To quote 1970s rock band Slade, “It’s Chriiiiiiiistmaaassssssssss!!!!!!”
Yep, it’s finally happened.
Merry Christmas, one and all.
For those who don’t know, for Advent, I’ve been compiling a list of my favourite Christmas songs on Twitter – ancient carols, modern pop and everything in between, as long as it brings a certain Yuletide joy.
Each Sunday in December I’ve written a post listing the previous week’s songs and a little about why I like them/what they mean to me. Where possible I’ve tried to include a Spotify and Youtube link so everyone can listen. Unless you’re on Apple Music or Tidal, in which case, you’re on your own. Ask Taylor Swift or Beyonce to help you.
You can read the posts so far here and if you’re not so much a fan of reading you can just listen to the playlist here. You don’t even have to read this if you don’t want to. I give you permission to close this webpage.
Ok, I’ve just lost 3 of the 7 people that regularly read my blog, but that’s ok. I’ve got the best ones left.
For the last week of advent, I thought we’d stick to the absolute Christmas classics. You’ll probably know all these songs, though you might not necessarily know these versions.
So grab a class of mulled wine, get cozy, sit back and relax (or stand, I don’t care) and enjoy 7 of the best Christmas songs ever.
Fairytale of New York – The Pogues ft. Kirsty MacColl
I told you I wasn’t messing about. For many, it simply wouldn’t be Christmas without this song.
Released in 1987, this Irish folk-style ballad is a duet between MacColl and Pogues frontman Shane MacGowan and, despite questionable lyrics, has gone on to become one of the most popular Christmas songs in the UK.
Singing in the distinctive drunken howl that we have come to associate with the Irish, MacGowan and MacColl insult each other and sing an ode to Christmas in New York City – a place where you’ve definitely got to take the good with the bad.
Something about this song just makes you want to put your arms around the people next to you and mumble vague melodic noises (until you get to the chorus) and then scream out with all you’ve got about policemen and Galway Bay!
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas – Tom Odell
I have to be honest, I had overlooked this song until I re-watched the Gavin and Stacey Christmas special last week. Something about seeing that eccentric Anglo-Welsh family sing this at the end just got to me.
Unfortunately Larry Lamb didn’t record his and the West/Shipman’s cover of this Hollywood golden era gem. In his defence, he’s been busy recently doing unspeakable things in the Australian outback. Instead, here’s Tom Odell who’s voice you’ll remember from John Lewis’s saccharine Christmas advert about the penguin.
Eschewing the big booming sound of earlier versions from the likes of Sinatra, Tom’s vocals are soft and earnest as he plays along on the piano.
This one’s perfect to sing with the family or curl by the fire with a glass of mulled wine. You might not have noticed, but I kind of like mulled wine.
Carol of the Bells
Carol of the Bells is one or my favourite carols ever. You might remember it from the film Home Alone as well as countless adverts over the years.
It definitely has a little bit of a sinister feel to it, especially on the choir version but, I’ve gone for this a capella cover by the Pentatonix. These guys manage to rival even the unassailable Michael Buble when it comes to Christmas output, releasing a new Christmas album each of the last three years.
This song is a joyful paean (Google it. I did) to the ringing bells that signify Christmastime is well and truly upon us once more. This obviously harks back to a time when churches, towncriers, and I guess just random people used to ring bells willy-nilly. Thankfully, these days are no more. The modern equivalent of yuletide signal I guess is the first time you hear those jingle bells in _________ (*insert literally any Christmas song here*).
Jingle Bell Rock – Straight No Chaser
Mean Girls. Need i say more?
Of course, this song was featured in the now iconic dance scene from the 2004 high school comedy – the fateful dance that spelt the beginning of the end for Gretchen Wiener (of toaster strudel fame).
Today’s version is from a capella group Straight No Chaser and they do a great job of livening up the song.
Apparently this is Britain’s favourite carol. I used to hate it and find it incredibly boring, but in recent years, this slow, gentle hymn has started to grow on me.
The harmonies in today’s cover are absolutely stunning, while the lyrics bring to mind a lovely yet unrealistically peaceful manger scene. With labour screams, baby crying and all manner of animal noise, I can’t imagine that night was very silent, but it works for the song so let’s just enjoy that.
