Ed Elf (making notes like a waiter at a dinner table): Of course, madam. A burst of Buble, a bit of Bing and a batch of Nat. Might I add a spectre of Spector – perhaps a measure of Martin or a glug of Garland?
Mrs. C: No, I think I’d rather a sliver of Slade or a piece of Pogues.
Ed Elf: Understood. You’ve had your Phil, not too keen on Dean and Judy makes you moody. Your order will be right out, madam.
Mrs. C: Thank you…er…waiter.
Make Christmas Go Pop
The music industry has made it easy to own all the Christmas pop classics in one place with collections like “Now That’s What I Call Christmas!” and “The Best Christmas Album in the World…Ever!” If you have these in some format or other, you’ve pretty much got things covered. There might just be the odd gap to fill here or there with a streamed track because these collections are modified from time to time.
Beware! There are some absolute shockers on certain versions of each album. For example, our copy of “The Best Christmas Album…” includes “I Believe” by Robson & Jerome and “Another Rock and Roll Christmas” by the despicable Gary Glitter. Dreadful. Clearly, you can edit such rubbish from your playlist.
The key is not to dwell on the bad but to ensure you have the good – the Christmas pop classics. There are other songs that might not fall into the classic category but are as familiar as Christmas itself, so why not add a few of those while you’re at it. Here are some suggestions, classic or otherwise:
“A Fairytale of New York” – The Pogues Feat. Kirsty MacColl
“Happy Xmas (War is Over)” – John & Yoko
“Do They Know It’s Christmas?” – Band Aid
“I Believe in Father Christmas” – Greg Lake
“Peace on Earth – Little Drummer Boy” – Bing Crosby & David Bowie
“Merry Xmas Everybody” – Slade
“Wonderful Christmastime” – Paul McCartney
“I Wish it Could Be Christmas Everyday” – Wizzard
“Mistletoe and Wine” – Cliff Richard
“In Dulce Jubilo” – Mike Oldfield
“Santa Tell Me” – Ariana Grande
“Holly Jolly Christmas” – Burl Ives
“Don’t Shoot Me, Santa” – The Killers
“Stop the Cavalry” – Jona Lewie
“Step into Christmas” – Elton John
“A Spaceman Came Travelling” – Chris De Burgh
“Driving Home for Christmas” – Chris Rea
“Christmas All Over Again” – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
“All I Want for Christmas Is You” – Mariah Carey
“Last Christmas” – Wham!
“Saviour’s Day” – Cliff Richard
“Christmas Time (Don’t Let the Bells End)” – The Darkness
“2000 Miles” – The Pretenders
“Carol of the Bells” – Katie Melua & the Gori Women’s Choir, Georgia
“What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” – Rufus Wainwright
“Someday at Christmas” – Stevie Wonder & Andra Day
“Grown Up Christmas List” – Natalie Cole
“Emmanuel” – Amy Grant
“Silent Night” – Sinead O’Connor
“Christmas Wrapping” – The Waitresses
“Christmas Lights” – Coldplay
“When a Child is Born” – Johnny Mathis
“Ring Out Solstice Bells” – Jethro Tull
“Mary Did You Know” – Mary J. Blige
“Do They Know It’s Christmas?” – Band Aid 30
“Man With The Bag” – Jessie J
“Christmas Waltz” – She & Him
“Up on the Housetop” – Jackson 5
“Reggae Christmas” – Bob Marley
A few other pop songs have become associated with the festive season without so much as a mention of the word Christmas. This is in large part, of course, due to their seasonal release date. Some made it to Christmas No.1 and are thus forever linked to this time of year. In the case of Frankie Goes to Hollywood, they unashamedly turned the video for “The Power of Love” into a re-run of the Nativity. “Angels” by Robbie Williams managed a highest chart position of number four in December 1997 and is widely regarded as the song that rescued his floundering solo career. The rest, as they say, is history.
