Pop covers the cracks with tinsel

Do they know it's Christmas? The record companies certainly do, and with sales in decline the seasonal battle is fierce

NEXT WEEK some of the most annoyingly catchy, sentimental and downright ridiculous tunes of the year will join the scramble for that essential part of the British Yuletide, the Christmas No 1 spot. The rest of rock and pop will take a back seat as TV stars invade the Top Of The Pops studio and teen acts come over all misty-eyed in a bid to tug at hearts and purse strings.

The usual array of slushy ballads, gimmicky jingles and rabble-rousing anthems contend for the top slot in 1998. After two Christmas No 1s in succession, the Spice Girls are going for a hat-trick with "Goodbye". They face stiff competition from popular teen bands B*Witched, All Saints and Boyzone. Cliff Richard's "Bita Mia" and a duet between Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston will be vying for older listeners' attention, while novelty records include the already notorious "Naughty Christmas (Goblin In The Office)", the Christmas party send-up by Fat Les (the comedian Keith Allen), with which he hopes to repeat the success of his World Cup song "Vindaloo". And after the attempt to cash in last year by Maureen from Driving School, another docusoap star, Jane McDonald of The Cruise, follows up her No 1 debut album with a Christmas single.

But the range of these seasonal offerings, and the intensity of competition, is not so much the mark of a booming record industry as an attempt to halt the trend of declining sales. The Christmas season accounts for 40 per cent of industry profits, and it could certainly do with them. It's no surprise, perhaps, that the charity single is a notable absentee this year. Record companies see themselves as the ones in need of help.

Six months ago, Oasis boss and Creation records founder Alan McGee announced a recession in the music industry in a New Musical Express article called "the Great Rock and Roll Dwindle". He expressed concern at sales inertia and the lack of new talent, claiming, "if anyone is telling you different, they're liars".

This year's figures certainly support McGee's case. Recent sales trends reveal top bands shooting to early prominence, then fading quickly after their first album. Sales have been so flat that many records have topped the charts by selling a fraction of the number normally required to achieve success. Pulp's album This Is Hardcore made it to No 1 with sales of just 30,000 in the first week, while Catatonia's International Velvet knocked Pulp off the top with just 32,000 sales. By contrast, Oasis's 1997 album Be Here Now sold 700,000 copies within three days.

With music lovers clamouring for the next Oasis, picking hits for an international market is a particularly onerous task. The music press has long blamed unimaginative record companies who have been signing Oasis imitators in the hope of repeating that success. Paradoxically, one of the decade's biggest retail successes has been in Oasis's idols, the Beatles. The re-released Beatles Anthology has shifted more than 26 million units worldwide since its release in 1995, a total that even the Spice Girls couldn't hope to match. The strong presence in the album chart of "Best Of..." releases by older acts - Duran Duran and Culture Club, for example - is further evidence of the current trough in creativity.

After a year of poor sales and industry downsizing, record companies are now showing more interest in the immediate money-spinners, particularly teen acts and low-cost compilation albums, rather than nurturing new acts for the future.

"The Christmas Top 10 will be full of teen bands," predicts Gennaro Castaldo, PR manager of HMV. "Singles are used by the music business as a marketing tool rather than a source of immediate revenue. You will notice that most of the girl and boy bands on the Christmas list have first albums to promote. It was the release of Robbie Williams's single "Angel" last year that saved his album Life Thru A Lens." "I think a lot of record companies have misread the market in teen bands," warns Peter Price, managing director of Coalition records. "Christmas is a vital time in music but the cost of marketing these bands is phenomenal. One hit single is not going to save a floundering company. Forget B*Witched and Billie. The money is in acts with a longer history such as George Michael. They will be lining Sainsbury's shelves this Christmas."

Technological developments such as the recordable compact disc and music distributed over the internet, which make pirating much easier, are cutting into music industry profits. The growing distribution of unreleased music on the internet last week prompted record companies Sony, Warner, EMI and Universal to team up with IBM in a digital distribution system called the Madison Project, scheduled to start next year. The system will enable consumers to download digital recordings while record companies monitor sales.

The industry has also suffered harsh cost-cutting programmes. A&M records, a subsidiary of PolyGram, was closed down earlier this year, while the Canadian group Seagram are in the process of taking over PolyGram records.

Last week's speculation that industry giants EMI are to be taken over continues after a warning from the company that persisting economic problems in its main markets, including South-east Asia and Latin America, will seriously damage profits.

Sales have also slowed in Europe, usually a lucrative market for British acts. EMI has denied reports that senior officials from the company had met Rupert Murdoch's son to discuss the possibility of News Corp investing in the troubled record label. "As far as we're concerned, EMI is not looking for a buyer, though if someone makes a good offer we will have to take it into consideration," insists Jason Crisp, head of EMI's corporate affairs. "The UK market is looking good for November and the US market is flourishing. Things could be a lot worse."

