For hundreds of years composers have been trying to sun up genuine seasonal feelings in Christmas songs. From Austrian teen sensation Josef Mohr and his Silent Night collaboration with Franz Xaver Gruber, to East Grinstead’s very own hip-hop legend, Reverend Doctor Neale, and his festive freestyle rap – Good King Wenceslas. But what about more recent songs which have forced their way into our collective Chrimbo consciousness? What about the songs which play in the backgroud during hungover shopping expeditions or awkward office parties? Which are the modern-day holiday classics which teach that there can be more to Christmas than over-consumption, bickering, consumerism and trying to work out which Eastenders character will be pushed into the tree this year? We asked some of the BN1 staff and our friends to tell us about which yuletide tunes are delights, annoyances or guilty pleasures.
Simon Parker – Vinyl Revolution (vinyl-revolution.co.uk)
WIZZARD – I WISH IT COULD BE CHRISTMAS EVERYDAY
Although we all love to hate the over-familiarity of the Christmas single, each of us harbours a secret desire for at least one of these peculiar beasts. Mine is Wizard’s I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday, whose leading light Roy Wood was still fresh from dreaming up ELO. This yuletide perennial shot to the top of the charts in 1973 amidst a real ‘kitchen-sink’ production reminiscent of legendary US producer Phil Spector. Chaotic, full of children’s voices and over far too soon, I Wish… remains much like Christmas itself.
THE THREE WISE MEN – THANKS FOR CHRISTMAS
Most bands record Christmas singles and then live happily ever after off future royalties. Not so XTC, who recorded this little gem in time for Christmas 1983 only to see it promptly sink without trace. Complete with sleigh bells it remains a mini melodic triumph and is deserving of a much larger audience even though Phil Collins apparently drummed on the track. Marvellous!
Lottie Woodrow – BN1 Magazine
DEAN MARTIN – LET IT SNOW
This short but sweet classic, is another favourite of mine for many reasons. There is one thing we all wish for every holiday season, snow. Whether you like it or not, there’s something so spiritually magical about snow at christmas time.This song reiterates all of these wonderful christmassy moments, which any other time of year we would take for granted. It reflects on all of the warming wonders of the indoors like roaring fires, popping corn and long-winded lover’s goodbyes. It’s effortlessly a classic with the delicate reminder of loving warmth.
EARTHA KITT – SANTA BABY
With Christmas being an ever-commercialised industry (rather than holiday), Snta Baby expresses all of the materialised desires of one woman’s extravagant christmas list. Originally written in by Joan Javits and Philip Springer, it was first made famous by singer, Eartha Kitt in 1953. From desires of a yacht, and decorations from Tiffany’s, she’s not exactly asking for much? With her sweet, child-like voice, mixed against the seductive names for Santa Claus, it becomes slightly questionable. That being said, there’s no question that it is a favourite amongst many. With different modern twists by Madonna, Kylie Minogue and most recently, Ariaa Grande, there is a version for all.
Mark Davis – Retro Juice
WHAM – LAST CHRISTMAS
1984 was nothing like the Orwellian nightmare had predicted when this 7inch vinyl was released on the 5th December. This synth-pop blanket of new wave joy belied the heartbroken lyrics to produce a classic Christmas anthem that sold 2 million copies yet never reached number 1 in the UK. This was due to the Band Aid record Do They Know It’s Christmas (on which Wham! featured) being released that same year. In characteristically charitable fashion all royalties from Last Christmas were also donated to the Ethiopian famine. Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou died of heart failure last Christmas (2016) RIP.
Becky Waldron – BN1 Magazine
THE POGUES – FAIRYTALE OF NEW YORK
When the season is upon us, songs about reindeers, Father Christmas and mistletoe can sometimes get a bit tedious (only sometimes). I think that’s what’s great when you hear that burst of Irish jiggy-ness with Fairytale of New York. You suddenly feel like you’re in a grotty Irish pub dancing around with all the locals with a drink in hand. For those of us who can be rather cynical from time to time, there’s something ironically uplifting about the change of tune in the song. Starting out as a romantic ‘call and response’ between two lovers, their youthful hopes become crushed by alcoholism and drug addiction, as they reminisce and bicker on Christmas Eve. Some might say dark, but I say realistic. This song is perfect for viciously belting out loud after a few baileys on Christmas Day.
MACY GRAY – WINTER WONDERLAND
The nostalgic love for the song began when it appeared on a Christmassy advert, back before I saw ads for the money-making machines they were. Back when they were just a way to remind us of the joy of Christmas. Gray’s voice has a calming and warming feel to it, one of those that was probably made to sing some cosy Christmas song. Now when I hear it I do just imagine spending the day having fun in a snowy field then returning home to sit ‘by the fire’ with mince pies. Its cheesy, but if you can’t be cheesy at Christmas, when can you?
Chris Sadler – BN1 Magazine
BAND AID – DO THEY KNOW IT’S CHRISTMAS
“Christ almighty! Look at how young they all are in that video!” Intended as a sobering thought to guilt trip you into donating money to famine relief, Do They Know It’s Christmas is now simply another irritant in packed shopping centres. Admittedly it was written in about 30 secs, but lyrically it projects isolationist and truly Christian attitudes – like thanking God that terrible misfortune has befallen someone else. Released after decades of misrule bit Ethiopia on the arse, it set the tone for thousands of heartfelt charity records to follow. Unfortunately, most people buying a copy probably thought: “Let’s all get behind Africa – unless they want to come to our country to escape that famine and poverty, in which case they can piss right off!” In an ideal world the lyrics would have Bono warbling: “Europe should correct the grave errors made during colonisation. Spend our enormous wealth on building roads, schools and wells in every African nation.” Except that won’t scan properly. Unless you’re Morrissey.
