A Christmas Song Pension Scheme

Noddy Holder refers to the track as his pension scheme

The year 1973
The band Slade
The song Merry Xmas Everybody

Back in ‘73 there were two bands who released Christmas themed songs about the same time. So began the contest for Christmas Number One, covered in an earlier post. Personally, I might prefer the other one:

‘I wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday’ by Wizzard (song titles at the time were pretty self-explanatory).

But to each their own.

The tracks are fairly similar but do differ in a few key areas. Namely, the Slade one has Noddy Holder shouting “It’s Christmas!”, which is always better than any other Christmas song. No other tune can match it for purity.

Also, Slade explicitly tells everyone to look into the future as it’ll be much brighter than the mid 70s. Fewer fuel crises, less austerity, more peace in the Middle East, perhaps?

At least there isn’t a fuel crisis just now.

Slade didn’t want to do a Christmas song. It was cobbled together from one of those riderless riffs that bands compose but can’t think of what to do. Mostly at the behest of their manager. Today’s entry in the Christmas Jukebox series is about motivation.

Many people are cynical about Christmas. In the field of Christmas songs, it’s easy to see why. They all seem like fairly shameless cash grabs from a certain angle. If they are a new recording of a traditional carol, it’s great as there is no writer to be paid. If they are original, it’s great as a long-term investment – for example, The Darkness didn’t get all of their sales for ‘Christmas Time’ the year it came out, it’s been slow-growing and bolstered by inclusion on various compilations. Point is, somebody is raking it in from Christmas songs. It all depends on time. Most of these songs are not written, recorded and released solely for a love of Christmas, they are for currency.

I wonder why the same people who are cynical about Christmas economic activity are not equally cynical about all economic activity, given that it’s all essentially somebody doing something for money. But please excuse this temporary Marxist undertone.

I totally get it. Everyone seems a bit unsure about artists making money. To the extent that many are having a real problem these days as everybody wants to pay for art in “exposure”. Way I see it, though, part of art is making something that other people like and want to get behind. One part of getting behind is people saying how much much they love it. Another more tangible way of getting behind art is money.*

If you measure art in terms of money made, an ideal place to look is Noddy Holder. He apparently gets half a million pounds a year in royalties. Not too shabby.

This song means a lot more to British people than money. For me it’s a nice link to my childhood. When I hear this song I can see my granny’s face. She always spent Christmas with us. She loved us very deeply.

Remembering her is sometimes painful, but I’m told that’s just life after death for those that continue.

Christmas songs, then, can be this connection to the past. They can stir memories often left undisturbed for some time.

All cynicism left to one side, these songs have made some of their writers pretty wealthy for good reason. They can act as important emotional links to the past. They made something good and original and it’s become part of the structure of Christmas. They also celebrate that the future will be brighter, a sentiment sorely needed after this year.

My excitement is building rapidly.

*Although I am more of an enthusiastic amateur in this writing game, this saves me from the pain of marketing AND means I don’t need to beg and cajole people for money very often.

The writer of this piece started writing about one thing, switched to another, then another following a brief moment of honesty. He is pretty good at analysing his own writing but less good at editing it after. A lot more content with 1 complete work versus 20 imperfect, unfinished drafts.

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Hey Guys! It’s Christmas Time

The year 2006
The singer Sufjan Stevens
The song Hey Guys! It’s Christmas Time

This season has led me to a great discovery, my bird really digs Christmas things. She likes the decorations, properly wrapped presents, Christmas cake, the works. She also has a huge number of Christmas songs, which has been great for me coming up with things. She’s very lovely.

So, here’s one of her suggestions. Sufjan Stevens. The song choice was mine because, in stark distinction to yesterday’s more choral ‘Christmas Jukebox’ selection, this song has so much going on. It’s got so much going on that I feel it’d take me so many listens to separate it all. The whole is worth more than the sum of its parts, however, so let’s focus on that.

It’s undoubtedly Christmassy. There is a reindeer reference. The refrain is ‘it’s Christmas time’. It’s frankly epic. It starts with blaring electric guitar, then becomes gentle for the verse before returning to the blare. There’s a sound I can’t explain however, a weird twangy noise that sounds like the noise of a twangy piece of rubber inside a bottle. Can anyone help me out?

I went looking in the track listings for what it could be but found it unhelpful since it could be percussion or a strange effects pedal. On looking at the track listings, I discovered that Stevens did almost everything himself. He had a sound engineer, but all instruments were by him. What an insanely talented guy.

