POP stars don’t care about presents or wish for snow – all they want for Christmas is a Yuletide banger.
Just ask Slade or The Pogues, who can relax each year knowing a whopping pay cheque will land on their doormat in January.
Each time their record is played on the radio, streamed, performed in public or used in TV shows, movies and adverts, artists get a payout, with the amount determined by licensing agreements with record labels and publishing companies.
Those who both write and perform the song rake in even more cash. Some get a greater slice from labels – who own the recording rights – than others, and the tougher negotiators have reaped the benefits.
And next year those earnings could be more substantial, as we have been playing Christmas classics earlier than ever this year in a bid to lift the Covid gloom. Mariah Carey’s classic All I Want For Christmas Is You is already sitting at No2 in the charts, with Wham!’s Last Christmas in third place and The Pogues’ The Fairytale Of New York at No8.
The Performing Right Society keeps the figures a closely guarded secret to protect the privacy of its members, and the stars themselves often won’t say how much they pocket from the annual bonanza. Streaming has reduced the artists’ biggest paydays, but the money still keeps rolling in.
Roy Wood – who wrote and produced the 1973 Wizzard classic I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every- Day – said in 2014: “With a record such as mine it’s just too easy to find a way of getting it for nothing. I thought that was going to be my pension, but no.”
After some research, number-crunching and guidance from music industry experts, we reveal a top ten of the most lucrative festive songs with an estimate of how much the tracks earn each year for the lucky artists.
Merry Xmas Everybody by Slade
£520k a year
SINGER Noddy Holder and bassist Jimmy Lea are unlikely to get to No1 again but they finish comfortably top of this list.
The West Midlands rockers share a writing credit and the royalties for the 1973 festive favourite, which Slade recorded in a corridor of a New York studio.
The track was so successful it topped the charts well into January after landing the coveted festive No1 spot. And unlike many Xmas hits, it’s not deemed cheesy, with credible artists such as Oasis, and R.E.M subsequently covering it.
Remaining coy about how much the record makes, Noddy, 74, says: “It’s definitely a pension plan, yes. It was never designed to be that way but it has taken on a life of its own. It’s been used for adverts and for movies, it’s been used for all sorts of things.”
Last Christmas by Wham!
£480k a year
GEORGE MICHAEL’S Yuletide anthem with Wham! was made even more poignant in 2016 when the singer died on Christmas Day.
The track got to No2 in 1984, beaten by Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas? and remains the best-selling single not to reach the top spot.
It was penned while George watched a football match on telly and the famous video, featuring Wham! backing singers Pepsi and Shirley, was shot in the Swiss ski resort of Saas-Fee.
The song has been covered by Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande and, not quite so memorably, by the cast of The Only Way Is Essex. The royalties got a major boost last year courtesy of movie Last Christmas, inspired by George’s biggest hits, which was a success at the box office and in the charts thanks to its soundtrack.
Fairytale Of New York by The Pogues
£400k a year
ANOTHER festive favourite which didn’t reach No1.
Fairytale Of New York, featuring guest vocals from the late Kirsty MacColl, was No2 in 1987 but regularly tops annual greatest Christmas songs of all-time lists.
It was given huge exposure again last year when it was sung in karaoke on the Gavin & Stacey Christmas Special on BBC1, watched by more than 17million viewers. That’s not bad going given Shane MacGowan, 62, who shares half of the writing credits with bandmate Jem Finer, hates festive music.
He said: “I don’t even like White Christmas. It is strange I ended up writing A Fairytale Of New York, a Christmas song that gets played every year.” Shane has always refused to comment on how much the track makes, saying: “I’m not going there.”
All I Want For Christmas Is You by Mariah Carey
£380k a year
THE supertstar’s biggest hit only made it to No1 in the US last year — a quarter of a century after it was released.
Mariah co-wrote the track in just 15 minutes with producer Walter Afanasieff, who also gets a hefty slice of royalties. Its Spotify streaming total stands at 758million — over 200million more than Last Christmas by Wham! The song featured in 2003 festive movie Love Actually, which was an international box office smash.
The renowned diva even made her own All I Want For Christmas Is You animated film, which was released in 2017. Asked the secret behind the song, which she labels her “greatest achievement”, Mariah says: “I truly love Christmas.
