It is the season to be jolly, but it’s also the season to sit through hours of painfully awful music. Christmas music is as divisive as the season is unifying, with the endless stream of ditties keeping the happy-go-lucky in the spirit, but sending musical purists bounding for the hills. Usually our Six Sounds column is an exercise in reduction; in our last pre-Christmas edition James Hendicott scoured the depths of modern music to search down six tracks that truly represent Christmas, without disappearing into the land of novelty trash. Even then, we ended up with a novelty Christmas song — albeit a particularly comic one — in at number six. It’s a difficult job, but someone’s got to do it…
The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl: Fairytale Of New York
The Irish-tinged rockers are, let’s face it, an absolute shoe-in for number one on any Christmas music chart. ‘Fairytale Of New York’ has drink, melancholy, Christmas bells and more sing-a-long factor than pretty much any other track ever written. And, being about a couple fighting, bears more relationship to many a real-life Christmas than the heady jingles we’ve all got used to. The Pogues are still getting commercial leeway from this moment of inspiration with an annual (and ever popular) Christmas arena tour. The ultimate Christmas song.
Judy Garland: Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas
Judy’s wartime classic has all the heartfelt emotional edge you’d expect from a 1944, downbeat Christmastime effort. Delicate and bordering on depressing, and a far cry from the merry ditty you’d expect from a title like ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’. Judy summed up the mood of the nation, and while she might well bring you down and make you think in between your glasses of red wine and mouthfuls of stuffed turkey, few Christmas tracks can be more profound.
Band Aid: Do They Know It’s Christmas?
Bob Geldof’s throw-together Christmas song is another melancholy, downbeat effort, but epitomized the Christmas spirit with its charitable aims, while at the same time reminding us all how lucky we are to be celebrating at all. Pedants might point to the non-Christian outlook of most of the people the charitable single aimed to help (rendering ‘do they know it’s Christmas?’ a tad irrelevant), but when a song is doing so much good, it’s difficult to argue. Throw in a genuine who’s who of the pop stars of the day — all singing in a manner that suggests they’d save the world themselves if they could — and you’ve got a genuine Christmas classic.
The Waitresses: Christmas Wrapping
Ok, so this has a hint of the old Christmas cheese-fest to it, but The Waitresses pull it off with a certain class, even getting away with a repetitive chorus of ‘Merry Christmas’ and an extensive trumpet solo. It’s a tale of an entire year condensed into a song with an infectious, almost indie-pop chorus that sticks in the head for perhaps a fraction too long. But the unique key to the verses is more than enough to keep it on rotation.
Jason Mraz: Winter Wonderland
Jason Mraz pulls off “cool” by being so convincingly geeky, and just not caring. His genre-spanning vocals and alluring stage presence means Mr. Mraz can get away with things that others just can’t, like throwing a quick spot of opera into the middle of his live shows, and releasing 1930s Christmas songs. There’s a hint of what made singles like ‘I’m Yours’ so successful in his version of this classic, performed live on TV by Jason back in 2003.
Taking Back Sunday: 12 Days Of Christmas
Taking Back Sunday take back a Christmas classic by hammering a rock edge into it, and adding their own comedy insight into the lyrics as they go along. The track comes together with a cartoon illustrating the entire song, and — surprisingly — largely sticks to the original lyrics aside from the mocking, though they do take care to point out that everything that comes before the gold rings is not of too much value. A one off, perhaps, for comedy value, but it’s all good fun.
James Hendicott is a travel and music writer living in Ireland, and your guide to Celtic punk in Music+Travel Worldwide from Museyon Guides. More of his work can be found at hendicottwriting.com. And be sure to check back in 2010, for a new local playlist every Wednesday morning.
image via Sketchy Santas