As a child growing up in the 1970s, my family was big on Christmas, really big…but even we had only three Christmas albums in the house: Christmas With Nat and Dean by Nat King Cole and Dean Martin, The Andy Williams Christmas Album and Mario Lanza’s Christmas Hymns and Carols. There were also a couple of old singles floating around. There was no such thing as the various Now… type Christmas compilations, these days ubiquitous, and we didn’t even have those Wizzard or Slade singles, though they were staples of radio airplay, of course.
Over the years, I have always loved hearing new Christmas songs and can never resist picking up Christmas singles, even if I see them in April. But while a relative few have made it into the general public consciousness, (perhaps 99% of Christmas music heard on TV or radio is drawn from the same pool of 20 or 30 songs), there have been some absolute classics that have gone under the radar somewhat. I would like to take this opportunity to celebrate a mere ten of these festive offerings in the hope that God Is In The TV readers may just discover something they weren’t aware of. And if you already know them, then do join me in celebrating some choice Yuletide sounds.
We start in the year 2020, and some much needed Christmas cheer arrived in the form of the delightful ‘Christmas Love’ (Dangerbird Records) by The Dears. As if any further reason was needed to love Natalia and Murray, they pulled this instant classic out of nowhere. My wife, who is more organised than me, managed to get a 7” single of it for me in time for Christmas (it was only released physically in the USA and Canada) and I think I played it eight times in a row the day I got it. There are two videos – as well as the ‘official’ one below, I throughly recommend the heartwarming home made lo-fi version featuring the couple performing the song in their front room.
Any self-respecting purveyor of Christmas music will be aware of the beautiful Christmas album by Low (from 1999), on which they pulled in listeners with the atypically jolly ‘Just Like Christmas’ and then treated them to a further seven songs of slow, slow music completely at odds with that track. But perhaps a lot lesser known is their superb 2016 offering ‘Some Hearts (At Christmas)’, a lovely piece of Christmas melancholia that is difficult to listen to while retaining a dry eye.
Another recent foray into the world of Christmas music was the one undertaken by Josh Rouse, with his album The Holiday Sounds Of Josh Rouse (Yep Roc) all the way back in 2019. Early adopters also received a bonus six track E.P. which added his takes on some well-known Yuletide sounds to complement his record of newly written tunes. Rouse always has a very strong quality control thing going on, so any track from the album would fit here – let’s go for ‘Mediterranean X-Mas’, mainly on the grounds that it has a nice video.
It was with some pride this year that I received the news that my 12-year old son’s favourite Christmas song was Julian Casablancas’ ‘I Wish It Was Christmas Today’ (Rough Trade, 2009). If there is a reason why this song doesn’t compete with Wham! and Paul McCartney for December air time, then I haven’t heard it.
Fountains Of Wayne’s festive offering, ‘I Want An Alien For Christmas’ (Atlantic) achieved an actual Top 40 placing, hitting Number 36 on its 1997 release. I’ve even heard it in Poundland. But over on the B-side was another treat, ‘The Man In The Santa Suit’. We sadly lost the song’s co-writer and FOW main man Adam Schlesinger in April last year, so let this be a small tribute to his genius.
Marika Hackman has released some of the greatest music of the last few years, nudging a little closer to the mainstream (in terms of popularity) with each release, but her 2016 E.P. Wonderland (Transgressive) was limited to 300 copies and certainly didn’t get the attention it deserved. You can still find it on streaming services, however. It was a mixture of traditional tunes with a couple of Marika originals, so here’s one of those.
Saint Etienne are another band who have had an actual proper Christmas chart hit (‘I Was Born On Christmas Day’, which hit Number 37 in 1997), but their regular forays into the festive market are perhaps not so well known (they will often release ‘fan club’ / website only type singles at Christmas, including this year). A number of their seasonal songs were rounded up into the lovely A Glimpse Of Stocking (Foreign Office, 2010), including this 2006 offering.
In 2002, an excellent Christmas compilation, Maybe This Christmas, emerged including contributions from Ron Sexsmith, Coldplay and Ben Folds amongst many others. Hidden away near the end was an absolute gem from Neil Finn. ‘Sweet Secret Peace’ doesn’t seem to have appeared anywhere else, and it’s a shame it isn’t better known.
Shonen Knife are a cult Japanese band who formed an incredible forty years ago. Also incredibly, their Christmas classic ‘Space Christmas’ (Seminal Twang) is now thirty years old. It isn’t Christmas without this!
To end this list of festive fare, a track by an artist who has had a recent(ish) Number 1 single, and you might have expected a Christmas single from her to at least scrape into the Top 100. However, Ava Max’s ‘Christmas Without You’ (2020, digital only) fell off the edge of a cliff and barely registered with the streaming masses. Nonetheless, it’s well worth a listen.