Inane Thoughts: My Top Ten Christmas Songs

As promised in yesterday’s blog, I have been working on a list of my Top Ten Christmas Songs (oh yes, I am now pretending that people actually read all of my blogs and sit there, silently waiting for the next inane missive to arrive). This list is liable to change, as my top ten lists tend to be in a constant state of flux, even my list of my top ten states of flux.

Please feel free to offer me your own lists or castigate and throw stones of your ire at my list, metaphorically speaking. Don’t throw literal stones at my list: you’ll break your monitor.

Without further ado, from 10 to 1…

10. Eels – Christmas Is Going To The Dogs

Some wonderfully unseasonal turns of phrase (“Snow is falling from the sky like ashes from an urn”) and a jaunty tune: Mr E delivers the perfect Christmas gift for the Grinch. Or for your dog, who really would rather have chew toys than Yule logs.

9. The Flaming Lips – Christmas At The Zoo

A great song from the underrated ‘Clouds Taste Metallic’. The Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne imagines a snow-less Christmas Eve, upon which he decides to produce his own Christmas miracle and release all of the animals from the local zoo. He opens the gates for the animals to go, but they all say “thanks, but no thanks, man”. It’s not like they enjoy their time in the zoo, but they’d rather escape of their own volition, if it’s all the same to him. Wayne leaves the zoo, then it snows.

8. The Pretenders – 2,000 Miles

Okay, so it’s totally middle of the road, but as MOR Christmas songs go, this is top of the pile. On the surface it seems to be pretty saccharine fare, but there’s an underlying melancholy that draws you in. The song perfectly captures that sense of missing someone at that time of year that reminds you of them the most. When Chrissie Hynde sings “the children are singing, he’ll be back at Christmas time”, you know that the children are probably singing about Santa, but she can’t help holding onto the hope that they might just be singing about the person she’s dreaming about. Devastating.

7. The Raveonettes – The Christmas Song

Taking up the mantle from the Jesus and Mary Chain, Denmark’s The Raveonettes are all leather jackets and druggy feedback. Who’d have thought they could produce such a brilliant Christmas song? Awash with tremolo sounds, sultry, breathy vocals, all laid on top of staccato guitar riffs, this is the sound of a sexy Christmas tryst. This is no fumble in the cupboard at the work Christmas party, this is a pair of pill-popping lovers looking out at the Christmas lights and hoping for snow, so that they don’t have to go home to argue with their family, but stay indoors, in bed, for the rest of Christmas. Now, what’s the Danish for “let’s be appalling”?

6. Waitresses – Christmas Wrapping

Originally released on a Christmas album from New York new wave label Ze in 1981, this is still perhaps the most danceable Christmas record ever released. It’s a feast for hipsters, but really it’s a gem for anyone wanting to dance their way around the Christmas tree.

5. Tom Waits – A Christmas Card From A Hooker In Minneapolis

The idea of Tom Waits and Christmas coming together was always going to create something beautiful and fractious. Admittedly, I did think the same thing about Bob Dylan and Christmas, but perhaps he left it a little too late (I’m pretty sure he dies half way through his version ‘Hark The Herald Angels Sing’). This song comes from Waits’ Blue Valentines album, an album of twisted love songs and this is the best of the lot. It’s a heartbreaking and hilarious story, all told with Waits’ typically brilliant eye for detail.

The set up has a prostitute sitting down to write a Christmas card to Charlie, a man we assume is an ex-lover, or maybe a naive client. She starts off telling Charlie that she’s now “pregnant and living on 9th street/Right above a dirty bookstore/Off Euclid avenue”. She’s off the smack, she’s quit drinking whiskey, she’s living with her new husband who loves her “even though it’s not his baby” and who takes her out dancing every Saturday night. Despite this newfound happiness, she tells Charlie that she thinks about him “everytime I pass a fillin’ station/On account of all the grease you used to wear in your hair”. She wishes that instead of spending all her money on dope, that she’d saved up and bought a used car lot, so that she could “drive a different car every day” depending on her mood. I won’t spoil the end of the song, but sufficed to say, it’s a hell of a bittersweet twist and it’ll knock your Christmas stockings clean off.

4. Sufjan Stevens – Sister Winter

Adhering to the first rule of lists and mix tapes, I have not allowed myself to take two tracks from Sufjan Stevens’ slightly over-stuffed 5-CD Christmas album, Songs For Christmas. This is a shame as ‘That Was The Worst Christmas Ever!’ perfectly depicts a family yuletide drama (“Our father yells/Throwing gifts in the wood stove/My sister runs away/Taking her books to the schoolyard”).

Even better than that song, however, is the bleak yet glorious epic ‘Sister Winter’. Stevens starts off guiltily unable to live up to the season of goodwill: “I should be grateful/I should be satisfied/But now my heart is cold as ice”, before eventually turning the corner with a heartwarming glorious coda: “And my/Friends I’ve/Returned to wish you all the best”. It’s the musical equivalent of James Stewart returning from the brink of suicide to hug his family, in “It’s A Wonderful Life”.

3. Pogues & Kirsty MacColl – Fairytale Of New York

There’s not much I can say about this that hasn’t been said before. It’s a brawling, bawling classic. If anyone ever tries to tell you that this song is overrated, you should let your head sink, begin tutting and walk away, safe in the knowledge that this person is an idiot.

When Kirsty MacColl launches into: “You scumbag, you maggot/You cheap lousy faggot/Happy Christmas your arse/I pray God it’s our last”, you can’t help but sing along at the top of your voice. It’s a joyous eruption of anger that every one of us can empathise with, safe in the knowledge that as bad our Christmas Day bickering might get, it’ll never be this bad.

Word of warning though – avoid all cover versions of this song at any cost, particularly anything with Ronan ‘Hello, My Name Is Ronan’ Keating in it.

2. James Brown – Santa Claus, Go Straight To The Ghetto

James Brown imagines inviting a corpulent, bearded white man to Harlem. Thankfully, Mr Brown gives him the sagacious advice to make sure he tells the people that James Brown has sent him there.

The song kicks off with the line: “Santa Claus, go straight to the ghetto/Pitch up your reindeer/Huh!” and only gets better from there. He rightly points out to Santa that “the kids are gonna love you”. These kids aren’t going sit on his knee demanding ponies and Xboxes. Once his long night is over, the mums, dads and soul brothers will be there to show Santa a well-deserved night-out that’s a little less “Ho Ho Ho” and lot more “Huh! Huh! Huh!”

1. Low – Just Like Christmas

This trio of Mormons from Minnesota are probably best known as the leaders of the ‘Slowcore’ movement, if “best known” is a term that you can use for a band who’ve spearheaded a movement of which most people have probably never heard. However, in 1999 they released what I still believe is, hands down, the greatest Christmas album of all time (yes, better even than Phil Spector’s glorious Christmas Album, or Bob Dylan’s Christmas in the Heart – the aural equivalent of being trapped in a room with a tramp, who’s drunk on Christmas Cheer and Methylated Spirits). This is the opening track on that album and with its travelogue lyrics and the shaking of sleigh bells, it never fails to put me in the seasonal mood.

So, to sign off I’ll leave you with the festive words of Eazy-E: “Merry Motherfuckin’ Christmas and a ho ho ho“.

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One Response to “Inane Thoughts: My Top Ten Christmas Songs”

  1. Anna Sigurdsson Says:

    Downloaded some of these straight away. Can always count on the Tantos for some quality recommendations.
    Merry Christmas x

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