Christmas music. Our annual Xmas shopping exploits in shopping outlets across the UK are soundtracked by the same culprits every year, with Band Aid (well, the new one) being the most likely song to be playing in-store as you are pummelled to within an inch of your life by an overly-aggressive aunt in Poundland looking to stock up on her discount Frozen merchandise! Fact.
But is there a way to avoid the seemingly unavoidable misery of Christmas shopping using modern iPod/headphone technology? And is it possible to listen to Xmas music and manage to retain your cool reputation? Well, fear not readers, the answer is "YES!" to both, as I proudly present 'The Music Snob Guide for Compiling Your 2014 Christmas Playlist'. Come in Boney M, Shakin Stevens, and Mel and Kim, your time is up! Here are my top 10 essentials...
Firstly, ensure that you have the greatest Christmas song ever written included in your playlist: The Pogues' Fairytale of New York. The classic bittersweet 1987 song about an Irish dude's Christmas Eve in a New York "drunk tank" should a dead cert for any self-respecting festive playlist, with its wonderfully un-PC lyrics and a bickering chorus being worryingly enjoyable. Of course, the real charm is in Shane MacGowan (Every dentists' arch nemesis?) and the late Kirsty MacColl's chemistry rather than the actual slanging match, but it is always fun to sing the rude words, right? Happy Christmas your arse, indeed.
"Bah, humbug" no, that's too strong... but are you miffed as to why The Waitresses' "Christmas Wrapping" never quite gets the same amount of plays in British stores as Sir Cliff? Yes, of course you are, as this new wave rap-pun-titled masterpiece is one of the catchiest pop songs ever written in the entire history of music! But if you want some real rapping (rather than wrapping) then check out Run-DMC's "Christmas in Hollis" or Kanye West's 'Christmas in Harlem' for some decent seasonal hip-hopping.
The Ramones are not just a name on t-shirts available in New Look, they were also (arguably) the founders of punk rock. Armed with three chords, dodgy hair-dos, and rather limited musical ability, the rockers seem like unlikely contenders to soundtrack Christmas...but they had a surprising good stab at it. The band were well past their peak in 1989, but check out "Merry Christmas (I Don't Want to Fight Tonight)" for a truly underplayed gem.
Any festive 1940s and 50s tunes will always be cool, so throw in some "Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!" by one of those Rat Pack chaps to add a bit of sophisticated class to your playlist. Or better still, have something like "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" (1944) by Judy Garland following The Ramones to demonstrate that you're not scared of prehistoric school warbling following punk rock, demonstrating your brave approach to compiling playlists, and potentially cementing your reputation as a fearless musical maverick in the process.
The Fall performing the Christmas carol "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" during a Peel Session back in 1994 is as brilliant as you might expect. The band, with their tongues firmly in their cheeks, give it a garage rock makeover, while Mark E Smith uses his infamous Manc drawl to hilarious effect. The backing vocals also somehow sound somewhat demented. In a good way.
You've heard of a little Liverpudlian act called The Beatles, right? Well, ex-Beatles John Lennon and Paul McCartney both released solo Christmas songs during the 1970s. McCartney released his Christmas single "Wonderful Christmastime" in 1979 - which can best be described as a bit of a guilty pleasure, so download at your own risk. "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" was John's (and Yoko's) 1971 effort that stands amongst the finest post-Beatle solo material from any of the Fab Four. The track is about peace and ending war, which we are unfortunately still yet to master in the 43 years since the song's release. Are you reading, Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un? Oh well...better luck next year, world peace!
Like Lennon, Bing Crosby and David Bowie also went down the world peace route in 1977 on "The Little Drummer Boy / Peace On Earth". The unlikely duo teamed-up for a TV special Bing Crosby's Merrie Olde Christmas (although the song wasn't released as a single until 1982) featuring Bing performing "Little Drummer Boy" alongside Bowie singing a new composition "Peace On Earth" in tandem with the legendary crooner. Watch The Thin White Duke out-Binging Bing in the vocal department in the video below. Strangely compulsive viewing. Take note of Bowie's unsuccessful attempts at eye contact with Crosby. Bless him.
"Just Like Christmas" was the opening track of American indie rock act Low's 1999 Christmas EP. The band had previously been known for their slow and minimalist songs, but the EP's opening track is reminiscent of classic 1960s girl-group pop, with the track zipping along with added sleigh bells to give it that all important festive feel. Alternatively, if you want a real authentic 1960s girl-group classic, download The Ronettes' slightly kinky "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus". Ooh er missus.
Right, you may feel the urge to sneak in a cheesy Christmas track into the mix here. Sure, feel free to secretly download Wham!'s 1984 single "Last Christmas" and attempt to protect your reputation with strategic use of irony, arching an eyebrow and using a small knowing smile when caught listening to George Michael's tour de force. However, I personally recommend downloading a cover by an indie band to avoid embarrassment, claiming that the new version is vastly superior to the original to anyone that will listen...despite this being an obvious lie. Check out Summer Camp doing a pretty decent cover of "Last Christmas" below...
The Pretenders' "2000 Miles" (not The Proclaimers "500 Miles"!) is a beautifully twangy track that seemingly bemoans the distance between two lovers during Christmas. However, in reality the 1982 track was written for the band's original guitarist James Honeyman-Scott, who had tragically died of an overdose a year earlier. Probably the greatest track Chrissie Hynde has ever penned. The only downside is that people always think that you are referring to that flippin' song by The Proclaimers! Grrr. Idiots.
And there you have it...the following festive playlist will hopefully allow you to be cool, and allow you to take the unavoidable beating in Poundland with good humour. Good luck!
- The Pogues - Fairytale of New York
- The Waitresses - Christmas Wrapping
- The Ramones - Merry Christmas (I Don't Want to Fight Tonight)
- Judy Garland - Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
- The Fall - Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
- John Lennon - Happy Xmas (War Is Over)
- Bing Crosby & David Bowie - The Little Drummer Boy / Peace On Earth
- Low - Just Like Christmas
- Summer Camp - Last Christmas
- The Pretenders - 2000 Miles