Christmas songs in shops: give me silence or give me death

PUBLISHED IN THE HERALD NOVEMBER 11

 

Thank you, The York Gin Shop. If I’m ever in that beautiful city in the north of England and feeling in need of a little medicinal balm derived from the juniper berry, I’ll certainly be paying you a visit.

The reason for my warm feelings towards is that they’ve banned certain Christmas songs “to keep staff and customers happy”. The shop reckons it would “ruin” Christmas for workers who had to endure the “cheesy” likes of Slade’s Merry Xmas Everybody all day.

Darn right. Being forced to endure horrible Christmas singles, for close to two months, is tantamount to torture.

Indeed, music has actually been used as torture in the past: George Bush the First famously had invading troops blast lame poodle-rock, at incredibly loud volumes, outside the compound of Panamanian dictator General Noriega in 1986, in a bid to ferret him out.

And back in 17th century New England, suspected witches would crack under the pressure of repeated renditions of Nearer My God to Thee and Scarborough Fair by the local church choir, and confess to consorting with the devil, turning their neighbours’ cows’ milk sour, and being in possession of a sneaky-looking black cat.

Anyway, York Gin Shop staff and customers will at least be spared some of the most egregious Yuletide offences against music. That said, they don’t get away scot-free: the store, housed in a 16th century Tudor building, will be playing some festive favourites: White Crosby, seasonal classical music, and so on

That’s a bit better than wall-to-wall (literally and metaphorically) Mistletoe by Justin Bieber, or Bon Jovi’s rather outré-sounding Backdoor Santa. But it’s not totally acceptable, either.

Personally I’d ban all Yuletide music, at least until the start of December. And I’d limit the playlist to the only decent ones ever written, real classics such as Fairytale of New York, Eartha Kitt growling Santa Baby, and of course, All I Want for Christmas is Me Two Front Teeth.

In fact, I’d go further than that, and ban music from shops entirely. I’ve never fully understood this practice.

It’s up there with other great philosophical questions which humanity wrestles with. What is God? Is life really just a dream? And why the hell do shops insist on playing piped music all the time?

For the last few decades – I’m not entirely sure when this phenomenon really began in earnest – it has been impossible to shop in silence, with the honourable exception of those huge German supermarkets which have stripped down the consumer experience to such a basic level, their outlets barely have shelves. (That’s not an insult, by the way.)

But why, though? Why do shops feel it necessary to blare out Beyoncé’s latest slice of derivative funk as I try to decide between regular soya milk and new, calcium-enriched soya milk?

I can understand why they all do it at Christmas, annoying as it may be. And I can kind of understand why the one remaining record store on planet earth might play music all day. Here’s the latest record by such-and-such, they’re saying; and guess what, we sell it! So, you know, buy it.

Sports shops, too, can just about argue the case for blaring out brain-bleeding techno crap, purely as a means of muddling the track-suited punters’ minds so much that they won’t realise they’re stumping up sixty quid for a flimsy scrap of acrylic that was cobbled together by a fleet-fingered Thai child for twenty pee.

But grocery stores, furniture shops, clothing retailers, even some petrol stations: do these places absolutely have to play their rubbishy CD collection all day, every day?

Sometimes I feel like telling the manager, “This inescapable aural invasion is making me leave your shop. Do you understand? I want to stay here and browse through your fabulous collection of carpet samples, I really do, but I feel like I’m trapped inside the music collection of a fifteen-year-old girl. Which, obviously, just won’t do.”

On a tangential point, is it appropriate for shops to play music with sexual lyrics during the middle of the day, when children are wandering around with their parents? I once heard a charming little ditty in the supermarket, the chorus of which went, ‘Let’s get back to bed, boy, let’s get back to bed, boy’ in a rather repetitive fashion.

I’m not going to get all Daily Mail on you. I don’t care what kind of lyrics people listen to in the privacy of their own hovel.

But is it too much to expect that little kids don’t have to? They’re just picking out breakfast cereals with their parents, for God’s sake.

Just imagine the squirming embarrassment: ‘Mummy, why does that lady have to go back to bed? Who is she talking to?’ ‘Umm…her teddy. Her teddy called Boy. And she’s got the flu, and has to stay home from school. Now come along, Poppy.’

Please, retailers: quit it with the music. Give me silence or give me death.


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