I left it a little too late this year. You know how it is – all those work deadlines (some met, some over-hanging) and family commitments. The focused part of you wants to get your workload out of the way before school’s out for your children, while the other just wants to take it all in and enjoy all the distractions. And distractions don’t get much bigger than around this wunnerful time of year.
But I’ll crack on, having decided to offer you – with no expense spared – my humble (or humbug, if you prefer) guide to the joy of the Christmas song, followingly neatly on from last year’s Slade appreciation on these pages. And as it’s getting late in the ‘season’, I’ll keep the list down a little, not least because you’re probably heartedly sick of many of the songs mentioned by now – however great – especially if you’ve seen the inside of too many shops in recent weeks.
There will be a lot I’ve missed out – some for good reasons, others due to incompetence or a lack of time to properly research this feature. But I’ve gone for the heart time and again. Even to the point of embarrassment at times. However, if you’re scanning down to find any Mariah Carey or Wham! in there, it’s possible that you’ve come to the wrong place.
I could easily have added a rundown of the best possible televisual treats over the years too, but again what’s the point? Many of us have too much going on anyway. I have at least ensured a couple of windows though, with the Wyatt family Christmas well and truly up and running last weekend (with the tree already dropping needles left, right and centre by then of course), when I subjected my girls – now aged 13 and 11 – to watch Frank Capra’s magnificent It’s a Wonderful Life for the first time.
I’m pleased to say they admitted to liking it too, because there’s nothing worse than raving on about something for years, then finding it doesn’t quite match the hype you’ve created. And while James Stewart’s portrayal of George Bailey is a perfect way to see in Christmas, there are a few other worthy options too, be it the best of The Royle Family or Gavin and Stacey Christmas specials or a little Only Fools and Horses (and we at least get some David Jason on the screen this time around, which is a start). And The Snowman of course. Come to think of it, maybe I’ll look at that in more detail next year.
We’ve all got our personal plans for the coming few days, from cosy days in with good company and too much to eat and drink, through to the odd bracing walk or cold afternoons on the terraces, taking in a little festive sporting action. But if I can add anything, perhaps it’s just the odd suggestion on the music front for the soundtrack; a few yuletide vinyl treats from me to you.
As has been mentioned before on this blog, Slade’s Merry Xmas Everybody will always be an integral part of this scribe’s ‘holiday season’, however many times it’s been played to death. And while no Christmas officially arrives until I’ve heard Noddy Holder announce ‘It’s Christmas!’, the same applies to Roy Wood at the tail end of Wizzard’s wondrous I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day, when he tells his young charges, “OK, you lot – take it!”
The fact that those songs were both from late 1973 – when I was just six – adds to it all. More to the point, my youngest daughter has somehow convinced herself I’m in the original Wizzard video. I might have slightly misled her through mention of the fact that those kids were around my age at the time, but nothing more … honest.
While we’re at it, that ’70s nostalgia means I also continue to get similarly misty-eyed – albeit to a slightly-lesser extent – listening to everything from John Lennon & Yoko Oko’s Happy Xmas (War Is Over), Greg Lake’s I Believe In Father Christmas, Bing Crosby and David Bowie’s Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy, and even Mud’s (admittedly-dire) Lonely This Christmas.
By the time I’d discovered punk (not even in my teens, mind) I had another contender, one that also remains with me to this day, that gloriously-shambolic 1979 Phil Lynott, Steve Jones and Paul Cook effort, The Greedies’ A Merry Jingle.
That wide-eyed nostalgia continues to this day, and while I can quite happily forget (given the chance) most ’80s and ’90s festive offerings, a few stood out, if only as added soundtrack to my life. And as the years go on, I can still put up with a few of those (even the Boney M, Jonah Lewie and Waitresses offerings), at least once a festive season.
The same goes for Bruce Springsteen & The E-Street Band’s live stab at Santa Claus is Coming to Town, (ho ho ho, indeed), plus oldies but goldies by the likes of Nat King Cole, and even Paul McCartney’s Wonderful Christmas Time, cheesy as it was.
