It begins with the first murmurings of “All I Want For Christmas Is You”… that’s right, Christmas song season is here. Owing to the seasonality and inherent variety, what is termed as “Christmas music” lends itself to being the most varied genre of music out there. Heck, even “Killing In The Name” is now technically a Christmas song. As such, it can be hard to pick out the truly great ones, and everyone’s Top 5 will be different to the next. So, here goes nothing…
- “All I Want For Christmas Is You” – I am fully aware this is a controversial omission. However, it’s my list, and since it’s been in the Guy’s Bar rotation since at least October then I have to pass on it. In the last two months, I’ve had enough audible cheese to last a lifetime – it’s Christmas and I’m already worn out of Mariah Carey. Or, at least, until next winter…
- “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” – While fundamentally a good song, the Band Aid Christmas staple is damaged by politically incorrect lyricism about Africa that would never wash today. “Where the only water flowing / Is the bitter sting of tears”. “The greatest gift they’ll get this year is life”. Yeah. Not to mention every new version is progressively worse than the last.
- “Stay Another Day” – Purely for being the single best thing to come out of Leytonstone since David Beckham.
- “Lonely This Christmas” – I’ve had a soft spot for this song since we had to sing it in primary school for our Year 6 nativity play. A solid effort from Les Gray and Mud, though just a little bit sombre for a time of joy and harmony.
#5: “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday” – Wizzard
Aside from it’s usage in Black Mirror, Wizzard’s iconic yuletide offering benefits from not being ruined by the featuring of a children’s choir in the recording, in itself a Christmas miracle. Built upon a simple verse progression, the song always just “keeps going” in the sense of when you think it’s finally run out of gas, the band kicks up again into a radio-friendly refrain that never gets old. A festive staple that can be played again and again without getting too deep into the content – much like Home Alone 2.
#4: “Last Christmas” – Wham
In my opinion, the best Christmas songs don’t necessarily have to be about Christmas itself (more on that later). As such, despite the obvious signs, number four on my list is Wham’s legendary “Last Christmas”. More set at Christmas than necessarily being about it, Wham deliver a certified classic of a ballad that stands the test of time and one that really can be played throughout the year. That said, try blaring this one out in July…
#3: “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” – John Lennon and Yoko Ono
The feature of children’s choirs that are actually good (@ Cliff Richard) continues with my #3. John Lennon’s – fine, and Yoko Ono’s – Xmas treat of a tune ticks all of the right boxes. It’s built upon a message in the lyrics we can all get behind – though the idea that war is over if you want it has always made me laugh. That said, the song features lovely harmonies, brilliant layering and cross-rhythms after the first chorus, and a hecking great chorus that everyone can sing along to. Could do without the whispery bit right at the start, but a great tune all in all.
#2: “Christmas Lights” – Coldplay
I’ve always liked Coldplay, and I’m glad that their effort at a Christmas single was not just a re-hashed cover of “Little Drummer Boy” as it so easily could have been. I’m also a sucker for a good string arrangement, which this song utilises very well (shout out to Simon Pegg as one of the violinist Elvises in the video). The song really kicks into gear at the halfway mark, though, embracing a waltz-like rhythm that would make a lovely soundtrack at a winter wedding, topped off with a classic Coldplay “oh-oh-oh-oh” line suited for every arena around the world. Yes, it is a bit ponce-y. It is a little too sweet, like a Morrisons mince pie. But then all of these songs are, really; because it’s Christmas.
#1: “Fairytale of New York” – The Pogues feat. Kirsty MacColl
As I said, the greatest Christmas songs aren’t always about the season as a whole. Some, in fact, are stand-alone classics that sound just as good on a cold night in April as in December. The Pogues’ legendary Christmas effort, “Fairytale of New York” featuring Kirsty MacColl is a bonafide bop that sounds as good today as it did in 1987. It has all of the components of a truly great ballad, let alone a Christmas ballad. The song’s backstory – littered with rewrites and blown recordings – is as troubled as the lyrics, which tell a love story that’s equal parts heartfelt and bitter. The controversy over the lyrics has only added to the song’s folklore. It is a song filled with contrasts, mirroring the ups and downs of the holiday season. A beautiful, wonderful duet that will last forever, creating Christmas fairytales for generations to come.