Christmas 1974, and anyone refuting the claim glam had become too in thrall of the past would have been hard pushed to defend Mud’s second number 1 of the year. Rushing together an Elvis Presley spoof for the festive market, they took Slade’s Christmas crown with Lonely This Christmas.
To say the preceding 12 months had been good for Mud would be an understatement. They started the year with 1974’s biggest seller, and one of my favourite chart-toppers, Tiger Feet, then a number two with the inferior soundalike The Cat Crept In, and a respectable number six with Rocket. They also released a cover of In the Mood under the name ‘Dum’, which failed to chart.
The well was perhaps starting to run dry for Chinnichap’s songwriting, but they’d had a very impressive run over the last few years, and seeing the excitement the chart battle between Slade and Wizzard caused in 1973, they no doubt thought one of their acts could be in with a shout. If they could pull it off, it would be their third number 1 of the year.
There was some strong competition though. Mike Batt’s Wombles had enjoyed a good year and Wombling Merry Christmas was bound to do well, plus there was Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet close to the top spot. Elvis too.
Speaking of which, how can you talk about Lonely This Christmas without comparing it to the work of ‘the King’? Although you could point out it’s more akin to his early-60s work than 50s material – Are You Lonesome Tonight? is the obvious song to note – there’s also his cover of Blue Christmas to consider, which he recorded in 1957. And of course, singer Les Gray’s voice was similar to Presley’s in general and it gave him an excuse to be the country’s best-selling Elvis impersonator over the holidays.
Now Lonely This Christmas is no Tiger Feet, nor is it of the same class as Merry Xmaƨ Everybody, but I’ve always been fond of it, and the sheer nerve of releasing it amuses me. The clip below, from Top of the Pops, of Gray miming sincerely to a sinister-looking (aren’t they all?) ventriloquist puppet is a classic, bizarre TV moment. Mud have always struck me as charming chancers who somehow lucked into being in the right place and the right time, and the sight of them struggling to keep a straight face when performing this proves it.
It’s not for everyone. It certainly doesn’t have the universal appeal of Slade or Wizzard’s festive classics, and the only way you could get emotionally attached to it would be if you really were unlucky enough to be going through a break-up with someone, and even then, you can’t, because the whole song is a joke, and you’d feel like you were being laughed at. But come on, it’s Christmas, a time for taste to go out the window. Embrace the tackiness, like a nation exhausted from elections and terrorism did at the time. It’s also quite a funny way for Chinnichap’s chart dominance and number 1s together to come to an end, although there was Mud’s final number 1, produced by them, to come.
So that’s 1974. An eclectic mix of pop, late glam, with a welcome return of some reggae and soul into the mix. Things were about to steadily slide downhill as the 70s progressed further. It seems the more the country slid into the economic doldrums, the worse the singles chart became.
Written & produced by: Nicky Chinn & Mike Chapman
Weeks at number 1: 4 (21 December 1974-17 January 1975)
Radio DJ Jason King – 6 January 1975
Artist James Henry Govier – 21 December 1974
22 December 1974: A rotten year for Conservative Party leader Edward Heath ends with his London home bombed by the Provisional IRA. Fortunately he wasn’t in but only cheated death by 10 minutes.
24 December: Former Labour government minister John Stonehouse is discovered living in Australia after having faked his own death. He is quickly arrested by Australian police, who initially believe that he is Lord Lucan.
6 January 1975: Brian Clough, the recently sacked former manager of Leeds United, is appointed manager of Second Division strugglers Nottingham Forest.
14 January: 17-year-old heiress Lesley Whittle is kidnapped from her home near Bridgnorth in Shropshire.