Paul McCartney’s “We All Stand Together” – often referred to as the Frog Chorus – made a Debenhams commercial appearance in Christmas 2014. It was released in the summer of 1983 as a song for an animated film “Rupert and the Frog Song”, but was re-released for Christmas 1984 and reached number three in the singles chart. It can therefore be a reminder, for people of a certain age, of the festive season. Here are December hit songs that may remind you of Christmas and which you might want to stream – even if they don’t have overtly festive references:
“Angels” – Robbie Williams
“The Power of Love” – Frankie Goes to Hollywood
“Stay Another Day” – East 17
“A Winter’s Tale” – David Essex
“I Will Always Love You” – Whitney Houston
“Goodbye” – Spice Girls
“Don’t You Want Me” – Human League
“Hallelujah” – Jeff Buckley
“Wherever You Are” – Military Wives Choir with Gareth Malone
“Happy” – Pharrell Williams
“Somewhere Only We Know” – Lily Allen
“Real Love” – Tom Odell
“The Land of Make Believe” – Bucks Fizz
“What If” – Kate Winslet
There are always pop songs and albums that fit majestically with an era. This album from the 1960’s, where popular music was a kaleidoscopic mixture of the Mersey Beat, Elvis-style Rock N’ Roll and Motown, is one such offering:
“A Christmas Gift for You – from Phil Spector”
This endearing sixties album features The Ronettes, The Crystals, Darlene Love and Bob B. Soxx And The Blue Jeans singing such classics as “White Christmas” and “Winter Wonderland”. But the beauty of this collection, masterminded by producer Phil Spector using his innovative ‘wall of sound’ treatment, is that it offers songs you are unlikely to hear anywhere else. These include “Marshmallow World” and “Parade of the Wooden Soldiers”. The album has a rather macabre footnote. It was first released on November 22nd 1963 – the day JFK was assassinated.
There are pop stars that evolve and freely experiment as they mature. Former Police front man Sting is certainly one of these artists. He has never been afraid of musically meandering as shown on his winter album. Katie Melua also gave us her wintery offering, with some impressive help from her place of birth. And that’s not all if you’re searching for something a little different.
“If On A Winter’s Night…” – Sting
Sting’s unmistakable voice and pleasing arrangements make for a soothing combination on such timeless Christmas pieces as “Gabriel’s Message” and “There is No Rose of Such Virtue”. But perhaps the greatest joy when first hearing this 2009 album was the discovery of such songs as “Christmas at Sea”, with all its marvellous Celtic influences, the poetic words of Robert Louis Stevenson and beautiful vocal accompaniment of Mary MacMaster. The Boston Globe in the USA reviewed it thus: “Mostly, with its wintry hush and flurries of harmonies, the album evokes the title, a not unpleasant vision of contemplatively gazing out a window encrusted with frost in a thick Irish wool sweater drinking a steaming cup of cider.”
“In Winter” – Katie Melua
This album is a collection of winter-themed or festive songs performed by Katie Melua and featuring the wonderful voices of Gori Women’s Choir from Georgia, the place of Melua’s birth. “In Winter” opens with the traditional Ukrainian tune “Carol of the Bells” and features four brand new songs written by Melua. There’s also a cover of Joni Mitchell’s classic “River”.
“Christmas Party” – She & Him
This offering from She & Him is the seasonal follow-up to 2011’s “A Very She & Him Christmas”, featuring guest appearances by Jenny Lewis, the Chapin Sisters and Sonic Youth’s Steve Shelley. The album includes holiday classics like Darlene Love’s “Marshmallow World”, Bing Crosby’s “Mele Kalikimaka” and Chuck Berry’s “Run Run Rudolph”. But in typically quirky She & Him fashion, the album – released in 2016 – also includes lesser-known songs, such as folk-singer Vashti Bunyon’s “Coldest Night of the Year” and Frank Sinatra’s “Christmas Memories”. The ‘She’ half of the double act is actress Zooey Deschanel, who co-starred in the wonderful Christmas movie “Elf”. ‘He’ is M.Ward.
“A Legendary Christmas” – John Legend
American singer John Legend, the youngest person ever to complete the major awards set of Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony, created his first album of Christmas music in 2018. The album – released in late October – is entitled “A Legendary Christmas” and includes 14 tracks, among them “Silver Bells”, “What Christmas Means to Me”, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and “Christmas Time is Here”. Stevie Wonder and Esperzanza Spalding are among the guest musicians.