It turns out his Christmas album was songs he’d recorded for his friend and family as gifts. Because of that he did a lot of it himself. He wanted it to be personal presents from him. It’s a wonderfully gift idea if you’ve got the musical skill.

Taking it back to my jump off point, my bird doesn’t make music, but she does make cake

The writer of this piece has left to go eat cake

O Holy Night

To the woman currently feeding me as I write.

Something soft yet powerful tonight. ‘O Holy Night’ is another of these traditional songs that has been recorded by thousands of artists. I’ve selected an acapella version by a group I’ve never heard of because I prefer it without a whole orchestra.

Minimal. Space for the words to have impact. It’s lyric heavy. Anyway, I don’t know if anybody listens to it for the tune.

Composed in 1847 by Adolphe Adam, the song was originally in French. There are a few different English versions but almost all of them feature redemption as a key theme.

I feel that right now. I solemnly regret to inform you, my readers, that my previous night on the sauce has left me nursing a hangover.

It’s rare that I listen to hymns. My upbringing was not religious and I’ve seldom gone to church. I’d consider myself an agnostic atheist. Regardless, I must freely confess that I admire the music.

I appreciate that people have faith in God. That people have their beliefs, traditions and rituals. Generally, I’m less comfortable when it becomes a sticking point and people use their faith and beliefs to dictate how other people live. I’d never do the same.

But I’d certainly have different beliefs if I believed in eternal torment.

Christmas time is different than other times and so even people who are not of the church listen to the hymns and feel something of the emotive power. It’s a shared tradition, there’s a secular dimension and a religious one. And everyone celebrates differently. It’s part of what makes the season wonderful.

The writer of this piece would like to say to his readers of all denominations and none, a happy Christmas!

👏BONUS👏LATIN👏TRACK👏

Ye Merry Gentlemen

The year 2000
The band Barenaked Ladies and Sarah McLachlan
The song God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen/ We Three Kings

My fiancée’s favourite, but we have a work night out so this will be quick and painless. Feel free to skip the long italic sentence below, though it does provide some colour so by all means continue.

Something great about this December Christmas Jukebox writing challenge, of which I’m now writing the 8th addition while addressing you, my dear readers, assorted relatives, parents, my fiancée, and random weirdos – of whom I count myself – who want more Christmas songs than the endless bombardment, is the sheer range of these Christmas songs and myriad versions available, bringing different genres, sounds, and voices, to bear on a topic dear to the hearts of all we lovers of love. Be awesome you Merry people!

Tidings of comfort and joy. Isn’t that what we all wish each other most of the time? It’s strange we need a holiday, an occasion, to proclaim it from the rooftops. It’s also strange that we aren’t all intensely cynical about the whole thing, when it’s clear that wishes don’t always work and love sometimes flounders. Nevertheless, we continue. And that’s what I love about people.

Their capacity to love and continue loving.

Find an additional song below!

The writer of this piece somewhat feels he’s letting people down by keeping it short like this but also feels it’s important to continue it as a daily thing and continue living life besides it.

White Christmas

This is item number 7 in my Christmas Jukebox series, sort of like an advent calendar of posts about Christmas songs and what they mean. Read this then check out my earlier work, it’s fine stuff.

“Grab your pen and take down this song. I just wrote the best song I’ve ever written—heck, I just wrote the best song that anybody’s ever written!” – Irving Berlin

The year 1954
The band The Drifters

This list wouldn’t be complete without White Christmas, and though it hasn’t yet snowed much here in Prague, the song is about hoping and dreaming for a white Christmas, not celebrating the fact there is one.

The song is about memory, about tradition. The first version was by Bing Crosby all the way back in 1942.

That’s the 1947 version but I can’t imagine Bing changed it up too much like some remix or what have you. Given it’s about tradition and memory, why did I lead with the nontraditional and less well-known Drifters version first? Because it has a nice energy to it.

The Crosby version has a feeling of the Second World War to it. It’s got the pace of Vera Lynn. It’s not among my top 3 Crosby songs.

Well, did you Evuh? What a swell party this is.

{Digression: Part of this War feeling is maybe the fact that the writer was in a hotel that Frank Capra (director of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’) stayed at. How’s this for a fun fact, Capra ran the US army propaganda department during the Second World War and had a young Dr. Seuss on staff drawing pamphlets teaching US soldiers to protect themselves against malaria.}

During and immediately after the Second World War people were very keen on old traditions. People wanted to remember a time when the world was a lot less fascism and bombs flying and more gazing at snow falling. That’s probably why the song performed so well commercially. So much so that there’s at least 500 different versions of it.

