Wednesday, 25 December 2013


A little birdy told me recently (quite possibly a partridge shaped one hiding amongst a conference of fruit) to cheer the hell up, stop being such a cynical arse and deck the halls and bound for the holly for now 'tis indeed the season to be jolly, fa la la la laaaa-la la la laaa. Don't really know what he meant by the last bit, maybe he had a feather stuck in this throat, but be that as prepared or woefully unprepared as you may be: Christmas is well and truly, festive Turkey well and terminally done 'clucking', here. What better way to ring out the bells than by answering the distant peals with some Yule tide music of my own. Choice that is, they're not my songs. If they were I would be considerably less skint than I am now.

Now before I begin let me warn you that there is no The Pouges Fairytale of New York on this list. Yes I love the song but thanks to the brilliant idea of me and an old friend deciding to sing it karaoke, in March over 6 years ago, and the fact that I went to a karaoke place every week and due to our rendition's popularity, we kept doing it, every week; the song has lost it's Christmas exclusivity somewhat. Still love the song but I can pretty much listen to it any time of the year, and frequently do. Another omission is David Essex A Winter's Tale. I sing that a lot to this day (only in the winter time mind) and it never struck me as very Christmas song so despite me also enjoying the hell out of both singing and listening to it, it's not the Christmas list. So what is? Let's have look...

Mike Oldfield
What do you get when you cross a 14th century dance of worship and the multi-instrumentalist genius, who made you soil your kegs whilst you watched The Exorcist? You get probably one the happiest sounding pieces of music ever to grace the pop charts (Dear Jessie by Madonna and The Feeling's Fill My Little World being the rare few others) 
Try listening to this without even just a hint of a smile creeping up on your face, it's a hard task to be sure, and let your imagination run wild. Personally whenever I hear this song I'm catapulted into a medieval court of kings, with motley clad performers, playing various instruments and skipping around a perimeter of banqueting tables, deliciously spread out with a huge Christmas feast; when out of nowhere Bill & Ted walk in and let loose with some 'most excellent' guitar playing to finish off (they do get better after all) 
 Mariah Carey 
Way way back in 1994, Carey and collaborator Walter Afaniseif wrote an up tempo little ditty about just wanting to have the hypothetical other half home at Christmas time. Sounds pretty bland on page, but what they came up with is a festive tune that will never go out of date, will transcend the generations for years, nay decades to come and a whole lot more. Why? Because it's just so impossibly bright, gleeful and has one of the catchiest vocal hooks of any Christmas song, ever.
It's just a wonderfully put together song and I'm not ashamed to admit it. Even the lyrics don't fall into being anything too overly cheesy and actually come across as warm and genuine as a log fire burning with wooden effigys of every nice thing anyone has ever said about you. I seriously can't believe I just wrote that, I'll be joining the cast of Ballamory if that shit continues.  
Want to hear something weird? Besides the thought that I can hold my head up high and say I like Mariah Carey in a non-ironic way? (well, to some extent) I digress, the weird thing I'm going on about is that this song is the fastest pace song on the list. No joke. In fact, maybe it doesn't come as that much of a surprise; I mean when it gets going after the staple 'diva' intro, just listen to it. 
This is horse galloping music at it's most swiftly paced indeed. I've heard power metal bands with less urgency in their percussion, and these are bands that uniformly only sing about werewolves. I got so intrigued by this that I set up a clicker and decided to count just how many beats per minute Mariah was pumping out; I got 153. I double checked on a handy website I found to get a result they rendered earlier; 150. Let's say they were right and I was three beats off the mark; that's still 25 more than Muse's Assassin. It's over 30 more than Metallica's Master of Puppets, it's on the same level as what was voted as the greatest driving song in the world; Queen's Don't Stop Me Now. A Mariah Carey Christmas song that you can be a complete speed freak to? Inconceivable. I love this song even more now.
 Johnny Mathis (Michael Ball)
And this is where my sentimental side kicks in with the force of a F5 hurricane made entirely of Chuck Norris. Whether it's this version or my personal favourite by Michael Ball (which I couldn't find a recording of) I just get tingles every time I hear it. The gradual build up, the almost humming introduction and the way verse soars into such unrestrained humility. Allowing me to be serious (it can happen, once in every full blue moon) this is a song that will always remind me of my nephew, and Christmas he ever had with his family. It was that year that I discovered my preferred Ball version. It just sounds a touch more emotive and better orchestrated, plus it omits the ever so slightly racist spoken word bridge that Mathis does. You could get away with a lot in the 70's. Platform shoes on guys for a start. 
This should have become MUCH bigger than it did. Besides Queen's A Winter's Tale (not to be confused with the aforementioned David Essex's, A Winter's Tale) this is Queen's one true Christmas song and should be far more well known. I've never cared for A Winter's Tail (I'm going to call it that to avoid confusion) it's sounds pretty enough but to me it always came across as a bit of vocal jam session Mercury put on, with bizarrely placed 'ohs' and 'yeahs' just to add some seasonal spice into the minced mix. Thank God It's Christmas however is fantastically powerful song with, moving lyrics, pulse pounding verses and a general feeling of pride about everything that Christmas stands for. Apart from the whole sheep, wisemen and a newborn in a barn thing.