“This Christmas Day” – Jessie J
British singer Jessie J’s debut Christmas album – which had an October 2018 release date – features R&B stalwarts Boyz II Men and Babyface. Among the festive classics on the 11-track collection are “Winter Wonderland”, “Jingle Bell Rock” and “Silent Night”. Jessie revealed she recorded her first Christmas album in a two-week spell around her 2018 summer tour. It also includes her signature seasonal song “Man With The Bag”.
“A Glimpse of Stocking” – Saint Etienne
This 2010 limited release brings together previous fan club tracks, 1994’s “I Was Born on Christmas Day” alongside newer material and reworking of Chris Rea’s “Driving Home for Christmas”, The Doors’ “Wintertime Love” and Sir Cliff Richard’s “21st Century Christmas”.
“A Christmas Album” – Bright Eyes
Originally recorded in 2002, the American indie band’s covers of traditional and popular Christmas songs, like “Away in a Manger”, “Blue Christmas” and “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” are at once nostalgic and fresh. The proceeds of the album supported the ‘Nebraska AIDS Project’.
And then, of course, there are those with undying soul, the richest tones or incredible pop power – some with a mixture of all three:
“The Nat King Cole Christmas Album”
No Christmas is complete without hearing “The Christmas Song”. Nat King Cole’s unique, velvety voice delivers the opening line: “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…” and you know Christmas is here. “The Little Boy That Santa Claus Forgot” pulls at the heartstrings, while “Frosty the Snowman” and “The Happiest Christmas Tree” will appeal to children. If you don’t yet own it, stop everything and purchase it now.
“Soulful Christmas – Aaron Neville”
Aaron Neville, like Nat King Cole, possesses a set of vocal chords brushed by the feathers of an angel’s wing. From the quirky, upbeat “Louisiana Christmas Day” to his beautifully haunting rendition of “White Christmas”, this soulful offering will match every mood. And once you’ve heard the cheeky “Such a Night”, you may just have a new Christmas favourite.
“Michael Buble – Christmas”
The newest crooner in Christmas town, but one destined to be part of family festivities for generations. Michael Buble loves Christmas and his holiday season warmth and joy shines through in this album. His male spin on Eartha Kitt’s classic “Santa Baby” is clever and winsome; his “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” does Perry Como proud and “I’ll be Home for Christmas” has an extra poignancy, recorded as it was while so many troops were facing daily perils in Afghanistan. This is the only all-Christmas album by a solo artist or group ever to top the UK album charts at Christmas.
“A Mary Christmas” – Mary J. Blige
What a voice, what a star, what an addition to any Christmas music collection. The title? Well, could there really be any other? A tremendous soundtrack to the festivities, this Mary J. Blige festive album contains 12 songs and features duets with such celebrated singers as Barbra Streisand, Jessie J and Marc Anthony. Aside from such classic Christmas songs as “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and “The Christmas Song”, Mary also does Maria by singing “My Favourite Things” from “The Sound of Music”. The highlight, however, might just be “Mary, Did you Know?”
“Christmas Peace – Elvis Presley”
There are many album versions of the legendary Elvis doing his festive thing and this 2008 release is as good as any. There are twenty tracks, starting with his classic “Blue Christmas” and culminating with “Silver Bells”. Elvis delivers “Merry Christmas Baby” like no other and his rendition of “Silent Night” speaks to your heart. Other seasonal albums from the great man include “Blue Christmas”, “The Classic Christmas Album” and “Elvis’ Christmas Album”.
Princess of Pop Kylie Minogue released her debut Christmas album in November 2015. Recorded at Angel Studios and Sarm Music Village, the basic album features 13 tracks – including several duets and a mix of original and classic songs. There are further tracks on the Deluxe Edition, with Kylie enlisting the help of her sister Dannii Minogue for the new song “100 Degrees”. Iggy Pop joins Kylie on the Waitresses’ “Christmas Wrapping”, comedian and actor James Corden guests on Yazoo’s “Only You” and Frank Sinatra posthumously appears on “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town”.