It’s the best selling song ever. It will likely hold the record for physical single sales forever since there is no longer a mass market for CD, cassette, and vinyl. The closest competitor is Elton John with ‘Candle in the Wind’, and he’s 17 million singles short.

So, it’s a good and popular song and Crosby’s version is the natural choice. Nevertheless, I went with The Drifters.

My feelings towards the past is that sometimes we build it up too much. The present is actually fairly magical, given we can see it happen and notice our impact on it. I love historical study, all the fun facts, and I have a soft spot for certain traditions, but what’s the point of a good thing if you can’t touch it, edit it, interact with it?

I picked a nontraditional version of White Christmas because I support people interacting with the Christmas canon. There’s loads of songs out there, if you’d like, you can listen to all the different versions of White Christmas and tell me the best, so why stick with the well-beaten track?

I’ll get off my soapbox now. Enjoy the song and join me again tomorrow for another!

The writer of this piece would appreciate some snow, even though he spends a lot of time outside.

Christmas Raps and Christmas Wrapping

The year 1987
The group Run DMC
The rap Christmas in Hollis

What’s Christmas without wrapping? The feeling of anticipation you get right before opening a present is often more powerful than the present itself. As it is with presents, so it is with this song.

Day 6 of my Christmas Jukebox series brings us neatly to Run DMC’s ‘Christmas in Hollis’. The beat is incredible. It came at the time where Jam Master Jay was experimenting with some different techniques, more record scratches, which would go on to be important in ‘Walk This Way’ and would define the structure of rap beats for years to come. There are two stories in the song, Rev. Run raps Santa and DMC pays tribute to his mom’s Christmas meals.

It’s a good structure, both the fantastic and the real. Most Christmas songs are one or the other, Run DMC blend both elements brilliantly.

It’s also different in that they celebrate the people who make Christmas happen. The only other Christmas song I can think of with any reference to mothers is Jackson 5’s one about mommy kissing Santa Claus. Not really a celebration of the work parents put in.

Moving swiftly on, today you get two!

The year 1981
The band The Waitresses
The song Christmas Wrapping

So the first one was a bit of a verbal pun (‘rap’, ‘wrapping’, geddit?), and it turns out record producers are streets ahead of me in this department. Hip Hop was coming into fashion, so this pop punk band made a kind of semi-rapping attempt at delivering the lines. To me it sounds more punk than rap, but whatever, it works pretty well.

Anyway, here’s a story from my life. Once upon a time, I went to work in a department store. I was in the department that wrapped gifts, but I had a major problem: I couldn’t wrap for toffee. Smaller items were no problem because they’re really simple, children can and do wrap small boxes with no problem. My issue was that slightly bigger or weirder shaped objects triggered some kind of primal fear in me. I “delegated” (read: got someone else to do it, with all the authority of a shop assistant) whenever possible.

Kettles were a particular problem.

One day a lady comes to me with a kettle and I look around in panic. Everyone else is with a customer. This one was on me.

The end result was not especially good. The customer gave me some pretty intense daggers and went home to redo it herself.

A colleague came up to me, presumably with something nice to say, I thought:

“You sure fucked that one up.”
“What?”
“Did you charge her for that?”
“Aye.”
“You shouldn’t’ve.”
“It was a kettle.”
“So what? Do it right or do it again or don’t charge, don’t rip people off.”*

This must’ve been late October or so. I had to drastically improve for Christmas. There is only one way to improve. Practise x 3.

So I did all the gift wrapping I could, some of it empty boxes filled with tissues or staplers for ballast, in order to be ready.

Some of my colleagues got a bit confused about missing staplers, but what’s a 2 second annoyance compared to wrapping greatness?

In the end, I maybe reached 6th place out of a department of 7. At least I’m now a banging wrapper. People have paid me to do it so I’m basically a pro.

You’d think that this would be an immeasurable skill, but it seldom comes up.

The main point is that, like a lot of things, you can get good at wrapping with practice so there’s no excuse not to improve. Even if it’s a kettle.

*conversation may have been more professional on her end than I recall, but I was relatively young and it sounded to me like RuPaul sayin “don’t fuck it up”.

***

The writer of this story is definitely way ahead on his Christmas shopping.

Christmas Jukebox: Baby Please Come Home

The year 1963
The singer Darlene Love
The song Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)

This song feels like part of the architecture of Christmas. It’s iconic.

I actually have very little to say on the song, the sweeping power of the vocals speaks for itself, but it felt like a totally necessary inclusion in this series for its emotive force. And also because I do miss home sometimes and can totally relate to this song.

