And so another Christmas is nearly upon us. I love Christmas: I am not religious, but the nature of a mid-winter festival filled with feasting and drinking appeals to me greatly.
The run up to Christmas sees the pubs filled with drunken people full of good cheer and bonhomie. Because I work in Cheltenham, most of my pre-Christmas socialising takes place there rather than in my preferred Gloucester pubs, but I love walking into a crowded pub and bumping into lots of people I know, some of whom I rarely see in a social context, and enjoying a festive pint or three with them. Great times.
As you go about your seasonal business in shops and pubs you are inevitably subjected to the soundtrack of the season: the Christmas songs. In context I quite like this. By ‘in context’ I mean in the last couple of weeks before Christmas, not in early November.
The problem is, though, that there are relatively few songs and they get played over and over again and no matter how festive you feel they can get wearing – the people who work in the shops and pubs must be driven insane by the repetition.
Given that Christmas happens predictably at the same time every year, why are there so few songs to choose from? The problem seems to be that the songs making it into the Christmas charts are either not particularly Christmassy or they are so overly saccharine that you cannot listen more than once for fear of slipping into a diabetic coma. Also, in recent years it has mainly been boy/ girl bands or X-Factor winners churning out something instantly forgettable.
I blogged more extensively on this problem at about this time last year (Any Muppet Could be No1 for Xmas). At that time there was a battle, ultimately won by Rage Against the Machine, to keep the X-Factor contender from the top slot. A victory against manufactured pop, maybe, but it did not produce a very festive song to stay in the national consciousness for years to come. If there is a battle for the Christmas No1 this year I’m afraid that it has entirely passed me by.
So, as I came to produce my playlist for the season I found myself struggling for songs that filled me with the Christmas spirit and that I could actually enjoy. Searching around I came across a few new things by bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd, Charlie Daniels and even John Lee Hooker, but somehow they just don’t hit the spot.
So, here’s my (predictable) Top 10 Christmas Songs – I cannot emphasise enough how my enjoyment of these songs is, on the whole, strictly limited to one week of the year and I welcome any recommendations to add some less predictable and more enjoyable variation to the list.
10. A Spaceman Came Travelling – Chris de Burgh
First released 1976 and re-released several time since. A bit smaltzy for my tastes, but it’s a bit different and for 1 week of the year it’s okay.
9. Mistress for Christmas – AC/DC
From the Razor’s Edge album (1990) – a good song by a great band, but doesn’t really fill you with the Christmas spirit.
8. Happy Xmas (War is Over) – John Lennon & Yoko Ono
Peaked at No2 in the British Singles chart in 1971. I’m not really a Lennon fan, and it is another schmaltz fest, but it is definitely Christmassy.
7. All I want for Christmas is You – Foghat
I only just came across this song this year, on the Best of Foghat Vol 2 – actually quite a good song with a rock ‘n’ roll vibe going on.
6. Rockin Around the Christmas Tree – Mel Smith & Kim Wilde
Originally by Brenda Lee in 1958, this version got to No 3 in the UK Singles Chart in 1987 – Christmassy, catchy and good fun. And all for charity (Comic Relief).
5. Stop the Cavalry – Jona Lewie
Reached No3 in the UK singles chart in 1980. It was intended as a protest song rather than a Christmas song, but has nonetheless now become synonymous with Christmas. I actually genuinely quite like this song.
4. White Christmas – Bing Crosby
Probably the most popular and famous Christmas song and is apparently the best-selling single of all time. I am not normally a Bing Crosby fan, but when you hear this you can almost taste Christmas pudding.
3. Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow – Dean Martin
This song makes it so high up the list purely due to its use in the first two Die Hard films. It has been recorded many times by many different people – I have the Dean Martin version (1966), although Die Hard uses the original Vaughn Munroe version which hit No1 in the Billboard music charts in 1946.
2. Merry Xmas Everybody – Slade
The UK Christmas No1 in 1973 it has been re-released every decade since. Probably the most played in the pubs and shops in the run up to Christmas and, yes, it drives you mad, but after a few pints you know you’ll be singing along!
1. Fairytale of New York -The Pogues & Kirsty McColl
A brilliant, irreverent and yet still Christmassy song – I love it! Released in 1987, it reached No1 in the Irish charts but just No2 in the UK. It was kept from the UK No1 slot by the Pet Shop Boys who, according to Wikipedia, the Pogues’ Shane MacGowan described as “two queens and a drum machine”