Monday 4 December 2006

baby jesus, born to rock!

One of the worst things about Christmas – certainly on this side of the Atlantic anyway – has got to be the grinding monotony of the music. There is an enormous richness and diversity of music written specifically for this time of year, so why is it that we have to listen to the same twenty songs over-and-over-and-over-again*? Why is it that everywhere you go, you have to listen to the same bloody songs? It’s always “Merry Xmas Everyone” by Slade, “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday” by Wizzard, “Merry Xmas (War is Over)” by John Lennon, “Last Chrismas” by Wham, “Mistletoe & Wine” by Cliff Richard and all the rest of the usual suspects.

Now some of those songs are classics in their own right, and I won’t hear a word said against Slade in particular, but even listening to that has now become a test of endurance through over-exposure. They even managed to take some of the gloss off the incomparable “Fairy Tale of New York” when they let Ronan Keating cover it… There’s clearly money to be made from getting onto these Christmas compilations – if you remember, the hero in Nick Hornby’s “About a Boy” didn’t need to work thanks to his father writing a novelty song called “Santa’s Super Sleigh”. I’ve no idea how much Noddy Holder makes out of his particular number, but for every deserving Noddy, there are other acts who must be praising the Lord for their unbelievable good fortune. Jona Lewie can presumably still not believe quite how lucky he got when he made a passing reference to Christmas in his song “Stop the Cavalry”. It's a song that has little to do with the season, but it has wormed its way onto these compilations and has somehow never yet been knocked off. It's become traditional, you see. It's always on these Christmas Albums, so it will always be on these Christmas albums.

There are thousands and thousands of other festive songs out there that we could be listening to instead – from beautiful medieval carols sung by choirs, through to Ella Fitzgerald, Motown and Phil Spector. Why can’t we listen to them occasionally?

Christmas is also, of course, a time of year when music sales rocket up through the roof as people go out looking for easy Christmas presents. There’s the annual scramble for the Christmas number one (with whoever wins X Factor being the overwhelming favourite - apparently it doesn't matter who actually wins at all). The album charts are awash with Greatest Hits (Oasis, U2, George Michael, Girls Aloud, Jamiroquai, Sugababes) and the kinds of things that people who don’t really buy records will buy (Il Divo, Westlife, Fron Male Voice Choir, Katherine Jenkins, Angelis, G4).

There is some good stuff out there though, and I’ve spend the last couple of days quietly making myself feel almost festive by listening to it.

You should give it a go. Here are a few to try:

1) Sufjan Stevens – Songs For Christmas

A lovely little boxset of 5 CDs of music originally made each year by Stevens for his family and friends. It’s a mixture of original material and re-interpretations of Christmas Classics. It’s aces.

2) It’s A Cool Cool Christmas

This is Jeepster/XFM compilation album of seasonal songs from 2000 (God, that long ago?) by the likes of Grandaddy, The Eels, Snow Patrol, Belle & Sebastian, Gorky's Zygotic Mynci and so on. Very good and it still sounds fresh today.

3) Sweeping The Nation – A Very Sweeping Christmas

Available for a short time only, the latest download in the Sweeping the Nation series of “covermounts” is a fantastic collection of 43 seasonal songs. This features artists as diverse as The Ronettes, The Fall, The Cocteau Twins, Pet Shop Boys, James Brown, Ben Folds, De La Soul, Half Man Half Biscuit, Bright Eyes, Beck.

Go download. You might even be able to enjoy a rock and roll Christmas without thinking of the Welsh Elvis

Unless you want to, obviously.

* possibly like a monkey with a miniature cymbal.


  1. We are also inundated with Christmas music- the same songs over and over again- but with the exception of the Lennon song, the music here is quite different. We get things like The Little Drummer Boy, White Christmas, We Wish You A Merry Christmas, Deck the Halls, O Come All Ye Faithful, Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer, etc.

    In the past couple of years they haven't even waited for the Christmas season. This year it began right after Halloween in some places. I'm struggling to find the holiday spirit and I suspect it at least in part a reaction to having it shoved down my throat too early.

  2. As a student I worked on Saturdays in a women's clothes shop where the same festive tapes were played again and again and again. By about 3pm, I'd feel proper murderous. I can't even begin to imagine how the full-time staff restrained themselves from stabbing a customer (or indeed themselves) in the eye with a shoe heel out of sheer bloody frustration.

    As well as the greatest hits CDs, the volume of slebs who churn out autobiographies at this time of year grates on me too.

    I'm really quite the Grinch, aren't I?

  3. Over my years of working in retail, I've been force fed "krimmus" music so much that I had to resort to finding some really obscure stuff... which in many cases isn't even proper Christmas music.

    Tops on my list is "Dominic the Italian Christmas Donkey" by Lou Monte.

  4. Last year my good lady purchased me the Beach Boys Christmas album. It was the original album plus lots of other Christmas/Winter themed songs that they have recorded over the years.

    It's dated, but very good, if anybody fancies giving it a listen.

  5. When I worked at Scotch House (part of Burberry) as a student, we were made to endure three different versions of Mull of Kintyre. Played on bagpipes.

    From mid-October to New Year's Eve, it was Christmas carols and festive classics. Played on bagpipes.

    To this day, I can't listen to bagpipe reworkings of popular tunes without wincing. Or at all, in truth.

    Not sure if I agree with "There is an enormous richness and diversity of music written specifically for this time of year" though. There are a few gems studding the enormous pile of dung, but are they really enormous or rich or diverse?

  6. They've just gone and started the christmas music in my restaurant, and the malls and the stores and everywhere else, and I have to say, I'm ready to rip my hair out, and I love Chrsitmas.It started the day after thanksgiving with a few mixed in on our piped in muzak stuff but as of Dec. 1 its all chrsitmas all the time. Ugh.

    I do have a weak spot for bing crosby though.

  7. I'm a big fan of the oldies, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Burl Ives, and I play my Iriver on Xmas genre most of the time. Thanks for the new ideas though, and by the way, Merry Christmas ST.

  8. I refuse to go shopping at this time of year without my headphones glued to my head, and my mp3 player set to kill. Ta for the Sweeping the Nation link though. Lovely job!

  9. Grandma got run over by a reindeer?
    Those crazy yanks!

    Apparently, The Killers have a xmas single primed & ready for release, I bet we all hate that in 5 years time too.

  10. Although I'm not a big fan of country, I really like Shedaisy's Christmas cd for the reason that it has songs that are out of the ordinary. I also like Green Christmas from the Grinch....but I suppose it isn't very Christmas spirit-y.

  11. With apologies to ST for taking up space...

    *cue music*

    Grandma got run over by a reindeer/Walkin' home from our house Christmas Eve/You can say there's no such thing as Santa/But as for me and Granpa, we believe.

    She'd been drinking too much egg nog
    And we'd begged her not to go
    But she'd left her medication
    So she stumbled out the door into the snow.

    When they found her Christmas mornin'
    At the scene of the attack
    There were hoofprints on her forehead
    And incriminatin' Claus marks on her back


    Now we're all so proud of Granpa
    He's been takin' this so well
    See him in there watchin' football
    Drinkin' beer and playin' cards with cousin Belle

    It's not Christmas without Grandma
    All the family's dressed in black
    And we just can't help but wonder:
    Should we open up her gifts or send them back?


    Now the goose is on the table
    And the pudding made of pig
    And a blue and silver candle
    That would just have matched the hair in Grandma's wig

    I've warned all my friends and neighbors
    "Better watch out for yourselves"
    They should never give a license
    To a man who drives a sleigh and plays with elves!