Christmas is a time when we rekindle seldom kindled relationships. Where you can hear from people you only hear from once or twice a year, the passing like on Facebook, the occasional comment on a post, the rare message. Christmas is this whole invitation to reconnect with people and find out how they are doing, to let them know how you are doing.

It’s a chance to talk about the important things in life. A time to assess how you’ve done and think about moving forward.

Granted, the claims of “We should see each other more often” mean slightly less at Christmas as they are so flippant and rarely followed, but the thought is a truly nice thing. You know what, we should see more of each other.

For me, this Christmas is special because it’ll be the first Christmas I’ve spent with my brother in almost four years. The season is maybe different to him now, having spent years in the other hemisphere, but I’m sure the feeling is mutual. His girlfriend will also be there, and I am very glad as my impression of her has always been good.

My fiancée will also be with me, our first Christmas together. My parents have been chased out of the house, briefly, to accommodate us all!

As well as it being the first Christmas with my fiancée and the first with my family in a long time, I have been presented with a shocking idea.

It’s early days yet and I can’t tell the future, but the theory goes thus: I am now an adult man with a fiancée whom I will have married by next year. We are both interested in having children. People with children tend to spend Christmas morning with said children. Therefore, as one of my students suggested, this could be one of my last Christmas mornings with my parents.

It’s almost unthinkable that I could mature so swiftly in such a short time, but that could be the direction we are going.

Then again, family is extremely important to me, so I think that may be 2 or 3 Christmases off.

This song, then, symbolises to me, the separation people can feel at Christmas. It also hints at a possible future where, moving forward, I will start my own household.

I hope I see a lot of my family either way.

The writer of this piece is not crying, he’s just been chopping onions.

If you want to see more in the series, go here and find links.

Christmas Jukebox: Number 1’s

The year 2003
The film Love Actually
The song ‘Christmas is All Around’

Bill Nighy’s character, Billy Mack, is a washed up rock star who is recording a Christmas themed song to try and get the Christmas number one spot. He bleeds cynicism about the whole endeavour, and with good reason. But it turns out well and eventually he learns about the love of a friend. D’aww.

In reality, Christmas number ones rarely mention Christmas in their title, and don’t often even have a Christmas theme. Only seven mentioned Christmas in the title and three of those were ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ in different years. They also aren’t a great way to make money, not for artists anyway. Many of them are for charity. Maybe the good publicity is worth it, plus the fact classic tunes get a lot of airtime every year. That being said, 6 of the last 10 were X-Factor contestants, and those probably never get played more than once.(Source for all that here). However, sometimes there are some real surprises.

Today’s entry in the series is on Christmas number ones. It should be informative for people from other countries, but for those from the UK it’s also a nice nostalgic trip back through the years. This is a story about two of the competitions for number 1 and what they meant. Let’s begin!

Eminem vs. Bob the Builder

What, what, what?! I hear you exclaim through the screen. And do you know what? It turns out I remembered this one incorrectly, but here is my memory…

The year was 2000. The theme tune of a British children’s television character came up against Slim Shady in the battle for number 1. At this point, Eminem was unassailable. He had just released his third album, The Marshall Mathers LP. The song was ‘Stan’, a song critics have said is among his best. Could Bob the Builder rank near such a titan?

Can we fix it? In words later plagiarised by Obama, Yes We Can.

It was an astonishing victory. I can remember my brother wasn’t very happy at the time as he was a big Eminem fan. That part could be wrong too.

It turns out that Eminem wasn’t a very close contender that week. I have no idea if the record label released it too early, a cursory search reveals it came out in late November so it’s quite likely, but apparently the Christmas number 2 was Westlife. Ah well, the story matters more.

This wasn’t nearly the upset I thought it was. Nothing compared to 2009!

Rage Against the Machine vs. Joe McElderry

I was first told about this campaign by my high school friend, Roman. The idea was that the X-Factor had dominated the Christmas number one slot for four years and it was time to knock them down a peg. I was instantly dismissive. To me, it just seemed like a waste of effort for a few people to buy a song they already had in order to try and make a point, a point I didn’t believe they could make since I figured the charts were a bit rigged anyway. But Roman was adamant.

I remained skeptical, but when I saw it was being taken seriously, I bought a download. What’s the worst that could happen? I’d waste 79p on a song that I liked anyway.

Lo and behold, the Christmas number one of 2009.

Roman was right.

It turns out, everyone and their mum was fed up of being told what to get people for Christmas. They wanted to inject a bit of anarchy into the charts!

I didn’t dare to hope it could do it. I’m very glad I was wrong.

Catch me tomorrow for something different!