“I don’t want to say it, but I might as well work in the North Pole. I legitimately have that much Christmas spirit.” It has certainly helped pay for a lot of scented candles.
White Christmas by Bing Crosby
£335k a year
NOT just the biggest-selling Christmas record of all time but the most successful single, having shifted more than 50million copies worldwide.
Bing Crosby recorded the 1942 song but it was written by US composer Irving Berlin for that year’s film Holiday Inn, a festive classic starring Bing and Fred Astaire, which is repeated year on year.
The song was penned from the viewpoint of a New Yorker stranded in sunny LA for Christmas but the track resonates with a global audience. A range of superstar singers, including Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Michael Bolton, Gwen Stefani and Lady Gaga have covered it over the years.
Composer Irving was certainly happy with his efforts on the track, saying: “White Christmas is not only the best song I ever wrote, it’s the best song anybody ever wrote.”
Wonderful Christmastime by Paul McCartney
£310k a year
HAVING learned from a bad early record deal while in The Beatles, which saw the band get just a penny per record sold, Sir Paul ensured he got the maximum financial return for his solo output.
His festive classic Wonderful Christmastime, released in 1979, is all Macca, as he wrote, produced and performed all aspects of it — even playing all the instruments — meaning he receives royalties as both composer and performer.
Entertainment lawyer Bernie Resnick says of Macca’s business acumen: “McCartney was smart because not only did he write and record the song himself, he also created a song that stands the test of time.”
Yearly royalties from the song, covered by Kylie Minogue, Diana Ross and Demi Lovato, help top up McCartney’s £800million fortune.
I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day by Wizzard
£180k a year
ONE of the most played festive tunes on British radio ever, the track is still being performed by its writer Roy Wood.
The ex-ELO rocker is one of the few artists who have commented on how much he earns from his 1973 festive classic, which he wrote and produced himself.
Roy, 74, said: “I’d rather rely on that than the modern-day pension. You don’t get it at Christmas, though. You have to wait until they work it all out, so I’m usually broke at Christmas.”
Thanks to downloads being included in chart sales, Wizzard’s hit has featured in the Top 20 four times since 2007, managing to secure a No10 last year. A medley version featuring Wizzard and The Wombles, named I Wish It Could Be A Wombling Merry Christmas Every Day, reached No22 in 2000.
Stop The Cavalry by Jona Lewie
£120k a year
THIS festive fave failed to hit the top spot in 1980 after John Lennon songs hit the charts following the former Beatle’s death on December 8 that year.
But Jona has nonetheless made a tidy fortune from the track, meaning he has never had to “get a proper job”.
Like McCartney’s Wonderful Christmas-time, Jona, 73, wrote and performed the song, plus played all the instruments.
He says of the anti-war song: “Stop The Cavalry constitutes 50 per cent of my real income. The thing is, I do everything on the track. I wrote the lyrics and the melody, so that’s all of the publishing.
“And because I’m a musician I can do all the backing track, so that’s all the recording royalties. And if you get a track associated with Christmas, you get potential for earning every year.”
Stay Another Day by East 17
£105k a year
THE East London band’s main songwriter Tony Mortimer never intended his biggest hit to be a Christmas song.
After hearing the emotional ballad, written about his brother Ollie, who took his own life, management felt the song would sell better at Christmas and added some bells and recorded a festive video.
It worked, as the boyband clinched the 1994 Christmas No1. Tony collaborated with two other writers on the song from outside East 17, so his bandmates have not profited from the royalties which rise yearly due to the song’s increasing popularity.
In 2002, Tony’s bank balance got another boost when Girls Aloud covered Stay Another Day as a B-side for debut single Sound Of The Underground, which was the Christmas No1 that year.
Mistletoe And Wine by Cliff Richard
£102k a year
SIR Cliff would have made much more money from this popular festive track if his writing contribution was greater than just a few lyrics. The bulk of the 1988 Christmas No1 song was composed 12 years earlier by a three-man writing team to feature in the musical The Little Match Girl.
It was later turned into a movie and starred The Who frontman Roger Daltrey. Due to his minimal contribution, the royalties cut for Sir Cliff, 80, will be received mostly from the performing rights, not that the singer is short on cash, given his estimated wealth is £84million.
In 2008 it was reported that one of the song’s writers, Leslie Stewart, sold his £630,000 home in Cambridgeshire which he paid for out of his royalties.
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