Ever since the official UK Singles Chart began in 1952, artists and bands have been competing to achieve the distinction of having a Christmas Number One.
For 50 years, Christmas was the time of year for novelty songs, charity records and songs with a Christmas theme. But since 2002, the UK Christmas top spot has been dominated by reality TV contests such as The X-Factor and Popstars: The Rivals – with the winning acts often going straight to Number One in the week before Christmas.
But during the rock ‘n’ roll years covered by SH-BOOM! – the 1950s, 60s, 70s and 80s – the Christmas Number One was always much less predictable.
Watch some Christmas No. 1 videos and check out our list of every UK Christmas No.1 of the 1950s, 60s, 70s and 80s HERE…
Dame Shirley Bassey has released her first full-length studio album in more than 20 years.
Titled The Performance, the 72-year-old’s ‘comeback’ album features 11 new songs specially written for her by contemporary artists such as Take That’s Gary Barlow, the Pet Shop Boys, Manic Street Preachers, Kaiser Chiefs, Rufus Wainwright, and KT Tunstall.
The album also includes a brand new composition by John Barry and Don Black – the first new song they have written for her since ‘Diamonds Are Forever’.
“I’d really retired, and was just coming out for special occasions,” Dame Shirley told the US music magazine Billboard. “But these writers have brought me back.”
“It was a challenge because you wouldn’t have thought they were my songs,” she said. “I took them on holiday with me, and I would say: ‘I can’t do this, they’re too difficult’. But I was listening to the way the writers were singing them, and trying to sing in their key, which never helps. It wasn’t until I actually went into the studio, with a piano, and put voice on, that I started to get excited. I’m always up for a challenge, and it paid off.”
She says she doesn’t have a favourite song on the album: “I love all of them. But the Pet Shop Boys’ song, ‘The Performance of My Life’, got right into my head and made me sob, and not many songs do that.”
Other key tracks include ‘The Girl From Tiger Bay’ (written by the Manic Street Preachers), ‘This Time’ (by Gary Barlow), and the opening track ‘Almost There’ (by singer-songwriter Tom Baxter).
The Performance was produced by David Arnold, the Grammy Award-winning composer behind the soundtracks for five James Bond films. He says the album confirms the legendary Welsh singer still has the power to move an audience.
“I tried to make a record that made the most of that voice and one that could sit alongside her other classic recordings like ‘Goldfinger’ or ‘Big Spender’,” says Arnold. “All these songs were just songs, until Dame Shirley Bassey sang them.”
He adds: “There’s something about a Bassey performance that can knock the wind out of your sails, make you laugh, or cry, let you in on the joke, or lead you to a more exotic place.”
In a career that has spanned 50 years, Dame Shirley Bassey has sold more than 135 million records and remains the only singer ever to record three James Bond theme tunes.
In the space of a few weeks, first Madonna and Kate Bush turned 50 … then Michael Jackson. Pretty soon there’ll be dancing in the street “everywhere around the world” when Motown Records celebrates its 50th birthday on January 12, 2009.
Universal Music – which now owns the legendary label – plans to get everyone in the mood for Motown’s half-century celebrations by launching a special 50th Anniversary CD on December 1, 2008.
The new compilation will uniquely feature songs chosen by Motown fans themselves after they were invited to vote for their favourites in an online poll.
Universal plans to release “many different versions” of the compilation album across the globe, saying this approach is designed to “reflect each country’s favouritesongs and celebrate the enduring popularity of Motown across the planet.”
Other Motown celebrations are being lined up throughout the whole of 2009 under the banner: Motown 50 – Today, Tomorrow, Forever.
Berry Gordy Jr. founded the label as Tamla Records on January 12, 1959, with a loan of $800 from his family. The company was incorporated as Motown Record Corporation in 1960.
Vocal group The Matadors were the first act to be signed to Tamla by Gordy. They went on to find fame after changing their name to The Miracles.
By the mid-1960s, the groundbreaking Motown Sound had spread worldwide. And the label’s distinctive sound still resonates today – 180 Number 1 singles later – with Motown hits continuing to appear in TV commercials, TV shows and movies.
British songwriter Steve Thompson – who has written songs for artists such as Celine Dion, Sheena Easton, Elaine Page, Sara Brightman and Elkie Brooks – has teamed up with playwright and poet Tom Kelly and photographer Peter Dixon to create an innovative multimedia album titled Voices.
Voices features a unique fusion of evocative soundscapes composed by Thompson, moving poetry written and read by Kelly, and unforgettable images captured by Dixon.
When creating Voices, the three artists collaborated virtually, using internet applications to evaluate and shape their ideas. The result, though, is more human than technological – and it’s highly original and emotive.
All three artists’ work and lives are firmly rooted in the North East of England.
Tom Kelly is a prolific Gateshead-based poet and playwright with many writing credits to his name. Plays like Baby Love and I Left My Heart in Roker Park have made him a firm favourite with North East audiences.
Peter Dixon is a photographer from Jarrow who is famous for his moving images of urban dereliction.
Steve Thompson has written such diverse hits as ‘Hurry Home’ by Wavelength, the Acid House dance track ‘Chiki Chiki Ah Ah’ by Baby Ford, ‘I Don’t Want To Be The One’ by The Searchers, and ‘Paris By Air’ by The Tygers Of Pan Tang. He was at the forefront of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal in the late 1970s and early 1980s, producing bands like The Tygers of Pan Tang, Venom and Raven.
