Last year in the run-up to Christmas, I put together a list of films and television specials to enjoy over the holidays. If you missed it, you can find that list by clicking or tapping here. As part of the festive season this year, I thought it could be fun to listen to a few Christmas songs together.
I’ll hold up my hands right now and say I’m an unashamed collector of Christmas albums. Having initially started with cassettes and CDs, my collection is now digital, consisting of MP3s – I have yet to fully make the transition to music streaming! Practically every Christmas album I own has at least one track worth listening to, but many modern ones consists of the same handful of “traditional holiday favourites,” and artists, in an attempt to distinguish their version from the myriad others, have a tendency to over-sing some of these great Christmas tunes.
This playlist entirely consists of YouTube videos, and for copyright/legal reasons, I can’t be 100% certain that every track will be available in your country. I know in Germany, for example, there are stricter copyright requirements that often block music on YouTube. If any of the tracks are unavailable, don’t despair. I daresay you can find them on your streaming platform of choice.
Without further ado, let’s jump into the list!
Merry Xmas Everybody – Slade (1973)
In 1973, when British rock band Slade were at the height of their success, they released Merry Xmas Everybody. It would go on to be their best-remembered hit – as well as their final UK number one.
Though arguably eclipsed in recent years by Fairytale of New York (which we’ll look at in a moment) Slade’s Merry Xmas Everybody was, for a long time, the most-played and most-loved Christmas song in the UK, and still routinely appears on Christmas compilations and playlists.
Noddy Holder, Slade’s lead singer, has often told the story of how peculiar it was recording the music video in New York in the summer of 1973 – one of the hottest summers on record at the time. The fake snow and festive tone of the song completely clashed with the band’s surroundings, yet the simple video has become iconic – as has Holder’s semi-screamed line “it’s Christmas!”
Christmas Time (Don’t Let The Bells End) – The Darkness (2003)
Seventeen years after Christmas Time (Don’t Let the Bells End) missed out on the Christmas number one spot, I’m still mad! It was locked in a close race to the coveted spot at the top of the UK charts against, of all things, Mad World (from the Donnie Darko soundtrack). It was the first new Christmas-themed song that was any good that I’d heard in years, and I bought it on CD in the hopes of helping the band top the charts that Christmas.
The Darkness are otherwise known as a one-hit wonder for the 2003 song I Believe in a Thing Called Love and for winning several Brit awards the following year. Christmas Time (Don’t Let the Bells End) seemed to have rapidly faded into obscurity after missing out in 2003; disappearing as quickly as The Darkness themselves. But recent years have seen the song receive a renewed appreciation at this time of year, and it now gets played regularly in December. It may have taken a while, but the song has become a modern-day Christmas favourite.
You Make It Feel Like Christmas – Gwen Stefani feat. Blake Shelton (2017)
I don’t follow the ins and outs of celebrity gossip, nor do I watch reality television. But even I couldn’t avoid hearing the drama that emerged from The Voice when it became public knowledge that judges Gwen Stefani and Blake Shelton had become a couple. After a couple of years of dating, Shelton – better known for his career in country music – joined Stefani on the lead track from her Christmas album.
The result was a great song; a cute duet by a couple very much in love. It’s since become a feature on my festive playlist; a blend of country, rock, and pop stylings in a single, truly enjoyable up-tempo hit.
The song was released in the UK, but failed to chart. The best performance it managed worldwide (according to Wikipedia) was in Canada, reaching the number two spot in 2017. Regardless, it’s a great tune that should be on everyone’s festive playlist!
I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday – Wizzard (1973)
Slade’s Merry Xmas Everybody – that we looked at above – beat Wizzard to the Christmas number one spot in 1973; a great year for Christmas songs here in the UK, apparently! Roy Wood, formerly of the band Electric Light Orchestra, founded Wizzard in 1972. This song would be their only major hit, and has been replayed at Christmas in the UK ever since.
The song was re-recorded in 1981, after it was discovered the original master tapes had been lost. As a result there are two versions of the song out there, each featuring a different children’s choir accompanying Wood’s glam rock band.
As a kid this was one of my favourite Christmas tunes, and I have fond memories of getting the record out to play on my dad’s old turntable as we decorated the Christmas tree and as the big day approached. Perhaps my parents didn’t appreciate that – but I did!
Fairytale of New York – The Pogues feat. Kirsty MacColl (1987)
The song regularly called “Britain’s favourite Christmas song” could hardly be absent from this playlist! Fairytale of New York is an odd, bloody-minded choice for that title, as it tells the story of a dysfunctional couple having a truly awful Christmas in New York. However, something about the track resonated with a lot of people, and in 2020 it’s not unfair to call it The Pogues’ best-known song.
Christmas is a wonderful time of the year for many people, but as Fairytale of New York reminds us, that isn’t the case for everyone. The song touches on homelessness, domestic abuse, and brings home to everyone who hears it that the world isn’t just Christmas parties and waiting for Santa. Is that a grown-up take, or just being “edgy” for the sake of it? Whatever you may think, the haunting folk-rock melody is beautiful.
Once in Royal David’s City – Mary Chapin Carpenter (2008)
An understated, country-style version of this Christmas carol is oddly timeless. Mary Chapin Carpenter has released a number of great albums over the years, and is one of my favourite artists of the genre, so I was thrilled to learn she was releasing a Christmas album in 2008. However, the album itself was rather mediocre aside from this song and one other (The Longest Night of the Year).