And in case you are behind:
Fairytale
Christmas Tree
Don’t Let the Bell’s End

The writer of this piece got a fancy new haircut.

Christmas Jukebox: Christmas Time (Don’t Let the Bells End)

Featuring a year old selfie because I’ve yet to buy a new hat

The year 2003
The band The Darkness
The song Christmas Time (Don’t Let the Bells End)

Well-known for their falsetto singing and looking like a band the seventies forgot, it was only natural that The Darkness would shoot for a Christmas hit. The result is something special.

This song tells a story. The lead singer is saying that he doesn’t want Christmas to finish because then he won’t be able to see his love, who has been working all year. It’s about the time spent apart from your loved ones who you might only get rare chances to see. It’s very relatable.

I remember my brief separation from my love last year, who went home for the holiday. It was great to see family and friends, but time apart from that special someone always hurts. This year I am very happy we’ll get to have time together.

Anyway, the song is full of the guitar mastery that made their greatest hit ‘I Believe in a Thing Called Love’ a chart-topper. ‘Christmas Time’ captures the season well. It has bells, it has a choir, and it has references to the season galore. It’s exciting. Like a Christmas song should be.

One thing that separates this song from the usual fare is the sneakiness of it. They managed to slip both ‘bellend’ and ‘ringpiece (ring in peace)’ into the lyrics, and it gets played quite widely. (For Yanks or those with an unsullied mind, a bellend is the tip of a penis and a ringpiece is a bumhole). It’s Christmas! It’s a theme of both the songs I’ve already covered, sneaking things under the radar. What’s the harm of something a little cheeky? Both words are a bit obscure, anyway. It’s all very safe.

As a somewhat traditional song, it has bells in it, if I haven’t already made that quite clear, it was a shoe in for the number one spot in the Christmas charts that year. For my various foreign readers who might be unaware, the Christmas number one slot is highly coveted. When do people buy CDs for each other? The week before Christmas. It’s the plot line of BIll Nighy’s character in Love Actually.

The Darkness got very close, selling somewhere in the region of 200000 copies! But they were beaten on the last day of the count by Gary Jules and Michael Andrews cover of ‘Mad World’. A crying shame, but the Christmas number one isn’t about the topic of the song. It’s especially interesting to see who wins some years. People place bets on who they think will get it. I will write more about the topic in tomorrow’s post, so stick around!

The writer of this piece is eagerly anticipating Christmas this year and is very much looking forward to seeing his family.

Christmas Jukebox: Fairytale of New York

The year 1987
The band The Pogues Featuring Kirsty MacColl
The song Fairytale of New York

This song perhaps doesn’t scream Christmas in the same way that some other songs do. By which I mean it isn’t in your face about Christmas. It only references it a few times. Nevertheless, it’s the type of song that you hear and cannot think of anything else. The rising wintry introduction just positions it right at the start of the season. It’s time for decorations to go up, wine to be mulled, and to dust off the well-worn records of yesteryear.

Hi, my name’s Fraser. I like Christmas and writing about things. This month I’ll be writing about Christmas songs. Because, to me, they are more than just background in a shop or a soundtrack for a work party. They are part of the ritual of Christmas, the tradition of seasonal love.

I am definitely the person to write this. I have worked in shops and I have served as a waiter throughout multiple festive seasons. I have listened to the same album day after day, sometimes twice. As a result, I plan to shake things up a bit and have enlisted the help of my friends in finding more songs, not just the staples. I’ll do what I can to include these. But first things first….

Fairytale of New York is an absolute classic of the genre. There’s something in its Irish roots that makes it fit the season. It’s a danceable tune, as long as the dance is a ceilidh.

It’s nourishing and it really warms the cockles, but it’s also a bit subversive since it’s basically about these alcoholics with a love hate relationship. They trade some classic insults.

On that subject, and especially for my Yank readers, there was a whole controversy around this song. Understandable when he calls her an “old slut on junk” (heroin, by the way) and she calls him a “faggot” (contrary to popular belief, still a slur). The BBC decided to remove the offensive parts in 2007, but had to back down after mere hours because of some vociferous feedback. From then on, the song has been untouched.

A very good call, if you ask me. While I understand that putting slurs in songs could lead to to them being used more, I’m pretty sure the incidences of “faggot” caused by this song are rare. It’s sung as a dialogue, and that’s how people sometimes talked. It is permitted because it is a piece of history.

And this is what Christmas songs are about. They are the intersection between traditions and rituals as well as a celebration of love and goodwill towards all.

Thank you for reading, and come back tomorrow for more!

The writer of this piece is not sure on a good follow up song but will surely manage.