Saturday, 6 December 2014

On the Third Long Play of Christmas

Third time's the charm? It's time once again for the gift which really does seem to bring more joy in the giving than the receiving...

It's a shorter Christmas album this year, we're going for quality over quantity (ahem - and also trying to make sure that the disk actually plays). But as usual it's been fun trying to track down those Christmas singles by surprisingly familiar artists which you probably haven't heard before (or ever wanted to)...

1. It doesn't often snow at Christmas (The Pet Shop Boys, 2009)
This is a 2009 commercial version of a Christmas single previously only available to the Pet Shop Boys' fan club - and is as orchestrally sparse and understated as you might expect from them.  I jest, of course, it's a production number of colossally camp proportions and quite brilliant. Cue drum machine, choir, bells and , er ... trumpet solo!

2. Joy (Tracey Thorn, 2012)
From the unmistakable Ms Thorn's fourth solo album Tinsel and Lights, Joy is a family effort: featuring her husband and the other half of 'Everything but the Girl', Ben Watt, with backing vocals by their three children.  Actually, the whole album is wonderful, watch out for her on next year's playlist...

3. Christmas-time (Don't Let the Bells End) (The Darkness, 2003)
The Darkness are often accused of sounding 'just like Queen', but there are far worse charges which a band could face.  Certainly, the guitar is classic Brian May, but could that be school-boyish parody lurking within the boisterous lyrics?  I couldn't possibly comment - just enjoy 'the best Christmas single Queen never made'. (Thanks Peter)

4. Silver Bells (She and Him, 2011)
The 'adorkable' and multi-talented actress Zooey Deschanel formed a duo called She and Him with musician Matt Ward, when he learned that she sang and wrote songs but never pursued a musical career.  In this stripped-down version of the perenial favourite, Deschanel picks her way unhurriedly through the song while accompanying herself on the ukelele.  Cute as a button, much like the lady herself.

5. Baby Please come Home (Darlene Love, 1963)
U2 have also recorded this Phil Spector hit, but this album is about Christmas, not you, Bono - so we have the original Darlene Love version.  One reason why is that  "...nobody can match Love's emotion and sheer vocal power" according to Rolling Stone magazine, and who are we to argue? Speaking of Bonos, however, the percussion on this track is credited to one with the first name Sonny, with backing vocals by a lady needing no second name: Cher.

6. Merry Christmas (I Don't Want to Fight Tonight) (Ramones, 1987)
This is 'our' song, as Rose and I invariably fight while engaged in that most peaceful and good-willing act of the year: decorating the Christmas Tree. (Last year was an exception: I toppled off a stool while adjusting the crowning star, instead, and broke a toe)
The point is: who'd have thought it would take a pioneering Punk Band to remind us of the true meaning of the season: peace on earth, at least for one night...

7. What Christmas Means to Me (Stevie Wonder, 1967)
What is Christmas without some Motown?  This song is particularly moving when you consider that Stevie Wonder is lovingly describing festive iconography he was never able to perceive himself.  Wonderous indeed.

8. Please come home for Christmas (The Eagles, 1978)
Don Henley on vocals backed by Joe Walsh on guitar - what else could you want for Christmas? The first Christmas song to reach the US Billboard top 20 in 15 years when it was released, and you can hear why.

9. All I want for Christmas (Styx, 2002)
These legendary rockers have toured with the likes of Boston, Foreigner and REO Speedwagon, which is a surely Seventies music fan's idea of Christmas.  In this track Glam rock makes its traditional album appearance this year - feel free to stomp around in your platforms to the glittery beat - you know you want to.

10. 2000 Miles (The Pretenders, 1983)
A Chrissie present! (sorry.)
The Pretenders are instantly recognisable and rightfully legendary . This song, about distance not always being overcome in efforts to be together at Christmas-time, is a little mournful; but no-one does bitter-sweet like Chrissie Hynde.

11. Last Christmas (Manic Street Preachers, 2003)
The Manics need no introduction in our house, we've enjoyed the Welsh rockers for years.  I've never been able to love the simpering Wham original of this ubiquitous Christmas chestnut, but the Manic Street Preachers' unplugged version is sublime. It deserves the applause.

12. Snoopy's Christmas (The Royal Guardsmen, 1967 )
'Nuff said. Except: Merry Christmas, my friend!


  1. Booo! No Chills! I'll take Martin Phillipp's post-trifle tummy rumbling 'bobb-a-dom, bom-bom-bom" over yer latter day Manic Pixie Dreamgirl (it's a thing - Wiki it!)

    But interestingly, Freaky Trigger have had a look at this year's first ever streaming chart stats on Christmas songs in the UK. Some obvious high-fliers, some horrendous low-scorers (why so low, Slade?), and poor poor Jona Lewie...

  2. Ah, some festive spirit from Mr Simian - many/most might boo this album internally, but you put it in writing :)

    Bless you one and all, and if you're an especially good boy, the Chills may make an appearance in next year's playlist. Thanks for the link too!