Harry Connick Jr

Forget your Ronettes, Bing Crosby, The Carpenters and most definitely, Mickey Bubbles; this is the definitive version of this song. Not only is it pretty much unchanged from it's original composition (back in 1948) but Connick's vocals are so smooth and endearing he makes Buble' sound as charming as Piers Morgan dressed as an angler fish. If you ever get the chance to get Connick's Christmas album, do so. He is the best modern crooner around and will not be bettered in any real urgency. Oh and if you're wondering; yes, this is the same guy that starred opposite Will Smith in Independence Day    
 The Darkness
Say what you want about The Darkness, many do and not all of it is favourable. Skin tight, naval showing catsuits and nipple piercings aside however, these guys are all competent musicians who can write catchy retro rock with their tongue stud firmly lodged in their heavily foundationed cheek. They are almost a self aware parody, I say almost because sometimes you get the impression that lead squee-er Justin Hawkins thought they were bigger than they are. Not to the same egotistical level as say, Liam Gallagher saying they were bigger than The Beatles, or The Beatles saying they were bigger than Jesus, but more along the lines of having naïve delusions that people wouldn't tire of the cheesy riffs and tight flares. They did however: The Darkness petered out after 2 albums and only a bunch of top 40 hits through a combination of bad sales and Hawkins varying substance abusiveness (after he came out of rehab they made a 3rd album in 2012 but from what I've heard it was a non starter)
They did however leave a legacy, which any savvy band should do if they want to get uplift on their pension plan every single year; they wrote this Christmas song. Now correct me if I'm wrong and feel free to insult my lack of musical knowledge by all means (that is what the comments box is tailor made for) but I'm pretty certain that this is the last original Christmas themed, rock song that ever made the top ten. This was 10 years ago! It got as high as number 2 but was beaten the to the top spot by Gary Jules's macabre cover of Mad World. Mad World was Christmas number 1. Just how full of Christmas cheer were we in 2003? The vast majority of the populous going from stuffing the turkey to stuffing themselves with Prozac.
This song will always have a place in my Christmas themed musical heart though. It is cynical enough to emote a response and cheesy enough to make you think before you begin turning Everest's out of mole hills. It's also just so much fun and not only makes we want to whine out the notes with Hawkins but it makes me laugh every time I hear it. Yes, they wrote a Christmas song including the words 'bells end'. Yes, they know it has double meaning and yes it was VERY much deliberate. Listen to Hawkins at the end just blatantly screaming it out after a choir of kids come in; 'BELLSS ENDDD!!!' Freaking hilarious.    

Like you actually thought I would leave out this one. Yeah, right. This is it as far as Christmas rock goes, there is no better song. Wizzard? I'll admit it's pretty catchy and well produced but the lyrics are garbage: 'When the snowman brings the snow'? That's the chicken/egg debate all over again and lets be honest, no one wants it to be Christmas everyday. Think of how skint you'd be. All of the time.
Slade however get it spot on, the lyrics are so beautifully simple and true to life they can relate to everybody. The music is catchy and timeless and Noddy Holder's voice is in a league of it's own. Give it a go, next time you're in the car, shower or wherever your preferred singing preference. Try out the chorus; you'll probably get through 'So here it is' relatively unscathed but as soon as you hit the second syllable of 'Merry' you'll find yourself either coughing up what remains of your diaphragm, shouting it without hitting an actual note of any description or you'll be feeling incredibly smug that you actually managed it. Either way, whatever the outcome you will have to admit one thing; that man has some serious pipes and we've not even mentioned the 'IT'S CHRIIIIIIIISSSSTTMASSSSSSS' part.
If you like the song you should check out more of Slade's work, they are probably one of the most underrated bands of the 70's. I'm going to end this post with a non-Christmas song, my favourite Slade song of all time which has been given a new lease of life thanks to a recent advertising campaign. But that's for later. So let's move on to...    

