It’s Chriiiiiiissstmaaaas!

23 Dec

The race for Christmas number one is being fiercely fought between Ed Sheeran & Elton John, and Ed Sheeran & Elton John (with Ladbaby). The tension is entirely bearable. However, although I’m not a fan of Ed or Elton, I am a bit pleased that Christmas number one will be something Christmassy this year. It rarely is.

Anyway, I thought I would share with you some of my favourite Christmas pop songs, by which I mean not traditional Christmas songs like Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, but stuff that has actually troubled the charts, like Mariah Carey. Not that she features on my list. Sorry, and feel free to stop reading now if I’ve mortally offended you.

I’ve categorised these a la Cinefix‘s top tens because it’s a way of mentioning more songs, and because it will probably be more interesting than just a list of my top five (or however many this turns out to be).

The really old one

Silver Bells came on the radio the other day and made me smile. I think it was the Dean Martin version but my childhood memories are of the Jim Reeves version, because my parents had the record (yes – big, round, flat, black thing). To this day, whenever we decorate baking with silver balls, my sister and I have to start singing “Silver balls, oo-oo-ooh, silver balls, oo-oo-ooh!” Her kids do not appreciate it.

There are a few other very old ones that I like. (We are using ‘very old’ here to mean pre-seventies. It’s my post, and I set the definitions – no debate.) Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas is charming and poignant. Although the lyrics are not sad, the context is (a girl trying to cheer up her little sister about the fact that they are leaving the neighbourhood they love) so it would sort of fit into the next category, too. I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas is lovely, too. (I especially like the whistling part.) But I think my favourite in this category is It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year – at least, that’s the one I always find myself humming as I do Christmassy things.

The sad one

I know Christmas is a sad time for many people, if they lost someone around Christmastime or simply if they’re alone. As far as pop songs are concerned, though, the sadness of Christmas is entirely caused by being separated from one’s main squeeze. And there is an enormous number of these songs to choose from! There’s the really old (see above) Blue Christmas and Lonely This Christmas (although this particular version is from 1975), Coldplay’s Christmas Lights (and doesn’t it feel somehow wrong when Coldplay songs aren’t sad?), Joni Mitchell’s beautiful but slightly weird River, the Pretenders’ 2000 Miles, and I could keep going. Of the sad relationship-focused Christmas songs, my favourite is Winter’s Tale.

But my overall favourite sad Christmas pop song, and in fact my favourite Christmas pop song of all, is Greg Lake’s I Believe in Father Christmas. You may think you don’t know it, but it’s just that the title is unhelpful. It the one that starts “They said there’ll be snow at Christmas” and ends “Hallelujah! Noel! Be it heaven or hell, the Christmas we get, we deserve.” This is the Christmas song I deserve.

The heartfelt one

Not so much sad as sincere, these ones. It’s a smaller category than the last one, but still with some corkers. There’s the over-earnest but still singalongable Happy Xmas (War is Over) and the very relatable Thank God It’s Christmas from Queen. But there’s only one possible winner in this category.

Although I know it can sound a bit patronising and “white saviour”ish from this distance, Do They Know It’s Christmas by Band Aid was a deeply felt, sincere response to the famine in Ethiopia in the mid 1980s. This was before 24-hour news and the effects of climate change, which together swamp us with a humanitarian crisis every other month. People were genuinely shocked by the footage coming out of Ethiopia and Sudan, including pop and rock stars who formed a one-off band (and then held a one-off concert) to do what they could. Dozens of pop stars took part, all the money went (and still goes) to charity, raising about £200-odd million so far, and it’s a great song, too.

The 1970s one

Most of you probably got the reference in the title of the post, so you know where I’m going with this. There’s something about glam rock (probably the excess and disdain of ridicule) that gives it an affinity with Christmas, which perhaps explains the longevity of the ’70s Christmas belters. (I mentally put Shakin’ Stevens’ Merry Christmas Everyone in this category for some reason, although he was definitely ’80s.) There’s not all that much to call between Wizzard’s I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day and Slade’s offering, but for me, the winner in this category has to be Merry Christmas Everybody. After all, it’s not Christmas until Noddy Holder says it is.

The modern(ish) one

Not a terribly well represented category, I’m afraid. That’s not because I prefer old songs, but because only every few years does a song become a proper Christmas classic. Some less well known songs make it in here. I very much liked the lockdown-themed Hope Christmas Gets Me to You from Lapwing last year. There’s the wittily atheistic southern hemisphere White Wine in the Sun by Tim Minchin and the wryly Christian I Believe in Christmas by Yvonne Lyon.

But the song I’m going to choose as my ‘modern’ Christmas classic is much better known, and it would fit quite comfortably in the previous category, if it wasn’t for the little detail of its being released 24 years too late: Don’t Let the Bells End by glam rock band The Darkness. Ooh, that guitar intro!

The proper pop one

Sorry Mariah Carey, Sia, Justin Bieber, Ed Sheeran et al, you don’t make it onto my list. I think the reason I’m not keen on proper pop songs that are Christmassy is that they’re too similar to your standard romantic songs but just happen to be set at Christmas. I mean, I understand the sentiment of not wanting to be separated from your significant other during the festive season (see the first category), but there’s nothing inherently Christmassy about it. And I’m just not a big fan of pop pop anyway.

That said, there are a few I like. One is All Alone on Christmas from Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (not as good as the original film but still fun) which has big Christmas sound and briefly references Jingle Bells. And there’s the cynical but musically upbeat It Doesn’t Often Snow at Christmas by the Pet Shop Boys (which references Hark the Herald Angels Sing – there’s a lot of internal referencing among Christmas songs).

But my selection in this category is, of course, Last Christmas. If you’re still playing Whamageddon, don’t touch the video below!

Of course, this year the real Whamageddon is not getting Covid (new improved Omicron flavour) before Christmas. So I wish you all the best with that and, of course, I wish you a very merry Christmas.🎄

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