Favourite Christmas Songs

by Harry on December 7, 2007

Talking of music, can it really be 4 years since we asked what the most annoying Christmas record is? Well, since then, youtube has enabled us to play them for you. So, instead of most annoying, this year I’d like your favourites. Here are the rules. The recording must be recognisably related to Christmas, must be non-traditional in some hard to define way, and while jokes are entirely welcome, they must be funny. One more rule: no wry, ironic, or mean references to Cliff.

Let me kick off with two secular songs, and two religious. First Jona Lewie’s Stop the Cavalry. Despite the wierd anachronisms and slightly unrespectable ott anti-war message, I love it simply for the refrain. When I used not to be home for Christmas, I would sing the whole thing to myself over and over, knowing neither the name of the song nor the singer. I know our British readers will be appalled by my complete lack of sophistication, but I also love Merry Christmas Everybody (even if you hate it, as I’m sure you do, it’s worth watching the first few seconds just to see Kid Jensen and John Peel not enjoying themselves). My wife won’t allow it to be played in the house.

From the ridiculous to the sublime (and religious). I once read that In the Bleak Midwinter is Britain’s favourite carol, which surprised me; sung here by Bert Jansch, with slightly different words than I remember. And finally, for Lindsey in France and Val in Madison, here is Def Leppard (yes, really) with what I find the most moving Christian pop song of the lot, Lindisfarne’s Winter Song. (“for Lindsey and Val”—I should have been Michael Aspel, or perhaps the other Cliff). And after you’ve listened, whatever you think of the religious message, take up the secular message, get out your credit card, go to Oxfam and donate a little bit more than you think you can afford.

{ 55 comments }

1

Ray 12.07.07 at 4:09 pm

Sufjan Stevens is all you need.
http://www.amazon.com/Songs-Christmas-Sufjan-Stevens/dp/B000HLDF0O/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=music&qid=1197043583&sr=8-1

but check out the similar posts on Slacktivist and Uncertain Principles

2

Bill Gardner 12.07.07 at 4:31 pm

“Koppangen” — Anna Sofie von Otter.

3

lindsey 12.07.07 at 4:40 pm

I clicked on “Merry Christmas Everybody” in the presence of my English flatmate and her boyfriend and they almost killed me. Apparently it’s not one of their favorites (though I had never heard it before, not surprisingly). All of the English cultural references,by the way, are completely over my head. I’ll add that the Winter Song and In the bleak midwinter are both some of my favorites now, and I had never heard of them until your recommendation.

For what it’s worth, Allison Crowe does a fabulous job of the Midwinter song here. On the same Christmas CD, she has the song Hallelujah which I don’t usually think of during Christmas time, but it was apparently included because it’s a song about deep spiritual yearning, which I guess is appropriate at this time of year. So there you have it.

4

Bill Gardner 12.07.07 at 4:42 pm

Sorry! von Otter’s recording isn’t funny. I didn’t read the post carefully.

5

Chris Bertram 12.07.07 at 4:46 pm

The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl – Fairytale of New York.

6

Nick L 12.07.07 at 4:49 pm

Every year at university I used to listen to ‘Last Stop This Town’ by the Eels before heading off home for Christmas. The Eels also did the more upbeat ‘Everything’s gonna be cool this Christmas’, which (jinglebell)rocks.

I’ll also put in a good word for the Smashing Punpkins’ ‘Christmastime has come’. The lyrics sound saccharine, but in classic Pumpkins fashion, the song comes accross as slightly cryptic nonetheless.

7

Patrick 12.07.07 at 4:50 pm

Yes, yes, yes to “Fairytale of New York,”

“You scumbag, you maggot, you cheap lousy faggot,
Merry Christmas, my arse, I hope it’s our last.”

I’m gonna go get it out now.

8

richard 12.07.07 at 4:59 pm

thanks for Stop the Cavalry – apparently evergreen in its message, even in its deriding Churchill, beloved by warmongers everywhere. Also, 10 years into my exile, I’m clinging to anyone brave enough to sing without a put on American accent – so kudos to Jona Lewie.

Now why hasn’t Suggs done a Christmas song, about being stood up at a curry house in Camden?

9

Chris Bertram 12.07.07 at 5:01 pm

And I should add, Mary Gauthier, “Christmas in Paradise”, which I first heard her play in Madison, Harry (and she made a joke about Brits who listen to Bob Harris.)

10

John 12.07.07 at 5:05 pm

My God but that Jansch song gets you in the throat.

