The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl - A Fairytale of New York

Christmas songs

Its Chriiiisssssstmas

For many it is now that dreaded time of year when they are bombarded with Christmas songs everywhere they go. Actually, for many it is just that dreaded time of year.

Christmas itself is a great divider of opinion. I could go on at great lengths about commercialism and consumerism, the continued Americanisation of our culture (Black Friday) slowly turning us into the 51st state. Or the age-old religion versus paganism debate about where many of the Christmas traditions came from and what they symbolise. However, I wanted this blog to be about music.

Not all wine and roses

It did get me to thinking though. For many, the season is a time of coming together and having fun with friends and family. However, for too many others it can be a time of loneliness, stress, anxiety, depression & money worries. For people with poor mental health, the whole season can exacerbate everything for them and is often not a time to be relished.

That doesn’t even touch on those that through circumstance are living on the street or without a fixed address. People who are rely on the charity of others through night shelters and food banks to just merely survive the festive season in the most literal sense.

This is where society  often has its priorities so wrong, and I include myself in that group. Spending too much on gifts that aren’t really needed, overindulging on food and drink and generally being self-centred.

Let me give you an example. I was in a well-known supermarket at the weekend. The specific intention was to buy Christmas pyjamas for my daughters. When we arrived there were volunteers for the Trussell Trust handing out leaflets at the door. I took one and didn’t think much more at the time. Then my daughters started arguing over clothes. “You can’t have that, that’s the one I want” – you get the picture. That moment made me realise how wrong our priorities were. They were arguing over pyjamas and I had a leaflet in my hand asking for donations of food for people who can’t afford to feed their families.

The shopping trip immediately changed focus and I was on a mission to get everything on the list I had been handed. Despite moans of dismay from my daughters. Even they eventually realised what was going on and how wrong their attitude was and calmed down.

While that assuaged my guilty conscience for a while, it’s not enough. In 21st century Britain, this shouldn’t be a problem. We are living in one of the wealthiest nations in the world and our governments can’t even be bothered to look after our citizens that need the most help and support. Of course their self-serving policies and making Brexit happen are more important.

Christmas songs
Merry Christmas Everybody - Slade
Merry Christmas Everybody – Slade

So back to my reason for writing this blog. I am not for one moment suggesting that these are not important consideration and I’m not ignoring them or trying to be flippant, but that is a massive debate for another blog.

When I started writing this blog post it was intended as a celebration of my love of Christmas songs – old & new, traditional but probably more with the less so!

I am a lover of all things Christmas and obviously a big part of that is Christmas songs.

I grew up in the late 70’s and 80’s and from my rose-tinted memories, Christmas songs were a big thing – the 70’s glam of Slade, Wizzard & Mud (the first single I ever bought was Slade’s Merry Christmas Everybody) to the likes of Wham, Jona Lewie, The Pogues and of course Band Aid in the 80’s into the 90’s.

Back in the day, Christmas music specials were all over the TV. From the likes of T-Rex to the ever-present Val Doonican and his famous rocking chair and cardigans. The Christmas Day Top of the Pops was a must watch for all the family with its review of the year and Christmas songs dotted throughout.

Val Doonican
Val Doonican

Going further back, the old classics by the crooners Sinatra, Martin, Crosbie and the likes of Nat King Cole and his ilk are timeless songs.

Christmas Number 1

The battle for Christmas number one was always something that was watched with anticipation – Who would it be? Would it be a Christmas song?

That anticipation has largely disappeared, well, totally disappeared for my part. I have no idea what is in the charts these days, is there even such a thing?

Why is that?

Obviously the manufactured “artists” churned out by X-Factor is one big reason for this – for as many years as I can remember there has been no battle for a Christmas number one. (Apart from the year of the anti-Cowell campaign where Rage Against the Machine reached number 1. How festive!) Nowadays, It’s probably a shoe-in that Simon Cowell will own the Christmas number 1 (and the artist, their family, the pet dog..) with an act who will be famous for 10 minutes. Then, having served the purpose of being a puppet for the egocentric Cowell, they return to working in their local McDonalds a few weeks later.

The X Factor
The dreaded Simon Cowell self promotion vehicle The X Factor

I may be totally off the pace but then again, I did say I have no idea what happens in “the charts” these days. Does anyone actually care?