The result of the Thompson-Kelly-Dixon collaboration is a highly atmospheric piece which has just been released as a 13-track DVD.
The Voices DVD is now available to buy for £10 ($20), including postage and packaging.
Former Foreigner lead vocalist Lou Gramm is set to release his first Christian rock album later this year.
Gramm, who has been a Born Again Christian since the early 1990s, told US music industry magazine Billboard that the as-yet-untitled album “rocks from one end to the next – that kind of attitude but with a different subject matter.”
The album features brothers Ben, Richard and Don Mancuso from Gramm’s pre-Foreigner blues-rock band, Black Sheep.
Gramm – who left Foreigner for a second time in 2003 – said his recovery from a benign brain tumour in the late 1990s had given him the inspiration for many of the album’s faith-based songs.
But Gramm admits that his change of direction is receiving a mixed reaction from Foreigner fans and fans of his previous solo work. However, he insists that his creative approach hasn’t changed just because his new offering is a Christian rock album.
“It really just means that a lot of the subject matter changes,” he told Billboard. “A lot more thought goes into the lyrics and not a ton of songs about popping that girl after the show.”
Gramm and his band will be touring the US this summer, including selected dates with rock legends Boston. But they won’t be playing any of the new songs until the Christian album is released. Fans will be pleased to hear that Gramm intends to keep performing many of Foreigner’s hits “for the time being”.
As powerhouse lead vocalist and songwriter with Foreigner, Lou Gramm exploded onto the international music scene with the chart topper ‘Feels Like The First Time’ in 1977.
Says Gramm: “I was the lead vocalist for Foreigner for 26 years. I’m enormously proud of this – and the music I have made with Foreigner is still a big part of my solo shows. However, with my new band I can also perform my own music and the hit records I have had as a solo artist. I even throw a few curve balls, such as my take on a Beatles classic like ‘You Can’t Do That’.
The iconic hand-painted drum skin seen on the sleeve of the Beatles’ 1967 album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was sold for £541,250 at auction today – almost four times the expected price of £150,000.
The drum skin – which was placed at the centre of the album cover – is believed to have been designed by fairground artist Joe Ephgrave.
What is probably the world’s most famous drum skin proved to be the star attraction at Christie’s latest Rock and Pop Memorabilia sale in London.
Another star lot was John Lennon’s handwritten manuscript for his song ‘Give Peace a Chance’. The lyrics sold for more than £420,000 – well above the pre-sale estimate of £300,000.
The lyrics were sold by comedy writer Gail Renard who obtained them during Lennon’s eight-day “bed-in for peace” with Yoko Ono at Montreal’s Queen Elizabeth Hotel in May 1969.
Lennon scribbled the lyrics on a piece of cardboard with a black marker before recording the song in the hotel suite with Yoko and an eclectic mix of personalities.
Renard, who was only 16 at the time, says Lennon gave her the lyrics himself, telling her they would be worth something one day. How right he was!
Also at the Rock and Pop Memorabilia auction, a rare 1968 recording of the Jimi Hendrix Experience performing at the Woburn Music Festival – at Woburn Abbey, Bedfordshire – sold for £48,050.
A 1966 Marshall amplifier – used by Hendrix in concert between 1967 and 1969 – sold for £25,000, while a pair of his striped flared trousers made £20,000.
A 1967 Gibson guitar previously owned by The Who’s Pete Townshend sold for £32,450.
French first lady Carla Bruni is following the trend started by Radiohead by putting her entire new album, Comme Si De Rien N’Etait (As If Nothing Had Happened), online - five days ahead of its official release in the UK.
The former supermodel wrote 11 of the album’s 14 tracks. Fans will be able to listen to her sultry love songs for free – until July 21 – by visiting her web site (www.carlabruni.com).
The Italian-born singer-songwriter’s record label, Naïve Records, is said to have been working closely with Elysée Palace on the marketing campaign for the album.
In an interview with French radio station France Inter, Bruni dismissed the media storm surrounding the album, saying she didn’t see why presidential wives should give up their jobs just because they were married.
“It is 2008,” she said. “Women often keep their jobs when they marry, even when they marry someone with such an important job as my husband.”
However, Bruni conceded that her position ruled out live concerts and there would be no tour to promote the album. But she pointed out that royalties from the album would be donated to charity.
Carla Bruni recorded two albums before becoming half of the world’s most glamorous political couple after a three-month romance. Her first album was critically-acclaimed and sold two million copies, but her second English-speaking release, No Promises, sold less than half-a-million.
Comme Si De Rien N’Etait – Carla Bruni. Released on 14 July 2008 by Naïve Records.
Former Village People lead singer Victor Willis is recovering in hospital in San Diego, California following surgery on his vocal cords.
Willis, the legendary disco band’s original policeman, had to have nodules removed from his vocal cords after developing hoarseness during several recent live performances.
The throat problem has forced 57-year-old Willis to postpone European concert dates later this year. His spokeswoman said Willis is expected to recover fully and a new tour could be rearranged as soon as October of this year.
Willis left the Village People in 1980 and refused all requests to perform any of the group’s’s hits until recently. After shunning live appearances for 27 years, he returned to the stage in 2007 with his Victor Willis Dance Tour.
A book based on Willis’s life as lead singer of the disco-era Village People is due to be published later this year to coincide with his international tour.