For many, the festive season doesn’t officially start until John Lewis releases its Christmas ad. Aside from tugging at the heartstrings, the campaign is also known for featuring covers of popular tracks. This year’s spot, the first joint Christmas campaign from John Lewis and Waitrose, stars a dragon called Edgar and is set to Can’t Fight This Feeling, originally by REO Speedwagon and re-recorded by Bastille’s Dan Smith. Campaign takes a look back at musical inspiration for the retailer.
From Me to You
The Beatles, 1963
Before the retailer appointed Adam & Eve/DDB, it was already getting into the covers business with a version of The Beatles’ third single, and first UK number one, used on the 2008 Christmas ad of the same name by Lowe London. A version of the song also appeared in the band’s 1965 film Help!.
The Beatles, 1969
The second of three appearances from the Fab Four, Golden Slumbers featured on Abbey Road, the last album recorded by the band before their acrimonious break-up. It’s really only half a song, though, and makes for an unsatisfying listen without the following track, Carry That Weight – perhaps one reason why 2017’s "Moz the monster", featuring Elbow's rendition, is the least emotionally engaging of John Lewis' Christmas ads.
Elton John, 1970
So good John Lewis used it twice – first in a cover by Ellie Goulding in 2010 and then the original in 2018. It has also been covered by the likes of Rod Stewart and Lady Gaga, and is one of several classic hits sung by Ewan McGregor in Moulin Rouge!.
Elton John, 1971
The Christmas ads completely overlook the period 1971-1979, but three songs from the era deserve an honorary place in this history. The first, another of Reginald Dwight’s most popular tracks, was the inspiration for the 2015 John Lewis Insurance spot of the same name.
There’s a good chance you’ve taken part in your own drunken singalong of this classic tale of murder and remorse. It was covered by a group of junior performers for an epic school play in the first joint campaign with Waitrose last year to launch the new "& Partners" branding. As with the Elton John-starring "The boy and the piano", it was well-timed to ride the coattails of a major rock biopic, which bagged Rami Malek a best actor Oscar for his portrayal of Freddie Mercury. BoRhap is notable for inventing the music video as we know it today and being the only song to ever reach Christmas number one twice (1975 and 1991) with the same recording.
She’s Always a Woman
Billy Joel, 1977
Only a minor hit on Joel’s fifth album, The Stranger – which was a huge commercial breakthrough in the US – She’s Always a Woman also has the dubious honour of having been covered by Des O’Connor on his 1984 album Des O’Connor Now. Fyfe Dangerfield's version was used in a 2010 spot charting the life of a woman and is widely considered the beginning of the "John Lewis epic".
One Day I’ll Fly Away
Randy Crawford, 1980
Like Your Song, this jazz classic was featured in Moulin Rouge!, with Nicole Kidman this time taking on vocal duties. While the original is a fine number that gave Crawford a number two hit in the UK, the recording by Vaults in 2016’s "Buster the boxer" is one of those rare covers that genuinely elevates the source material – and surely must be considered the musical high point of the series.
Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want
1984 must have been a special year for someone at John Lewis and/or Adam & Eve/DDB, because it produced three of the songs covered in the brand’s Christmas ads. This was the first to come out, in August, as the B-side to William, It Was Really Nothing. Unfortunately for fans of The Smiths, the song has been somewhat negatively coloured by the gradual realisation that what Morrissey wanted was a far-right government. So fans of the song can perhaps listen to Slow Moving Mille's cover instead, as used in "The long wait" in 2011.
The Power of Love
Frankie Goes to Hollywood, 1984
It’s not the one from Back to the Future, which is a good job, because money, fame and credit cards are exactly what most advertisers are looking for when they splash out on a big campaign. This haunting ballad was the third big number one hit for Frankie, after Relax and Two Tribes, but the group’s second album was a relative flop and they split up shortly afterwards. Gabrielle Aplin sang this on "The journey" in 2012, starring a snow-couple.
Can’t Fight This Feeling
REO Speedwagon, 1984
First released just one week after The Power of Love, from the album Wheels Are Turnin’, Can’t Fight This Feeling was a US number one and was performed by the band at Live Aid in Philadelphia. This year, the original has already been heard on Stranger Things in a scene in which protagonists Mike and Eleven engage in a bout of overenthusiastic teenage macking. Earlier this month, Dan from Bastille performed it in this year's Christmas campaign, "Excitable Edgar".
Sweet Child o’ Mine
Guns N’ Roses, 1987
A US number one single for hairy metallers, Sweet Child o’ Mine was performed by Taken By Trees in the first John Lewis Christmas ad in 2009. A 1999 recording of the song by Sheryl Crow, meanwhile, was voted by readers of Rolling Stone in 2011 as the fourth-worst cover version of all time in a list topped by Miley Cyrus’ take on Smells Like Teen Spirit (go on John Lewis, you know what to use next).
John Lennon, 1988 (recorded 1979-1980)
The Beatles, 1996
Battling it out with Elton for the title of John Lewis’ favourite John (other than himself), Lennon recorded six demos of this song in the final two years of his life. The sixth was released on the soundtrack to 1988 documentary Imagine: John Lennon. Eight years later, Lennon’s three former bandmates added their own musical parts to the song for a version released on rarities compilation Beatles Anthology. Tom Odell's version was used in 2014's "Monty the penguin".
Half the World Away
Noel Gallagher was so confident about being able to keep churning out hits in the early days of Oasis that he tucked this weary gem on the B-side of Whatever, a single that didn’t even make it on to the massive-selling (What’s The Story) Morning Glory?. Before 2015 ad "Man on the moon", as covered by Aurora, the song became famous as the theme tune to beloved sitcom The Royle Family.
Somewhere Only We Know
The only 21st-century number to be honoured, Keane’s song about running away to a secret place was the opening track on their debut album Hopes and Fears. Incredibly, it is one of the 40 biggest-selling albums in UK history, nestled in the all-time charts between other heavyweights such as Dido’s second album Life For Rent and the eponymous first album of the Scissor Sisters. While Keane never scaled those heights again, the band’s recently released fifth album did make it to number two in the charts. Lily Allen's version – used in "The bear and the hare" in 2013 – doesn't quite match the original on number of streams, according to Spotify, at 193 million versus 339 million.