It’s fitting that we should begin Christmas Eve with a rendition of ‘Silent Night,’ for it was the song that was sung by British, French and German soldiers during the Christmas Truce that was referred to in yesterday’s post. It was the only Christmas song they knew that had been translated into all three languages, having originated as a German carol (‘Stille Nacht’) from the pen of Austrian school teacher Franz Xaver Gruber (music) and priest Joseph Mohr (lyrics).
It’s interesting to note that the original, besides being German, differed from the modern in that it was intended as a mid-tempo dance tune rather than the slow-paced lullaby that it has become. First performed in 1818, the song was a fast success and it spread quickly through the various churches of Europe, eventually making its way to America and its first English translation in 1859. More or less everybody is aware of the “standard version” so I’ll push right ahead and highlight artists who’ve put their own unique spin on the track.
First up, we have Enya. Ireland has been a recurrent figure in this series, but for once I have a reason other than familiarity for focusing on a song, as the former Clannad singer’s recording is ample demonstration of the song’s inherent flexibility: the original can be sung in at least 44 different languages with very little lost in the way of meaning.
By contrast, Simon & Garfunkel’s 1966 recording involves a radical rethink of the song’s…
Christmastime is a time when, traditonally, families come together. However, in coming together, we also tend to be more acutely aware of those that are missing: those we’ve lost and those that, for whatever reason, can’t be with us.
The story goes that, on Christmas Day 1914 (the first of the First World War), peace broke out. German, British and French trench troops crossed into no man’s land to exchange gifts and, famously, play games of football together. The scenes would not be repeated the following year, or any other. Whether motivated by basic humanity or naivety, those early gestures of solidarity quickly gave way to the horrors of the most brutal and senseless war in modern history.
It’s in the latter context that Jona Lewie’s greatest hit (it was only beaten to #1 by a re-release of John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ shortly after the singer’s death, about as far from a fair fight as you can get) is set. Set to ironically regal horns, ‘Stop the Cavalry’ is one of the most established songs of the Christmas canon, worldwide but particularly in Britain, however it only contains one actual reference to the Season to be Jolly, in the lament of a frontline soldier: “Wish I was at home for Christmas…”
Modern wars bear little in comparison to the large-scale destruction of human life that were the World Wars. However, though we may all disagree on political issues, it’s imperative on all of us to spare a thought for military servicemen…
What we haven’t seen is perhaps the simplest joy of all: spending the Most Wonderful Time of the Year with the person you love. The Mighty Stef’s ‘Shit Christmas Without You’ might be crass and slightly ironic, but the ’50s rock swing, booming vocal and sweet higher-pitched notes all bring home the value of those pleasures we all too often take for granted. For all those fortunate to be spending the Christmas period with somebody you love, make sure to make the most of what you’ve got.
But first, feel free to join me in a pint of Guinness or some other generic Irish drink for a singsong with one of Ireland’s greatest (and most overlooked) songwriters.
Not a lot of people know this, but as well as being an accomplished singer of showtunes and a country & western star, John C. Reilly makes a working man’s living as a comedic actor. Will Ferrell is also adept at saying ridiculous things with a straight face.
On a completely unrelated matter, here’s a video of David Bowie dropping into Bing Crosby’s house at The Most Wonderful Time of the Year for a spot of singing/jousting to the tune of ‘Peace on Earth’ and ‘Little Drummer Boy.’ Make sure to click through for a free download of the track.
OK, I guess yesterday confirmed that people don’t take too kindly to hardcore punk and f-worded sentiments in their Christmas cheer. Their loss.
Today, we continue on a Christmas classic buzz, albeit a much more mainstream one.
One of the great ironies of Christmas music, in the pre-internet era at least, is that the songs tended to be written and recorded in the summer, such was the lead time required to prep for a December release. English glam rockers Slade’s ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’ – often incorrectly titled ‘Here it is Merry Christmas’ – is no exception, having been recorded at the tail end of the band’s 1973 summer tour of the US in a sweltering New York City in August.
The upbeat lyrical content – summed up by the line “look to the future now, it’s only just begun” – can be interpreted as more than just standard holiday season escapism. The song came about against a background of unrest in Britain’s mining and industrial heartlands and the lyrics reflected the need for a good dose of optimism. This explains why ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’ is considered more than just a Christmas song in the UK. And if I can wear my Nick Butler hat for a moment, I’ll add that it was the UK’s Christmas #1 in ‘73.
Slade’s recording of the song is light and bouncy with a hint of abrasion in Noddy Holder’s gravelly vocals. By contrast, the 2000 cover by Noel Gallagher of…
One often wonders that were Cee Lo Green to compose a Christmas track, would it sound anything like ‘Fuck Christmas.’
The short answer is no – for one thing, he’d probably release 11 censored versions before finally sticking the original out of sight mind at the arse-end of his Christmas album. The long answer is also no. The intermediary answer has yet to be confirmed but is believed to also be no.
As far as Christmas songs go, ‘Fuck Christmas’ probably occupies the same level of notoriety as Dog Soldiers does among werewolf films: everybody in the know knows the score, but nobody in the know is worth a fuck in the grand scheme of things. ‘Fuck Christmas’ wasn’t even deemed worthy of inclusion on Fear’s one work of note: 1982’s The Record. It ghosted in on reissues of the underrated hardcore band’s finest record.
