Friday, 13 December 2013

Jangle Bells

It's time for the difficult second album -
but hopefully it's not too difficult on the ear.

After producing a Christmas compilation which some people actually played a couple of years ago, I attempted a volume two last year. Alas, I barely reached ten songs (and one of those was Snoopy’s Christmas) before reluctantly concluding that I’d used up the best ones on volume one. But with some encouragement from my friend Jonty, this year I re-doubled my efforts. I’ve trawled the internet for lesser-known festive classics and given the folk at itunes a very happy Christmas with my sudden spike in purchases to make up The Second Best Ever Christmas Album. Ever play list.
So, in the words of Slade: Here it is, Merry Christmas!

01 Fairytale of New York - The Pogues
In the words of “An anthem for anyone who finds themselves staring into the bottom of a glass, reminiscing about lost love and wasted opportunities.”
Indeed, what could be more Christmassy than some ripe Irish abuse from the late Kirsty MacColl, some of which is still ‘scrambled’ by certain radio stations.

02 Snoopy’s Christmas - The Royal Guardsmen  
Plenty about this perennial favourite (with me, anyway) here:

03 Santa’s List - Cliff Richard
There’s a folk memory that Cliff Richard used to produce a Christmas single every year, but it really only felt that way. This one edges out Mistletoe and Wine for me because that song commits the sin of breaking the word Chris-ti-an into three syllables just to make it scan in the chorus. Tut tut, Sir Cliff.

04 Thank God it’s Christmas - Queen
The mighty Freddie Mercury sings a Christmas song written by Brian May and Roger Taylor– what more possibly needs to be said? Except this from Rolling Stone:
“They never even made a video for it. That's a shame. It's a beautiful song that stands up to anything in their catalogue.” Hear, hear!

05 The First Noel - John Farnham
First released on an album called, rather egotistically, Christmas is… Johnny Farnham, in 1970, the Australian, erm , ‘recording legend’ can be forgiven because it’s the season of goodwill and he really rocks this classic carol.

06 Merry Christmas Everybody - Slade
Often pitted against Roy Wood’s I wish it could be Christmas Every Day (see Best Ever Christmas Album. Ever. volume one, if anyone actually kept it) in a sort of ‘Battle of the 1973 Festive Glam Rock hits’; this song is (in)famous for Noddy Holder’s astonishing bellow announcing to probably the entire solar system that ‘It’s Christmas”. Certainly doesn’t end with a whimper.

07 I’ll be home for Christmas - Linda Ronstadt
Such a gorgeous voice, you can’t beat a little retro-Ronstadt, especially at Christmas. She has been nominated for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame next year, and quite right too.

08 A Spaceman came Travelling - Chris de Burgh
Stop laughing. I bet Erich Von Daniken loves this one – ‘ancient astronauts’ meets the nativity, and somehow it works.

09 In Dulci Jubilo - Mike Oldfield
Ear-worm warning! Although it’s a typically quirky and exuberant instrumental from instantly recognisable Mike Oldfield, you’ll find yourself wanting to ‘sing’ along by vocalising with that bottom-kicking electric guitar, which is embarrassing. But the guitar solo isn’t – every Christmas song should have one. Translated as ‘In Sweetest Rejoicing’ or ‘Good Christian Men, Rejoice’ In Dulci Jubilo is thought to have been written around 1328.

10 Winter Melody - Donna Summer
From the depths of Disco, the arrangements in this soulful and rather long song (from Summer’s concept album called Four Seasons of Love) will take you right back to 1976, even if you weren’t actually there in the first place.

11 Just Like Christmas - Low
I might be the world’s least knowledgeable person when it comes to American Indie (beyond Raiders of the Lost Ark) and I hadn’t even heard of Low, but this song is a brilliant find (thank you again, music radar). I particularly like the booming ‘kettle drum’ which de-cheeses the sleigh bells perfectly.

12 Mary’s Boy Child - Harry Belafonte

The perfect remedy to Boney M, whose version also appeared on volume one. Belafonte is the touch of class this compilation so sorely needs.

13 I Believe in Father Christmas - Greg Lake
Interesting one this. At first listen it actually sounds anti-Christmas, but I’m assured is only anti-Christmas commercialism. This one third of Emmerson Lake and Palmer then really gives the instrumentals ‘welly’ at the end, making this song sound far more Christmassy than the festive industry he’s attacking.

14 December will be Magic Again - Kate Bush
The mighty Kate Bush, sings a Christmas… oh, I’ve done that, haven’t I? This is as left field as you might expect, including some distinctly un-Christmassy lyrics (don’t listen too carefully, kids) with arrangements and vocal gymnastics which no-one else could even consider attempting. And it’s brilliant.

15 Zat You Santa Claus? - Louis Armstrong
This is an unexpected homage to the ‘Christmastime ghost story’, a tradition I didn’t even realise existed until recently. Eerie whistling wind, an unexpected knocking at the door …and an eye at the keyhole! All conjured by the unmistakeable tones of Satchmo.

16 Frosty the Snowman - Cocteau Twins
Wow! What a find. “Lush and atmospheric with iceberg-sized instrumentals”, says Music Radar. It has also been described less kindly as the only Cocteau Twins song ‘ever able to be understood’. Either way, it could be the standout hit of this album. Which vowel is Liz Frazer actually using when she sings the second syllable of “Snowman” in the chorus? It could be any of the five options, but I suspect it’s all of them simultaneously. Insane and wonderful.

17 Star of Wonder - Fred Dagg
Short, but such a sweet memory. Anyone growing up in New Zealand in the 1970s will be able to sing along to the gumboot-stomping chorus, and smile at recollections of black singlets and John Clarke with hair.

Whether this becomes the soundtrack to your Christmas, a beer mat or a bird scarer, we hope you and your family have a very happy Festive season. (And if you think some of these choices are dubious, be grateful that the Jingle Cats: Miaowy Christmas and the Red Hot Chilli Pipers didn’t make it this year)  


  1. having sampled this particular assortment I must thank you Minster Al for the new sounds filling our house. Especially the first tn second of Queen's magnet orpus, as that seems to be Jet Jr's favourite bit.

    'Low' indeed is a lovely find, and Oh, Louie!

    Pet theory though - is Noddy's bellow possibly the inspiration for the best bit of Big Finish's Grinchworthy yuletide downer 'Death in Blackpool' do you think?

  2. I’m so pleased Jet Jnr has found something to ‘throw some shapes’ to on that album, even if for a second or two – it truly makes it all worthwhile. And thank you also, Sir, for your splendid disk which was an instant hit at our place. All tracks thereon have earned instant inclusion on next year’s volume 3.
    I believe you are spot on with your ‘Noddy’s bellow’ theory, and in the opinion that it was the best part of that rather unseasonal story. And while we find ourselves on a Who note I will not even try to resist wishing you and yours: “A very Merry Christmas to all of you at home!”