It used to be like a religion for me on a Sunday afternoon listening to the charts with my C90 in my battered ghetto blaster. My fingers on play/record ready to record my favourite songs and hoping whatever eejit DJ was doing the chart rundown didn’t talk all over it.

The way “the kids” access their music these days on all the streaming platforms and not buying physical records makes a difference too. I don’t see the same excitement from fans for singles coming out and fighting for their chart positions. The instantaneousness of it all takes away the excitement of waiting for weeks to go into the local record shop and buy the shiny vinyl you’d been waiting for.

Christmas music sucks?

However, all of that said, back to Christmas music. It is definitely still around, and very much a thing – from early November in some shops. Maybe now its more Christmas albums than singles though . Everyone and their dog seems to be releasing one. If you’ve been on the TV for more than 5 minutes, you may as well go for it…

This is nothing new either. I remember my Mum listening to Johnny Mathis and Cliff Richard Christmas albums when I was growing up. The range of Christmas albums is now vast – from the traditional choirs, through the crooners (old and new) to punk, psychobilly, rap – the whole gamut.

I personally have a vast playlist of Christmas songs that cover a wide range of genres. I can totally appreciate those who work in a retail or customer service environment hate Christmas songs. They are subjected to the same small playlists of the obvious standards day in/day out. This must grate on them, even a Christmas lover like myself would balk at that.

There is an interesting article on this in The Guardian. I have been there too. I worked in a bank for 20 years. One year we had a promotional video on loop daily for the month of December. It only had 3 songs on it, all sung by children’s choirs. If I ever hear “It’s a holly jolly Christmas” nowadays, I begin to twitch.

I however, am happy to subject myself to a variety of Christmas songs throughout December.

Christmas songs are a bit of fun, they are a distraction from the shit of daily life (obviously some have served a greater purpose over the years – Band Aid for example – but again, that’s a different topic altogether).

Some people get all po-faced and critical about bands releasing a Christmas song/album. “They’ve sold out, they’ve released a Christmas song”. By the way, I never did understand that whole selling out thing. Do you want your favourite band to be successful and popular? To make enough money to keep going as a band and releasing singles and albums for fans? Or do you want them to disappear into obscurity because only you and 2 of your mates knew about them? But Christmas songs, lets not over-analyse, they’re a bit of fun – aren’t they?

Must Be Santa

I was shocked a few years ago when a well-respected and serious artist like Bob Dylan released his Christmas album, but I was pleasantly surprised and now “Must Be Santa” is one of my favourite Christmas songs.

In the Mood (for Christmas)

Some artists have made it a career move. Brian Setzer has several albums of Christmas songs and now tours his big band extravaganza across the US from November right up until Christmas.

Love ’em or hate ’em

I also find myself listening to bands/artists who I normally wouldn’t give the time of day because I like their Christmas songs (Mum, I’ll still listen to Johnny Mathis but I draw the line at Cliff!)

Christmas songs are for enjoying, bringing a smile to your face and adding some fun to the proceedings. They are never going to appeal to all and are hated by many. That’s fair enough the world would be a boring place if we were all the same. Vive la difference.

So, I’ve lost all the bah-humbuggers by now. OK, they probably didn’t read beyond the title. If, like me, you love Christmas, and you love Christmas songs, dig a bit deeper than the “Now That’s What I Call Christmas” compilations and you might unearth some gems you love and won’t sicken you of the whole season by hearing the same old songs over and over.

31 Days of Christmas songs

I could share a massive playlist, but as there are 31 days in December, here are some of the tracks I love, some are well-known classics, others not so.

El Vez – “Feliz Navidad” – a Merry Christmas all the way from a Mexican Elvis with a massive debt to PiL’s Public Image. Lets face it. It is just Public Image with different lyrics…

Glasvegas – “A Snowflake Fell and it Felt Like a Kiss” – Glasvegas’ James Allan once stated his favourite album of all time was Phil Spector’s A Christmas Gift for You. He and his band recorded a mini album of Christmas songs taking that as their inspiration. The rest of the mini-album touches on topics such as homelessness and relationship breakdowns, so not the album you want to play at your Christmas party probably.