11

Matt Weiner 12.07.07 at 5:06 pm

12

Matt 12.07.07 at 5:11 pm

I used to have a soft spot for The Ramones’ song “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight)”, but then again, I used to have a soft spot for pretty much any Ramones song. I’m also (really) a big fan of the song “Please Daddy, Don’t get Drunk this Christmas”, apparently written by John Denver but usually played by honky-tonk type bands.

13

JP Stormcrow 12.07.07 at 5:21 pm

The Roches put out a pretty compelling album of Christmas songs a few years back. It does get to be a bit much to listen to the whole thing – but a few are excellent, in particular I think their treatment of “Good King Wencelas” is outstanding.

14

Watson Aname 12.07.07 at 5:50 pm

The Sufjan Stevens set is a bit much all at a go (5 disks?) but there are some real gems.

15

Jack Fear 12.07.07 at 5:58 pm

I’ve long loved “Winter Song,” and here I thought I was the only one. Even though it stinks of hippie, and the lyric is on some levels ridiculously naive, God damn if it doesn’t work. Lindisfarne’s original is just a beautifully-made recording, too.

Jane Siberry does a version of “In The Bleak Mid-Winter” that reworks the melody considerably: it’s on her live CD Child, and it’s just heart-stopping.

I’ve still got a weakness for “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.” It’s been done over to death by legions of hacks, but as a song, it is still a marvel—aching, wistful, sad, ultimately hopeful.

16

Joshua W. Burton 12.07.07 at 6:04 pm

17

Joshua W. Burton 12.07.07 at 6:07 pm

And, for a change of pace, On Yoolis Night.

18

djw 12.07.07 at 6:23 pm

John Fahey’s Christmas albums. Giving them as gifts to family members a few years back was a canny move on my part, as this move insured that something listenable would be part of the rotation at Christmas gatherings.

19

dsquared 12.07.07 at 7:11 pm

“December will be magic again” by Kate Bush is usually the only song on those compilations which is bearable on repeated listening, which matters for anyone who has ever worked in the retail industry.

20

Ray 12.07.07 at 7:16 pm

Half Man Half Biscuit
“It’s cliched to be cynical at Christmas”

21

SamChevre 12.07.07 at 7:19 pm

The two I always hope to hear on the radio are Montgomery Gentry, “Merry Christmas from the Family” and Travis Tritt’s version of “Here’s Your Sign.”

Also, the Maryland State song is good at Christmas.

22

Fats Durston 12.07.07 at 7:53 pm

Bouquet of Veal’s “It’s Christmas”:

It’s Christmas/
It’s not for the Jews/
It’s Christmas/
And I’m swimmin’ in booze/
I’m’onna miss this/
After Christmas.

Fuck you, stupid homeless guy/
You put a damper on my jubilation…
peeing pictures in the snow…

Thank you Rhino Records and library patron sales…

23

Fats Durston 12.07.07 at 7:53 pm

stupid html

24

kid bitzer 12.07.07 at 8:03 pm

not really funny, just very beautiful and not well known:
‘oh christmas cometh caroling’, by alfred burt.

http://www.alfredburtcarols.com/burt/Web%20Pages/42.htm

imagine that brian wilson was writing “in my room” one christmas, and decided to write a carol while he was at it. now imagine that brian was also a devote anglican. now imagine that brian wrote it two decades before the beach boys ever got together, in 1942.
gorgeous harmonies, and some chord changes that brian woulda liked a lot.

25

kid bitzer 12.07.07 at 8:07 pm

24–
as a bonus, listen to the composer’s wife talk about its composition. brian wilson’s method, too:
procrastinate for a long time, and then sit at the piano and knock it out in ten minutes.

26

Mrs Tilton 12.07.07 at 8:18 pm

Bill @4,

I read Harry’s rule not as requiring that the song be funny, but rather that if the song contain a joke, then the joke must be funny.

As for me, I got nothing. At Christmas I only ever listen to the rockin’, rockin’ plainchant Xmas services of the chœur des moines de l’abbaye St.-Pierre de Solesmes.

27

harry b 12.07.07 at 10:24 pm

no — I meant that jokes in the comments should be funny…

28

Nick Barnes 12.07.07 at 10:49 pm

Lindsey@3:
the song Hallelujah which I don’t usually think of during Christmas time, but it was apparently included because it’s a song about deep spiritual yearning, which I guess is appropriate at this time of year.
Doesn’t anyone listen to the words of this song? It is indeed about deep spiritual yearning. It’s also about romantic love, and the essential spirituality of great sex, and abandonment, betrayal, and despair. It’s a tremendously powerful song, especially by either Cohen or Buckley, but I’m not sure it’s about Christmas, exactly.
Give me Shane and Kirsty, any day.
People of a certain age might have a soft spot for the Midge and Bob show.
But for your actual Christmas, you can’t beat the Perpendicular parade.

