“We started to drive home – it was snowing when we left Abbey Road…”
Driving Home For Christmas – Chris Rea
Magnet MAG 298* (UK 1986) / WEA YZ 325 (UK EP 12/88)
Recorded at EMI Abbey Road, London
Released December 1986
Written by Chris Rea
Produced by Chris Rea & Stuart Eales
UK #53 12/88 UK #33 12/2007
*First released as B-side of ‘Hello Friend’
Aside from his musical career, which these days focuses mainly on The Blues, Chris Rea’s main passions in life are collecting historic motor cars – particularly Ferraris – and Formula 1 racing. Thus it’s no real surprise to find him ‘Driving Home For Christmas’, though this journey, during which much of the song was composed, was in fact made in his wife’s Austin Mini! With this in mind it’s of interest to discover that Rea’s first choice of desired career was as a journalist writing about motor racing. While his Road To Hell album brought him fame and fortune in 1989 after several years of increasing success, this wasn’t really the humble Rea’s goal though it did allow him to indulge in his hobby and he has competed in numerous races, rallies, driven a few rounds on the famous Monza Circuit in Italy and is good buddies with British Formula 1 legend Nigel Mansell.
While never a major hit in the UK (its highest UK position was #33 in a 2007 reissue) ‘Driving’ has nevertheless become something of a Christmas classic not least because it notably refrains from using the usual musical and lyrical Christmas clichés – no sleigh bells and roasting chesnuts here – but also because so many people do actually drive home for Christmas to be with family, friends and loved ones. Unsurprisingly, there are in fact numerous songs about cars and driving in Mr Rea’s catalogue, most notably ‘Road To Hell’ written in a traffic jam at the M4 and London orbital M25 intersection. He also composed a tribute song for the late Formula 1 champion Ayrton Senna who died in a crash at Imola in 1994, while his 1996 album La Passione is a soundtrack to a movie, written and produced by Rea, the perhaps semi-autobiographical story of a boy who develops a life-long obsession with motor racing. Other Rea car songs include the singles ‘Johnny Needs a Fast Car’ (1994) and ‘Girl In a Sports Car’ (1996)
Christmas songs are of course something of an annual bonus for their composers with new recordings, radio spins, advertisement appearances, new compilations of Christmas songs and more recently, downloads and streams throughout November and December on a yearly basis. Noddy Holder calls Slade’s ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’ his ‘pension’, and according to a report in the Daily Telegraph in 2013 brings in an annual bonus of £500,000! According to the same report, other much-played Christmas hits in the UK include The Pogue’s ‘Fairytale Of New York’ (£385,000 annually), Mariah Carey’s fairly dreadful ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’ (£327,615 in 2013) and Wham’s ‘Last Christmas (£300,000). Chris Rea’s ‘Driving Home For Christmas’ brings in somewhat less though is among the Top 10 most played Christmas tunes on UK radio. From a historical point of view, the big daddy of them all ‘White Christmas’ has accrued around £24 million over the years while ‘Santa Claus Is Coming To Town’ (written in 1934) has brought in around £16.5 million. Songwriters take note – write a new Christmas classic and you probably won’t need to do much for the rest of your life!
‘Driving Home For Christmas’ was actually composed some 7 years before it appeared on record. The idea first came to Rea while he was working at Abbey Road studios in December 1979 and waiting for his wife to come and pick him up for the drive back home to Middlesbrough, and mostly written in the car battling through the traffic chaos on the way out of London – thus his decision to return to record the song at Abbey Road in 1986. It was first released as a B-side in December 1986 before appearing on the back of his other yuletide composition, the far from joyful ‘Joys Of Christmas’ in December 1987 and finally appeared as an A-side as the lead-track on his Christmas EP in 1988 when it charted at #53. It’s highest position around the world appears to be a Norwegian #2 for a 2008 re-issue. In recent years Rea has sanctioned the songs re-recording for charity in support of both Shelter and Alzheimer’s Research UK.
It’s interesting to note that when Rea composed ‘Driving Home For Christmas’ his career was at a low point following his initial 1978 success with ‘Fool If You Think It’s Over’. Rea himself says, “I’d ceased to become the pop star that the record company wanted me to be – and I was about to be dropped.” Rea says he and his wife had actually been discussing opening an Italian restaurant with a view to leaving the music business. “We started to drive home – it was snowing when we left Abbey Road – and there was a little tune in my head that just felt Christmassy – I just scribbled the lyrics down.” When the couple arrived home at about half-past-five in the morning they found a royalty statement in the post with a large cheque for American royalties for ‘Fool If You Think It’s Over’ that persuaded him that sticking with his music was perhaps not such a bad idea after all!
Finally, I’d like to point out a little grammatical error in Mr Rea’s title – since his wife was at the wheel for the journey home, he was in fact ‘Driven’ home for Christmas!
Link to Heart TV animated Polar Bear clip
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