Music Articles

All I Want For Christmas Is A Few Minutes Of Silence

Vintage radio

Stare at this, think of mistletoe, and count to 273. hide caption

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A Facebook group has launched a campaign to make John Cage's 1952 avant-garde classic "4'33"" England's Christmas No. 1. (In case you're not familiar, England gives some kind of bizarre pride of place to the song that tops the pop charts on Christmas; Cage's composition is a controversial landmark that calls for 4 minutes and 33 seconds of silence.)

England's Christmas No. 1s have traditionally been successes by pop hitmakers. The Beatles scored four Christmas chart-toppers in the 1960s, the Spice Girls had three straight wins in the 1990s, Pet Shop Boys won in 1987 with their cover of Willie Nelson's "You Are Always On My Mind," Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" won in 1975 and 1991.

But there's been a long tradition of novelty winners, too. Comedian Benny Hill's "Ernie (The Fastest Milkman In The West)" won in 1971. Non-humans Blobby and Bob the Builder have also topped the charts. Again, The Spice Girls had three straight wins in the 1990s.

From 2005 to 2008, the prize went to the winner of X Factor, the television talent competition presided over by Simon Cowell (who will bring the show to US audiences next year). But last year a Facebook campaign propelled Rage Against the Machine's 17-year-old hit "Killing in the Name" to the number one spot.

Cage's piece is a serious conceptual work, but it nicely bridges the gap to the mischievous novelty pop winners of the past. In an essay in the Guardian, Tom Ewing looks at nascent tradition of pushing an unexpected songs to the top of the charts, and puts his weight behind the supporters of "4'33"." "To have any point," he writes, "this kind of campaign needs to do two things. It should still seem like a clever idea months after you sign up, and it should be funny even if it completely fails to top the charts."

To win, the song's supporters — cutely called "Cage Against the Machine" — will have to convince people to actually shell out money to purchase the song. And Ewing points out that the likelihood of another Facebook-style campaign to rig a Christmas-day champion was actually diminished by the success of the Rage rally — "every fanbase with a grudge against The Man is massing their forces separately and dissension is rife" — but says that Cage himself would have liked the idea of the song beating out pre-packaged pop for radio play.




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