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Which YouTube Upload of Max Headroom’s “Merry Christmas, Santa Claus (You’re a Lovely Guy)” Is Right for You?

Max Headroom playing piano.
Catch the Christmas wave!
Chrysalis Records

As the old saw goes, if you ask ten film critics which YouTube upload of the music video for Max Headroom’s 1986 novelty song “Merry Christmas, Santa Claus (You’re a Lovely Guy)” is the best, you’ll get eleven different answers. That’s fine for film critics, who like nothing better than sitting around watching every YouTube video that looks like it might be a version of “Merry Christmas, Santa Claus (You’re a Lovely Guy),” but not a lot of help for harried moms and dads who just want to know which Max Headroom video to have playing in the background while their kids open presents. Unfortunately, the film has been the target of so many restoration efforts, special editions, and director’s cuts over the years that picking the “best” version is utterly quixotic: It all depends what you mean by “best.” There’s no one-size-fits-all solution, but once you accept that no YouTube upload of Max Headroom singing “Merry Christmas, Santa Claus (You’re a Lovely Guy)” is right for everybody, you can make an informed decision about which version is right for you and your family. We broke down the pluses and minuses below.

“Max Headroom – Merry Christmas Santa Claus (MTV2),” 80sMTV, 2011

The original, and still a classic. Those fuzzy, warm Christmas memories of the entire family gathering around to watch the music video for Max Headroom’s “Merry Christmas, Santa Claus (You’re a Lovely Guy)” all star this 2011 version, which was the YouTube upload of Max Headroom’s “Merry Christmas, Santa Claus (You’re a Lovely Guy)” we grew up with. But 2011 was a long time ago, and 80sMTV’s restoration methods—uploading 360p footage from a webcam pointed at a television—are no longer state of the art. Seen through modern eyes, it’s hard to ignore the video artifacts, incorrect aspect ratio, and color timing that completely fails to capture the vibrant reds of the original film. The audio mix, too, is a mess. But sometimes you don’t want the best version of “Merry Christmas, Santa Claus (You’re a Lovely Guy)” so much as you want to evoke Christmases and Max Headrooms past. This is your madeleine.

Best For: Nostalgia addicts, webcam aficionados.

“Max Headroom – Merry Christmas Santa Claus 45rpm,” joshtowens, 2010

The first serious attempt to restore the audio from “Merry Christmas, Santa Claus (You’re a Lovely Guy)” is an important historical landmark and an invaluable portrait of film restoration best practices circa 2010. YouTube user joshtowens went back to the original 45rpm single in search of nuances in the sound mix that were lost over the years. He found them: “Max Headroom – Merry Christmas Santa Claus 45rpm” is still the only version of the beloved holiday classic to include the song’s full coda. But although it’s a key resource for academics (and an easy benchmark to measure the audio in other restorations against), “Max Headroom – Merry Christmas Santa Claus 45rpm” makes no attempt to preserve the film’s original video, replacing it instead with blurry footage of the record’s original packaging, then a static shot of a record spinning around and around, a little less than 50 rotations per minute. It’s compelling, but it’s not what anyone imagines when they think about watching Still, if you’re looking for a break from hidebound Christmas traditions, this is an easy way to spice up the annual routine without entirely breaking with the past.

Best For:  Audiophiles, spinning object enthusiasts, people who are doing their own restoration of “Merry Christmas, Santa Claus (You’re a Lovely Guy).”

“Merry Christmas Santa Clause Max Headroom,” kotapainting, 2012

Kotapainting’s 2012 version remains the only YouTube upload of Max Headroom’s “Merry Christmas, Santa Claus (You’re a Lovely Guy)” to correctly preserve the original aspect ratio: 1.33:1, the so-called “Academy ratio” cinematographer Gregg Toland used when shooting Citizen Kane. On the other hand, it also remains the only YouTube upload of Max Headroom’s “Merry Christmas, Santa Claus (You’re a Lovely Guy)” to have every frame tinted red, and the only one where the audio has been run through a voice distortion process that makes it seem like Max Headroom is holding Santa hostage. “Merry Christmas Santa Clause Max Headroom” is perhaps best understood as a reinvention of the original work than a restoration—along the same lines as They Shall Not Grow Old.

Best For: Your annoying nephew who keeps complaining that watching the same version of “Merry Christmas, Santa Claus (You’re a Lovely Guy)” over and over again is not a good holiday tradition; aspect ratio purists.

“MAX HEADROOM PIRATE INCIDENT (HQ AUDIO) 25th Anniversary Restoration,” totalrandomcrap, 2012

This is not a YouTube upload of “Merry Christmas, Santa Claus (You’re a Lovely Guy).” It’s a video of the Max Headroom broadcast signal intrusion, a Nov. 1987 incident in which a still-unidentified television pirate interrupted WTTW’s broadcast of the Doctor Who episode “Horror of Fang Rock” with footage of a man in a Max Headroom mask ranting incoherently, then getting bare-ass spanked with a flyswatter. It is not particularly safe for work and entirely irrelevant to a discussion of “Merry Christmas, Santa Claus (You’re a Lovely Guy).”

Best For: Conceptual artists, people who want to watch the Max Headroom broadcast signal intrusion instead of “Merry Christmas, Santa Claus (You’re a Lovely Guy).”

“1986 Max Headroom Merry Christmas Santa Claus” by Louve♥Light♥Christmas, 2015

Anyone attempting to restore “Merry Christmas, Santa Claus (You’re a Lovely Guy)” in 2015 faces a Herculean task: keeping fans of the 2010 upload of “Merry Christmas, Santa Claus (You’re a Lovely Guy)” we grew up with happy, while bringing out the details YouTube user 80sMTV missed. This is how you get compromises like those found in “1986 Max Headroom Merry Christmas Santa Claus”: The colors have been restored to their original splendor, but the video has still been stretched to widescreen in deference to the 2010 upload that defined Christmas for so many of us. The most controversial choice YouTube user Louve♥Light♥Christmas made—burned-in close captioning that cannot be disabled—remains a topic of heated debate. It’s hard to fault an attempt to make “Merry Christmas, Santa Claus (You’re a Lovely Guy)” more accessible, even at the cost of some of the filmed image, but using incorrect captions helps no one. Max Headroom clearly sings, “From the top of your Christmas stocking to the bottom of your Christmas b-b-b-b-b-bottom,”—five b’s—but the Louve♥Light♥Christmas restoration renders this as “From the top of your Christmas stocking to the bottom of your Christmas b-b-b-b-bottom,” mangling meter and meaning alike. Still, “1986 Max Headroom Merry Christmas Santa Claus” is a blend of old and new that, while it might not delight the most nitpicky Max Headroom fans, is well suited for family viewing—or showing off the colors on your new 4K TV!

Best For: Family viewing, people with new 4K TVs they want to show off the colors on, like I said already.

Armed with this guide, you should now be able to confidently press play on the YouTube upload of Max Headroom’s “Merry Christmas, Santa Claus (You’re a Lovely Guy)” that suits your holiday needs, freeing up more time to spend lobbying the Criterion Collection to give “Merry Christmas, Santa Claus (You’re a Lovely Guy)” a proper Blu-ray release. It’s a Christmas m-m-m-m-m-m-miracle!