This morning Christmas Number 1, triple j’s loving homage to Xmas charity singles past and present, hit #1 on the iTunes charts, adding an extra level of irony to proceedings.
The single features a plethora of talent: Phil Jamieson, Elizabeth Rose, Thomas Rawle from Papa vs Pretty, Bertie Blackman, Thundamentals, the Bananas in Pyjamas, Dr Karl and triple j presenters Tom & Alex, Linda Marigliano, Nina Las Vegas, Dom Alessio and Tom Tilley. It was the brainchild of triple j presenter Lindsay ‘The Doctor’ McDougall, who chatted to TMN this morning as the single sat on top of the charts.
Obviously this is both a piss-take of the charity Xmas singles, and a nod to the stately UK tradition of using people power to mess with the Xmas charts. When did the idea come to you to do this, and how quickly did it come together?
How dare you call it a piss-take. This is a loving tribute to some of the world’s most loved songs. Bono’s line in Do They Know It’s Christmas: “Tonight thank God it’s them instead of you” and Dizzy Rascal’s rap in the Band Aid 20 version epitomise my inspiration.
Kevin Parker and I were joking about Tame Impala recording an ARIA-dominating Christmas album on air, and I realised that no one had done one of those big all-star Christmas songs in Australia for years. I think Shannon Noll did one ten years ago, so it was time. Also there’s been some pretty awful things happen in the world this year: Typhoon Haiyan in the Phillipines, the bushfires in Australia; I like the idea of doing something silly that actually helps in a real way.
And I actually do love all that faux-sentimentality of Charity singles, and turns out it’s surprisingly easy to bash a few chords together, throw in some lyrics about mistletoe and chimneys, and write one of the things. I kinda wrote it and recorded the demo in two evenings after work. Then it was up to my legendary producer Hannah to wrangle all the musicians and singers. And because they are all lovely people, they were all into it, even after they heard my demo. It’s a Christmas miracle!
The song is sitting at #2 on the iTunes chart this morning. What do you think your chances are of snaring a #1 single?
We just did! For a few minutes anyway. This John Legend guy has got some staying power. Of course that’s just on iTunes, it’s also available on Google Play, and the ARIA charts aggregate their positions on a whole range of retail and downloading places, so it’ll take a bit to get Christmas Number 1 into an ARIA number 1, but I think people love that idea of getting an Australian song, a song for charity, a fun song that is kinda making fun of serious songs, to the top of the charts. And it does feel pretty cool seeing it slide over Katy, Miley, Justin and Redfoo.
What about your Hottest 100? Will they be a carry-over push to land this song in that chart?
The difference between the ARIA charts and the Hottest 100 (sorry ARIA) is that triple j’s hottest 100 is based on people actually liking a song and voting for it, rather than buying it. So on the quality, not the quantity. And I’m pretty sure at least 100 better songs have been released this year (including songs by the musicians and singers on Christmas Number 1), so they should be voted for before my song. Also, downloading the song gives cash to Red Cross, voting for it in the Hottest 100 doesn’t, so just download the heck out of this song, and vote for something else!
How meticulous were you in the actual recording, and were there any silly/great musical/production touches you’d like to point out to the casual listener?
We had three hours, THREE HOURS, to record it. That’s music, vocals and choir. The musicians and I rehearsed for a couple of hours the night before, and we got in to the studio at 11am the morning of the record, with the singers going through it for the first time. Hannah was writing the lyrics up on big pieces of butchers’ paper and hanging them around the walls. We got the music down as quick as we could, then focused on the singing. At about 1:30 we brought the choir in. We only had Bananas In Pyjamas for half an hour, so we had to get it right. The choir hadn’t even heard the song before! But luckily, like everyone else involved, they were amazing, and we smashed it out, even had time for photos with B1 and B2 after.
There are some pretty cool bits in the song, too. Bree’s amazing synth strings for a start, washing over Andy Bull’s piano brilliance. I reckon together they remind me of Tom Traubert’s Blues by Tom Waits (but don’t tell him I said that!). Also Phil Jamieson doing a pretty darn good Bob Dylan, Joyride’s baritone boom against Bertie’s growl howl, Thomas Rawle and Elizabeth Rose’s note perfect emotion, and Tuka & Jeswon from Thundamentals. I had a feeling getting them to kick the vocals off would work, and by heck it did. Also, in the guitar solo, you’ve got to listen to Abbe’s part. It’s a little bit quieter ‘cos I’m selfish, but it bloody rocks as hard as her amazing voice.
Have you had any (hilarious) negative feedback regarding the single?
ABSOLUTELY! You should see the [triple j] textline. But the best was my Dad, when i brought it up last Saturday. “I know you did” he said, “I’ve seen the YouTube. It’s pretty shit.” Still, he downloaded it! And that’s the best thing: even if you think it’s crap it’s for a good cause!
Do They Know It’s Xmas vs. We Are The World. Please discuss.
Dead heat. Do they’s got the topical and seasonal covered, and the lyrics are far more hilariously inappropriate (See Bono’s line above). However I love Yacht Rock, and MJ and Quincy wrangled some of the biggest and smoothest names. From Kenny Loggins and Daryl Hall to David Paitch from Toto and Lindsey Buckingham! I like to think our tune straddles both worlds.
Your APRA registered songwriting credits now include songs named Christmas Number 1 and World’s Fuckest Cunt. Is there a middle ground you can suggest for fans of this Xmas single that may wish to delve into your catalogue?
There is, though I’m not doing this for self promotion. Jason from Frenzal and I recorded an acoustic string-laden ballad album back in 2004 under the name The Self Righteous Brothers, called Love Songs For The Wrong At Heart. Softly sung, swelling strings, piano, tasteful brass, and over the top lyrics with titles such as Daddy Drinks Because You Cry, Love Barks and There’s No Town Like Snowtown. Just illegally download it, I don’t wanna look like I’m spruiking for myself out of this.
There’s obviously an actual charity angle to this single. How did Red Cross become involved?
I knew I was only gonna do it if it was for charity, and we had to make sure we made the most cash for them. iTunes already has an existing relationship with Red Cross, and Red Cross cover pretty much everything, from work in the Philippines before and since typhoon Haiyan, bushfire recovery and their awesome Christmas Appeal. It was pretty much a no-brainer, which was lucky because by that stage in the writing and recording process, I had no brain left.