Dreading another rendition of “Merry Christmas Everybody”? There are some great Christmas tracks out there to listen to instead....
Christmas records come in for a great deal of criticism some of which is fair and some of which is probably unwarranted. There have been some truly dreadful Christmas records over the years and there does seem to be something about the application of bells to a moderately terrible record to turn it into a truly terrible one. Equally the cynical commercialism that plagues the need to be Christmas number one is never going to help artistic integrity.
There are some counter arguments to this view of course. The nature of how we listen to Christmas records does tend to put them under a degree of strain. The most lovingly crafted and elegantly composed song you can imagine is going to suffer when you don’t play it at all for eleven months and then put it on heavy rotation for one. Despite this, there are a select few records that manage to rise above the normal level and be both excellent Christmas records and great songs full stop. Here are ten of them.
10) I want an alien for Christmas; Fountains of Wayne
This inspiringly peculiar outpouring from a consistently odd band is an entertaining take on children wanting pets for Christmas and replaces Rover or Mittens with a “little green guy about three feet high with seventeen eyes who knows how to fly.” Who wouldn’t want that?
9) Everything’s going to be cool this Christmas; Eels
Given that this Californian act hasn’t produced a normal record in their history, it isn’t much of a surprise to find that their Christmas record is a bit odd too- certainly there aren’t many others featuring the line “Baby Jesus- born to rock.” Despite this, it is a wonderfully crafted piece of low fi pop rock that should raise a smile.
8) Christmas was better in the 80’s; The Futureheads
It wouldn’t be a Futureheads record with a smattering of social commentary and the message for this one carries a bit of weight for me as my formative Christmases were indeed in the eighties and they were indeed brilliant. This is backed up by the same slick presentation and impressive musicality that the band is known for.
7) I wish it was Christmas today; Julian Casablancas
Strokes front man Julian Casablancas always seemed a little too cool a figure to release a Christmas record but when he did, the results were impressive. Upbeat, lively and yet still a record in keeping with Casablancas’ style (even if it does actually feature sleighbells), it is a fantastically danceable Christmas record.
6) Carol of the Bells; the bird and the bee
This reworking of a Christmas classic that dates back nearly a hundred years is at once ever so slightly kitsch and at the same time wonderfully compelling. The soaring vocals of Inara George give this a slightly ethereal quality but and this is a fine record for inspiring a bit of seasonal cheer.
5) Christmas Wrapping; The Waitresses
One of the better known songs in this list, this little slice of eighties perfection is fundamentally a warm hearted look at Christmas from a less than picture perfect viewpoint. Lyrically clever, entertainingly punchy and featuring a trademark eighties sax solo, this is a classic.
4) Xmas Prison Blues; Seasick Steve
One of the lesser known recordings from Seasick Steve, this is a heartfelt and beautifully engaging piece about Christmas from a slightly different perspective to the normal ones that Christmas records see. With a paired back presentation and Wold choosing one of his more conventional guitars to lead, this is one of the more reflective Christmas records out there.
3) O come o come Emmanuel; Sufjan Stevens
Based on a classic advent hymn from the 19th century, this is one of the songs that Stevens recorded for his family and was recently released as part of a five album (no, really) box set of Christmas songs. Sparse and almost hauntingly beautiful, Stevens’ voice is perfectly suited for the song and generates an atmosphere few other Christmas records have. The perfect piece for a cold Christmas evening.
2) Fairytale of New York; The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl
The best known song on the list suffers a little from chronic overplaying but it is a tribute to how good it is that people still love it. Shane McGowan is every bit a convincing world weary drunk and MacColl is the perfect counter. The only thing better than the cynical vocals is the soaring instrumental at the end. This is very nearly the best Christmas record ever. It isn’t though...
1) Santa Claus is back in town; Elvis Presley
... Because this is. It has become fashionable to view Presley as a parody of himself- a sort of human/cheeseburger hybrid in a spangly jumpsuit but when he recorded this in 1957, he was one of the biggest artists on earth and at the peak of his performance. The rousing opener of his Christmas album, this is simply one of most vibrant and wonderful records ever recorded for Christmas. If your soul isn’t lifted slightly by a rendition of this, you have no soul to move.
So there you have it. Naturally, this is a massive subjective list and there are quite a few songs that could arguably contest it but these are ten greats that should give your Christmas a lift.