“M-M-Merry Christmas and Happy N-N-New Year!” from Max Headroom & Night Flight

By on December 25, 2017

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from all of us at Night Flight!” Pat Prescott cheerfully says at the beginning of our 1987 Christmas Special, which first aired on Christmas Day, December 25, 1987.

This special — which we’ve just added to Night Flight Plus — featured a handful of Christmas-themed music videos, and we’re going to tell you a bit more about two of them down below.

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First up, we have “Merry Christmas Santa Claus (You’re A Lovely Guy)” by Max Headroom, the stuttering computer-generated artificial intelligence (AI) character — billed as “the world’s first computer-generated TV host” — who was played by actor Matt Frewer.

Frewer was greatly aided by prosthetic make-up (which apparently took four hours to apply), as well as some of the considerably dated computer tricks used to make his treated voice sound technically glitchy with repetitively stuttering.

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Max Headroom was created in the UK in early 1984, the creation of George Stone with Annabel Jankel and Rocky Morton of London’s Cucumber Studios (we’ve told you about them previously here and here), and he made his official starring debut in the 1985 cyberpunk UK TV-movie Max Headroom: 20 Minutes Into The Future.

This video features Max inside a TV screen — he’s now living inside a television set in a dystopian futureworld dominated by the TV networks — seated at a piano, which we hear tinkling away.

He’s also accompanied by horns, bells and the Southwark Cathedral Choir in a very seasonal Christmas-y arrangement courtesy of producer Keith Strachan.

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This clip was snipped from a holiday special which aired in the UK as “Max Headroom’s Giant Christmas Turkey,” featuring cameo appearances by Robin Williams and Tina Turner.

It was the final episode of Max Headroom’s third TV season (UK viewers didn’t actually see the episode until the opening of their delayed season, though, but it aired on December 26, 1986, at the end of the show’s third season, in the U.S.).

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Afterwards, a limited-edition 7″ holiday single of “Merry Christmas Santa Claus (You’re A Lovely Guy)” — written by some of the writers from the BBC Channel Four TV series — was released on Chrysalis Records. The b-side — “Gimme Shades” — was a bizarre Western-style tribute to sunglasses, and it was also sung by Max Headroom on the Christmas show.

Earlier in 1986, Max Headroom’s popularity led to him being featured on a hit single, “Paranoimia,” with The Art of Noise, but since this Christmas single arrived after Christmas, it didn’t chart in the UK or the U.S. in ’86.

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That same Christmas, though, the Hallmark card people put out Max Headroom Christmas cards. They had this message on the inside: “M-M-Merry Christmas and Happy N-N-New Year!”

“Merry Christmas Santa Claus (You’re A Lovely Guy)” likely received very little radio airplay until Christmas 1987. By that time, there was an American drama series, “Max Headroom,” which had begun airing in the Spring of ’87 (read more here).

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Read more about Weird Al Yankovic’s “Christmas at Ground Zero” below.

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Night Flight’s 1987 Christmas Special also features Weird Al Yankovic’s “Christmas at Ground Zero” video — featuring a special cameo by then-President Ronald Reagan — which was the tenth and final track from his 1986 album Polka Party!

In 1994, Night Flight’s friend Barry Hansen — better known to the world as “Dr. Demento” — penned the liner notes for Permanent Record: Al In the Box, a Weird Al Yankovic box-set collection, where he offered up an explanation about “Christmas At Ground Zero” as told to him by Weird Al himself:

“‘A cheery little tune about death, destruction and the end of the world’, is how Al describes it. ‘Ever since ‘Eat It’, Scotti Bros. had been trying to get me to do a Christmas record. I think this song is a little different from what they were expecting. Some radio stations actually banned the record, somehow reasoning that most people didn’t want to hear about nuclear annihilation during the holiday season.'”

Dr. Demento continues:

“The record company wasn’t interested in making a video, but Al insisted. He wound up directing the video himself (his first video director’s credit). It’s mostly a montage of early Cold War ‘duck and cover’ footage with one new shot, filmed in a part of the Bronx that actually looked like a bomb had fallen on it.”

“Regardless of what some radio stations thought of the song, Dr. Demento listeners loved it. ‘Christmas At Ground Zero’ has been our most requested Christmas song since ‘Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer.'”

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In 2011, Weird Al Yankovic told AV Club‘s Nathan Rabin that there was also a bit of controversy attached to his Christmas single years later for an entirely new reason:

“It didn’t make much of a splash because radio stations didn’t seem to think it was appropriate to release a song about nuclear annihilation during the holidays. It’s still a fan favorite. The sad part is, I can’t really play the song live anymore because too many people misunderstand the connotations of Ground Zero. It’s not a reference to 9/11, obviously. It was written in 1987 when ‘ground zero’ just meant the epicenter of a nuclear attack.”

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Night Flight’s 1987 Christmas Special also includes Sting’s “Gabriel’s Message”; Hall & Oates’ “Jingle Bell Rock”; David Bowie & Bing Crosby’s “Little Drummer Boy; Run-D.M.C.‘s “Christmas in Hollis”; Timbuk3‘s “All I Want for Christmas”; and Tony Bennett’s “White Christmas.”

We suggest you gather around the TV this holiday with the entire family — fire up the Roku or Apple TV or whatever device you’re using — and travel back with us to a snowy Christmas night in 1987, and be sure to keep checkin’ back here on the Night Flight blog in the new year too, we’ll have much more fun for you comin’ in 2018!

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.