Despite analysts' predictions of a slump for the latter part of 1998, statistics from the British Phonographic Society show that sales are improving in the UK, with figures rising for the year's final quarter. "People have lost jobs and there has been a certain amount of rationalisation within the industry," said a BPI spokesperson. "But there is still a lot of diverse music available and the Christmas market looks good. November has been a good month for music."

And while this year as a whole does not bode well, those in the industry can remember similar gloomy periods. "These things are cyclical," assures Castaldo. "There was a lull in the early Nineties, then Britpop exploded and the industry became more lucrative than ever."

In the meantime, the performance of this year's festive offerings may have long-term implications for musical trends. All we can hope for is a improvement in standards before the rush begins for the Millennium No 1.

CHRISTMAS NO.1 CONTENDERS FOR 1998

ARTIST TITLE RELEASED ODDS

The Spice Girls Goodbye 14 December 4-9

Jane McDonald Cruise Into Christmas 14 December 9-2

The Chef (Isaac Hayes) Salty Chocolate Balls 14 December 12-1

Alberta Yo Yo Baby 14 December 14-1

B*Witched To You I Belong 7 December 16-1

Slade vs Flush Merry Christmas Everyone 14 December 16-1

Fat Les Naughty Christmas 7 December 25-1

(Goblin In The Office)

Boyzone I Love The Way You Love Me 23 November 25-1

Mariah Carey/ When You Believe 7 December 25-1 Whitney Houston

Cliff Richard Bita Mia 7 December 25-1

Billie She Wants You 7 December 25-1

Aqua Good Morning Sunshine 14 December 33-1

All Saints War of Nerve 23 November 50-1

Robbie Williams No Regrets Tomorrow 50-1

Bryan Adams feat Mel C When You're Gone Tomorrow 60-1

Celine Dion feat. R Kelly I'm Your Angel 16 November 80-1

Desmond Lynam Rudyard Kipling's If 7 December 150-1

Odds supplied by William Hill

25 YEARS OF CHRISTMAS NO. 1S

1973: Slade - Merry Xmas Everybody

1974: Mud - Lonely This Christmas

1975: Queen - Bohemian Rhapsody

1976: Johnny Mathis - When A Child Is Born

1977: Wings - Mull Of Kintyre

1978: Boney M - Mary's Boy Child

1979: Pink Floyd - Another Brick In The Wall

1980: St Winifred's School Choir - There's No One Quite Like Grandma

1981: Human League - Don't You Want Me

1982: Renee and Renato - Save Your Love

1983: Flying Pickets - Only You

1984: Band Aid - Do They Know It's Christmas?

1985: Shakin' Stevens - Merry Christmas Everyone

1986: Jackie Wilson - Reet Petite

1987: Pet Shop Boys - Always On My Mind

1988: Cliff Richard - Mistletoe And Wine

1989: Band Aid II - Do They Know It's Christmas?

1990: Cliff Richard - Saviour's Day

1991: Queen - Bohemian Rhapsody

1992: Whitney Houston - I Will Always Love You

1993: Mr Blobby - Mr Blobby

1994: East 17 - Stay Another Day

1995: Michael Jackson - Earth Song

1996: Spice Girls - 2 Become 1

1997: Spice Girls - Too Much

Sport
Thiago Silva pulls Arjen Robben back to concede a penalty
world cup 2014Brazil 0 Netherlands 3: More misery for hosts as Dutch take third place
Sport
Robin van Persie hands his third-place medal to a supporter
Van Persie gives bronze medal to eccentric fan moments after being handed it by Blatter
News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
News
scienceScientists have developed a material so dark you can't see it...
News
Monkey business: Serkis is the king of the non-human character performance
peopleFirst Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Arts and Entertainment
Blackman: Landscape of children’s literature does not reflect the cultural diversity of young people
booksMalorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Voices
Mrs Brown's Boy: D'Movie has been a huge commercial success
voicesWhen it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Life and Style
Once a month, waistline watcher Suran steps into a 3D body scanner that maps his body shape and records measurements with pinpoint accuracy
techFrom heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
News
Soft power: Matthew Barzun
peopleThe US Ambassador to London, Matthew Barzun, holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence. He says it's all part of the job
Sport
Joe Root and James Anderson celebrate their record-beaking partnership
cricketEngland's last-wicket stand against India rewrites the history books
News
Gavin Maxwell in Sandaig with one of his pet otters
peopleWas the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?
News
Rowsell says: 'Wearing wigs is a way of looking normal. I pick a style and colour and stick to it because I don't want to keep wearing different styles'
peopleThe World Champion cyclist Joanna Rowsell on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

    £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

    C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

    C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

    £60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

    Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

    £75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

    Day In a Page

    Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

    How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

    A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
    The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

    The evolution of Andy Serkis

    First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

    Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
    Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

    Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

    Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
    Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

    Blackest is the new black

    Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
    Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

    Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

    From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
    Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
    Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

    Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

    The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
    Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

    Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

    The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

    Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

    Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

    Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

    The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
    The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

    The Open 2014

    Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?