to do a day's work. How? He is the sole recipient of the royalties from a popular Christmas song that his late father had composed.

And it would appear that this type of existence is not as implausible as it sounds. This week, analysts using data from the Performing Rights Society (PRS) released a study in which they estimated how much cash your festive favourites have raked in so far this year. The results were astonishing.

In at No 1 was Slade's "Merry Xmas Everybody", currently celebrating its 40th anniversary. Singer Noddy Holder can expect a Christmas gift to the tune of £512,000 for the 2013 period. If Holder has been receiving similar sums each year since the song's release, then it's all round to his for Christmas.

But don't expect to find Holder relaxing in an armchair, eggnog in hand, counting his riches; an interview request from The Independent was politely knocked back by his manager. "As you can imagine, he is booked solid at the moment," he said.

Other Christmas winners include The Pogues' "Fairytale of New York" (£386,270 should keep Shane MacGowan in decent whiskey for the year ahead) and Mariah Carey, whose "All I Want for Christmas Is You" will bring in £347,615. (Although anyone who caught Carey's episode of MTV's Cribs would know that she probably spends more a year on bed sheets.) Along with Carey's, the other most recent song to feature in the top 10 was East 17's 1994 hit "Stay Another Day"; both songs are now almost 20 years old.

The best and worst Christmas songs

That we have seen no major additions to the Christmas musical canon in the interim was the subject of a much-shared article on Slate this week by Chris Klimek. "It's not that there are no more good Christmas songs coming out," he wrote. "It's that we as a culture have stopped embracing the ones that do come out. It's been 19 years since 'All I Want for Christmas Is You'. And that's really the last time a pop song has entered the public consciousness across genres and age groups."

Lady Gaga, Coldplay and Justin Bieber's recent efforts have all flopped. But decent new festive tracks are there if you know where to look; indie artists such as Low, Bright Eyes, Yo La Tengo and Sufjan Stevens have all made well-received contributions to the Christmas playlist over the past 15 years. Yet none has managed to go mainstream.

"I think it's because they don't have the audience," suggests Eve Barlow, the deputy editor of NME. "If they don't have the audience in every other month of the year, then – unless it's something that really goes viral – it's not going to form part of the canon. There are so many under-the-radar artists who write great Christmas songs that never really see the light of day beyond their fan bases. It's the bigger artists that need to step up and take the risk of actually writing a Christmas song that they think can contend with the classics."

And while there are songs that make a welcome return each December (increasingly they are being heard in November, too), it seems that there are just as many festive tunes we'd happily banish. This week, Cliff Richard's 1988 hit "Mistletoe and Wine" came top of a Costa Coffee poll to find Britain's most-hated Christmas song, and it has subsequently been banned in all 1,600 branches. One doubts that Sir Cliff will care too much, though. A PRS cheque for £98,408 (and counting) for 2013 royalties should alleviate that sting. µ

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