It’s the week before Christmas and we’ve all been saturated with the same old stuff for going on a month now, is anyone else fed up yet?
It’s still hard to pick out just three Christmas songs though, knowing I may never do so on this blog again (my effort lasting until next December is questionable). There has been some debate, with a colleague pushing for the 'breathtaking buoyancy and melodic momentum' of Elton John’s Step Into Christmas. Ahem, I’ll leave him to it on that one.
While my favourite Christmas song is the obvious and most played of the 21st century, The Pogues and Kirstie MacColl’s Fairytale of New York, I’d like to highlight a few lesser-known or just alternative Christmas songs. Of which there are a surprising amount, with The Ramones, Smashing Pumpkins, The Raveonettes, RUN-DMC and The Killers amongst many to have released credible efforts.
I should preface my list by saying that, although I am no Scrooge and enjoy Christmas as much as the next guy (in spite of annual comparisons to Tiny Tim), I’m particularly fond of melancholy Christmas songs. The long dark nights, the bleak weather, the excessive drinking, the arguments, spending time with family, it’s a perfect time of year for being justifiably miserable.
And this has been reflected in music over the years, with a number of seasonably sorrowful songs making it into the mainstream xmas canon. The aforementioned Pogues, Mud’s Lonely This Christmas, The Pretenders’ 2000 Miles and even Wham’s Last Christmas are all stories of misery.
So first up, from a festive EP released a few years ago called A Snowflake Fell (And It Felt Like A Kiss), a perfectly melancholy name indeed, is Glasvegas’ Please Come Back Home.
Raw, emotive and containing one of the most poignantly realistic lyrics ever put in a Christmas song - ‘The beauty and the elegance of this time of year only heightens all the darkness in me’ – this tale of lost love is tragic and yet hopeful. Perfect for a post-argument moment of reflection.
Next up is Joni Mitchell’s River. Famed for her lyrics of longing and disillusionment, Christmas was probably a pretty easy target for her, and this piano ballad with an arrangement similar to Jingle Bells certainly resonates.
From her celebrated Blue album, it tells of a longing to escape from the Christmas spirit around that we can all identify with sometime over the festive period.
And, just to put my credibility through the roof, Robert Downey Jr. did a pretty good version on Ally McBeal, which you can see here. Everyone loves RDJ.
Finally this week, to lighten the mood somewhat, is a new song I heard this week from Gruff Rhys. The Super Furry’s frontman, who I caught at Moseley Folk earlier this year, will release the brilliantly titled Athiest Xmas EP on Monday (19 December). But its more upbeat than its name suggests, even this track, Post Apocalypse Christmas, a jaunty romp about, well, what the title suggests.
Gruff Rhys - Post Apocalypse Christmas by PIASGermany
And because this blog is the gift that keeps giving, I’d also recommend a couple of new albums for Christmas 2011. Firstly, A Very She & Him Christmas, an album of reworked classics and a few lesser-known covers featuring Zooey Deschanel’s beautiful, old-timey vocals, check out a live vid here. And for something a bit more alternative and fun, This Is Christmas from Tim Wheeler and Emmy the Great, featuring songs such as Zombie Christmas and Jesus the Reindeer, and Home for the Holidays.
No one can say I haven't got in the spirit now, just look at this picture.