“What a Wonderful Christmas – Louis Armstrong & Friends”
The irrepressible Louis Armstrong is joined on an album of seasonal splendour by such timeless stars as Mel Torme, Peggy Lee, Lena Horne, Duke Ellington, Dinah Washington and Eartha Kitt. Armstrong joins forces with The Commanders on the quirky classic “’Zat You Santa Claus?” – an undoubtedly uplifting highlight among the 14 tracks. You will discover matching fingerprints on “Cool Yule” – not surprisingly it has Armstrong and The Commanders once again in unison – with its punchy brassy blasts offering similar jazzed up delight. Guest honours go to Dinah Washington and her rendition of “Silent Night”.
“Happy Xmas” – Eric Clapton
Eric Clapton’s first ever Christmas album was an October 2018 release. The 14-track blues-tinged album features such popular seasonal favourites as “White Christmas”, “Away in a Manger” and “Silent Night” and one Clapton original, “For Love on Christmas Day”. Clapton’s rendition of “Jingle Bells” is dedicated to DJ Avicii, who died in April 2018.
“The Christmas Collection” – Frank Sinatra
There are 16 tracks on this album from Ol’ Blue Eyes himself, the incomparable Frank Sinatra. Essential festive songs are included such as “White Christmas”, “The Christmas Song”, “Silent Night” and “O Come All Ye Faithful”. But our favourite is Sinatra’s touching rendition of “It Came Upon The Midnight Clear”. A Christmas legends album collection has to include one from Francis Albert Sinatra and there are many from which to choose, like “The Classic Christmas Album”, “A Jolly Christmas from Frank Sinatra” and “The Sinatra Christmas Album”. In 2017, “Ultimate Christmas” was issued – including several songs featuring Fred Waring and His Pennsylvanians like “The Little Drummer Boy”. There are also three tracks featuring Frank Sinatra Junior, Nancy Sinatra, Christina Sinatra and The Jimmy Joyce Singers & Orchestra.
“The Beach Boys’ Christmas Album”
There’s summer warmth from the legendary American group The Beach Boys, even in the cold of wintery Christmas. This collection, their seventh studio album released in 1964, includes covers of “Merry Christmas, Baby” and “White Christmas”. There are five original songs and seven Christmas standards on the album.
“Christmas In The Heart” – Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan’s 2009 festive album, delivering his trademark vocals, provides an often moving soundtrack to the season. All Dylan’s royalties from the sale of this album benefited the charities ‘Feeding America’ in the USA, ‘Crisis’ in the UK and the ‘World Food Programme’. Though Dylan was born and raised Jewish, he said he never felt excluded from Christmas during his childhood in Minnesota.
“Wonderful Christmas Time” – Diana Ross
This 2018 collection of twenty seasonal and spiritual songs by the great Diana Ross is her first festive offering since the nineties. Indeed, it was 1994 that she recored six Christmas tracks for a Hallmark CD and 14 for an international album “A Very Special Season”. With dreamy orchestrations by the London Symphony, the ‘combo’ album features classics like “Sleigh Ride” and “White Christmas”, along with more recent numbers like Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime” and Stevie Wonder’s “Overjoyed”.
Legends and Icons: Must-Have Tracks
“It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” – Andy Williams
“White Christmas” – Bing Crosby
“It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” – Perry Como
“Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!” – Dean Martin
“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” – Judy Garland
“Happy Holiday” – Andy Williams
“Jingle Bell Rock” – Brenda Lee
“Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” – Ella Fitzgerald
“It Came Upon The Midnight Clear” – Frank Sinatra
“Santa Baby” – Eartha Kitt
“’Zat You, Santa Claus?” – Louis Armstrong & The Commanders
“Silver Bells” – Jim Reeves
“Winter Wonderland” – Tony Bennett
“Jingle Bells” – Rosemary Clooney
“Baby It’s Cold Outside” – Leon Redbone
“Run Rudolph Run” – Chuck Berry
“White Christmas” – The Drifters
“The Christmas Waltz” – Frank Sinatra
“Merry Christmas” (From “In the Good Old Summertime) – Judy Garland
Did you know…‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’ was written as a poem by copywriter Robert May and used by a chain of department stores in 1939 onwards to attract customers? It was set to music 10 years later and has since sold more than 80 million copies worldwide…and did you also know that James Lord Pierpont’s song “Jingle Bells” was published under the title “One Horse Open Sleigh” in the autumn of 1857 – and was written not for Christmas, but for the American holiday of Thanksgiving?