The Yobs – “Tommy the Christmas Tree” – The alter-ego of 70’s punks The Boys released an album of Christmas tunes (The Worst of the Yobs). This is one of the cleaner ones – poor Tommy. Warning – I don’t recommend listening to their 12 Days of Christmas in front of the kids.

Siouxsie & the Banshees – “Il Est Ne Le Divin Enfant” – Just because its Siouxsie. The video which you can find on YouTube from a French TV. Robert Smith on cymbals looking as if he’s about to drop off to sleep.

Toyah – “I Believe in Father Christmas” – originally from a David Essex Christmas TV show, Toyah does her take of the Greg Lake classic. If you know me you know how much I love Toyah. Ha ha.

The Futureheads – “Christmas Was Better in the 80s” – because the lyrics remind me of growing up and the family Christmases as a kid in our house. (Although you better make that 70s’s/early 80s).

Bob Dylan – “Must Be Santa” – as mentioned earlier from his surprisingly good Christmas album, this became an instant Christmas classic.

Ramones – “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Wanna Fight)” – Because how could you not like it – it’s the Ramones. (see also Joey Ramone and his version of “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)”.

The Greedies – “A Merry Christmas Jingle” – a good fun romp of a Thin Lizzy/Sex Pistols collaboration.

The Pogues & Kirsty MacColl – “A Fairytale of New York” – my ultimate Christmas song. Not a sugary coated saccharine song of sweetness but a tragic take of love and hope gone wrong. All the more tragic following the death of the mega-talented MacColl.

Cocteau Twins – “Frosty the Snowman” – Liz Fraser’s ethereal vocals – what else do you need?

The Primitives – “You Trashed my Christmas” – 90s indie stalwarts Tracy Tracy & co with their contribution to the festivities.

The Wedding Present – “Step into Christmas” – Their take on the Elton John classic, from the b-side of “No Christmas” the 12th single of their year of releasing a 7” single a month in 1992.

SLF – “White Christmas” – You can’t have Christmas without Stiff Little Fingers White Christmas!

TV Smith – “Xmas Bloody Xmas” – One of the hardest working men in music. Mr TV Smith with a tale of consumerism and all the stuff I talked about at the start of this blog…

Julian Casablancas – “I Wish it was Christmas Today” – Me too…

Jona Lewie – “Stop the Cavalry” – An anti-war song not written as a Christmas song but one of the best known now.

The Wildhearts – “Geordie in Wonderland” – not really a Christmas song, but I love it and it makes me think of Christmas.

The Dickies – “Silent Night” – not so silent from these US punks

Coffin Draggers – “Jingle Bell Rock/Jingle Bells” – just to throw in a psychobilly Christmas tune. From one of a number of Psychobilly Christmas compilations out there.

The Fall – “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” – Mark E Smith singing a Christmas Carol – why wouldn’t you?

Brian Setzer – “Getting in the Mood (for Christmas)” – Big Band sounds from the rockabilly master.

Half Man Half Biscuit – “All I want for Christmas is a Dukla Prague Away Kit” – Because its HMHB and I couldn’t resist.

The Waitresses – “Christmas Wrapping” – Just a great song.

Darlene Love – “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” – from Phil Spector’s Christmas Gift for You. Many would say the best – or the only – Christmas album you should own.

Goldblade and Poly Styrene – “City of Christmas Ghosts” – John Robb and the much missed Poly get together for this punk stormer. See also Poly Styrene’s “Black Christmas”.

Frankie & the Heartstrings – “(Too Right) Its Christmas”. Christmas from the North East – too right – Its Christmas.

Low – “Just Like Christmas” – Just a lovely song.

Peter & the Test Tube Babies – “I’m Getting Pissed for Christmas” – I’m sure they’re not alone.

Sinead O’Connor – “Silent Night” – That voice!!!!

Bubblegum Lemonade – “White Noise Christmas” – Well, I know him….

Bubbling under (see what I did there – Bubblegum Lemonade…) Weezer, Eels, Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan – Time of the Season, Pretenders – 2000 Miles, Frightened Rabbit – Its Christmas so We’ll Stop, Run DMC – Christmas in Hollis and so many more…

Merry Christmas Everyone (yeah that one too).

Open in Spotify