That brings me on to a slight meander while I contemplate all the great acts that have failed to deliver a perfect Christmas song, not least my old favourites Squeeze, with the lack-lustre Christmas Day, or the Beach Boys’ money-for-old-rope effort, Little Saint Nick.
But I’m not here to grouch (or even grinch, perhaps). Instead, like that earlier mention of Mud’s big festive hit, it’ll be pure rose-tinted specs that ensures I continue to secretly appreciate A Winter’s Tale, when every fibre of my more radical being says it’s not cool. Just put it down to halcyon memories of the days when my older siblings were still at home, and I felt that David Essex was a regular visitor in the girls’ room.
As the years dragged on the magic remained, although few new tracks stood out for me – save for the more obvious, like Band Aid original Do They Know It’s Christmas? (for very different reasons), until that Shane MacGowan/Jem Finer-penned The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl classic Fairytale of New York from 1987. The fact that we were robbed of the supremely-talented Kirsty at such an early age maybe even adds to the poignancy of that number. Let’s face it, I think we all expected dear Shane to be gone long before her.
Less of a chart success, but a big hit with me at least was The Wedding Present’s perfect festive-side offering Step Into Christmas, adding new life to Elton John’s not-bad stab at a festive hit (again from 1973, I might add).
A bit of high camp always works too, with a prime example found in Kylie Minogue’s shot at Santa Baby or The Darkness’ gloriously-tongue-in-cheek (at least I hope so) Christmas Time (Don’t Let the Bells End). Even the brackets are a bit Frankie Howerd, come to think of it. And while we’re at it, why not those Welsh sex-bombs Cerys Matthews and Tom Jones giving it large on Baby It’s Cold Outside too?
It shouldn’t just be about the big hits anyway, and I love Freddy King’s beautifully-miserable blues number, Christmas Tears, one of so many great tracks I first heard on the John Peel Show in my formative teenage years. Eric Clapton does a pretty fine version too, out of interest.
I’ll remain in that pre-’60s era to add Bing Crosby’s forever-young White Christmas, perhaps the Daddy of all festive hits, plus Louis Armstrong’s Zat You Santa Claus? In fact, anything involving, Bing, Louis and Frank Sinatra tends to work.
You can add Elvis Presley’s offerings over the years, not least Blue Christmas and Santa Claus Is Back In Town, and probably a few more gospel numbers and carols from that great source too. Silent Night always lends itself perfectly to the Christian/pop crossover too, so I’ll a little Martha Reeves or even Sinead O’Connor’s run through that for a start, although Simon & Garfunkel’s 1966 track 7 O’Clock News/Silent Night was perhaps even more poignant.
Motown also had its fair share of not-quite-right Christmas tracks, but there were plenty of good ones too, including several Four Tops, Jackson Five, Miracles, Supremes and Temptations’ yuletide efforts. But not even those proved the benchmark for me.
You might already have sussed where this is leading to, keeping my powder dry before my own tribute to what remains the greatest Christmas album in my mind, Phil Spector’s A Christmas Gift For You.
OK, like Joe Meek before him, we may have something of a complicated man behind it all, but a genius nevertheless. And listening to Darlene Love – perhaps the real star on this wondrous slice of vinyl history – talking all about it 50 years on, it became all the more clear what a great piece of work this was.
The lady herself was chatting on the phone from her Stateside home to Absolute Radio’s Pete Mitchell, in what proved an illuminating interview, for sure. If you missed it, try and dig out a listen.
From Darlene’s White Christmas to The Ronettes’ Frosty The Snowman, The Crystals’ Santa Claus Is Coming To Town, and so much more, what’s not to love?
Darlene let on a few secrets about that recording, something she still feels immensely proud of all these years on. And so she should. It’s pointless me going into the finer details now (I’ve still got a lot to do, for a start), but if you’re not thinking of doing so already, I’ll just ask that if you play one album as you tuck into your Christmas dinner tomorrow, this is the one.
And a merry Christmas from all at writewyattuk while you’re at it.