2013 has undeniably been an exciting year for music, whatever your auditory preference. Following a triumphant headline set at this year’s Reading and Leeds festivals, rap legend Eminem returned from a three year hiatus with the follow up to 2000’s iconic ‘The Marshal Mathers LP’, Nine Inch Nails returned with the brooding minimalist electronica of ‘Hesitation Marks’, Gaga came forth with more poptastic offerings (not a meat hat in sight) and even Beyonce managed to sneak one in before the end of the year, and that’s not even scratching the surface. December alone has seen new albums from pop stalwart Britney Spears, the American rock powerhouse Boston (y’know, the guys behnd the air guitar classic ‘More Than A Feeling’), hardcore pioneers Black Flag and another slice of classic R’n’B from R. Kelly.
However, as we descend into December we must face the inevitable. Supermarkets have had mince pies in stock for months and we’re all planning the annual pilgrimage home to eat too much, drink too much and watch endless re runs of crap telly. We seem to unfortunately be at the stage now where the onset of Christmas isn’t so much a gradual arrival as an all out assault on one’s senses, with a relentless gaudy barrage of seasonal bric-a-brac not dissimilar in approach as the sequence from A Clockwork Orange where Alex is submitted to the ’Ludovico Technique’ (Google it). Small wonder, then, that some of us are becoming more than a little jaded with the impending arrival of St Nick.
For some, though, nothing grates more than the inescapable barrage of yuletide ‘classics’ blaring forth from radios, shop stereos and television adverts. A large percentage of us are sick of these festive clichés before December even begins, and it’s often hard to remember that underneath tales of rocking around the Christmas tree and paeans to Mistletoe and Wine that there are actually some decent Yuletide songs out there (latter example notwithstanding – sorry, Cliff). At the very least, they mark a welcome rest from the musical flotsam and jetsam that populates the airwaves for the remainder of the year.
So, what are some of the best, and worst? There are undoubtedly criteria that make a Christmas song ‘good’; something that you can sing at the top of your voice when you’ve had one egg nog too many on Christmas Eve is an absolute must. Immediately, then, we can remove John Lennon’s dirge ‘Merry Xmas (War Is Over)’ from our yuletide playlist.
Rammed full of festive cheer is also essential, as are lyrics concerning sleigh bells, santa and reindeers with questionably ruddy extremities. Our first entry, then, surely has to be Shakin’ Stevens’ ‘Merry Christmas Everyone’. Well done, Shakey. Subtlety is also off the list, and you are certain to find not even a shred of that in Slade’s eponymous ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’, complete with Noddy Holder’s gut busting assurance to us that it is, in fact, Christmas. Saxophones and trumpets are arguably as essential as a large bottle of Advocaat for creating that Christmas spirit, so allow me to suggest Wizzard’s ‘I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday’ and Jonah Lewie’s ‘Stop The Cavalry’ (I’m aware the latter contains very little in the way of Christmas-based wordplay, but bear with me here – it does discuss being with the girl he loves and let’s face it; being with loved ones is also an integral part of the holidays).
As is the case with everything, however, there are exceptions to these rules. The evocative ‘Let It Snow’ by the croon-tastic Dean Martin is a superb example. It’s the sort of song that’s akin to a cuddle and a huge mug of hot chocolate by a roaring fire. Want a rockier choice? The Primitives ‘You Trashed My Christmas’ is a winner; a blend of sleigh bells and scuzzy guitars perched atop a tongue lyric. Or for the perfect antidiote to Mariah Carey’s subsonic warbling, check out US punks Zebrahead and their version of her festive hit ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’.
If the thought of any of these tracks still make you want to vomit tinsel, take heart. We have at our disposal the tools of solace; namely one of the digital ages greatest innovations, the mp3 player. So plug yourself in and bathe in the relief of your regular listening, safe in the knowledge that at least one of your senses is being spared a cracker-shaped onslaught. Whatever your choice of soundtrack, have a fantastic Christmas and a wonderful New Year. (Speaking of which… does anybody actually know the words to Auld Lang Syne?…)