How Greg Lake attempted to protest the commercialisation of Christmas but became a festive hit
In 1975, when Greg Lake released his song ‘I Believe In Father Christmas’, he intended to protest the heavy commercialisation of the season. Instead, however, he became a cash-rich festive hit.
The track, which is often categorised as a Christmas song, surged to fame in the charts as it finished in second place behind Queen’s iconic hit ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. “I got beaten by one of the greatest records ever made,” Lake once commented. “I would’ve been pissed off if I’d been beaten by Cliff Richard.”
Despite its moderate success upon release, ‘I Believe In Father Christmas’ has since reemerged annually every December and continues to get radio time, a track which has seemingly embedded itself alongside the likes of Wham!, The Pogues, Paul McCartney and the rest as a soundtrack to the festive season—even if that wasn’t the initial intention of its creators.
While Lake’s name is prominently associated with the track, ‘I Believe In Father Christmas’ was actually co-created alongside English poet Peter Sinfield who wrote the lyrics. Sinfield, seemingly disillusioned by the heavy commercialisation of Christmas, wrote the song about “a loss of innocence and childhood belief” as the money swirling around the festive time blurred his vision.
In the wake of its success, ‘I Believe In Father Christmas’ has propped up the career of progressive rock artist Lake who, ironically, cashed his royalty checks every 12 months as the song does the rounds for four or five weeks of the year. Addressing how the project has gone full circle, Lake wrote a letter to The Guardian in 2005 in which he answers a question from a reader who asked whether or not it was possible to survive on Christmas royalties alone, he said: In 1975, I wrote and recorded a song called ‘I Believe in Father Christmas’, which some Guardian readers may remember and may even own.”
He continued: “It was a big hit and it still gets played on the radio every year around December, and it appears on more or less every Christmas compilation going. So I can tell you from experience that it’s lovely to get the old royalty cheque around September every year, but on its own, the Christmas song money isn’t quite enough to buy my own island in the Caribbean. I’m on tour at the moment and the Christmas song is as well received now as it was 30 years ago—maybe even more so. If Guardian readers could all please request it be played by their local radio stations, maybe that Caribbean island wouldn’t be so far away—and if I get there, you’re all invited.”
Ah, who said the Christmas spirit was dead, eh? Give the track a whirl below and feed a hungry prog rocker.