24
Dec 07

MUD – “Lonely This Christmas”

FT + Popular38 comments • 6,090 views

#362, 21st December 1974

I was all ready to give this a pasting before seeing the video on TMF’s Ultimate 40 Christmas Songs melted my Scroogeian heart. Or perhaps froze it still further, as what the video did was make me appreciate what a marvellously cynical record this is. Not just the basic cynicism of releasing a Christmas song, rushing in to fill the gap Slade had punched the year before (anyway, releasing Christmas songs is such a basic part of pop it barely qualifies as cynical: if you refuse a grab at this particular brass ring you should probably have your pop license revoked) – “Lonely This Christmas” is one of pop’s most brazenly manipulative guilt trips.

It’s all there in the video – the members of Mud, looking like they’re fighting to choke back sobs as their pitiful tale unfolds; their leader’s face a mask of wounded dignity, only his colossal spectacles hiding his utmost grief. The template for “Lonely This Christmas” is transparently Elvis, specifically “Are You Lonesome Tonight”, but the sentiment in that song is but a light dusting of snowflakes compared to the full-on blizzard of passive-aggressive mopery Mud unleash. To be honest the chorus isn’t all that, but the verses ramp things up nicely (“an UNLIT CHRISTMAS TREE!”) and then the spoken word section is a triumph of the very ripest corn, shovelling on the heartbreak – “this is the time of year when you really…you really NEED love” – in defiance of firstly shame and secondly the very terrible acting skills on display. The payoff line is but the star on top of the tree.

If you’re coming back to Popular after Christmas and reading this, I hope you’ll forgive my indulgence of its festive sentiment – and I hope you had a very good time. If you’re reading this on Christmas Eve, then all I can say is, Merry Christmas Readers … *choke* … wherever you are.

7

Comments

  1. 1
    wwolfe on 24 Dec 2007 #

    Totally unrelated to this song, but on the latest episode of “Life On mars” to air on BBC America, they used David Cassidy’s version of “How Can I Be Sure.” It was a perfect choice for the scene – actually, it fits the whole concept of the show, come to think of it – but having never heard it before, my reaction was probably peculiar to reader’s of this site: “Hey! That’s the one from ‘Popular’!” Sadly, you received no credit on the show.

  2. 2
    rosie on 24 Dec 2007 #

    Erm, yes. I have a shameful confession to make about this.

    For many years, I believed that this really was Elvis!

    In mitigation, I would say that I really wasn’t paying much attention to the charts at this time, and so I was almost certainly unaware that this was the Christmas number one. I only know it through years of irritating repetition in department stores and supermarkets when my mind was on other things, mainly trying to get what needed doing done as I get the screaming abdabs in crowds. And it’s just the sort of pure corn syrup Elvis would have been doing in the mid-seventies. So it was only when I acquired it to listen to as part of this project that I started thinking “oh, right. Much egg on face.”

    It doesn’t really sound like the real Elvis, when you get up close, but then if it was it would spoil the point (and I’m quite sure the whole point was to produce an Elvis impersonation not to be taken too seriously.) As an impersonation, though, it does the job pretty well.

  3. 3
    Mark Grout on 24 Dec 2007 #

    Briefly:

    This was recorded in a spirit of sarcasm and comedy, but they had so many people thank them for the sentiment that they felt suitably shamed. And now do it with a reasonable sincerity. Or, did, anyway.

  4. 4
    Billy Smart on 24 Dec 2007 #

    Normally I have my pop swot hat on when I listen along with this and think “Ah, what a silly and enjoyable pop construction. Good old Mud!”

    Just occasionally though, I find myself in Tescos on about December the 23rd, utterly fed up and thinking how hard-faced and selfish everybody looks to me (and I must look to them) and tormented by all this jolly Slade and Jonah Lewie that they’re playing too loud… and I’m pleased to hear a song “of EMPTINESS! and MISERY!’ and hearing about how its “cold, so co-old this Christmas” has a surprisingly cathartic effect.

