In the days to come, specifically December 23rd we will be spending some time focusing on the great Christmas chart battles. Mariah Carey vs East 17, The Pet Shop Boys vs The Pogues, and who knows, maybe I’ll be able to rinse a little extra mileage out of the classic Girls Aloud vs One True Voice war of 2002.
For now though, we are taking things a year later, to 2003. This was a mixed 365 days in the world, especially in Britain. While the nation celebrated highs, like Jonny Wilkinson drop-kicking the England rugby team into World Cup glory, and the sensational return of Dirty Den to Eastenders, there was also many lows, including the start of the Iraq war, plus the sad removal of Brookside from Channel 4 television.
The top five in the Christmas charts reflected the mixed moral of the nation. At number five was a cover of John Lennon’s Happy Xmas (War Is Over) by The Pop Idol’s, featuring a bunch of losers, and Sam and Mark.
Number four was Proper Crimbo by Avid Merrion, a spinoff from the show Bo ‘Selecta. This was back when Leigh Francis was still funny and didn’t just cater to the lowest dregs of society, and featured a cameo from David Sneddon, and also John Leslie.
Number three was one of the worst songs of all time, the utterly terrible Changes by Ozzy and Kelly Osbourne, who seemingly both spent the entire song trying to see who could sound the worst.
Number two was the third Christmas based song in the top five, the last time the charts came anywhere near to being as festive. It’s hard to imagine now, but back in 2003 The Darkness were one of the most popular bands in the country, having shifted over a million copies of their debut album Permission To Land.
Eager to exploit their success, the group released a Christmas single, rather imaginatively and crudely titled Christmas Time (Don’t Let The Bells End), which was probably the last great actually Christmassy single.
Any other year and the song would have been a festive chart topper, but as already mentioned, 2003 wasn’t like any other year. The public wanted fun and frivolity, and they got that with The Darkness, yet there was an even darker undercurrent in the population who wanted something a little more melancholic as they munched their Christmas dinner.
Step forward Gary Jules and Michael Andrews, two men who today are as forgotten about as Dr Fox. Andrews was a Californian composer, while Jules was a gentleman who could be defined by exactly two things: A decent singing voice, and his propensity for wearing grey flat caps at all times.
Much like Johnny Borrell went through a stage in 2006 of exclusively wearing a white shirt with white skinny jeans in homage one can only assume at Jesus Christ, Jules wore his safe grey cap just to remind people that he wasn’t really a big deal at all.
Listen to Mad World and the rest of the countdown via this very handy playlist here.
The Jules and Andrews Christmas number one was a big deal however. It was a cover of Mad World, an incredibly depressing song by British band Tears For Fears which had seen modest chart success in the eighties. The cover by the duo was featured in the cult classic film Donnie Darko in 2001, which over the years after its released increased massively in popularity due to the emerging DVD market.
This interest in the film, and in the Mad World cover led to its eventual release in December 2003, where it reached the number one spot, as well as charting in America.
The video was directed by acclaimed film director Michel Gondry, who went on to direct Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Science of Sleep, and The Green Hornet films. It’s a good watch if you’re into his style.
Mad World, especially the cover which reached the top spot, is a song that touches pretty much all that have heard it. It’s a song about the hopelessness of youth, of feeling inadequate, scared and alone which are all feelings that even the most rugged of humans feels on a regular basis. It successfully pin-points the open wounds in the heart and brain which is unable to ever be fully closed.
There is no warmth in Mad World, no happy ending, just a stream of misery at the futility of life and everything it brings. The song has gone on to be used in advertisements, as walkout music for UFC fighters, and in video games. One of my favourite versions of the song, is actually from an X Factor performance.
Aiden Grimshaw competed in the show in 2010, and immediately stood out as someone different from the herd. His very first live performance on the show was a cover of Mad World, and it was brilliant, spooky, and believable, keeping the spirit and mystique of the song even in such a large setting as the X Factor stage.
We all need a Mad World at certain times in our lives to let us know that we’re not alone in the battle of our feelings. Emotions are not weaknesses, good or bad, and at Christmas time it’s important to remember that. Sometimes it’s possible to feel the most alone when surrounded by a great deal of people. When people run in circles it’s a very, very mad world.
To read the rest of the countdown – just CLICK HERE