Christmas songs: My slightly alternative top five

Christmas is a time of year when we play different music on our audio systems. It is a time of nostalgia when those of us of a certain age replay songs that we associate with the Christmases of our youth. It’s also a time associated with making lists, so here is the list of my favourite top 5 Christmas songs – in reverse order of course. But before the main event, here are my three highly commended tracks that just missed out in alphabetical order:

  • Fairytale of New York – The Pogues – probably the highly commended track with the best case for inclusion but I like my Christmas music cheerful!
  • Gaudete – Steeleye Span – beautiful but a little severe for Christmas!
  • In Dulci Jubilo – Mike Oldfield – a jolly if somewhat quirky track, here because I can do a passable rendition on a treble recorder

And now to the main list, at number five:

5. Santa Claus is coming to town – Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band

This makes the list because it is joyous, and in a lighthearted way, it captures the energy of Springsteen live. Maybe I’m biased because I saw them perform this track in Manchester in May in 2016, in response to a request from a crazy fan dressed in a Santa suit. It also evokes a whole era of rock and roll Christmas songs from the 50s and 60s, especially from the USA.

4. Merry Christmas Everybody- Slade

For some, the ultimate Christmas pop record. It’s clever because it’s a conventional Slade track musically coupled with witty lyrics that make people smile. It makes Noddy Holder smile, too, as he banks his royalties in January every year! He smiles less when he tells how they made it in a hot sweaty studio in August. It’s no higher than number four because it is a victim of its own success. In my mind, it is associated with shops promoting Christmas too much and too early. I regard this year as a triumph because got to Christmas Eve before hearing it for the first time. It was so much better for it!

3. I wish it could be Christmas every day- Roy Wood and Wizzard

Released the same year as Slade and kept off Number 1 by them, I prefer Wizzard’s contribution for its sheer joie de vivre. I saw Roy Wood perform it at a Christmas show in Liverpool where he shared the stage with Status Quo and Kim Wilde. They were good, but he stole the show, and, at Christmas, this was the angel (fingers) on the top of the tree. It somehow doesn’t seem quite so overplayed as its Slade contemporary and it always brings a smile to my face.

2. Hark the Herald Angels Sing – the Choir of Kings College Cambridge- words by Charles Wesley, music by Mendelssohn

Imagine that – a carol in my top five Christmas songs. It has everything. It is sung as the climax to the Carols from Kings, and so forms a key part of many people’s Christmas Eve, whether sacred or secular. It is a great test of your audio system either as part of the live BBC Radio broadcast or from a historical CD recording. It has words by Charles Wesley which represent a fine theological reflection on the true meaning of the season. And it has a marvellous tune by Mendelssohn. He initially composed the melody for his Festgesang (1840), a cantata commemorating what was believed to be the four-hundredth anniversary of Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press. In 1856, W.H. Cummings, the organist at Waltham Abbey, repurposed the tune for a hymn. Yet, prior to this, Mendelssohn had communicated with his English publishers, expressing a desire to explore alternative lyrics for the tune:

“If the right ones are hit at, I am sure that piece will be liked very much by the singers and the hearers, but it will never do to sacred words. There must be a national and merry subject found out, something to which the solder-like and buxom motion of the piece has some relation, and the words must express something gay and popular as the music tries to do it.”

So what can top that- and all my other choices?

1 Bohemian Rhapsody – Queen

Now this may not even seem like a Christmas song to you, but consider the facts:

  • It was number one at Christmas- twice! And in an era without streaming.
  • It is quite simply one of the best records ever made
  • It was certainly one of the most innovative when it was released- much too long and accompanied by a groundbreaking video
  • And for the Hifi hobbyist, it exists in many different formats- vinyl, CD, streaming, and my personal favourite, 5.1 DVD Audio- a format that could have been made for it!

Of course, you will have your own list, but if nothing else, I hope that this will form the basis for a good family argument this New Year or maybe at a future Christmas time.

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