With Tom Colohue and Samuel Agini
Welcome one and all. It's Christmas time, and you know what that means for the world's frontier music website: Christmas songs! This is both Tom Colohue and Samuel
Agini from the UG Writing Team.
Today, we're looking at some of your favourites, some of our favourites, and some general favourites when it comes to the sounds of Christmas. Whether it's something hard rock, something upbeat or something which leaves you feeling a little queezy, Christmas music is as intense and unique as Christmas food. In fact, it's just as traditional, since it's not really Christmas until you hear the Coca-Cola advert on television proclaiming that holidays are coming. Sam and I have chosen some of the best and most spirit-giving Christmas songs to hopefully inspire that fabled Christmas cheer in you all.
So let’s not pause, and hold no delay. It’s Christmas time after all!
Dio/Iommi: God Rest Ye, Merry GentlemenSam
: It was a conscious decision to begin with this song by Dio. Without wallowing in our sorrow, it is the perfect opportunity to remember Dio as the legend that he is. This song is heavier than Santa’s sleigh, and most certainly too heavy for a radio-friendly Christmas.
It is surprising that this song hasn’t been celebrated quite as much as it might have been as a Christmas song. Dio’s voice is powerful enough to carry a Christmas legend; but it is his passion that shines through, even above his talent.
Dio, ever the showman, is simply the best way in which to begin this article.
: Of course, we have to start with the legend himself. In typical Heaven And Hell style, this song encapsulates the Christmas lyrics in a heavy metal wrapping, much like a Christmas stocking made of barbed wire. This is far from what you might expect from a Christmas song. After all, Christmas evokes images of the bright and the colourful, the Christian traditions, favourable will and all of that relative stuff that you’re taught as a child is the source of all of the good in the world. This song takes that, rips off the cosy packaging and shoves it back down your throat.
However, the lyrics are still about those things rather than taking the usual paths of heavy metal. Due to all this, God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen has all of the attitude and the ambition, but still has all of the Christmas cheer that a non-Dio/Iommi variant would contain.
The reason for the choice is likely the inclusion of Satan, which is heavy metal all over. Honestly, is there any better way to celebrate Christmas?
Slade: Merry Xmas Everybody; 1973
: The perennial Christmas song, as recorded by Slade in 1973, Merry Xmas Everybody
serves as the blueprint for today’s young pretenders attempting to pen great Christmas songs. Slade might have known that they were onto something, but the fact that this number hit the top of the UK charts in 1973 speaks for itself. In fact, it beat Wizzard’s classic, I Wish it could be Christmas Everyday
in a hotly contested battle for the number one spot. Merry Xmas Everybody is an obvious inclusion in any list of the best Christmas songs but, and I would happily write about it all over again next year. Mainstream it might be, but its bouncy, shuffling rhythm is complemented by a sinister twist to what Santa Clause actually gets up to once he makes it down your chimney. Indeed, the song’s lyrics include a cynical commentary on the incident of Mamma kissin’ Santa Clause, asking what Daddy might do in discovering their Christmas smooch! There’s an interpretation of the man in the red suit you won’t see anywhere else!
Tom: It’s nice to see that some singers, with such distinctive and recognisable voices, can still throw something together that can celebrate something equally as distinctive as Christmas. This song escapes the usual target audience of the younger children and aims for a slightly older audience. It’s not about enjoying it; it’s about preparing for it. This makes it seem, to me at least, that it’s aimed for the generation from which the members of Slade are. It’s about the parents providing for their children and not just preparing for Christmas this year, but for all of the Christmas years in the future.
Still, shouting ‘It’s Christmaaaaassss!’ is really bloody annoying. That’s the line that everybody remembers. Captures the mood though, doesn’t it? Those of you with children will know what I mean, I’m sure.
