Listen to this track by hitmaking and highly festive British glam-rock purveyors Slade. It’s “Merry Xmas Everybody”, an enormous 1973 hit single that snagged the highly coveted Christmas number one spot on the British charts that year.
The song was an amalgam of elements that writers Noddy Holder and Jim Lea had lying around, from as far back as 1967. This might explain its slightly psychedelic feel. Guitarist and singer Holder had the melody to the chorus, and bassist Lea had the melody to the verses. Holder and Lea fashioned the festive lyrics and the band recorded the song at the Record Plant in New York City in the summer of 1973.
This song would achieve more than just impressive chart showings and eventual platinum sales. Holder’s “It’s Chrrriissssstmas!!” screech would become a personal trademark for years to come during personal appearances in concert and on television. Beyond that, the song would gain a place in the DNA of a whole culture, helping to reveal the values of that culture more precisely at just the right time of year. Read more
I have a love/hate relationship with Christmas music. It tends to walk the tight rope between the sublime and the unbearable, with many perceptions on those points being pretty wide too.
As such, even though it’s a popular move, I think the idea of releasing a Christmas single, or even a whole album, to me is kind of a risky move artistically speaking. But, that’s what artists do; they push the envelope and they take the big risks. Or they go right for the cheese with impunity, knowing that a lot of people groove on Christmas music, whether they expect it from the artist in question or not! An important aspect of all this is simply that I really want to love Christmas music. So, often it works out for me. It’s amazing what simple willingness will do for you.
So, this year, I thought I’d gather another collection of Christmas songs from the rock and pop and jazz quarters, representing the best of the bunch (or just the most unexpected and weird and completely sentimental) just like last year. Well, ten of them anyway. Some you’ll know, some maybe you won’t. But, either way, here’s hoping that some of these tune will find their way onto your own personal Christmas mixes this year – even if you don’t celebrate Christmas!
It’s that time of year again when you’re desperately trying not to hear all of those same holiday favourites as you navigate your way through the malls and main streets in search of the last minute items to check off of your list. Yet, sometimes those songs really are your favourites.
So, with that in mind, here are 10 versions of some of those Christmas songs and some new ones you’ve might never have heard, from acts you know (and maybe some you don’t!) that can make your days both merry and bright. Here they are! Read more
Listen to this track by Anglo-American pop chart disturbers The Pretenders. It’s “2000 Miles”, a B-Side that supported the U.S “Middle of the Road” single. Both songs appeared on 1984’s Learning To Crawl, their third album and one that was a return to the public eye after the deaths of two original members.
In the UK, “2000 Miles” was released as an A-side, scoring a #15 on the British charts. This song has since been particularly high profile at this time of year, just because of the references to Christmas time. The song therefore served as a Christmas single of sorts, released in December 1983. Since its release, it’s been included on Christmas compilation albums, covered by other artists, and featured at many an office Christmas party, too.
But, where the song may touch upon that yuletide vibe, what it’s really about is missing someone, and feeling the pain of separation. On one level, this could be a very universal tune. After all, being separated from loved ones over the Christmas holidays is a pretty common experience. That’s what pop music does. It connects with common experience, and lets the listener fill in the details for themselves.
But, with this song, there is something personal to be found in there as well. Read more
Listen to this track by concept-wielding orchestral-folk auteur and major Christmas music fan Sufjan Stevens. It’s “I Saw Three Ships”, an eminently seaworthy Christmas carol as it is featured on his 2006 Songs For Christmasboxset.
The song comes from a long-running project from Stevens, a prolific recording artist used to putting together home recordings in short order. Initially, the recordings were meant as gifts to friends and family. Hey, it was Christmas! But, eventually the songs recorded for the series of EPs over the course of five years that made up this set of recordings began to coalesce into a bona fide project fit for a release meant for a wider audience – us.
Walking through the mall while Christmas shopping this year, you might think that Christmas music is a fairly limited subject for a whole boxset from a guy better known for his concept albums of original material that comes from unique angles. But, there’s tons of Christmas music out there that isn’t as well known as some of the songs you’ve heard in the mall lately. And Stevens decided to write some original songs to boot, arguably matching the spirit of those traditional tunes. This added up to 42 tracks of Christmas cheer!
The Songs For Christmas project spans five volumes, recorded from 2001 until 2006. The box in which the material was collected includes stories, posters, stickers, and comics. It’s a Christmas morning all in one box. And while he was at it, Stevens went and recorded one of my favourite Christmas tunes of all time, and one of my favourite versions of it, too.
So, just what makes this version so compelling, exactly? Read more
Listen to this track by Anglo-Irish folk-punk posse, featuring guest vocalist, and songwriter in her own right Kirsty MacColl. It’s the 1987 Christmas classic single, “Fairytale of New York”, a story of dreams, drama, dissolution, and drunk tanks all taking place during, or in the context of, the Christmas season. The song appears on the band’s high watermark album If I Should Fall From Grace With God, produced by Steve Lillywhite (Psychedelic Furs, U2, Simple Minds) released in January 1988.
Lillywhite was married to Kirsty MacColl, and when the song needed a guide vocal, Steve asked Kirsty to provide one. Originally, the song had been written with former bassist and vocalist Cait O’Riordon in mind. But, O’Riordan had left the band by the time singer Shane MacGowan and banjoist Jem Finer had finished it. When the band heard Kirsty’s vocal, they knew they were onto something.
The song would be an enduring one, forever associated with Christmas, and narrowly missing the coveted Christmas #1 that year (25 years ago!). But, what is it about this song that resonates so well with audiences? Read more
Sexsmith is a giant among his peers, if not the wider record buying world. Elvis Costello, Feist, k.d lang, and Paul McCartney are fans, among many others. This might be because his songs deliver often complex ideas in digestible form, yet never come off as being simplistic. And he seems to be able to translate this ability into nearly every tune and every genre he sets his mind to.
In this song, we get our Christmas spirit payoff in much the same manner. We get something about the state of the world too, a less-than-ideal state at that. But, it’s tuneful, and the lyrics are heartfelt, not preachy.
The Christmas story, whether you buy all the hype on a religious level or not, is still a pretty powerful one either way. I think ultimately the point of it was that even in the middle of struggles, in having to make due with inhospitable conditions like traveling while pregnant and bunking down with livestock before delivering your baby, there is ultimately a need to celebrate the hope that the world is not lost as long as we believe there’s enough good in it from which to draw meaning. When I think of the ‘Christmas spirit’, I think it’s this idea that shines through most. And in this, Sexsmith has captured the intent of every Christmas tune.
Here’s a clip featuring “Keef the Human Riff” Keith Richards rocking out his hero Chuck Berry’s seasonal hit “Run Rudolph Run”. This may seem like something of a novelty of course. But, technically this was Keith’s first single as a solo artist, releasing it around this time in 1978. He wouldn’t take on another solo project for another decade.
Richards debt to Chuck Berry from the formation of the Rolling Stones was a big one in terms of style and approach. But, no one could suggest that the group hadn’t paid Berry back in royalties. The Stones covered many Berry hits, including “Carol”, “Bye Bye Johnny”, “Little Queenie”, and of course “Come On” which was their very first single in 1963.
Maybe this seems like a lightweight entry for a debut solo single. But, I like to think that Keith was doing this one for the kids. And it does rock, in a wasted sort of way. What else would you expect from Keith?
The original Berry version of “Run Rudolph Run” was released twenty years before Richards’ take, and has since been recorded by a myriad of artists like Dave Edmunds, Sheryl Crow, Reverend Horton Heat, and of course the inescapable Bryan Adams.