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The Bah Humbug popstars

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By Brian Clegg

Image from Unsplash

I gather from the i newspaper (3 December) that music business millionaires are bemoaning their inability to have their Christmas songs thought of as classics by the public. Tom Chaplin of Keane is quoted as saying ‘Getting a song in the [Christmas streaming] chart is like breaking into Fort Knox’. 

I accept that streaming has made it more difficult to get your Christmas song into the canon – but, honestly, my suspicion is that the majority of songs on offer simply aren’t good enough to make it. Once you get compared with the best of all time, it inevitably becomes a lot harder than it is if you are only being put up against the best from this year’s crop. It’s a bit like a serious music composer complaining that Monteverdi, Mozart or Vaughan Williams still get a look in. But is that really a bad thing?

The fact is that songs do get added to the best of the bunch if they really stand out as far as the particularly odd calculation of what makes a good Christmas song is concerned – and, let’s face it, that includes a whole lot of other things than pure musical quality. But if a song really does catch the attention of the public, it will get listened to and bump up those Christmas streaming revenues, even if it doesn’t get into the top ten.

I personally enjoy a whole mix of music at Christmas. I’ve always sung in choirs and love a quality choir carol – but equally I’m happy to listen to a whole range of Christmas songs: both classics such as Fairytale of New York, and more recent releases like Keane’s. The joy of streaming is both that you can pull in those old standards, and go for something less well known to build a playlist of your own favourites.

Incidentally, I know it’s heresy, but for me, the best Christmas number by Keane isn’t a Christmas number and it’s in a cover version. My Christmas streaming playlist includes the Lilly Allen version of Somewhere Only We Know, which now feels Christmassy thanks to its association with the John Lewis Christmas advert: for me, this is better than the Keane original.

However, we can still do our bit to add to poor Tom’s streaming revenue. I’ve included below his suggestion of his Christmas song that he thinks should be up there with the rest. (I checked – YouTube plays do now count in the streaming charts.) It is quite good, but Midnight Mass simply doesn’t have the feel of a big Christmas hit. It’s far too wistful and ballady. Be warned, incidentally: I also find the video somewhat generating of nausea. But it’s not a bad song at all.

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Now Appearing is the blog of science writer Brian Clegg (, author of Inflight Science, Before the Big Bang and The God Effect.


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