# A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Miscellaneous - The Christmas Song Remains the Same

  by Mark Rowland

published: 26 / 11 / 2011

Miscellaneous - The Christmas Song Remains the Same


In his 'Rock 101' column Mark Rowland explains why he thinks that Christmas music needs more albums, rather than just singles

In a break to the usual format of this column (if a column as young as this can have a format), I’ve decided to go festive. So here’s some thoughts on Christmas music. Music has played a part in Christmas for as long as it has existed. It can set the mood, the warmth of the holiday. It can also be maddeningly irritating. I’m at risk of sounding like a grumpy old man, so I should stipulate that I love Christmas, and I love Christmas music. There are, however, some perennial ‘favourites’ that are played to death before we even hit December. Because writing good Christmas music is tricky. The vast majority of popular Christmas music dates back to the 70s and early 80s. Most of these reflect Christmas at its most tacky – plastic, sugary and tasteless. There is, of course, nothing wrong with throwaway pop, but these songs are boomerangs. We throw them away at the end of each year for them to come back at the end of the next one. Beyond this era, Christmas songs are pretty thin on the ground. The Christmas song went out of fashion a bit – Christmas number ones were no less tacky. They just weren’t about Christmas. In recent years, however, the Christmas song is undergoing something of a renaissance, albeit one that’s tried to inject some class back into the Christmas song. These are invariably performed by credible artists (such as Sufjan Stevens, She & Him and Slow Club) and hark back to pre-70's Christmas music. Some of it takes its cues from 'White Christmas' and other tunes made famous by crooners. Most, however, is directly influenced by Phil Spector’s classic Christmas album, 'A Christmas Gift for You'. It is certainly a high water mark for Christmas music. It manages to capture the warmth and fun of the season without being overwhelmingly saccharine, which is an incredibly difficult trick to pull off. It also manages to appeal to both adults and young children (though perhaps not teenagers), another tricky balancing act. It’s certainly one of my favourites, and is often cited as the greatest secular Christmas album of all time. When it was first released – the day John F Kennedy was shot – it was a flop. Perhaps its cheeriness was too much at a time of great national sorrow in the US. Over time, however, it has found a very broad audience. It set the template for much of the Christmas music that was to come after it, but it has more heart than a lot of the Christmas novelty records that have littered Christmas playlists for too long (with the honourable exceptions of Slade, Wizzard, Jonah Lewis and the Pogues). Some of our favourite Christmas music is directly linked to our favourite Christmas films, which oddly can withstand repeated viewings as well as (if not better than) Christmas music can withstand endless seasonal repeats. Like the best Christmas music, the best Christmas films serve up a little darkness with the warmth. 'It’s a Wonderful Life', which often tops the best Christmas films of all time lists, is about a man on the brink of suicide. 'A Christmas Carol', a classic remade many times over, is a ghost story (and for the record, the Muppets have made the definitive film version of this story. That is not open for debate). In fact, one of my favourite Christmas albums is inherently linked to a Christmas film – 'A Charlie Brown Christmas'. Performed by the Vince Guaraldi Trio, this album features a children’s choir but somehow manages to be great. It’s a little jazzy, heavily piano based, and as laid back as a winter’s evening by the fire with a glass of wine (mulled or otherwise). The film itself makes some interesting points about the over-commercialisation and increasing artificiality of Christmas, though its solution is to have a more religious one instead, which doesn’t necessarily tally with what makes Christmas for me. The soundtrack, however, can be listened to in complete isolation of the film, and perfectly captures the spirit of an adult Christmas, when all you want to do is relax with a glass of something alcoholic, and eat great, Christmassy foods. No wonder it’s one of the most popular Christmas albums of all time. That’s what Christmas music needs more of – albums, rather than singles. The singles can be great in their own right, but albums, when done right, can set the mood for your entire day. Especially if it features jazz piano.

Post A Comment

your name
ie London, UK
Check box to submit

Pennyblackmusic Regular Contributors