21 December 2013

The Twelve Songs of Christmas

Twelve Songs for Christmas!
Listen to the full playlist on Youtube here.
Man, I love Christmas. I really do. It’s a glorious assault on the senses: the gorgeous taste of the Christmas dinner, the fresh smell of the Christmas tree, the jarring sight of the *cough* tasteful decorations, the feel of the presents, the festive sound of arguments after your uncle cheated at Trivial Pursuit.
The films are good (so, which is your favourite Christmas film: Die Hard or It’s a Wonderful Life??) but the music is absolutely bloody essential. Slade, Wizzard and Mariah have soundtracked Christmas since time immemorial (or at least since 1994) so I figure it’s high time we gave a few alternatives a spin. Wouldn’t you agree?
But, first, a few self-imposed ground rules. Now I should make it clear that we’re going to avoid the more frequently played tunes. I’m not trying to be a hipster (honest!), there’s just little point in me telling you about songs you already know, right? So, unfortunately, there’s no place here for Jona Lewie or The Pogues, despite their undoubted excellence. Secondly, I’ll be swerving covers of classics for similar reasons to point one. If you’re hankering for a bit of semi-familiar class, you could do worse than sampling The Drifters’ ‘White Christmasor The Polyphonic Spree’s ‘Happy Xmas (War is Over)’. Finally – and this is important – only the very best songs have been selected. My original longlist consisted of about 280 tracks, and whilst most of them were absolute rubbish, I’ve also not been able to find place for wonderful old chestnuts like John Cale’s ‘Child’s Christmas in Wales’, Electric Jungle’s ‘Funky, Funky Christmasor any number of Sufjan Stevens’ stockingfillers in our merry dozen. Of course, I’ve probably been as blind as a coal-less snowman and missed a belter, so if you can think of a great, lesser-known yuletide classic that I haven’t mentioned please feel free to let me know.
I’ve done playlists for St Pat’s and for Hallowe’en before, but this, my friends, is the big one. Enjoy!
Oh, and, Merry Christmas everybody!
Byron Lee and the Dragonaires feat. Toots & the Maytals – Happy Christmas
The most joyful Christmas song of all time. Period.
The Futureheads – Christmas Was Better in the 80s

Christmas was better in the olden days wasn’t it? The home was cosier, people were jollier and everything seemed to be coloured with a rose-tinted haze. The snow probably was deeper in the Eighties. Then again, the songs might not have been better – the likes of The Futureheads and Julien Casablancas prove that even here in the distant future we do enjoy a good Christmas song.

Gruff Rhys – Post Apocalypse Christmas

For every Tiny Tim there’s a Scrooge and, you have to admit, we kind of love the grumpy little buggers (especially if he happens to be Bill Murray). Gruff Rhys – is there a better grumpy man name than Gruff? – glumly celebrates the first post apocalypse Christmas in this Armageddonish slice of humbug. Other candidates for our Scrooges gallery include the mugged The Kinks and They Might Be Giants, who are jealous of all the attention Santa gets...

JD McPherson – Twinkle (Little Christmas Lights)

On ‘Twinkle (Little Christmas Lights)’, JD McPherson channels a sound coming straight from the era of Solomon Burke-style Rhythm and Soul – keeping the likes of the jump-jivin’ Huey Piano Smith’s ‘All I Want for Christmas (is a Little Bit of Music) company - but it’s actually only a year old. I guess it’s a bit like when the Ghost of Christmas Past appears in a Christmas Carol and shows Ebenezer the old Fezziwig parties he used to love.
Lord Executor – Christmas is a Joyful Day

A Caribbean Christmas couldn’t be further from the white Christmas Bing was dreaming of, but Lord Nelson, Lord Executor and Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry & Sandra Robinson have managed to make themselves festive essentials with me at least. That being said, it's been 76 years since ‘Christmas is a Joyful Day’ was first released and I’ve still no idea what he says…

XTC - Snowman

Some songs are born Christmas, but some have Christmas thrust upon them. ‘Snowman’ is not about Christmas, it’s not even really about snowmen, but it’s still right near the top of my Christmas tree, mainly due to the chattered moans that Andy Partridge (in a pear tree?) is “freezing, freezing” and “shivering, shivering”.  Another good non-Christmas Christmas song is The Fireman’s ‘Dance ‘til We’re High’. They might be a little less obvious but the Christmas spirit is strong in these ones...

The Echelons – A Christmas Long Ago (Jingle Jingle)

Ha I love this video!

Sally Shapiro – Anorak Christmas
Valentine's Day is a try hard: Christmas is really the most romantic time of the year. It conjures up images of picture perfect snowy landscapes, beautiful people giving other beautiful people lots of beautiful gifts, and a whole lot of frolicking. It doesn't matter that in reality it involves less romantic notions like gorging yourself silly, drinking too much and running out of energy by quarter past eight; none of these can disguise the romance of the time. Sally Shapiro is pure, distilled loveliness, and so it makes sense that she made a lovely Christmas love song. Fancy more awesome indie tracks in the same vein? Try Gorky's Zygotic Mynci or Low.

Clarence Carter – Back Door Santa

Ok, hands up if you can name a great hip hop Christmas song. You’re thinking of ‘Christmas in Hollis’ right*? But it’s rubbish! It’s clunky and old and gimmicky. Far better is the song that it samples, Clarence Carter’s down and dirty ‘Back Door Santa’, complete with the sleaziest “ho, ho, ho” in recording history. You’ll have a blue Christmas indeed with this gem. By the way, does anyone really find an obese, old man with a straggly white beard – one who wears an odd onesie and has an unhealthy obsession with children – attractive? Aside from Albert King that is…
*ten points if you thought of Kanye West’s ‘Christmas in Harlem instead.

Cotton Top Mountain Sanctified Singers – Christ Was Born on Christmas Morn

Recorded not too far off a hundred years ago, ‘Christ Was Born on Christmas Morn’ may be one of the earliest non-carol Christmas songs but it still ranks amongst the best. Frankie “Half-Pint” Jaxon delivers the song with an attitude more in keeping with the rock and roll songs of three decades later, whilst his backing band give a spirited if old-fashioned performance. Leadbelly’s ‘Christmas is a-comingis similar, sounding like Jaxon backed only by a souped-up guitar.

John Prine – Christmas in Prison

It’s a well known fact that you can put the word “Christmas” in front of anything and it instantly becomes authentically festive. Hence ‘Christmas at the Zooand ‘Christmas in Prison’ are definitely, without a doubt, 100%, bona-fide Christmas songs…

The Vandals – My First Xmas (As a Woman)

And finally, let’s finish on something a little bit leftfield. I can imagine that it’s transexual subject matter won’t appeal to everyone (Christmas songs rarely have a couplet to rival “I won’t have to tuck it behind me, since I got my brand new vagina”)  but ‘My First Xmas (As a Woman)’ is genuinely one of punk rock’s finest Christmas songs, easily the rival of the Sonics’ ‘Don’t Believe in Christmasor ‘Santa Claus’.  

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!

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