All we want for Christmas is an old festive song

Musicians of yesteryear dominate the royalties payout lists for Yuletide hits
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The Independent Culture

Whether you love Mariah Carey or loathe Jona Lewie, there is no escaping them at this time of year. The annual resurrection of songs from Christmas past to make the soundtrack for Christmas present is well underway – and for the artists who were shrewd enough to pen or perform those festive favourites decades ago, the pay cheques are waiting under the tree.

As the likes of Wizzard and Wham! once again begin their inevitable December ascent of the airplay charts, a coterie of established standards continue to earn big sums in licensing fees for their creators, decades after their original release.

Of the 20 most-played Christmas songs during the past ten years, the most modern – Carey's "All I Want For Christmas Is You" – dates from 1994. Most of the others in the list, compiled by music-licensing bodies PPL and PRS, were hits in the Seventies and Eighties. They include Slade's "Merry Xmas Everybody" and Band Aid's "Do They Know It's Christmas?"

According to Jonathan Morrish, a spokesman for the PPL, a single airing of an average three-minute song on BBC Radio One generates about £37.50 for writers and £37.50 for performers, while commercial stations pay a percentage of their advertising revenue.

This means that even songs that failed to make an impact on their original release can prove highly profitable in later years. Chris Rea's "Driving Home For Christmas" reached just number 53 in 1988. Yet, now seventh in the most-played list, it remains one of Rea's most reliable money-spinners.

Barney Hooper, a spokesman for PRS, said: "There are just as many Christmas songs that never really made it as the ones you hear year after year, so you still have to write a hit. But with Christmas, you know it will have a shelf life and that people are going to listen to it year after year after year.

"The race for Christmas No 1 over the last few years has been completely dominated by The X Factor releasing the winner's song. But Joe McElderry, the winner last year, is not being played too much now, whereas Mariah Carey is popular every year."

The breadth of music choice permanently available through digital downloads also means that songs no longer have to be re-released as in years gone by to take a march up the charts. "All I Want For Christmas", which came top of the list compiled by PPL and PRS, has charted in the top 20 in each of the past three Decembers, and has already reached number 22 this year.

The Pogues classic "Fairytale of New York", featuring Kirsty MacColl, has also found consistently repeated success, making it to 3, 6, 4, 12 and 12 in the charts in the past five years.

Martin Talbot, the managing director of The Official Charts Company, said: "At this time of year people are putting together lots of Christmas party playlists and they want to make their own compilations of tracks at home. Five or ten years ago, you'd have to buy a Christmas hits package, but now it's more democratic. People can choose what they like."

While he said that writing a Christmas song can prove to be an "astute move", he admitted that the reason why there have been so few additions to the catalogue in recent years is that "there has always been the risk that it is seen as quite cynical and maybe being a little bit naff these days". Indeed, there are few potential new additions to pop's festive canon around this year.

Even Coldplay's "Christmas Lights" has hit just number 18; perhaps The Futureheads were thinking of the charts when they wrote their current effort, "Christmas Was Better In The 80s". As shown by Rea, however, sometimes it is the slow-burners that work out best.

Most played Christmas tunes

1 All I Want For Christmas Is You (1994)Mariah Carey

2 Last Christmas (1984) Wham! (top)

3 Fairytale of New York (1987) The Pogues

4 Merry Xmas Everybody (1973) Slade

5 I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day (1973) Wizzard

6 Do They Know It's Christmas? (1984)Band Aid

7 Driving Home For Christmas (1988) Chris Rea

8 Stop The Cavalry (1980) Jona Lewie

9 White Christmas (1942) Bing Crosby

10 Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! (1966) Dean Martin