The true hor­rors of the sea­sonal nov­elty hit

Tracks we used to re­gard as harm­less fes­tive num­bers are be­ing ditched as un­suit­able — but, as Damian Cor­less re­flects, they are tame com­pared with the true hor­rors of the 1970s sea­sonal nov­elty hit

Belfast Telegraph - - REVIEW -

❝ The man who had in­vented rock ‘n’ roll had his big­gest hit with a node to smut

❝ Again Rudolph the Red-Nosed Rein­deer has been dragged into the PC wars

An­other time­less clas­sic got a swipe of the PC axe this week as US broad­cast­ers cleared their Christ­mas sched­ules of Baby, It’s Cold Out­side. But even as the naysay­ers claimed vic­tory, oth­ers notched it up as the lat­est own-goal by a moral, retro-fit move­ment whose com­pass has gone hay­wire. The ban sparked mil­lions of on­line searches seek­ing the song as its mak­ers in­tended it, in the 1949 mu­si­cal Nep­tune’s Daugh­ter. There, it plays out as a gen­der-bal­anced, witty, ban­ter dou­ble-han­der be­tween two ad­join­ing cou­ples where both a male and a fe­male se­ducer try to charm the win­ter wool­lies off their paramours in the hope of stalling a br­rrrr-exit.

Both the song and the deft screen per­for­mances pro­vide a com­i­cally nu­anced skit on the rit­u­als of se­duc­tion.

Many de­fences of the song put up this week hang on the ar­gu­ment that it’s of its time, but that is to sheep­ishly deny and di­min­ish it for the time­less de­pic­tion of the mat­ing dance that it is.

Those who would, if they only could, dis­patch an Arnold Sch­warzeneg­ger to clean up Christ­mas past, would find their high moral ground far firmer in the 1970s.

That decade was not just the golden age of the be­spoke Christ­mas pop sin­gle, but of the deeply dodgy ‘nov­elty’ hit. Even do­ing dou­ble shifts in his Ter­mi­na­tor and Eraser roles, Arnie would be bog­gled for choice.

First to be put out of its misery would be Benny Hill’s 1971 Christ­mas chart top­per, Ernie (The Fastest Milk­man in the West). The tit­u­lar milk­man finds him­self in a deadly ri­valry with bread­man Ted for the af­fec­tions of randy house­wife Sue. No longer sat­is­fied with bathing in Ernie’s milk, she has her head turned by Ted’s pledges of “hot rolls ev­ery morn­ing and crum­pet ev­ery night” and the “size of his hot meat pies”. Ernie and Ted pro­vided the tem­plate for the rogu­ish Pat Mus­tard in Fa­ther Ted. The toi­let hu­mour con­tin­ued on the B-side, Ting a Ling a Loo.

The nor­mal rules of the charts don’t ap­ply at Christ­mas, and ‘Ernie’ kept Jeep­ster from its right­ful place as Marc Bolan’s third straight No 1 with T-Rex, but span­gly glam rock and sparkly Christ­mas dec­o­ra­tions were made for each other, and 1973 would pro­duce Slade’s rol­lick­ing Merry Xmas Ev­ery­body and Wiz­zard’s equally en­dur­ing I Wish It Could Be Christ­mas Ev­ery­day.

A year be­fore those two great Christ­mas sin­gles vied for the top spot, two of the worst fought it out. In the event, Lit­tle Jimmy Os­mond’s Long Haired Lover From Liver­pool kept Chuck Berry’s My Ding-a-Ling at bay.

In an at­tempt to have the song banned, de­cency lea­guer Mary White­house wrote to the BBC’s di­rec­tor gen­eral claim­ing that she had come across “a class of small boys” giv­ing it “the in­de­cent in­ter­pre­ta­tion that is so ob­vi­ous”, but to no avail.

The man who in­vented rock ‘n’ roll, and whose Johnny B Goode flies on the Voy­ager space probe as a voucher for hu­man achieve­ment, scored his big­gest hit with an ode to smut.

When Christ­mas 1974 ar­rived, the clan gath­er­ings in house­holds in this part of the world added a new fam­ily sin­ga­long favourite to Ernie, My Ding-a-Ling and Lily the Pink, the 1968 Christ­mas chart top­per cel­e­brat­ing the prop­er­ties of an un­spec­i­fied “medic­i­nal com­pound”.

The new ad­di­tion was Fa­ther Christ­mas Do Not Touch Me, a Top 10 hit for The Good­ies. Fa­ther Christ­mas started life as a B-side, but when it started pick­ing up big airplay and sales in the run-up to Christ­mas, the record com­pany sim­ply flipped la­bels to glee­fully cash in.

The pub­lic had no prob­lem ‘get­ting’ The Good­ies’ big Christ­mas hit. There wasn’t so much as a tricky dou­ble-en­ten­dre to grap­ple with, just sin­gles all the way. Penned by Bill Od­die, best-known to­day for his stint as the BBC’s res­i­dent Spring­watch sage, it chron­i­cles the noc­tur­nal prowl­ings of a bad Santa who “can’t stand lit­tle girls” as “big­ger ones are bet­ter”. Enough said. It’s read­ily ac­ces­si­ble for in­spec­tion on­line, but not for young ears.

As this yule­tide ap­proaches, not for the first time, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Rein­deer has been dragged into the PC wars. The cur­rent click­bait de­bate turns on whether Rudolph is just a happy-clappy ditty about be­ing nice to oth­ers or a clar­ion call to re­spect LGBT and/or eth­nic mi­nor­ity rights.

A Ter­mi­na­tor sent back to sort out to­day’s crazy, mixed-up world might blow a logic cir­cuit, whereas fix­ing the Rudolph is­sue of 1975 would be easy as pie. As fea­tured in Judge Dread’s Christ­mas in Dread­land, poor Rudolph gets in­volved in some un­savoury non-rein­deer adult games. De­spite a ra­dio ban, it hit the top 20 and con­trib­uted to the for­mer Stones body­guard trad­ing as Judge Dread be­com­ing Bri­tain’s big­gest reg­gae seller of the 1970s af­ter Bob Mar­ley.

While some Christ­mas hits of yore were so sleazy it’s sad, one of the most joy­ously up­lift­ing of them all wound up as the one with the sad­dest end­ing. The sur­prise Christ­mas hit of 1963 was Dominique, which topped the charts around the globe. It made a such a star of Jean­nine Deck­ers, aka The Singing Nun, that Hol­ly­wood quickly turned her life story into a hit movie star­ring Deb­bie Reynolds.

Even as Deck­ers’ fairy story was rolling out across cin­e­mas world­wide, the walls were closing in on the young nun, begin­ning when “the Mother Su­pe­rior would cen­sor my songs and take out verses I wrote when I was sad”. The sec­ond at­tempt to cap­ture her life story could not have been more dif­fer­ent to the first. The off-Broad­way play was en­ti­tled The Tragic and Hor­ri­ble Life of the Singing Nun.

Sad but true.

Dodgy hit: Benny Hill topped the 1971 Christ­mas chart with Ernie

Con­tro­versy: Chuck Berry (left), who had a Christ­mas smash in 1972 with My Ding-a-Ling, with ac­tor Sandy Ste­wart and DJ Alan Freed

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