  5. 5
    Geir H on 24 Dec 2007 #

    A am not too keen on this one. Instead of making a Christmas song in their own glam style, which would have been perfect for a Christmas song (see Slade, Wizzard), they opted to make just another Elvis Presley Christmas song, as if Elvis hadn’t already recorded enough Christmas songs himself.

    I would have preferred Mud sounding like Mud instead of Mud sounding like Elvis.

  6. 6
    jeff w on 24 Dec 2007 #

    But in a sense this is Mud sounding like Mud – or the Mud to be at any rate (despite this being another Chinnichap song and production, this is much closer in sound to the later singles that Mud made without the RAK hitmeisters). As noted in my comments on “Tiger Feet”, the Presleyisms were always latent in Les Gray’s vocals. Here, he didn’t try to hide it is all.

    (hi Geir and welcome btw)

    Anyway, much as I feel there are very few bad Christmas records, and millions of good ones, this would only get a 5 or 6 from me. I don’t think Gray quite pulls off the vocal. Maybe if he had played it straight instead of for comedy effect…

    I’m not sure if “the video” Tom mentions is the TOTP clip I associate closely with this record – the band seated and huddled together, filmed in close-up, having tons of fake snow dumped on them. It was much more amusing than it sounds.

  7. 7
    Geir H on 25 Dec 2007 #

    I’d rather have seen “Wombling Merry Christmas” at the top. It’s a way better song even though “The Wombling Song” remains their (Mike Batt’s) masterpiece.

  8. 8
    Waldo on 26 Dec 2007 #

    Oh, dear God. A bloody miserable song as the Christmas number one?!… “I’m lonely this Christmas because my loved one has either buggered off or died?” Sorry, no. Just wrong. Les Gray wasn’t a Canadian, was he? Still, he’s dead himself now, ain’t he? So he knows all about being “cold, cold, cold” now, don’t he? Merry Christmas, Les…wherever you are.

    Geir H (#7) – Yes, the fact that Wimbledon’s finest were denied by this miserable garbage continues to rankle me into my maturity. Still, I guess nobody died…oh wait, Les Gray did, didn’t he?!

    May I just say to Erithian and Marcello that I am appending this on Boxing Day Afternoon and that I was driving around earlier today and swore blind that I more than one spotted “Boxing Day Bobby” going about his reprehensible but nevertheless profitable business.

  9. 9
    Geir H on 26 Dec 2007 #

    Blame Canada!

  10. 10
    . on 27 Dec 2007 #

    how come so many xmas tunes from the 70s and 80s have a 50s rock n roll sound to them?

  11. 11
    RobM on 28 Dec 2007 #

    At the risk of diverting this into another territory, I disagree with Geir – “Keep on Wombling” the album is Mike Batt’s finest moment, or 40 minutes I suppose.

  12. 12
    Dave on 28 Dec 2007 #

    If i hear Do they know its Christmas or Last Christmas again i will poke my eardrums out with a yuletide log.. Naff.. Yea the sentiment of Band Aid is admirable but the song.. A bleeding dirge.. And as for Wham.. Get me a bucket.. My number one would have to be Driving home for Christmas.. Chris Rea’s gravelly vocals counterpointed by the cheerful lyrics and upbeat arrangement.. You can imagine him sat in his car with a bootload of pressies, singing along with a big grin on his face.. Coming home after a long stint gigging europe.. It hits me in the right place.. the heart everytime i hear it. Nice one Chris.

  13. 13
    Dave on 28 Dec 2007 #

    The reason why many 70’s and 80’s xmas songs have a rock n roll sound has to do with appeal, at the time Rock n roll appealed to the broadest range of age groups. Now we just have bloody X-factor and what a pile o shite it is too!

  14. 14
    Geir H on 30 Dec 2007 #

    I think the reason is another one: Several of those Christmas songs are from the glam era, when making Christmas songs was kind of trendy and all of the big acts (more or less) did it. At the same time, there was also a nostalgia wave, maybe because the kids who grew up in the 70s were listening to their parents’ 50s rock’n’roll records, I dunno. Several of the most popular “boy bands” of the early 70s relied heavily on covers of pre-Beatles material. Donny Osmond, for instance – I think virtually all of his solo singles were 50s covers.

