Christmas revelry in our house usually kicks off around 17 December. This year, however, thanks to the pre-Christmas Christmas Dinner, everything started over a week early. Which means that to date I have consumed so many litres of mulled wine that I”m starting to look like a swarthy, ruddy-faced friar who’s been in about the communion wine once too often. I’m also considering buying shares in mincemeat because my “investment” in mince pies would certainly yield a return (I’m eating one right now in fact).
It also means that I’ve been listening to the same Christmas hits for nigh on three weeks. That’s almost longer than they’ve been playing in the shops. In this time I’ve found myself becoming more critical of what I once accepted without question. Instead of blindly singing along without a care for my reputation I’ve been actually listening. Paying attention. As though it’s 1984 all over again. And here, in reverse order, are my Findings – the Highs and Lows of my Christmas Playlist Top 5
.5. “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” – Band Aid (1984)
Nothing says “Christmas” more than a squad of mulleted, tapered-of-trouser pop stars ranging from Bananrama and Heaven 17 to David Bowie and Paul Weller (that’s right, Fact Fans. The Modfather himself). Whether it’s truly a favourite of mine is debatable, but what I can say is that as soon as that bell chimes and Paul Young announces “It’s Christmas time”, I know he speaks the truth.
Highlight: Boy George’s “spontaneous” and heartfelt “Woah-ohhh-oh” at 1:47.
Low points: Whilst you’re not allowed to say charity singles are shit, I think it’s acceptable to say that the instrumental at 2:19 certainly is. But perhaps the true low-point of this song is that it was responsible for the holier-than-thou union of charity-duo Geldolf and Bono, who’ve been parading themselves in front of anyone who will listen for the last 28 years, hawking their wares under the guise of Do-Gooding, instead of just quietly getting on with it. Band Aid, in this you created a monster.
4. “Little Saint Nick” – The Beach Boys (1963)
This features everything you’d expect from a Christmas hit – sleigh bells, snow and St Nick himself – but in a groovy, escape-from-the-British-December, sunshine-filled 1 minute 59 seconds. The syrupy “Run, run reindeer” at 0:59 is surf-pop gold dressed in a Santa suit, and I challenge anyone to find good reasons not to like this.
Highlights: At 0:22 we hear Santa described as “A real famous cat all dressed up in red”. I think he’d be pretty pleased to hear that.
Low point: Festive hits are often littered with lyrically-tenuous banal phrases and alas “Little Saint Nick” is no different. 8 seconds in and we’re subjected to an inane “Christmas comes this time each year”, which doesn’t immediately instil a sense of lyrical confidence. Thankfully the verse quickly raises things out of this low.
3. “Last Christmas” – Wham! (1984)
1984 was a busy year for George Michael what with his involvement in Band Aid, the release of this single and the accompanying video which truly was a test of his acting skills. Thankfully it was the 80s and ‘being gay’ hadn’t been invented yet, so when George is filmed looking longingly in the direction of his mate ‘Ridge’ we all assume it’s at his ex-mrs. He sure had us fooled.
Highlight: Oh god, where to begin? Whispered echoes of “Special” (0:53) and “Happy Christmas” (1:30) set the mood for Christmas regrets and heartbreak, and the raw power of “Tore me apaaaaaart” (3.08) and “Special” (3.52) can’t be denied. But perhaps the relative depth of the lines “Crowded room, friends with tired eyes…” (2.41) and “A face on a lover with a fire in his heart”… are the real high points, particularly given that this is a Christmas song and our lyrical expectations are low. (See “Little Saint Nick” above.)
Low point: Horrendous chiming full-length instrumental at 2.24. This is the stuff of the early Casio keyboard Demo button. With sleigh bells.
2. “Sleigh Ride” – The Ronettes (1963)
This gem is not just for Christmas in my opinion, although sleigh rides in June probably wouldn’t have the same effect.
High lights: Erm, the whole thing. Seriously, it has everything. Sixties soul, energy, key-changes, punchy-not-sleezy saxaphone and uplifting strings that wrap you up and carry you on through the snow. It even has a horse. Twice (0.06 and 2.51). This is 3 minutes of Christmas pop beauty and anyone who likes music – or Christmas – should give it a whirl.
Low points: Too short. (Sorry, but that’s all I can come up with.)
1. “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day” – Wizzard (1973)
This belter has stuck with me for 28 years, and trumps “Sleigh Ride” only because of longevity. And the memories. All the usual Christmas-song suspects are there, including those ubiquitous sleigh bells, kids choir with accompanying rude noises to amuse said kids (0:05), and an admirable depth of feeling and love for Christmas expressed in universally simplistic terms. All against a back-drop of 70’s glam rock, sateen flares and men in glittery capes. Genius.
Highlight: Roy Wood’s final crescendo with which he takes the body of the song out – : “Why don’t you give your looooooove fo-o-o-or Christmaaaaaaas?” – and which makes everyone who hears it think that giving Your Love for Christmas is the only way forward. Brilliant.
Low point: more tenuous lyrics with “When the snowman brings the snow”, aggravated through repetition by Stockland Green Bilateral School kids choir. Stop the track before this kicks in and you have the perfect Christmas hit.
So there it is. These, amongst others, are the tunes which will form the soundtrack to the arrival of my brother and his Mrs in less than 24 hours, to our journey up north, and to what will no doubt be the best Christmas ever. Just like the last one, and the one before that, and the one before that…