On the eve of ‘fully-unleash-the-Christmas-songs-on-radio’ day, December 8th, I am reminded of a story I read about a poor individual who suffered from chronic earworm. This time of year, Christmas, brings back a similar trauma to my memory.
I once worked in a large city centre department store. It was seasonal work while I mostly scraped my way through college. I found it quite enjoyable and, believe it or not, liked the work when it was really busy. You could end up stationed in different departments and I served time in luggage, electronics, the china department (I’m quite the connoisseur of Aynsley and Belleek giftware) and the toy department. I did several tours of duty in the toy department during the Christmas period. This was pre-internet days so let me assure you it was a very busy shift on the tills.
I didn’t mind so much working on the cash registers. The big toy fad that year was Power Rangers figures, but sadly supply could not meet demand. There were many ‘auld wans’ giving out to me because we were sold out of Power Rangers. “It’s not my bloody fault,” I wanted to scream at them, “I don’t manufacture the stupid things!” Few things cause as much outrage and potential violent recourse as the prospect of ruining a child’s Christmas, so they didn’t care what very logical and reasonable excuse I offered. Yet it wasn’t the angry Dublin mammies that ruined my festive period, in fact it was George Michael.
This department store had one 60-minute Christmas cassette tape which was played on a loop, daily, from the minute we opened until we closed our doors in the evening. I’ve mentioned this was pre-internet days, so there was no Spotify or Apple music. There was no streaming or playlists or bespoke in-store audio experiences. There was no such thing as a CD changer. We literally played a tape of about twenty songs, over and over and over.
I believe I am quite susceptible to earworms anyway, and so for many weeks I had to endure ‘Last ‘Christmas, by Wham, going around and around in my head, endlessly, like a form of torture. The tape had some other ‘classic festive hits’ on it too. Paul McCartney’s ‘Wonderful Christmas Time’ was included; it’s an offensively upbeat and chipper tune that has outstayed its welcome by about 26 years. This is Macca at peak ‘thumbs aloft’ phase and it makes me cry.
Jona Lewie’s plodding, morose and unfathomably dull ‘Stop The Cavalry’ was there too. ‘Driving Home For Christmas’ by Chris Rea was also on the cassette. This is a song written by someone who has clearly never driven in or around Dublin and experienced the soul-destroying misery of the M50 or the N7 outbound or, well, any route really. This is an evil song in that it has a deceptively jolly tempo and mood but I know for a fact that, underneath the veneer, Chris Rea is sitting back on his pile of money in his stately mansion laughing at us poor mugs stuck behind a criminally slow Toyota Yaris on the Stillorgan dual carriageway.
The worst offender was Wham’s ‘Last Christmas’. The unmistakeable opening few seconds triggers a very severe nervous reaction from me. Within a minute, George Michael is wailing away, and usually so am I. It’s true that I have swiftly exited shops or pubs when this song has cropped up on the in-house music system. It’s an awful dirge of a track, about lost love and blah blah blah. The video, set in a skiing resort, shows poignant images of George Michael pining after a girl who’s now going out with his mate, awkwardly enough. It’s such a sham too; we all know that this scenario would not have been George Michael’s preference back then. He’s no good at skiing and he prefers lawn bowls, as the tabloids have exposed over the years.
George Michael: turns out he wasn't into skiing at all
‘Last Christmas’ just goes on and on and on, much like a sick pet lying around, howling and waiting to be put out its misery. It’s so 80s too: utterly naff fashion, big hair, shoulder pads and pastels. If this song was a 1980s transport experience it would be standing in a cold and windswept Busáras, late on a Friday evening, by yourself, waiting for a delayed bus to depart to the sticks, while being ‘chatted up’ by a middle-aged divorcée who’s had one Babycham too many and fancies telling you the cause of all her problems. The thing about Wham’s ‘Last Christmas’ is that it just never goes away. It refuses to die. It remains in the top five best selling Christmas songs of all time and it shows no sign of leaving for the further reaches of the chart.
If I never heard this song again it would be too soon. I would like to thank you for reading my story and I hope it may even help some of you who may affected by similar issues.