    Later you would also have acts such as Darts and Showaddywaddy, ending up with Stray Cats and Shakin’ Stevens in the early 80s before people were definitely finished with the 50s once and for all.

    That being said, “Lonely This Christmas” has more in common with Elvis’ early 60s MOR incarnation than his 50s rock’n’roll one.

  15. 15
    a logged out p^nk s lord sukråt wötsit on 30 Dec 2007 #

    there were three separate waves of 50s revival, really — one in the US in the late 60s (shananana at woodstock and zappa’s ruben and the jets — probably elvis’s re-invention/re-emergence in 68 was a spur, also); two in the uk, effectively pre and post-punk (lennon’s 1975 solo roots-revisit of his own rock’n’roll youth was a response to the first more than an inspiration)

    (the disconnect between the pre and post punk waves can be judged from the fact that the successful pre-punk 50s-revivalists got NO secondary boost at at all from the post-punk burst of interest…)

    glam very specifically and deliberately broadened the event-horizon of pop backwards beyond the amnesia of the beatles-big-bang — like uk pop art (in particular richard hamilton* and peter blake) it used the matter of earlier unreflective fan-material as its subject, playing off the instant response of the listener against the knowing response of the connoisseur, or something like that; it was pop with a sense of history, which is unusual and quite daring (and tricky to sustain)

    *hamilton was bryan ferry’s mentor, and ferry took the concept of historical awareness back to cole porter, which meant taking it a long way beyond the amnesia of the ELVIS-big-bang — of course he also made everything sound like bryan ferry, which is a problem or a triumph (yr mileage may vary)

    the post-punk 50s revival was also much more self-consciously subcultural — kind of “we are we are we the mods” except for being teds…

  16. 16
    Billy Smart on 30 Dec 2007 #

    I was surprised to discover how much I enjoyed Showaddywaddy’s ‘Hey Mr. Christmas’ on the Xmas Top of the Pops 2. Maybe I should investigate this 70s mock’n’roll genre further… On the other hand, perhaps life is too short! Am I missing out on anything good?

  17. 17
    a logged out p^nk s lord sukråt wötsit on 30 Dec 2007 #

    i think it’s basically variable-to-poor at best, but the persuasions are worth hunting down — latterday doowoppers of gorgeous sound, patroned i think by zappa who genuinely loved doowop (they may still be active in fact)

    i was always heartened by that joint project showaddywaddy did with einsturzende neubauten, but i can’t recall if anything lasting came of it

    (i am on an anti-google day)

  18. 18
    Geir H on 30 Dec 2007 #

    To lord sukråt about the postpunk rock’n’roll revival: I am unsure whether it is easy lumping Shakin’ Stevens and Stray Cats in the same box at all. But we may get back to that when Tom does his piece on “This Ole House” in a couple of years or something :)

  19. 19

    geir actually i think all three of the 50s revivals i suggested are internally heterogenous (how much does lennon belong alongside mud?): they weren’t movements so much as (er) distributed tendencies towards a mode of nostalgia… what i do think is that there are interestingly sharp breaks between the three modes; so that the nostalgia mode of 72-76 inflects very differently from the nostalgia mode of 89-83

    (also: yes, i think shakin stevens is — or feels — curiously anomalous whoever you line him up against*… essentially he’s a down-the-line pub-rock tribute artist who was also a fairly effective “authentic” pop-star, by which i mean engagingly down-to-earth man-of-the-people anti-glam… his version of escape-into-the-past is a sort of return-to-antiromantic-unpretension) (*except paul young maybe?)

    (oops this is rather messin with marcello’s NO SPOILERS dictum, isn’t it?)

  20. 20
    Erithian on 2 Jan 2008 #

    Shakin’ Stevens was so long paying his dues before becoming a pop star that he really predates the first UK RnR revival wave, let alone the second. Shakin’ Stevens and the Sunsets started out in the 60s!