As Christmas songs go, ‘Fuck Christmas’ has it all: a romantic, Dio-like proto-metal intro; rich Dickensian imagery; lots of them vibrato things on guitar; the “bad” F-word. More importantly, it flips the entire Christmas carol concept on its head. Frontman Lee Ving sings “don’t despair, just because it’s Christmas,” depicting The Most Wonderful Day of the Year, quite rightly, as the miserable, regret-filled season that is for many of us. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
And at just 45 seconds, it’s short enough that you can listen to 106 times in a row without getting bored. Hoo-ha!
When we think of classic Christmas songs, it tends to be the case that the older the song, the better.
In a sense, this is a natural reaction to the passage of time and our innate distrust of the present, but perhaps it also says something about how pop culture has captured Christmas. While much of what we now consider “Christmassy” we owe to Dickens, an awful lot of it is also dated to the ’50s and ’60s when “pop culture” properly began in earnest with the rapid spread of television and other visual media.
How refreshing, then, to have a Christmas classic from our own time. Perhaps this is a little too early for much of the Sputnik demographic, but it’s certainly within the timeline of our editors to remember a time when Mariah Carey was a) relevant, b) disgustingly beautiful and c) not world-renowned as a crazy person. In the early ’90s, Mariah still had her natural breasts and was quite comfortably the most successful pop singer around, and still she found time to write and sing one of the best Christmas songs ever produced.
Kanye West’s been neglecting his G.O.O.D. Fridays project as of late – no new updates since mid-November – but you didn’t really think he could let Christmas pass without another gift, did you?
The base track for ‘Christmas in Harlem’ “leaked” (in other words, Kanye sent it out) on Wednesday, featuring professional famous person Teyana Taylor, but Kanye confirmed that a version with more guests was impending. Barely 24 hours, he’d “leaked” it – the recording featuring Cam’ron, Vado, Jim Jones, CyHi Da Prynce, Pusha T, Musiq and, of course, Teyana.
Kanye West – ‘Christmas in Harlem’
Not a lot of people know this, but there are an awful lot of deranged, fanatical people out there who have dedicated large parts of their lives to archiving all 150+ versions of Wham!’s festive classic ‘Last Christmas.’
Naturally, I’m one of them.
Until an unfortunate incident with a fried motherboard destroyed my collection, I had upwards of 50 versions of the song in my possession, from almost every genre imaginable. Granted, many of those imaginable genres are the sort of trashy pop nobody sane would ever want to imagine (although I will defend Whigfield’s version to the death), but there’s an awful lot of good stuff mixed in there.
Come to think of it, had I been more clever about this, I’d have scrapped the “12 Days of Christmas” idea and just gone with the “12 Days of Last Christmas.” Maybe next year. In the meantime, feel free to take in 5 of the best.
Yesterday, we began our countdown with a classic from over half a century ago. Today, we focus on something much more recent – so recent, in fact, it was only released today.
The Popical Island Collective came together largely of necessity – Irish labels are overwhelmingly biased towards either commercial music or punk – but the common thread that unites the likes of Squarehead, Yeh Deadlies and So Cow masks the huge amount of diversity within their ranks. The collective has been buzzing around the Irish music scene for less than a year, but already they’ve made quite an impression on the local scene with a double of upbeat indie pop compilations, the second of which can be found below.
A Hard Old Station: Christmas With the Popical Island Showband is a six-track EP featuring four original numbers from lo-fi pop acts Yeh Deadlies, The Walpurgis Family, Tieranniesaur (solo project of Yeh Deadlies’ Annie Tierney) and Jonny Fun and the… Hesitation, as well as two tracks from the 21-member Popical Island Showband, made up of members from the aforementioned acts.
Though the phrase “Twelve Days of Christmas” traditionally refers to the period beginning on Christmas Day, we at Sputnikmusic are far more interested in the dozen days leading up to it, when the anticipation and excitement builds and builds until the inevitable disappointment kicks in on Christmas morning. Over the next twelve days, we hope to expose you to every facet of the Christmas music experience, from the impossibly earnest to the self-consciously ironic to the downright offensive and everything in between.
We begin, though, with a classic.
Montgomery Burns once lamented: “Smithers, years ago I blew the chance to buy Picasso’s Guernica for a song. Luckily, that song was ‘White Christmas,’ and by hanging onto it I made billions!” The story may have been fictional (although the Simpsons is otherwise 100% factually accurate) but the sentiment was right: Bing Crosby’s recording of Irving Berlin’s ‘White Christmas’ remains the best-selling single of all-time and will likely never be beat.
For those of us who live in less than arctic climates, the “White Christmas” remains an annual fantasy, an ideal that belies the fact any significant amount of snowfall scares the shit out of us, destroys our infrastructure and sends us into varying degrees of deranged panic. Every year. It’s testament to the beauty of the imagery, and the song, that ‘White Christmas’ remains the season’s most enduring staple and the feather in the cap of one of pop music’s greatest ever singers.