All I Want for Christmas is You – Mariah Carey
When I hear those first 13 xylophone notes, to be honest, when I hear the first 3 xylophone notes, I don’t care where I am, what I’m doing or who I’m with, I am getting up and I am going to sing the heck out of that song. No regrets.
This is perhaps the Chistmas tune. I absolutely love this song. So familiar, so cheerful, so difficult to sing. We’ve all tried and failed to hit that high note at the end, or at least mimic Mariah’s trademark vocal acrobatics. As My friend Hazel says, “PICK A NOTE, MARIAH!!”
“Make my wish come truuuu-ooooh-oooh-oooh-eee-ooo-oooh, all I want for Christmaaaaaas iiii-yiiii-yiiii-iiiis youuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu!”
Despite MC’s best efforts to make sure that no one other than herself is able to sing this song, I think we can all agree that is is probably one of the best Christmas songs of the last 25 years. If not, ever.
It’s definitely one of the most popular – earning (as of 2013) over $50million. And I know that I’ve probably added at least a cheeky million myself since then. Honestly, they must turn up at Mariah’s house every year with a truck full of money with all the royalties she must get from this song.
Being such a popular track, there are loads of covers for this song and many of them are quite good. Fair play, you don’t mess around when you’re covering Mariah. One that I do not enjoy is the unnecessary 2011 remix duet with Justin Bieber. I’m not even going to put the link, but the video features Mariah dancing suggestively (it’s the only way she knows how) while a teenage Bieber goes shopping for trainers and a Nintendo 3DS.
2011, ladies and gentlemen! Regardless, despite their best attempts, nothing can ruin this song for me.
Hark the Herald Angels Sing – Pentatonix
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the best part of any carol is the last verse when the band and the choir just go cray and jettison their chill with reckless abandon.
The traditional version of this song is no exception. In fact I was at a carol service yesterday and it was done beautifully. I love the traditional arrangement of this hymn but if I’m honest, it can be a little slow paced at at times. And it’s basically just a waiting game till you get your the last verse.
So because it’s Christmas day – a big celebration day! – here’s the more lively gospel-style cover from everyone’s favourite YouTube a capella group, the Pentatonix.
Turn it up and let’s have a party!
Ok, there you have it, that’s the end of the countdown!
How was it for you?
One thing I’ve learnt from doing this is the fact that I officially enjoy the Christmas season more than I do Christmas day itself. Being an adult, at least by definition, my parents have pretty much given up on the whole Christmas presents thing (other than the odd small gift), so apart from the huge meal, there’s not really much on the day for me to look forward to, other than contemplating the birth of our saviour. But you can do that any day.
Until now, I guess I’d been subconsciously harbouring retrospective youthful glee at the prospect of opening presents. But now that’s all over, I just enjoy the season. The music, the food, the parties, the lights, the sequins, even the reluctant “goodwill” where people at least try and make an effort to get along.
So that means that this whole countdown i.e. advent itself has been a bit of a countdown to nothing, really. A countdown to a nice meal and a largely ceremonial small gift exchange with my family.
Even if you get a mountain of presents every year and the most amazing Christmas dinner, have you ever been disappointed by Christmas? Found the magical glee shortlived? Or thought the excitement was better than the day itself?
If so, that’s because Christmas day is literally just a day. A day that’s not even Jesus’ real birthday and was chosen – among other reasons – to match already existing pagan festivals at the end of the year (Roman Saturnalia as well as the Winter Solstice).
Like just about every other festival (pagan or otherwise), Christmas has very much been swallowed up by the consumerism machine. I used to work in a supermarket where Christmas goods came out in late September/early October. The mince pies’ best before date didn’t even last till Christmas.
For a lot of us, Christmas is all about stuff. We acknowledge that there’s something nice about an angel and a baby and being a good person, but really it’s about the presents, or the food, or the television, or the booze.
But there’s got be more, right?
What is Christmas really about?
Ah of course, the little baby Jesus.
But why do we care about a peasant baby, born out of wedlock 2000 years ago in cave full of animal crap? Sorry, Jesus, I’m just telling it like it is.
This video talks a little about what Christmas is and why we celebrate it.
“This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life.
John 3:16 MSG
Ok, that’s my little preachy section over. And also the end of this blog series.
Have an amazing Christmas, everyone! And thanks so much for reading if you made it this far. And thanks for joining in with me on this musical adventure.
Now go and have a mulled wine, you deserve it.