Undeniably, the song that came to define the 2012 festive period was Gabrielle Aplin’s “The Power of Love”. Chosen as the soundtrack to this year’s blockbuster John Lewis Christmas advert, it went on to top the charts, going one place better than Ellie Goulding’s similar advert-backed hit “Your Song”. Behind this modern-day success however, is a story as old as time itself.
The original song was by Frankie Goes to Hollywood, a band who are now more renowned for t-shirts but were incredibly successful and groundbreaking in the early 1980s. “The Power of Love” was their third straight single to go to number one. Written by openly gay front man Holly Johnson, the song was his attempt to seek redemption, knowing that his sexuality caused a lot of dangerous provocation at the time. He would later say “I always felt like “The Power of Love” was the record that would save me in this life”. The message of the song is simple, that love is powerful enough to transcend all notions of hatred and prejudice; as long as you are genuine, honest and loving, you will be rewarded, both in this life and the next. The lyrics are backed up by the nature of the song, a classic 80s ballad, laden with ethereal strings and melodramatic orchestral flourishes. The overall effect is undeniably powerful.
Albeit from an unlikely source, the song is the perfect Christmas song, delivering a message straight out of the Gospels with pomp and festivity. It was only prevented from reaching the coveted Christmas Number One in 1983 slot by the saccharine and painfully earnest Band Aid charity single.
Its festivity and past success is probably why John Lewis chose it this year. However, there is something deeply ironic about a department store that is the personification of repressed middle-England conservatism choosing a gay man’s spiritual paean as the soundtrack to their capitalist desires. John Lewis seem to have no appreciation of such things: this marks the third straight year they have chosen a song written with honest and beautiful intentions (and by gay icons, may I add) and turned it into a twee slab of commercialism. Just like the fate to befall Elton John and The Smiths, Aplin’s cover version strips the original bare, undermining its power, and ultimately its meaning.
No matter how infuriating and ridiculous this is, bitterness is not an option. Hopefully the popularity of Aplin’s cover will lead to more people discovering the brilliant music of Frankie Goes to Hollywood. There is only one way to respond really, in the words of Holly Johnson: ‘make love your goal’.By Alex Beazley-Long