    “Lonely This Christmas” for me is a classic Christmas song as it works on a number of levels. There’s a line in “The History Boys” that I can’t quite remember – no doubt someone can help – about schoolboys being too young to appreciate some of the emotions portrayed in literature. Similarly, at age 12 I hadn’t loved and lost anyone, hadn’t lost a close family member and had no reference point to the subject of the song, but still found it moving and still do now that I’ve had those experiences. This from a band who performed it on TOTP with Les Gray singing to a ventriloquist’s dummy of himself while other band members pour washing powder over him from the top of a stepladder. To be able to play it for laughs and still move people, that’s a rare thing.

    BTW, not only did it deny “Wombling Merry Christmas” top slot, it denied Bachman Turner Overdrive’s poptastic meisterwerk its due recognition as well!

  21. 21
    Martin Skidmore on 2 Jan 2008 #

    The Persuasions hardly count as ‘latter day’ doowop, since they started in the very early ’60s, 1962 I think, though their first recordings (yes, championed by Zappa) are rather later. They are still going. Also, I wouldn’t call them doowop – they are an a cappella group, performing material in a gospel/soul vein. Their singer, Jerry Lawson (who left them fairly recently, sadly) is a real favourite of mine. Search out ‘Building A House’ (on the album Sincerely, I think) to sample them at their best.

  22. 22
    Marcello Carlin on 3 Jan 2008 #

    In 1974 I thought Mud were hilariously great and their TOTP “Lonely This Christmas” routine side-splitting.

    Then I heard it again, all over the place, in Christmas 2001 and suddenly I loathed and despised them for making a joke out of it since I was living (if you could call it “living”) through it.

    These days I think it was a double bluff; the comedy used as a mask for an extremely grim and bleak song (“when we were here”).

    Elvis, incidentally, was also riding high in the charts at the same time with his lachrymose rendition of the Martin/Coulter weepie “My Boy” though really the song needs Richard Harris’ deliberate overkill.

    Showaddywaddy and Shaky I’ll talk about when we come to them.

  23. 23
    Monitor on 3 Jan 2008 #

    I’m not sure if any more extensive chart than the top 40 was kept at this time; if not, Lonely This Christmas was almost the number 1 that travelled the furthest that year, debuting at 40 two weeks earlier.

    The most arduous climb perhaps goes to The New Seekers, a year earlier, who also debuted at 40 but took 5 weeks to crawl to the top.

    Too much time on my hands? Yessiree.

  24. 24
    Marcello Carlin on 4 Jan 2008 #

    The official “industry chart” at the time was a Top 50, though Radio 1 only used the Top 30 – they didn’t expand to 40 until May 1978 when the full chart was lengthened to a Top 75. If you subscribed to Music Week, though (as my dad did), you were also supplied with an unfeasibly long “bubbling under” list which basically comprised all the climbers between 51-100.

  25. 25
    Monitor on 4 Jan 2008 #

    Has any enterprising bedroom fanatic managed to get that valuable information into a website anywhere, do you know? (Or is it available in book-form?)

    I seem to recall Top of the Pops still only showing the top 30 until some point in the 80s maybe when they went up to 40? Is that right?recollection

  26. 26
    Marcello Carlin on 4 Jan 2008 #

    No, TOTP changed over to the 40 in May ’78 at the same time.

    AFAIK that info isn’t available online or in print. It would be nice if someone could compile it in book form since on a 1974 level alone it would bring whole shoals of other records into the reckoning, from Junior Byles’ “Curly Locks” to John Cale’s “The Man Who Couldn’t Afford To Orgy.”

  27. 27
    Christopher Barbour on 7 Jan 2008 #

    One of my fave Xmas records, because whether you identify with the narrative of the song or not it encapsulates the reality of the run up to Christmas (stressful, probably not snowing but cold and usually wet, carrying on with everyday life as well) far better than the celebratory Slade, Wizzard, Shaky etc, etc. See also Lennon, Greg Lake and Jona Lewie.

  28. 28
    Doctor Mod on 7 Jan 2008 #

    One wasn’t lonely this Christmas in the slightest and one has never heard this song, but surely the best lonely Christmas song (aside from Elvis’s “Blue Christmas”) is Darlene Love’s “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” from the Phil Spector Christmas album. I finally broke down and bought a (used) copy this year. (Disdain for Spector as a person always conflicts with admiration for Spector the producer.) Before I left on my holiday adventures, I burned a CD copy for my hairdresser. He couldn’t have been more thrilled.