SLADE – MERRY XMAS EVERYBODY
Here’s the soundtrack to thousands of fights outside Christmas discos and women weeping as they sit in the gutter. Noddy Holder traces festive eccentricities and youthful seasonal excitement, with some help from greasy-haired chap sporting a guitar shaped like an off-mission Airfix project. It’s a raucous affair, tinged with a hint of sarcasm amongst the power chords and choruses. Yet it never turns sour or regretful during its rampage. This is reportedly the second most played pop tune in the world, and it’s easy to understand why – this is the true sound of December. And in case you were unaware what time of year it is, towards the end Holder helpfully bellows: ‘It’s Christmaaaaassss!!’ at the same volume as a cold war air-raid siren. Irrepressible.
Stuart Rolt – BN1 Magazine
MARIAH CAREY – ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS IS YOU
New York’s number one diva spreads some weapons-grade joy with a true Christmas banger. The scene is set for the perfect holiday, Mariah is surrounded by puppies and family members, and there’s even some snow to frolic in. She’s eschewed mere material needs, so all that’s missing from this perfect picture is a splash of requited love. Her acrobatic singing style and erratic behaviour may be questionable, but this simple and euphoric tune is the ultimate anthem for tipsy elves and sexy Santas across planet Earth. A fully-fledged Christmas classic, this alone will be keeping Ms Carey in towering heels and bonkers hair-pieces for eternity. God bless her.
SAINT ETIENNE – I WAS BORN ON CHRISTMAS DAY
It’s that rarest of beasts. – a Christmas single from a Britpop band. Saint Etienne’s Bob Stanley was indeed born on 25th Dec, and he reckons there’s nothing more festive than driving house beats and bells playing Italo stabs. Sarah Cracknell and Tim Burgess get together to sing a song so earnest and upbeat that you can’t help but love it. It was 1993, and the world needed a decent seasonal tune to lift its spirits. What came was a slice of tinsel-tinged pop magnificence. It told the story of a couple reunited during the holidays, flushed with all the possibilities life now holds for them. Perhaps if this were on more department store’s playlists, perhaps those endless queues wouldn’t be so tiresome.
Andy Hollis – 74 Group
It’s a well-known fact amongst the (three) wise, there are actually only two listenable and enjoyable Christmas songs in existence. We’ll have no argument over this. The rest are saccharine nonsense, sweeter than the Quality Street you secreted away from your mother’s Christmas tree, and as dubious as an old man vaselined down a chimney to visit your children. They’re awful. Except for these two…
You’ll note from the choices as well, that both contain a variant of “parrap-pah-pum-pum” or “rubba-dubba-dum-dum”, the only cadence that can leave you secure in the knowledge that yes, this is a bearable, wistful, singularly enjoyable part of Yuletide.
JONA LEWIE – STOP THE CAVALRY
It was a travesty that this magnificent piece of Christmas anti-cheer was denied the number one spot by Imagine. Forget Vienna and Shaddap Ya Face, this was the British charts nadir. Rather than have a brilliant song referencing the first world war, Churchill, and nuclear proliferation, you get John bloody Lennon. Again. A brilliant masterpiece with elements of Mozart’s Rondo and Alfen’s Swedish Rhapsody, or the worst song in history – Imagine. Bad choice public, bad choice.
BING CROSBY & DAVID BOWIE – LITTLE DRUMMER BOY
Hey look, it’s Bing and Bowie. There’s little that can ever be criticised about this magical combination. It’s also a cracking song. But the main reason for it’s inclusion is that utter brilliance of the full video. The acting of two people who, for differing reasons, quite clearly have no idea what they’ve got themselves into. It’s old and young, it’s cabbage and cocaine, it’s Bing and Bowie.
Eisha Shah – BN1 Magazine
JUSTIN BIEBER – MISTLETOE
There seems to be no end to Justin Bieber persistently causing simultaneous adoration and fury, and his Christmas song Mistletoe is no exception. What could make the portion of society made up of tweenage girls more elated than a combination of Justin Bieber and Christmas? What would make the rest of us rant and rage, as we put on a Spotify Christmas album, wait for our favourite Canadian singer Bublé to provide us with Christmas cheer, and instead have our familial sensibilities messed with as our least favourite Canadian Bieber pops up? Surely Santa should have shoved some coal in his stocking by now.
BOBBY HELMS – JINGLE BELL ROCK
You know a true timeless Christmas classic when it was first released sixty years ago and has managed to be covered by 39 other artists since. For any girl in their twenties, the best cover is done of course by Cady, Regina, Gretchen and Karen in Mean Girls, but the track also features in other Christmas films including The Muppets and Home Alone 2: obviously, the tune makes Christmas just that 500% more jolly. So, if the hints of a Christmas choir interwoven into the perfect level of jingle bells and accompanied in most covers by a funky guitar solo don’t get your toes tapping, shoulders moving and cast a big grin on your face then it is safe to say you may just be a modern-day Grinch.