With not long to go until the big ho-ho, we asked six Standard Issue writers to share the tunes (whether they’re about Christmas or not) that get them in the festive spirit.
Ignore the drama surrounding its creator, and just embrace one of the best albums ever recorded, recommends Myf Warhurst.
No Christmas is complete at ours without popping this album on the record player while sipping on an oversized flute of bucks fizz and having a dance with Uncle Terry. The recording is Phil Spector’s A Christmas Gift for You From Phil Spector, an album that musical genius Brian Wilson declared might be the greatest album of all time, and not just for Christmas.
Yes, Spector’s behaviour has deservedly landed him and his many wigs in jail, but in terms of music, this album is still an absolute Christmas marvel. It takes a bunch of Christmas classics and squeezes out any of the tacky saccharine overtones in which they’re usually drenched, and re-imagines them within the glorious Wall Of Sound.
Subsequently, The Ronettes turn Frosty The Snowman into the coolest guy on the street, The Crystals’ Santa Claus Is Coming to Town makes you want to be good so you too can sit on the beardy guy’s lap, and Darlene Love evokes the tears by absolutely destroying Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) with her marvellous voice and heart. Forget Spector, but don’t forget this album. It’s a masterwork.
Jess Fostekew’s favourite packs an emotional wallop
My favourite Christmas song is Joni Mitchell’s River from the 1971 album, Blue. It’s bleak and cockle-toasting all at once. The opening piano solo pulls you in all jolly, it’s so like jingle bells. Then by the end you’ve have been on such a sombre story-journey from that raw, soulful voice, you feel like you’ve had your heart read.
Christmas is a rollercoaster time. So as much as The Pogues, Cerys Matthews and Tom Jones, and even Cliff Richard always get lots of looks in, my absolute favourite is Joni. It’s a moody old song for a moody old time.
There’s just one song Susan Hanks wants for Christmas…
Only one opening ding dong is needed from Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas is You, the song that gets my sherry-fuelled shimmies going. Cheesier than your Boxing Day buffet, livelier than a five-year-old at bedtime on Christmas Eve, and I’ve been singing its high notes (badly) since I opened my CD single version on 25 December 1994. I love it so much that even if my iPod shuffles onto it in July, I’ll commit to it in the same way as I would to Daniel Craig if he showed up wearing Bermuda shorts in the snow.
Turns out Gabby Hutchinson Crouch couldn’t narrow it down to just one so, like Santa, she made a list.
What’s This? by Danny Elfman: because who doesn’t like to sing about Christmas from the point of view of a skeleton (Jack Skellington) who’s never seen it before?
Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas is You: it took a long time for me to disassociate this song from tearful pity parties at Christmas school discos because the boy I liked was dancing with someone else, but I’m glad I have because it’s the happiest, Christmassiest glob of sugary joy.
Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy by Bing Crosby and David Bowie: this is SO AWKWARD that it’s actually brilliant. Must be watched with the full stilted skit at the beginning to truly feel the cringy wonder of it all. Two people of completely different generations and mindsets, pushed into a room to sing together even though neither of them understands why, or wants to be there. There is NOTHING more Christmassy than that.
[Will Ferrell and John C Reilly recreated the Bowie-Bing big sing. It’s gently hilarious – Ed]
When it comes to traditional Christmas tunes, Sadie Hasler’s not fussed – she’ll take all of them, please. Except Jingle Bells.
Christmas always reverts me to the low-down schmaltzy slut I really am; totally and disgustingly able to overthrow my atheism for nativity-based whimsy. It starts early; the nostalgia for what Christmas was when I was a kid. Closing my eyes in reverence at Johnny Matthis’s When a Child is Born. Getting all swooshy and 1950s over Bing Crosby’s pa-rum-pa-pum-pums (even though he beat his kids). Welling up at any version of O Holy Night. Even Aled Jones, the adorable Welsh eunuch. Weeping over Salvation Army bands until an old dude called Cyril has enough and wraps his tuba around my neck. Shouting in the middle of Poundland: “YES, WIZZARD WITH TWO ZEES: I TOO WISH IT COULD BE CHRISTMAS EVERY DAY!” even if it’s not yet November.
Strangely, I bloody hate Jingle Bells though. It quickly turns me into a grinch who wants Santa to fall off his sleigh from a great height. It’s usually Cliff Richard who pulls me back from the brink though – that dependable bastard.
The old-school tones of Sheffield’s rockabilly romantic get Margaret Cabourn Smith swooning, humming and mulling.
For me, Richard Hawley’s 2005 album Coles Corner is a Christmas treat. There’s something about his warm comforting tone, his swooning strings arrangements and those retro production values. It doesn’t matter what he sings, I’m in Christmassy raptures…
“Drugged by dawn I sleep alone” – I’m humming along, lighting cinnamon scented candles.
“The loneliness hangs in the air” – I’m mulling wine and constructing gingerbread houses.
“Bad luck and trouble’s my only friend/I’ve been down ever since I was 10” – I’m rosy-cheeked, drunk on eggnog, draped in tinsel, giggling in novelty slippers and a Santa hat and juggling tangerines. Happy Christmas!
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