Whatever happened to the Christmas song?

There are many things with which to be pre-occupied this weekend.  Big, serious things.  But there’s always room for a little trivia too.  Displacement activity is what is required when there is a maelstrom of awfulness threatening to engulf us, some of us personally, others in watching horrific events unfold in others’ lives.

And now that Christmas preparations are in full swing – or kinda ground to a halt in our eyrie – we’ve been digging out the old Christmas CDs.  It is at this time of year that I turn the radio dial to Classic FM and overdose on all the Christmas musical delights on offer.  In January, I’m more than ready to pack it all away again for another 12 months.

But – and it might just be that I’m getting old – there’s definitely something a bit lacking in the choons put out this time of year by the young yins.  It might just be that Top of the Pops provided a focal point around which we could grow familiar with festive releases.  And some of the ones brought out in my yoof were also pretty risible.

If you go even further back in the mists of time, it seems clear that putting out a Christmas track or even, a medley or an album was a big thing.  And this is where the greatest choons lie, in my opinion.  It’s what the crooners were made for after all.

There’s Dean Martin walking in his Winter Wonderland.  And he’s also keen on letting it snow.  Bing, of course, likes to warble about a White Christmas.  And in truth, there was something akin to pass the parcel going on with these festive standards.  But Judy Garland pulls yet another show stopper out of the bag with her version of Have yourself a Merry little Christmas.

They all used to bring out Christmas albums.  But few of them could best Frank Sinatra doing a little Christmas dreaming.

And it’s not just the crooners either.  The jazz world loved a festive choon.  That’s why Louis Armstrong spent Christmas night in Harlem and spent some time wondering where Santa was. 

The chicklet nearly put me off this fabulous Ella Fitzgerald effort about Santa Claus getting stuck in her chimney but thankfully, it’s no longer on constant repeat and I can like it again.

But my favourite Christmas jazz standard has to be this duet with Ella and Louis Jordan bemoaning that it’s cold outside.  Original is still so often best.

From my yoof, two festive anthems stand out.  Jonah Lewie’s attempt to stop the cavalry and of course, Kirsty MacColl and the Pogues offering a stunning alternative fairytale in New York.

But can I think of a classic from the last few years?  No.  Though there is hope.  Primarily among the folkies and the indies and the indyfolky bands.

Here’s three more modern warblings which I love.

Okkervil River reckon we should all spend Christmas listening to Otis Redding.  Fine advice and best listened to with the tree lights twinkling and a glass of something warm and peaty to hand.

And off the For Folk’s Sake It’s Christmas compilation, this number by Ellen and the Escapades strikes all the right festive notes.  By the fireside is the best place to be.

If all this schmaltz is weighing you down, try this alternative, almost anti-Christmas choon from Los Campesinos!  which pays homage to, among other things, the Boxing Day football match.

Whatever happened to the Christmas song?  Like the rest of us, it lost its sparkle a little.  Gone are the days of innocence and romance, replaced with a relentless commercialism and a pressure to do more with less.

When actually, as the best songs suggest, Christmas is an opportunity to reflect on what really matters.  And perhaps this weekend we need to focus on that message – of hope even in the darkness.

 

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