A diamond in the rough, then. Once in Royal David’s City wasn’t released as a single, as indeed none of the songs from Come Darkness, Come Light were. It’s the standout track of the album for me, though, and the arrangement suits Carpenter’s vocals perfectly.
Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree – The Baseballs (2012)
German rock n’ roll outfit The Baseballs rose to fame by releasing 50s-style covers of contemporary pop songs, and by 2012 were ready to put their unique spin on Christmas songs. Their entire Christmas album is well worth a listen, jam-packed with great covers. But if I had to pick just one, the one which works best with their style is Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.
I’d been a fan of The Baseballs since their first album in 2009, and had the good fortune to see them play live once. They’re one of the few bands I’ve seen that were just as good live as they are on record!
Merry Christmas Everyone – Shakin’ Stevens (1985)
1985’s Christmas number one has become a classic, a frequent presence on playlists and compilations at this time of year. Originally planned to be released for the 1984 Christmas season, having been recorded that year, Stevens and record label Epic opted to delay Merry Christmas Everyone by an entire year to avoid clashing with Do They Know It’s Christmas? – the charity single by Band Aid.
When it finally released, the Welsh singer took the charts by storm, and the song was no worse for having had to wait. I once sang this song at a karaoke night – after a little too much to drink! It’s probably fair to say Stevens’ original version is better, though!
Christmas Tree Farm – Taylor Swift (2019)
Having been a big Taylor Swift fan during her country days, I’d fallen out of love with the superstar after she made her move to pop. Her pop albums have been – in my opinion – rather bland and uninspired, so I wasn’t particularly interested in learning she was releasing a Christmas single last year. But I should’ve been! Christmas Tree Farm is touching and deeply personal – as much of her work is. It’s a great song, and when I booted up my Christmas playlist this year, I was glad to see it return.
The song recounts Swift’s early life growing up on a Christmas tree farm, and has a unique charm. Christmas is a time for nostalgia and remembering childhood, and that’s exactly what the track is about. Though one of her least-successful singles in terms of chart performance, I’m happy to have added Christmas Tree Farm to my festive playlist, and I’m sure to be listening to it at Christmas for many years to come.
The First Noel – John Denver (1990)
One of my favourite artists sings one of my favourite Christmas carols. What could be better than that? Taken from his third (and final) Christmas album, Denver’s take on The First Noel is beautiful.
The song wasn’t released as a single, simply as one track among thirteen on the album, but it’s one of my favourites from Christmas, Like a Lullaby. There have been some great covers of The First Noel over the years, but this version is understated, slow, and keeps it simple. Denver doesn’t overcomplicate the tune with excessive instrumentation or by trying to over-stress every note. It’s just a sweet version of a classic carol.
Little Town – Amy Grant (1983)
If John Denver’s The First Noel was an understated version of a classic, American contemporary Christian artist Amy Grant’s adaptation of the Christmas carol O Little Town of Bethlehem is the complete opposite! The carol is given a faster tempo, modern instruments, and a pop makeover, transforming it almost entirely into something new. Yet it retains the original lyrics in an odd blend of styles, but one that truly works.
This version of the classic carol was originally recorded by British singer Cliff Richard – more on him in a moment. His version is decent, but for my money Grant’s version just has something more that elevates it, and makes it a truly enjoyable listen. As someone who isn’t religious, I wouldn’t seek out a musician like Amy Grant at any other time of year. But Little Town has been a part of my Christmas playlist for decades, and I always enjoy it.
Mistletoe and Wine – Cliff Richard (1988)
Mistletoe and Wine gets an unfairly bad rap, in my opinion, as does Sir Cliff Richard himself. There’s nothing wrong with this orchestral-pop song, which Richard adapted for Christmas in 1988. It would go on to be the first of three consecutive Christmas number ones for the singer; he also topped the charts with Band Aid II in 1989, and again as a solo artist with Saviour’s Day in 1990.
It’s become popular in recent years for folks to look down their noses at Sir Cliff and his middle-of-the-road, inoffensive style of pop music. I don’t really know why, because he’s had some great records over the years. When it comes to Christmas, it would be remiss not to include Mistletoe and Wine – or any of his other Christmassy singles.
So that’s it. An eclectic mix, I’m sure you’ll agree. And neither a Wham! nor a Mariah Carey in sight! One of the things I enjoy most about this time of year is the music, and there are many more songs and albums I could have talked about here. This playlist was already growing long, though, so we’ll have to settle for twelve! Maybe next Christmas I’ll add a few more.
2020 has been a crap year, and it’s years like this where Christmas time matters all the more to a lot of folks. Take some time to unwind if you can. For me, listening to Christmas music – both lifelong favourites and brand-new classics – is a great way to do that. Hopefully some of these songs will be to your taste too.
There’s more Christmas-themed content to come before we get to the big day, so stay tuned!
All songs on the playlist above are the copyright of their respective record company, studio, distributor, composer, etc. All videos courtesy of YouTube. Videos are merely embedded here, and are not hosted on Trekking with Dennis. For copyright claims, please contact YouTube directly. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.