  29. 29
    Marcello Carlin on 8 Jan 2008 #

    Bringing up the rear in the 1974 Xmas singles foray was Gilbert O’Sullivan’s “Christmas Song” which mainly consisted of the sentiment “I’m not dreaming of a white Christmas” and whose bridge included the immortal non-rhyme “And let us hope that very soon/The peace you seek will then resume.” A children’s choir comes in for the last chorus. Bless him.

  30. 30
    jeff w on 8 Jan 2008 #

    I have the 7″ of that one! (OK I bought it at a record fair not long ago. But still.)

  31. 31
    Waldo on 8 Jan 2008 #

    Uncle Ray really pushed his luck with that one, didn’t he? Goodbye Crimbo tucker. Mind you, bringing in the sprogs for the final chorus was not new. I’m not inviting an exhaustive list but obviously Roy Wood springs to mind a year earlier. But whereas I would gladly sing along with Roy’s kids, I would hand Gilbert’s little bastards over to King Herod in the blink of an eye.

  32. 32
    intothefireuk on 22 Mar 2008 #

    It seems mightily odd to be commenting on (& listening to) a Christmas song out of the season of goodwill but I will try my best & suffer for the cause. This song resonates with me primarily because it soundtracked one of my first ’embarrassing moments with members of the opposite sex’ type incidents. It was the annual school Xmas disco 1974 & having spent most of the evening standing with my mates trying to look cool and eyeing up the talent I had taken the plunge and managed to grab a particularly foxy chick (using the parlance of the time), somewhat suprisingly, for the last dance. Enter the cruel & mocking tones of Les Gray whereupon I decided, in my wisdom, to sing-a-long with the record. Now I’m not saying I can’t sing – that wasn’t the problem – I just wasn’t aware that you didn’t do that cos it’s extremely naff & uncool. It wasn’t until the song was pretty much through that I realised I wasn’t getting the favoured response I had hoped for and my singing kind of trailed off – leaving, as the record ended, an uneasy silence. A tumbleweed moment followed after which I hastily retreated to the comfort of the school bar. Needless to say nothing further occured between us but the young lady in question, bless her, did at least have the grace not to mention it again. All that aside, I loved Mud and at this stage they could pretty much do no wrong. This was another fine glam era Xmas song which, when I’m listening properly (ie not in a shop !- can’t we go back to muzak ?) I still enjoy. You don’t see too many bands use the dummy routine nowadays do you ?

  33. 33
    Julie Lawson on 11 Jan 2009 #

    Jerry Lawson, former lead singer, arranger & producer of The Persuasions is my husband. Don’t be too sad about him leaving The Persuasions!! He has a new a cappella CD with 20 tracks, an hour of eclectic material & a 20 page booklet! 2 Cds in one. I hope you check it out. He’s smokin’ !!!!

  34. 34
    Jade on 27 Aug 2009 #

    I really enjoyed reading this post. ‘Lonely This Christmas’ is a mainstay of festive songs. Amidst the wonder of the Turkey and the Roast Potatoes, another popular British dish around Christmas time is cheese. No more so than when Mud unleashed this prime cheddar on an unsuspecting public. Christmas parties, office Christmas parties in particular, have not been the same since this muddy lot began a tug of war with our heart strings all those years ago.

  35. 35
    ottersteve on 12 Oct 2009 #

    Please insert “POPULAR ’74” here.

    I need to vote NOW!!

  36. 36
    Andrew Farrell on 14 Dec 2013 #

    (can’t believe I forgot this – only came up because there’s a few around the end of the answer to the question “What’s the only UK #1 that doesn’t include its own title in its lyrics, but is succeeded by a song whose title it does contain?” which came up in conversation at my work Christmas party)

  37. 37
    Mark G on 15 Dec 2013 #

    Don’t Know

  38. 38
    inakamono on 18 Dec 2013 #

    re 36: Queen/ABBA combo ?

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