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A #ChristmasSongOfTheDay Part Four

December 25, 2018 4 comments

So here it is, Merry Christmas….no, wait, not that one please! Don’t worry, in keeping with the rest of Advent only two of my final set of eight choices for the remaining seven days have been chart hits. That makes a total of five out of twenty six, but I make no apologies – if you really want them the usual suspects can be found on every Christmas playlist on every streaming service! Having said that, this final set contains several of my own usual suspects, but they are so good that they deserve to be heard.

For the 19th I gave you one which I’ve featured for all five years that I have done this. It is clearly a favourite of mine, and displays my folkie roots. Kate Rusby is a folk singer-songwriter from Yorkshire, in the north of England. Her shows are full of lovely music and warm, friendly repartee, as I’ve been fortunate enough to witness. She comes from an area with a strong tradition of sharing Christmas songs and has to date released four albums of them. This is the title track from the first of those, and is accompanied by a lovely animated video – the singer in it is a very good likeness of Kate:

I went across the pond for the 20th. Continuing my choices of female singer-songwriters, I selected one from Shawn Colvin’s album Holiday Songs And Lullabies – sorry, my American friends, but I really don’t get your reluctance to call this by its proper name of ‘Christmas,’ as I said here. Again, this one is accompanied by an unofficial video, which complements the song well:

On the 21st – the Winter Solstice – I took a slightly different approach. This isn’t an obvious Christmas song, but a modern variation on the theme of a special baby with mystical powers. It seemed an appropriate choice to mark Yule:

Returning to Christian traditions on the 22nd I chose this one. I’ve seen the band perform this live and it is a magical moment. There is a video on YouTube of them from a 2004 concert DVD but I chose this version: it is the one they originally released in 1972 on their Below The Salt album, and the voice of Tim Hart can be clearly heard. Tim, sadly, died of cancer on Christmas Eve 2009, at the age of 61, and I selected this to pay my respects to him:

It being Sunday on the 23rd I kept to my habit of sharing a carol. This one is very well known and there are many versions to choose from. This, by the amazing Sinead O’Connor, is my favourite by miles, and the video is superb too:

My choice for Christmas Eve has been the same for all five years. For me, this is an absolute no-brainer and the fact that it is a lovely song helps no end! Mindy Smith deserves to be more widely known: she released five albums between 2004 and 2012, one of which – My Holiday – was a seasonal (ie. Christmas) album, and this song is from her most recent release, an EP entitled Snowed In, from 2013. Her website gives no details of any upcoming performances so it appears that she may have ‘retired’ from music – I hope not, and live in hope as she has recently been active on Twitter and Facebook. This is beautiful:

And finally to today. If you’re actually reading this on Christmas Day I thank you for being here and sharing this with me. If not, there is nothing wrong with catching up! There does seem to be a subtext of my liking for female singer-songwriters showing through my choices: this is another whom I’ve been lucky enough to see perform live, and I recommend her highly if you get the chance. She has a beautifully warm voice which is so well suited to her songs. This one is from her album Come Darkness, Come Light: Twelve Songs Of Christmas. For me this is the absolutely perfect choice for Christmas Day. Merry Christmas!

Ah, hold on. I promised you eight songs for this final compilation and if you care to count back you’ll see there have only been seven so far. I know it’s cheating, but I think I can be forgiven for adding in a bonus song for Christmas Day. This one has been a chart hit many times, including this year, but has never been the Christmas Number One – a criminal oversight by the British record-buying public, to my eyes. Even in the first year of release it only made number two, kept off the top spot by the Pet Shop Boys’ wilful destruction of a Willie Nelson song. I really think we should have tried harder! You *may* have heard this one before:

So that’s it for another year. I hope you have enjoyed my choices, especially those which may have been new to you. I do try and steer as far clear of the charts as I can, and my disappointment is that I have to leave out so many other good songs. If you are interested, my YouTube playlist is ever growing, currently standing at around 120 songs (including some alternative versions) and can be found here.

Thank you for following, reading, liking and commenting on my posts. As another year draws to a close, I marvel yet again at the wonders of modern technology that allow us to communicate like this, and to share our thoughts, hopes, dreams and, in my case, our love of music. On which point, something new for me: I will be sharing on Twitter and my Facebook page a ‘new year’ song each day from tomorrow up until New Year’s Day, when I will return here with a compilation post of these, for those who won’t have seen each daily offering as they happen. I hope you’ll join me again then.

