Feeling Christmassy yet? If so, what the hell is wrong with you? It’s barely even winter, let alone Christmas. Pumpkins are still rotting in doorways. People’s Movember ‘taches have barely progressed beyond the bumfluff stage. It fundamentally isn’t Christmas yet. But try telling that to the nation’s radio stations, who are already dementedly hammering the tinselly tunes.
Heart, Magic, Capital, Radio 1 have already started blasting the likes of ‘Let It Snow’, ‘Fairytale Of New York’, and ‘Another Rock’N’Roll Christmas’ (ok, maybe not the last one). According to Compare My Radio, Wham!’s ‘Last Christmas’ has been played 210 times. TV stations are at it, too. VH-1 has flipped to a sleigh bell-heavy playlist, 24/7. This is insanity. It’s not even December, and I’m already feeling Chris Rea’d out.
Lest you pin me as some kind of dismal Scrooge McDuck, I should make it clear: I love Christmas music. Darlene Love’s ‘…Baby Please Come Home’ and Tori Amos’ tangentially seasonal ‘Winter’ are two of my favourite songs in the world. Along with every other human being with a soul, I treasure the cosy nostalgic pang of ‘Christmasiness’, that nebulous and mysterious feeling.
But you’ve got to get the timing right. By greedily stretching the window during which they soundtrack our lives, we rob these songs of their special power to elevate and excite. What kind of yule-obsessed psycho can stomach six weeks of Shakin’ Stevens? It’s like people at festivals who get suicidally blootered the second their tent’s up, then spend the rest of the weekend too hungover to enjoy themselves. Show a little self-control, people.
So when is the right time to start playing Christmas music. I put the question to my Facebook subscribers. The responses varied. “Personally, I find that if I listen to Christmas music at this point in the year, I get completely bored of it by Christmas Day,” said Grace Moran. “There’s a time and a place. I’m not sure about the place, but the time is 1st December onwards.” For Claudia Berardi the rule is: “No Xmas music in my house prior to December 15.”
For me it’s later still. A week before Christmas feels about right. But I’m clearly in the minority. Most people can’t bloody wait to rock around the Christmas tree – even if it’s mid-November, and the Christmas tree isn’t actually up yet. That much became clear when I spoke to Pete Simmons, Programming Director for London’s Magic FM, the station that, alongside Heart, is probably the main offender when it comes to premature festive fare.
Mid-November. Isn’t that a bit early to crank out the Christmas hits?
Not at all. Our listeners love these songs. We’ve never had a single complaint about it. You have to gauge when people start to think about Christmas. Often they start their shopping in early November. And at that point they want to get into the spirit. These are good-time songs, and they’re massively popular.
Don’t you get sick of hearing the same old tunes, over and again, for such a drawn-out period?
Well we don’t go full-on until December. At the moment it’s mostly just on the breakfast show. And we don’t just play the established hits. There are loads of new Christmas records out this year – in fact we just played a new one by Lady Antebellum. Rod Stewart has one out as well. So it’s a mixture of old and new.
Was there a debate in the office about when you should enter Christmas mode?
We always have a meeting to discuss it, yes. Generally we start playing a few in the second week of November, ramp it up in December, and then in the final week it’s pretty much nothing but Christmas songs. We’re careful not to overdo it. For example it was raining heavily the other day, and that’s not very Christmassy, so we held back.
So you’e not worried about people going, ‘Argh, bloody Slade again’ and switching over?
Honestly, no. You have to remember that people listen to radio in chunks. So they don’t overload on these songs. There’s a lot of angst out there, and these are happy songs, reminiscent of nice times, so people are happy to hear them. I actually get held back. I’m always the one who wants to play more Christmas songs. When you think of some of the artists who’ve recorded Christmas tracks – Coldplay, Bruce Springsteen. These are great artists, why wouldn’t you want to play them?