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21 December 2020, 16:32
Roy Wood's 1973 Christmas anthem may never have got to number one, but it remains a festive classic nearly 50 years later.
"When the snowman brings the snow..."
Roy Wood wrote the song, which was a non-album release in late 1973.
Wood was previously a member of The Move and ELO, and his latest band Wizzard were making a name for themselves as one of the biggest glam groups around.
"I decided to make a Christmas single because they’d been unfashionable for years," he told the Guardian. "We thought it would be worth trying a real rock’n’roll Christmas song."
With Wood singing lead vocals, the song's backing vocals were by the Suedettes, formed by the choir of Stockland Green School First Year in Birmingham.
The original sleeve of the single credited them as 'Miss Snob and Class 3C', with 'Additional noises'.
The song was recorded in August 1973, and so to create a feestive feeling engineer Steve Brown decorated the studio with Christmas decorations and turned the air conditioning down to freezing.
Wood also wore a wooly hat he found in lost property, and the schoolchildren were brought down from the Midlands to London by bus during the autumn half-term to add their vocals.
Schoolgirl Hilary Gunton later said: "My mother didn’t want me to go. I was just 12 and she was worried about what might happen to me with these rock types, but I said I would never ever talk to her again if she stopped me.
"One day at assembly, the music teacher auditioned us by having us sing hymns unaccompanied in front of the whole school. It was incredibly embarrassing but I knew that if I wanted to meet Wizzard, I had to do it."
Wood said: "When I was in the control room listening to the kids singing what I’d written, I got really choked up, and the hairs were standing up on the back of my neck. It was glorious."
He added: "People talk about it being over-produced, but the effect I was trying to get was something I personally associate with Christmas, that Walt Disney music feel. It’s Disney movie music without the film."
Sadly, the kids themselves weren't allowed on Top of the Pops for its now-famous music video: "I really wanted to use the schoolkids but we had to use Equity children, so we got them from the Italia Conti acting school.
"I was really brassed off because the kids they sent were much too big, and they didn’t even know the song, so half of them just stood there. They didn’t even sing the words."
Amazingly, the song only peaked at number 4 in 1973.
It just so happened to be the same year in which Slade released 'Merry Xmas Everybody', who beat them to the Christmas number one spot that year.
However, it has since been re-issued many times and since 2007 it has re-entered the top 40 pretty much every year. It re-entered the top 10 for the first time since 1973 in 2019 thanks to streaming.
In 2000, Wood re-recorded the song for Mike Batt's Dramatico Records, as part of a medley with Batt's song 'Wombling Merry Christmas' by The Wombles.
The novelty mashup was released as 'I Wish It Could Be a Wombling Christmas Everyday' and reached number 22.