The Darkness: Christmas Time
: Does anybody even like the Darkness? The band from Suffolk is about as divisive as Avenged Sevenfold, but this is perhaps the best Christmas song of the 2000s. There aren’t many songs to rival the Darkness’s 2003 epic. As subtle as Johnny Rotten’s emphasis of the word ‘c*nt’ is when singing Pretty Vacant
, there is a rock ‘n’ roll cynicism to the charts when Justin Hawkins had the world singing along to not letting the bells end.
This song follows the tradition of great Christmas songs, and the Darkness deserves plaudits for penning a song to rival the spirit of Slade and Wizzard.
The primary achievement of this song is the inclusion of a children’s choir, perhaps my personal favourite rock ‘n’ roll tradition. So, this Christmas, do not hesitate to lend your ear to what shall evidently become known as a Christmas classic in the coming years.
Tom: It’s got the Darkness riffs running through it, their textbook high notes and quite a bit of time spent taking the piss out of each other, and that’s fairly cool to start with. Then, when you consider the famed facts that this song was written purely to put the words ‘bell’ and ‘end’ together, you can see the comedy before you even start hearing the song.
When you actually listen a little deeper, you might well hear that the verse is very contradictory to the chorus, but since the chorus is the only part most people can really make out, everybody’s happy. Somehow, the lyrics become second nature, because the progressions, the riffs and the little solo are just right for the years you’ve spent hearing Christmas songs blaring in the background of every shop you go to.
This song bridged the gap between the usual bells and piano Christmas songs and the ones with guitars and character. For that, we should all be thankful.
AC/DC: Mistress for Christmas
: Released on the 24th of September 1990, AC/DC’s The Razor’s edge has since reached platinum status, but was panned by Rolling Stone Magazine at the time. But what exactly was the overwhelmingly Christmassy themed Mistress for Christmas
doing on the release? Brian Johnson’s vocals are as razor-sharp as one could ever hope for, while the song doesn’t rely upon those lithe open chords that are so often associated with AC/DC.
You might find nauseating Brian Johnson’s vocal acrobatics to mould the word Christmas into something that can rhyme with the word ‘mistress’, but there is nothing like an AC/DC Christmas song being released months in advance. The lyrics might not be something that kids should be listening to, but the boys in AC/DC lay down the gauntlet as if on a mission to be the biggest kids around, with what is the earliest Christmas list around! No prizes for guessing what AC/DC wants for Christmas!
Tom: I don’t really get why it was badly reviewed, especially by Rolling Stone Magazine, but I guess to each their own. With AC/DC, you always get what you expect. Over time, this has satisfied a lot of people who dislike them, since they always hear what they dislike, but fans of AC/DC are yet to find a reason to complain, and it’s perfectly logical that they decided to extend their formula towards a Christmas song about getting laid on Christmas. Who doesn’t want to get laid on Christmas?
This song doesn’t have the backing behind Christmas. It’s not really a Christmas song, but it is a song about Christmas, if that makes sense. They’re not celebrating Christmas, they’re celebrating having sex on Christmas. They’re a band of indulgence, enjoyment and, let’s be honest, isn’t that what Christmas is about? It all works out in the end.
Queen: Thank God It’s Christmas
: There is a very simple reason that this song is a lesser known Christmas single: there is a total lack of promotional video typically associated with Christmas songs, and that’s a crying shame. It would be revealing to discover the motivations of releasing a Christmas single without an accompanying music video to include joyous images of Freddy looking friendly with children, or Brian May having his hair ruffled by Santa Claus.
The song is dominated by Mercury’s inimitable vocal performance, but is perhaps less hopeful than the average Christmas song. It’s certainly reflective, and perhaps its focus is more pensive and less certain of what Christmas is meant to be about. There is marked appreciation of the day itself, but maybe Freddy and the guys are more thankful that Christmas is just a one-day affair.