29

GeoX 12.07.07 at 10:58 pm

I mainly like old, traditional Christmas music. Steeleye Span’s “Gower Wassail” is my favorite seasonal song EVAH. Their recent album Winter is also surprisingly good. The Christmas Revels’ albums are another great source for this kind of music.

Another topic: “Fairytale of New York” is a great song, sure, but I feel like people are overly hung up on the “transgressive” aspects of it–words like “slut,” “faggot,” and “arse” in a Christmas song, how shocking! That’s not the last verse, you know. It’s actually quite sweet at the end.

30

dsquared 12.07.07 at 11:04 pm

by the way, “All I want for Christmas is you” is a genuinely excellent song from the Motown Christmas album (I am a big fan of the quite strange descending bassline) and Mariah Carey’s version of it is perfectly acceptable. I know this isn’t a popular choice, but nor is “Can you stop the cavalry”

31

Bill Gardner 12.07.07 at 11:13 pm

Mrs Tilton,

Thank you. Honestly, I would learn to read, but I have a grant deadline pending.

I will add what I nominated last time, the well-known album from the Blind Boys of Alabama, especially Chrissy Hinde’s ‘In a bleak midwinter.’

32

Uncle Kvetch 12.07.07 at 11:50 pm

I don’t know if the Waitresses’ “Christmas Wrapping” qualifies as “funny” or merely “pleasantly whimsical,” but it’s a favorite. As is Eartha Kitt’s “Santa Baby.”

In the traditional/sacred/solemn realm, nothing stirs up the old vestiges of devotion in this long-lapsed Catholic quite like the “For unto us a child is born” from Handel’s Messiah.

I mainly like old, traditional Christmas music. Steeleye Span’s “Gower Wassail” is my favorite seasonal song EVAH. Their recent album Winter is also surprisingly good.

Maddy Prior & the Carnival Band’s “A Tapestry of Carols” is excellent as well.

33

lindsey 12.08.07 at 1:27 am

nick,
Yes I agree that it is! I just don’t associate it with Christmas. But it’s a wonderful song packed with emotion.

34

aa 12.08.07 at 2:18 am


This
would be better with the pre-Sinatra lyrics, but it’s still a wonderful song packed with commotion.

35

vivian 12.08.07 at 2:33 am

Speaking of The Pretenders, I always liked 2000 miles. Not to mention, This CD gets better each year I listen to it. For live Christmas music, Black Nativity is spectacular, at least around here. I doubt it would work on the radio though, and Youtube only has a ‘making of’ clip from Seattle.

36

Bruce Baugh 12.08.07 at 2:57 am

I agree about the merits of Alfred Burt; I believe John Rutter’s recorded some of his work.

Three from me:

Baby It’s Cold Outside, by Holly Cole. The songs range from the hilariously lascivious (her performance of “Baby It’s Cold Outside” brought out romantic giggles in my parents each year) to the deeply moving (“If We Make It Through December”), all in her usual rich smooth jazz style. I’ve been known to describe Cole’s albums as coming from an alternate universe where jazz never went out of fashion – aware of rock and the rest of the pop music world, but doing its own things too. In any event, this is one of my great annual pleasures of the season.

Excelsis: A Dark Noel, by various artists on the Projekt label. It’s mostly downhill after the first album but the sale price is so good it’s worth getting the set. What we have here is a variety of goth and related bands doing Christmas music as if it were their own, and doing it seriously (particularly on the first album). A lot of those carols sound genuinely reverent in a way they almost never do this side of local earnest church choir records, and intelligently arranged to boot. This is almost always my first carols album of the season, the weekend after American Thanksgiving.

Christmas Eve and Other Stories, by Trans Siberian Orchestra. Another case where I like the first album much more than what follows. As I understand it, the project creator is a Broadway production guy who found himself missing big brassy Broadway-style Christmas music shows, so he put some new ones together. It’s all terribly gaudy and I feel like it’s almost something I’d hate, and yet it amuses and satisfies me. is probably their single best track, a thoroughly show-stoppin’ rendition of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” with the orchestra and the electric guitars and the what-not.

37

Bruce Baugh 12.08.07 at 2:57 am

.

Whoops. Hope that closes the link.

38

SG 12.08.07 at 3:33 am

I agree about the cavalry song.

I once heard an excellent creepy version of the night before xmas by Henry Rollins. Same lyrics, but the sound of helicopters and battle in the background, and read with just such a tone that it sounded like Santa was a serial killer or a terrorist, and his “presents” sinister. His final ho ho ho was very creepy…

39

Henry (not the famous one) 12.08.07 at 5:58 am

too many to name just one.

