The Christmas Special

IT’S CHRISTMAS! Noddy Holder has been yelling this at us since 1973, when Slade had a number one hit with Merry Christmas Everybody.  Christmas songs are a huge part of the festive season.  Some Christmas songs are like Marmite, with people either loving them or hating them.  This year I have been enjoying the tradition of Christmas songs and started thinking more about them. 

There are three basic kinds of Christmas songs with subcategories within each.

Carols- Christmas themed hymns

I am not religious but I like Christmas carols, they are traditional and nostalgic.  I think some have lasted the test of time as they are such well written tunes and words.  Most people know at least a few carols from their school days.  For me I think of Carols from King’s when the BBC broadcast Nine Lessons and Carols from King’s College Cambridge every year. 

Once In Royal David’s City

A Victorian carol, one of the first really well known ones to be written by a woman.  I always associate it with Carols from King’s, when a solo choir boy always starts the song.  I like this song quite a lot.

Silent Night

Or ‘Stille Nacht’ as it was originally called being an Austrian carol.  I really like this song.  Quite a few of our Carols were not originally sung in English such as the German Oh Christmas Tree.

Hark the Herald

Written by Charles Wesley, brother of John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Church.  This is one of my favourite carols, but I find it very hard to sing as I cannot sing as high as the chorus requires.  I think it is best sung by a choir with a section who can do full justice to the high parts.

Away in a Manger

This is often seen as a carol for children to sing, often used in school nativity plays.  I do not like this song very much, I think the first verse is fine, but then the lyrics are a bit rubbish after that. 

Little Donkey

Composed by Eric Boswell, who died last month in the fiftieth anniversary year of the song.  He wrote it especially for children to sing.  I find this song a bit tedious.

In the Bleak Mid-Winter

The lyrics are based on a poem by Christina Rosseetti, which has two tunes written for it, one by Holst, the other by Drake.  I prefer the tune by Holst, my mum the tune by Drake, but it might just be what you are used to hearing most.  I really like this song as it is a bit different and has wonderful lyrics.

 Good King Wenceslas

Unusual among carols, this song does focus on the nativity, but on a 10th century duke of Bohemia who was also known as Vaclav the Good.  The song tells the story of him helping the poor on St Stephens Day (26th of December).  I like this song as it is about a Christmas legend and tells a nice story. 

Other carols I also really like include We Three Kings, Hark the Herold, Carol of the Bells and Ding Dong Merrily on High.

Traditional- Well known Christmas songs that are neither a carol, nor a pop chart hit

Jingle Bells

An American song, originally written for Thanksgiving, but later changed into a Christmas song.  It is one of the first songs my nephew learnt the words to and he sang it over and over aged about two.  It is quite fun, but short and repetitive.

We Wish You a Merry Christmas     

The lyrics refer to the tradition of carollers being given Christmas treats for singing to the wealthy members of the community.  I do not like this song, it is often sung rather badly.

The Twelve days of Christmas

Possibly French in origin, the lyrics have varied over the years, with four calling birds having previously been four collie birds and at one stage coloured birds.  Although a little tedious to sing, I do quite like this song and am always rather pleased if I remember all twelve in the correct order. 

Pop Chart Songs- Christmas themed pop songs

White Christmas

This song was originally used in the film Holiday Inn and later used again in the film White Christmas, sung in both cases by Bing Crosby.   It is one of the bestselling singles in the world with over fifty million sales worldwide.  I like it in a nostalgic way, but the later verses are a bit odd sung out of context, when as a child growing up in the UK he mentions palm trees and sunshine at Christmas.

Mary’s Boy Child- Oh My Lord

The 1978 version by Boney M. is a cover of Harry Belafonte’s 1956 hit.  It is one of the bestselling UK singles of all time.  I really like this version; it has a fun calypso vibe to it.

I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday

Glam rock band Wizard only ever reached number four in the UK charts with this song, being beaten to the number one slot by Salde’s Merry Christmas Everybody.  I actually find this song has been played to death now and I am not a fan.

Fairy-tale of New York

Although this song never reached number one, it has been in the UK top twenty on fifteen separate occasions since originally being released in 1987.  A lot of polls site it as one of the most popular Christmas songs of all time, but I cannot stand it.  It focuses on one of the worst bits of Christmas, a drunken argument, which is not how I like to think of Christmas. 

Last Christmas

Recorded in 1984 by Wham, George Michael himself wrote, produced and played every instrument on the track.  I like this song as it has a happy rhythm, despite the lyrics of unrequited love. 

Do They Know It’s Christmas?

Bob Geldof who co-wrote the song, admits it is one of the worst songs in history.  He says it was all about generating money, the song did not matter.  I agree, the song is terrible, in fact I think the lyrics are patronising.  When dying of famine and living in a refugee camp do they even care if it is Christmas?  The fact that they keep making new version of the song just makes it worse, they could at least write a better song next time.  Just because a song is for charity does that mean it has to be a rubbish song, no!

The Beatles Solo Christmas Songs

John Lennon – “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)”

Paul McCartney – “Wonderful Christmastime”

George Harrison – “Ding Dong, Ding Dong”

Ringo Starr – “I Wanna Be Santa”

For four such talented people, the Christmas songs could be better.  I think John Lennon solo was pretty annoying anyway, but Happy Xmas is just tedious.  Ding Dong, Ding Dong, is not too bad a song, although the video to it is very strange.  I Wanna Be Santa was never actually a single, but is quite a jolly song at least.  Wonderful Christmastime would by anyone else be a reasonable attempt at a Christmas song, but coming from Paul McCartney, I just think he could have done better.

Shake up Christmas

So this was not the biggest chart success for American band Train and you may even be struggling to recall the song at all, but I love it.  Coming from their album Christmas in Tahoe, it is fun song.  You may recognise it from the Coca-Cola advert of 2010.

Other Christmas songs I like include Jona Lewie’s Stop the Cavalry, Baby It’s Cold Outside various recordings, I am partial to the Tom Jones and Cerys Matthews version and Christmas Time (Don’t Let the Bells End) by The Darkness.