Tom: Just to let you know, this is about as close to religious as we’re going to get. Queen are another band who have their own way of putting things across. The wealth and range of subject matters that they’ve covered is quite colossal as well. It makes sense that they’d come to a Christmas song, but consider the band that we’re talking about here. Queen don’t seem to talk about events; they want to talk about people.
Not only thanking God, Freddie Mercury seems to be giving thanks to everybody who has been a part of his life, because there’s no focus for the ‘my love’ in this song. It’s about the friends who brought him to Christmas, and giving it back to them. Isn’t that what the Christmas spirit is all about? It’s about giving it back now.
Dean Martin: Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow; 1989
: Mellifluous without ever even verging on sickly, Dean Martin’s voice could well provide a soundtrack to Christmas all on its own. Perhaps another year The Rat Pack’s contribution to Christmas classics can be cut down to a mere few standouts, but for now let us consider the toasty, warm Let it Snow. Although Dino might be known by UGers as that boring old guy their grandfathers listen to, I can assure you that Dino’s voice remains timeless in its debonair, class, and delivery of this Christmas classic. His voice is like the fluffiest, puffiest, oldest cushion on the sofa that just refuses to be thrown away. Dig out your old grandfather’s Dean Martin vinyl today!
Tom: This is one of those classics that settles into the back of your head before you even realise it. You might never have even heard the name ‘Dean Martin’ (though I’m sure you have), and yet you know the theme, melody and point of this song. It’s romantic, it’s warm and relaxed. When you listen to this song, you don’t think about going out and engaging in snow ball fights, or the frantic pace of Christmas shopping.
This one isn’t about preparing for children, having rampant sex at the office party or delivering secret Santa gifts. It’s about exactly what it says: sitting in front of the fire while the snow goes crazy outside. You’re warm, you’re safe, you’re snuggled up. Christmas goes on around you, and you just let it happen. In the end, it’s all about providing your own happiness.
Alice Cooper: Santa Claws is Coming to Town
: During a recent shopping trip, my brother recollected with disgust that the Christmas decorations had been put up before even Halloween. This confusion between Halloween and Christmas can best be conveyed by a typically eerie Alice Cooper number.
Alice Cooper has practically become an institution these days. I saw him perform a couple of years ago while I was still in National Service, and it was simply the perfect way to celebrate a day's leave from the National Guard. His adaptation of the classic, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, is the epitome of Christmas with a twist. From the man who brought us definitive rock albums, such as Welcome to my Nightmare, Santa Claws is a definitive tongue-in-cheek Christmas song.
Tom: Well, it's Christmas, and for so many reasons we can present a sinister tinge to it. Anybody who's ever seen A Nightmare Before Christmas will understand the 'Santa Claws' reference. Add in the fact that we're looking at Alice Cooper here and you can just tell it's going to be cruel, brutal
Then, it isn't.
Admittedly, the whole 'he knows where you live, he knows when you're window's open' is quite dark - painting Santa as a gigantic white bearded, fat stalker, but it's not all like that. You can hear the powerchords that would have been major and those that would have been minor, since the choice of interval and cadence still give it away. The verses are quite cheerful, which is quite a departure from the usual.
But, you know, it's Alice Cooper. He doesn't keep it up for the whole song.
The Ramones: Merry Christmas (I don’t want to fight tonight); 1989
: Merry Christmas (I don’t want to fight tonight)
remains music’s most underrated Christmas classic, recorded by one of music’s most underrated bands. The Ramones represent the spirit of Christmas in so many ways, from the soulful singing of Joey, to the delightful chimes featured on this song. The realistic reminder that Christmas is subject to being ruined by fighting is a rare, and even more pertinent for a band like the Ramones, comprised of fractious, abrasive individuals. Joey Ramone even sounds excited when he sings, “Snowball fighting, it's so exciting baby!” The Beatles-inspired band from Queens never made number one during their careers, but perhaps an anti-X Factor campaign of the future can fix that injustice!
