Here is our alternative Christmas Playlist that has saved us through many an overdose of Christmas dross and the usual madness.
The Darkness: Christmas Time: Don’t Let the Bells End
The only way to face a visit with the ‘Rents (if you are lucky enough to still have them to complain about) is with a nice Christmas a.m. blast of this hot little number. Scholars have long debated whether The Darkness is the best joke ever pulled on music since Weird Al (have they?) or something akin to The Beastie Boys: a joke that somehow became impossibly viable with the obvious panicked feeling of “holy shit!” all over the band’s next few years. Whatever else they are, were, or will be, those of us who are old enough to cringe at the memory of a fireside predatory Rod Stewart threatening “tonight’s the night!” and lived right through all the hair metal bands the first time have no choice but to love this band here (video is a must for the white leather lace up jumper, on a man). Need we say more than the intro lines, sung in a decent Freddy Mercury ring “Feigning joy and surprise/at the gifts we despise…” it’s an actually great modern metal song. There’s also some admirably hilarious whinging about “you have your career…….” a new classic, tell your friends, especially the ex-metal heads who eventually cut away their Samson majesty.
The Killers: A Great Big Sled
This, the first of the Killers now annual (for a decade) charity Christmas track for Project (Red) (a tradition that has continued with impressive regularity even during a number of band hiatus years) is of a separate piece than their later Christmas tracks which played upon a truly weird and enjoyable motif of a murderous, disheveled Santa and the band being buried in the desert. Here, you can hear all of the 2006-era energy of a new band finding their light, and relishing in the chance to be unabashedly earnest as they’d already just cemented a place in a (brief but grand) new wave of American cool. You can actually hear Brandon Flowers poring over the lyrics and arrangement, and as a result, it’s one of the bands’ finest, if rarely acknowledged, works. The key moment is twofold: a longing “I want to roll around like a kid in the snow” and a deep, utterly modern, cultural feeling of despair “I’ve been wracking my brains with thoughts of peace and love. How on earth did we get so messed up?” For the deeply nostalgic, “A Great Big Sled” contains a perfect measure of chimes, evocative melancholy keys, and a delicious Tony Halliday (Curve) guest vocal that is pitch perfect. You may just miss that it ends with a back and forth (Flowers in perfect voice: I wanna wish you Merry Christmas. Halliday, sounding ghostly: You can’t do that…) before powering down, leaving us wanting more.
The Pretenders: 2000 Miles
Becoming common in the satellite music world is usually, buy not always a bad thing. This song is almost anti-Christmas but has been thrust into the mix and is a welcome addition. It’s very, very sad, as Chrissie Hynde allows a certain space between her words and music that allows for something of a sigh. Hynde, one of the most underrated singers in the modern age, sings with true aplomb and all the deep grief that Christmas really holds to anyone over 25 who’s known the deep rift that comes with all mature love with a razor-like: “I miss you.”
Band Aid: Do They Know it’s Christmas
Apologies up front. We know this has now come to become the modern version of a Bing Crosby song by its ubiquity and may or may not hit the right notes for you based on your feelings about the mission itself, Bob Geldof, the idea of Colonial interference and the spotty track record of trying to “heal” “Africa” or your given mileage on any of the bands involved. But for us, the original, innocent, visceral childlike joy this song created back in 1985 has gone through all those intervening years of turmoil and criticism and circled lately back around to unconditional love. For fans of this song, it’s an impeccable production and a showcase of the brightest British stars of the 80’s, many of them extremely worthy and still enjoyable. Try not to enjoy yourself as you try to mimic the vocal parts of Boy George, George Michael (then of Wham!) and Bono (then of a fairly shy U2) not to mention lost stars who were great such as Paul Young, Paul Weller & Sting who we know were there from the video (but who are lost in the audio) 80’s musts Bananarama and Jody Watley (unheard totally and relegated to “the chorus”) and as our friend Kristine says “John Taylor on bass!” The ideal room at this time of year is one where people can rally to this song the way sports fans do to endlessly played, endlessly satisfying highlight reels. The video is a rare and exciting glimpse into a bunch of hair product-addicted & usually perfectly glossy stars with pillow hair and hangovers. It’s delicious. Pre-internet, it was not Christmas officially until we had found this on the radio dial. Now we just blast it first thing every 25th day, in the 12th month.
Glasvegas: Cruel Moon (say that title in your best Glaswegian)
While our global search to find other souls who love/get Glasvegas the way we do (we really, really do) has proved fruitless, nothing can ever take away from our own weird, personal, dark memories of sitting in a parent’s driveway, far too late in life for that, estranged from even ourselves, and finding the most unexpected and most needed comfort in Glasvegas’ Christmas record. Cruel Moon tells us, in unabashed, blunt tones about the dark disillusionment of a very lonely Christmas of homelessness. Yes, a Christmas song for the homeless. Isn’t it about time? Try to resist the allure, at 2:00 a.m. on a holistically drunken Christmas Eve, of singing the following aloud, with all sincerity: “This cardboard cover/Keeps away the gales of the night”. You get the point. We never knew we needed shimmery surfer guitars imagined against a dark, unloving Scottish winter night, until…”Under this cruel moon”.
Sufjan Stevens: That Was the Worst Christmas Ever!
Stevens’ trademark melancholy and clean harmonies tell a tale of “father throwing our gifts into the woodstove”. Now think about if things are so bad for you after all?
AC/DC: Mistress for Christmas
A palate cleanser and, for your overly fed/overly comfy guests, a “time to go home track” if ever there was one.
Glasvegas: A Snowflake Fell and it Felt Like A Kiss
It’s all in the title really, not to be missed.
But let us just add “The breeze from the graveyard keeps murmuring ‘death'”.
Yazoo: Only You
The unexpected sweetness at the center of Ricky Gervais and Steven Merchant’s 2001 The Office television series, which comes to pass in the unusually satisfying series ending Christmas specials, is soundtracked and forever conjured in a rare new Christmas tradition/memory by this simple, elegant, and lovely 80’s love tune.
Joni Mitchell: River
It would be better if we never heard this covered in a live local setting again, but man, the original is a stunning, simple, wine-drenched, sad-as hell, and starkly Canadian-imagery laden original. For who hasn’t wished they “had a river, I could skate away on” at this time of year?
While we’ve long accepted Neil Diamond into the realm of cheese for day-to-day listening purposes, his 1992 Christmas album (entitled The Christmas Album) for us, got there early and stays packed in our Christmas stuff to get a requisite airing once a year. It’s true, if Absurdist, nostalgia. It is all worth it to hear the way he fairly blasphemously bellows “CHRIIIIIIIIIST” in a stunningly, um, original “Silent Night” and will, quite possibly, make you giggle like a kid again. There’s also not a single genre, era, or artist he won’t take on here, including the Lennon/Ono permanent psyche stain “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” and, bizarrely, “Morning Has Broken”.
Now we skate away…