Merry Christmas, and a very Happy New Year!

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Christmas Number Twos

December 19, 2015 15 comments

I feel I should point out immediately that this piece is about pop music, and has nothing to do with bodily functions, so if you have come here for the wrong reason I suggest you leave quietly, before anyone notices. I won’t tell. Honest!

A slightly strange custom grew up in the UK in the 1960s surrounding the music charts: who would have the Christmas number one single? The charts as we know them date back to 1952, and gradually the achievement of being number one at Christmas came to acquire a certain cachet. During my teenage years this actually mattered to us, believe it or not. We talked about it, we had our favourites that we wanted to see at the top of the charts, and more often than not we were disappointed. To this day, the status of “Christmas Number One” still gets a lot of media coverage and present day pop fans take an interest. To complete the picture, the BBC even trundles out Top Of The Pops for a special Christmas edition – assuming they can find any presenters who aren’t in prison, that is. But in recent years the whole thing has become a farce, largely due to the Man Who Murdered Music and his Crap Factor TV ‘reality’ show. Either the winner of that is basking in their 15 seconds of fame at the top spot, or a spoiler from the ABC (Anyone But Cowell) camp has led the way: Rage Against The Machine’s Killing In The Name really does say it all about Christmas, doesn’t it!

My first thought had been to do a piece on the number ones but, given the Cowell Factor, there has of late been a growing interest in what has held the number two spot at Christmas, so I thought that this might be a better source of some proper music. It also leads to a better title for this piece. Assuming that even Wonkipedia can’t cock up something as simple as a list, I consulted that oracle to compare the two lists. I was temporarily shocked to find that the Beatles had been number two twice in the 60s. Heresy! Who could have kept them off the top? Ah, it was themselves, so no need to panic. This happened in 1963, when I Want To Hold Your Hand led She Loves You, and again in 1967 when one of my favourite Beatles songs, Hello Goodbye, beat this to number one:

For those who don’t know it, the Magical Mystery Tour was a TV special made by the Beatles after they became too big to tour. It was released as a 6 track double EP, in a lovely gatefold book form, and cost the princely sum of 13s 11d, as compared with around 6s 8d for a standard single. Old money, kiddies, look it up! I don’t think any other band at the time could have achieved this, especially when you consider that to get to the top of the charts in 1967 required many more sales than today. No other act has ever done that even once, let alone twice, although sadly Dustbin Blubber holds the top two places in the pre-Christmas chart so has a chance of doing it this year. I never thought I’d want Cowell to succeed until now!

From my perspective, the heyday of Christmas singles was the 1970s, when anyone who was anyone just had to have a Christmas single. A lot of nobodies did too, but they won’t be featuring here! Of course, Christmas singles were nothing new, but Slade and Wizzard were at the forefront of a trend which carried on  through the 80s with Wham and others through to the present day. Often a novelty record made it to number one – Benny Hill’s Ernie, The Fastest Milkman In The West in 1971 for example – and occasionally they would deprive a much more deserving record of the top spot. Well, one that I liked better, anyway. So, in 1974, whilst Little Jimmy Osmond basked in top spot glory with Long Haired Lover From Liverpool (had he even been there?) this had to make do with being number two:

Always guaranteed to fill the dancefloor when I was at Uni! British public, how could you?!

One of the great musical tragedies of the 90s, for me, was the juggernaut of bad taste that was the Spice Girls, and the fact that they had three successive Christmas number ones. At least they had the decency to call their last one, in 1998, Goodbye but it still kept this off the top, for which I’ll never forgive them (along with all their other crimes against music):

I think the Chef was robbed! But at least he and Isaac Hayes had the satisfaction of dethroning the Shouty Girls the following week.

I’m going to finish this brief trawl through the depths of the pop charts with one of the all-time great Christmas crimes. The Pet Shop Boys were one of the biggest bands of the 80s and were at number one yet again in 1987, this time for Christmas with Always On My Mind (I preferred Willie Nelson’s own version but didn’t have a vote). But they kept this seasonal classic from being number one:

Guess which one still gets played a lot today! And it has still never been number one at any time, not just for Christmas. But I’ll be playing it again this year, unlike the new nonentity at the top for a nanosecond or two.

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