Tom: I’m not the biggest of Ramones fans, mostly because of how difficult it is to hear anything that they’re saying, and that’s concerning the music too, not just the lyrics. Still, it’s hard to miss the message here. They even include it in the title, just in case you miss it.
Christmas can be extremely stressful for everybody. The money, the preparation, the effort; it adds a lot to an already bitter month. It has to be worth it overall, otherwise lack of appreciation can cause some serious problems along the way. As a child, you might have been caught in the middle of a fight between your parents, or seen the bitter envy of a sibling. As an adult, you might have been the other end of the spectrum there.
That’s not what we’re aiming for with this whole Christmas cheer stuff, but it can happen.
The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl: Fairytale Of New York
: The perfect follow-up and antithesis to the Ramones’ criticism of Christmas conflict, The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl arguably revel in Christmas conflict. Sung in the vein of an Irish drinking ballad, Fairytale Of New York
is an argument played out by MacColl and MacGowan in a somewhat comedic light. It is perhaps the most down-to-earth and working class Christmas song there is (just consider the late MacColl’s collaboration with Billy Bragg), and for those reasons, old and new audiences alike continue to perpetuate its success.
The incredible call-and-response drama of the song is underlined by one of the most successful music videos of all time, in which there is no shortage of material for censorship. It shows MacGowan as we all know him: inebriated and, as a friend of mine once said, “I just love how f*cked he looks in this video!” The song may have been subject to censorship for the words ‘arse’, ‘faggot’, and ‘slut’, but its popularity has not suffered because of it.
While bands such as Flogging Molly and Dropkick Murphys try to capture the Irish ballad tradition in their music, it is harder to find a band with a sound more raw and relevant than that of the Pogues.
Tom: Another one where you can barely hear what’s going on, and another one with a bit of a relaxed fight in it, so this is the natural follow to The Ramones in my opinion.
The title gives nothing away of the actual song itself. There’s a lot of romance in this song, as well as a lot of that typical Christmas spirit. It’s a song where you can tell the people who wrote it are enjoying themselves, and that gives you a bit more permission to get into it yourself. Throughout all of the things that these people say to each other, come Christmas they’re still appreciative of each other. It’s not metal; it doesn’t need to be, and with that it provides further proof that Christmas doesn’t have a style or a genre, and doesn’t belong to a particular religion, as most people have long since worked out.
It’s just about being thankful for what you have.
Frank Sinatra: Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas; 1957
: It might be full of melancholy, but Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
balances the emotions nostalgia with the notion of hope that the very best Christmas songs manage to imitate. Of course, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
was originally featured in the 1944 musical-film, Meet Me in St. Louis, the MGM classic. The music was written by Hugh Martin, whereas the words were penned by Ralph Blane Hunsecker. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
has been lauded as the pair’s most enduring collaborative effort for its ‘pleasant and accessible musical dreaminess’ (Studwell, 1995: 136), but the truth behind its perpetual popularity is the suave and soul of Frank Sinatra’s desperately empathetic voice. It is the perfect delivery of a Christmas song, and long may its tradition continue.
Tom: Personally, I have no idea what you mean by full of melancholy. This song is carried entirely on the soulful voice of Frank Sinatra. It’s full or promise for the future, purpose and hope. All of the problems of the past are pushed back and away; that’s the reason this song is so widely known. As far as Christmas goes, for me, this is it. It’s not about bonding, making friends or anything of the sort. It’s about knowing what you already have, because that’s enough.
Think about it; it is, isn’t it?
We might have our differences in our interpretations of these songs, but there is nothing quite so fitting as a collaborative article to discuss Ultimate-Guitar.com’s top ten Christmas songs. It is telling that many of these can hardly be described as contemporary, but perhaps there is a band somewhere who can break into this list next year!
Tom and I would like to reiterate our very best Christmas wishes to the Ultimate-Guitar.com community.
By Samuel Agini and Tom Colohue
Ultimate-Guitar.Com © 2010