“Merry Christmas Baby” by Charles Brown–“I haven’t had a drink this morning but I’m all lit up like a Christmas tree.”

Other end of the spectrum–“Christmas in Jail”–heard it on a broadcast by the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s program 25 years ago, haven’t heard it since. Randy Brown where are you?

“White Christmas” by either Charlie Parker or by the Clyde McPhatter-led Drifters.

40

ben saunders 12.08.07 at 12:02 pm

I’m amazed that someone else mentioned the Excelsis goth compilations (#36), although personally I found much of them a bit disappointing. I hoped that bands like Attrition would be much more irreverent…

Another worth a mention, I think, is the Barenaked Ladies holiday album. We played it in our flat Christmas dinner last year and all agreed it was suitably festive while not being quite as cliched as more traditional Christmas music.

Examples: one and two

41

Martin Wisse 12.08.07 at 1:31 pm

Anybody British not liking Slade’s Merry Christmas is either lying or a miserable f*ck*r.

I mean, you can get sick of it hearing it thirty times a day in bloody november, but get it on at christmas itself and everybody will be up on the dancefloor.

42

barney 12.08.07 at 10:09 pm

I don’t know if it’s a joke and if it is, I’m not sure it’s a funny one, but Bathtub Shitter’s Bathtub Shitter Xmas contains a cover of “The Little Drummer Boy” as well as the new holiday classics(?) “Brown Xmas (A Cappella)” and “Holy Shit.”

El Vez’s Merry MeXMas is a funny one and has a fine PiL-style cover of “Feliz Navidad.”

43

owain 12.08.07 at 11:25 pm

In my family, we can’t get through tree trimming withoug Kokomo Joe and his steel band doing .

44

owain 12.08.07 at 11:28 pm

Another try at the link:

Caribbean Christmas

45

engels 12.09.07 at 12:10 am

46

engels 12.09.07 at 1:07 am

47

engels 12.09.07 at 1:09 am

Strange. If anyone is interested, the link to the song above doesn’t work when you click on it, but it does if you paste it into the address bar.

48

SG 12.09.07 at 2:12 am

ben, the Projekt goth collections are good. And this year I have a synthpop compilation winging its way to me from my heroes at A Different Drum. If I have to listen to these stupid songs (and boy do I have to …) at least let them be electronic!

49

lindsey 12.09.07 at 9:17 am

Oh and for all you who will be having a green and tropical Christmas this year, there’s always Bing’s Mele Kalikimaka

And I think someone already mentioned this, but my absolute favorite (by which I mean, when it comes on my friends and I have to sing and dance) is Mariah Carey’s version of “All I want for Chistmas is You” (the music video is probably the most wholesome one she’s ever made)

50

bernarda 12.09.07 at 11:12 am

I am not sure that satire is in your criteria, but here is “12 Days of Christmas” by Foxnewsiness.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y3lJec7_QbQ

You can also find a Redneck “12 Days” on youtube.

There is an original song by Roy Zimmerman. “Christmas is Pain”.

51

jay bee 12.09.07 at 4:06 pm

No mention for the McGarrigle Christmas album?? A quality time with Kate & Anna McGarrigle and assorted friends (Emmy Lou Harris) and family (Rufus and Martha Wainwright, Kate’s children but not Louden Wainwirght III their dad, I suppose the season of goodwill can only go so far?)

52

Jacob Christensen 12.10.07 at 4:29 pm

You’ll probably have to understand Danish to appreciate veteran pop group Shu-Bi-Dua’s version of White Christmas called Rap Jul, but I think it is welcome relief.

Anyway, it’s quite an angry rant where the singer performs as Donald Duck complaining about having most of his family killed, stuffed and eaten on Christmas Eve. Mr. Duck recommends eating pork for Christmas instead. Full text here.

(In Danish, ducks say “rap”, not “quack”, the pun on rap music is intented, and yes, duck is one of the traditional dishes for Christmas in Denmark).

53

guano 12.10.07 at 7:01 pm

Also available on YouTube is Alan Hull himself singing “Winter Song” at Newcastle City Hall on Christmas Eve 1984. Alan is dead now, of course. I first heard him singing this in the early ’70s when Lindisfarne were Alan Hull and Brethren and they played in drafty rooms in the back of pubs. We did indeed “pull the bedclothes higher and dream of summer time instead”.

54

guano 12.11.07 at 7:44 am

An interesting fact about Lindisfarne is that some of ther group (though not Alan Hull) were at the same secondary school as Tony Blair and most probably knew him.

55

angel 12.12.07 at 11:00 pm

wow

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