It’s December. By any definition, the Christmas season is once again upon us. And while ‘tis indeed the season to be jolly, as we get merry at Christmas socials, watch the final deadlines of term fly by, toast in front of fires inside while the Durham winter begins to bite – or perhaps more accurately, huddle in duvets around the radiator during the paltry two hours of heating we pay for each day – there is the inevitable caveat. It’s also the season for hearing yet again the universal tiny Christmas playlist.
You know the one. Dean Martin singing “Let It Snow”. Bing Crosby and “White Christmas”. Innumerable other baby boomer Christmas standards, sung by a succession of dull lounge singers, current pop artists and aging rockers who should know better (Rod, you’re not forgiven until you promise to stop churning out American Songbook Volumes for good). Paul McCartney with the terrible “Wonderful Christmastime”. Wizzard. Wham! Slade (although more on them later).
McCartney’s unforgivable lapse in song writing genius aside, it’s not actually too awful. But it is so damn repetitive year after year, and when you’ve got a full month, more or less, where it’s deemed acceptable for people to play them at you on repeat, it’s easy to get very tired very quickly and lose the Christmas spirit the music should invoke.
That’s why I started to compile a much wider selection of Christmas songs a few years ago – to bring some variety to this wonderful season. And so, to begin my Christmas playlist trilogy, I bring you…
Ten Fantastic Original Christmas Songs (And a Bunch of Honourable Mentions)
Bryan Adams – “Christmas Time”
Released during Bryan Adams’s first big popularity spike (thank you “Summer of ‘69”), “Christmas Time” is unashamedly an eighties power ballad. Far too much snare drum, plenty of organ and a huge sing-along chorus. But when you think about it, that’s almost exactly what you want from a Christmas song. Carols are more or less the power ballads of hymns. And the cheesy lyrics just make it better.
The Darkness – “Christmas Time (Don’t Let the Bells End)”
Rather better known than many on this list, this song became an instant classic when it was released in 2003. The theatricality of The Darkness is a perfect fit for Christmas, and combined with sleigh bells and a children’s choir on backing vocals, it makes for a great take on the standard formula. Which was of course what they were aiming for. Also – innuendos.
Eels – “Everything’s Gonna Be Cool This Christmas”
A late nineties gem. It’s cheery, it’s got sleigh bells, and it swells beautifully into the chorus on each run through. Sure it’s pretty slight, but no more so than much of the rest of the Eels’ catalogue.
The Killers – “A Great Big Sled”
The Killers are well known for writing a Christmas song each year, but they’ve never yet topped their first one from 2006. Unlike their later efforts, it doesn’t get preachy and it stays bouncing happily along, even as the lyrics take a sharp turn into Springsteen-esque worries (much like Sam’s Town, their closest corresponding album). And to be honest, the lyrics make a change – starting over at Christmas is a subtle variation on the standard themes, and it’s a nice touch.
Kula Shaker – “Snowflake”
No messing from Kula Shaker here. A fun little rocker, without the unnecessary Indian embellishments that drag down so much of their work. Crispian Mills has always written lyrics from an unashamedly British viewpoint, and his wish for a white Christmas day is pretty much spot on in that respect. Plus, he gets to fill the compulsory Kula Shaker weirdness quota by writing it from the viewpoint of the snowflake waiting to fall…
Status Quo – “It’s Christmas Time”
It’s hardly surprising that one of the best party bands in rock have a great Christmas song somewhere in their back catalogue. What’s more surprising is that it took them forty years until 2008 to write and record it. True, the song’s hardly revolutionary, either in terms of Christmas songs or Quo songs, but the band have made a career of not changing, and it plays to their advantage here, as they end up with a gleeful romp through the joys of the festive spirit.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – “Christmas All Over Again”
Jangly guitars and a laid back feel are more or less what you expect from a Tom Petty song. And when you think about it, that laid back sense is basically perfect for Christmas. Even when the song’s barrelling along at full tempo, as Petty drawls through the usual Christmasy lyrics, the song’s relaxed feel is delightful. The Christmas list at the end is a great extra touch.
Ulysses – “I Wish You a Merry Christmas”
Written and recorded in 12 hours in 2011, this song basically does what it says on the tin. One big sing along chorus, sleigh bells, festive lyrics, major key. It’s even got a key change to keep the cheesiness ramped up. That might sound terrible, but it’s so raucous and has such a great tune – which incidentally sounds like it’s been stolen from someone much more famous – that it all ends up working out.
The Waitresses – “Christmas Wrapping”
This song would make the list for the lyrics alone, even if the music (not typical Christmas fare) and arrangement weren’t fantastic as well. Chris Butler’s tale of a single woman who tries to avoid Christmas because she’s too damn busy can probably be related to by more people than are willing to admit it, but it still ends with a “very happy ending” and keeps the Christmas feeling alive. How this only made #45 is a mystery.
Slade – “Merry Xmas Everybody”
I can’t write a list of Christmas rock songs without including the one that started it all off. The first Christmas Number One that actually earned its title by being a Christmas song, Slade gave birth to the idea that you could release a Christmas single at Christmas (admittedly concurrently with Wizzard). If you’re out on Christmas Eve and you don’t hear Noddy Holder scream “It’s Chriiiiiisssssssttttttmas” at midnight, wherever you’re celebrating is doing Christmas wrong.
And a few honourable mentions, in absolutely no kind of order:
Squeeze – “Christmas Day”
The Band – “Christmas Must Be Tonight”
The Pretenders – “2000 Miles”
The Kinks – “Father Christmas”
The Feeling – “Feels Like Christmas”
Elton John – “Step Into Christmas”
Bowling for Soup – “I Miss You Most on Christmas”
Bon Jovi – “I Wish Everyday Could Be Like Christmas”
Billy Squier – “Christmas is the Time to Say I Love You”
Eddie Money – “Everybody Loves Christmas”
Chris Rea – “Driving Home for Christmas”
Chuck Berry – “Run Rudolph Run”
The Beach Boys – “Merry Christmas Baby”
Harvey Danger – “Sometimes You Have to Work on Christmas (Sometimes)”
Dave Matthews Band – “Christmas Song”