Munchener Freiheit

Say Munchener Freiheit  fast enough and it could be the name of a Halloween themed diner. A Yorkshire accent does help with that. These guys are German by the way, not that you would know it from listening alone though. It's really amazing how unGerman they sound, it's like Arnold Schwarznegger speaking in flawless Brummie, or Sean Connery having any accent other than brogue Scot.  
Not strictly a Christmas song in the same sense of the others, I mean it doesn't even have a winter or snow theme (save for the white covered, not really there, mountains in the video) but you will never hear this song outside of November to January. Why is this? Well, it was released back in 1988, in December and that's it. Bang! Christmas top 20 hit which now receives radio/shopping centre play every single year. Nicely played guys.
There's more to this song than just luck of the release date though: With a vocal that sounds like Paul McCartney combined with the exuberant musicianship of ELO, what we get is a truly gorgeous sounding song, reminiscent of Pachelbel's Canon in it's style of swelling progression which get's more fuller and richer with every stanza (the use of the London Symphony Orchestra was a stroke of genius) The harmonies are just a joy to listen to and the lyrics are full of feelings of hope, courage and love in every sense of the word. It's a song you can listen to feel good about what's gone right in your life and not to dwell on what didn't. Without any mention of Christmas traditions, they unwittingly wrote one of the best non-Christmas, Christmas songs out there.
The Waitresses
Bah-Humbug! But that's too strong, cause's it's one of my favourite Christmas songs. Love the sound of the happy beat, it makes me wanna move my feet. Made in 1981 (the very year 'fore I was born) This tune's been with me all my life, amongst the background of  Christmas lights.
It is a background song too, chances are if you heard this it was either whilst doing some Christmas shopping, faintly heard in the background at work's Christmas do or on TV as a segue between an upcoming preview of what shows are going to be on in December. This song deserves more than that. I'm ashamed to admit it that I never properly heard the song all the way through till this year, heck I didn't even know the name of the song or who preforms it! Quickly amended that though, this is the song I've been listening to the most out of all these choices. Making up for lost time I guess.
I love how fresh this song sounds, even though it's 32 years old I don't think it will ever sound out of date. The lyrics are fun, witty and masterfully put together. The song's production sounds way ahead of it's time and it has probably the best and most infectious sounding Christmas riffs of any song I've heard. I love the minimalist vocal performance by Patty Donahue, that comes off as both enjoyably sardonic and very relatable. Kate Nash can only dream of sounding this charismatic. I sadly found out that Miss Donahue passed away back in 1996, only 40 years of age. Her contribution to Christmas I believe will out last us all, or at least I hope it will. Check out The Waitresses other works too, seriously they are much much more than just a one hit wonder.     
Perry Como
This song, to me is Christmas. I find it funny that it's such an American themed song and yet when I think about Christmas's in the past, it always reverts back to this cheerful little tune from the 50's. The reason for this is because my family had Perry Como's Christmas album (yes, that means vinyl) and it was always played the first thing on Christmas morning. And this was the first song. So the happy memories of family gift giving and receiving. So while I excitedly unravelled things over the years like BMX, cuddly toys, MASK action figures, Manta Force, Nintendo, Hero Quest, Curse of the Idol (anyone else remember that but me?) Space Crusade, Street Fighter 2 Turbo and whole host of other things, Perry Como's silky tones were seemingly narrating my very thoughts at the time, even though what he was actually singing about was about travelling thousands of miles across various state lines in an automobile. It didn't matter though; to me hearing his voice was as Christmassy as leaving a mince pie, a glass of sherry and a carrot for a certain Mr Claus. To me, that's why he takes the top spot. 
A special mention must go to his version of The Christmas Song which is a later track on the album. It's the best version of that classic one ever recorded. Check it out while you're recovering from turkey overdose (or nut roast if you're a veggie)
As promised here is Slade with Everyday.

Have a great Christmas everyone and good tidings to you of comfort and joy
(comfort and joy)
O tidings of comfort and joy     

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