Oh hey, hi! Are you all set? Still need to do some shopping? I had to go out for a red cabbage and extra booze earlier so I know how you feel. I have stolen a march on the big day, though, by half-prepping most of tomorrow’s food already, though I have some reservations about the part-done potatoes. It was Mary Berry’s idea, though, so fingers crossed and best foot forward, and so on.
Anyway, I hope you are all set, and are now settling in with a glass of sherry and the Christmas movie of your choice. But before you do that, turn the lights down and have a listen to this completely gorgeous 1963 recording from Smokey Robinson and the Miracles from the album Christmas With The Miracles.
Merry Christmas! Let’s hope its a good one, without any fear.
This isn’t really a song but an instrumental, but it’s so completely joyous that I couldn’t possibly go with an alternative. The Boston Pops Orchestra is the fun branch of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and has since 1885 been delighting audiences with renditions of popular and, especially, holiday songs. This recording, from 1949, is their first but by no means only version of this track, which if you’re going to have a golden Christmas oldie, is in my view certainly the best one to pick. Listen out for the sound effects (hooves and bells); they are excellent.
Obviously the answer is Mud, but either because the titles are similar or because they both sound like rock’n’roll songs, people often think the answer is Elvis, who of course famously sang today’s pick, Blue Christmas, but who had nothing to do with Lonely This Christmas, which was first a hit in 1974 but which I know best from its use in the second best Christmas film of all*, Bernard And The Genie.
But here’s a true fact! Neither song dates from the rock’n’roll era, because Blue Christmas was written by Billy Hayes way back in the nineteen forties, before rock music or quiffs or teenagers existed, and was first recorded by the marvellously-named Doye O’Dell in 1948. So today’s song is another cheat, because it’s not a cover; it’s the original of a much better known later version.
You will note if you look closely that this video has nothing to do with the song it accompanies, apart from (hopefully) featuring some of the same personnel. I suggest you don’t look closely, if that is likely to upset you.
*The best Christmas film of all, as I am pretty sure I explain here at least once a year, is 大停電の夜に or Daiteiden no yoru ni or Until The Lights Come Back, which still has never had a release outside of Asia and so you will still need to either come to my house to watch it, OR go to Indy’s house because he still has one of my spare copies (I don’t think he’s watched it, it took him a year to watch a ten-minute sketch show that I enthusiastically recommended multiple times AND sent him a link to).
Welcome to Wednesday 21 December 2022, the day I heard the actual worst Christmas cover version I’ve ever encountered: Kelly Clarkson (whom I normally like well enough)’s horrible jazz rendition of Last Christmas. I’m not linking to it; if you want to hear it you can seek it out for yourself. (You don’t want to hear it.)
Luckily I can bleach my ears of the memory with this: a fantastic cover of Darlene Love’s 1963 hit by Queen Christmas herself, Mariah Carey, which benefits from an authentic Wall Of Sound without the involvement of Phil Actual Murderer Spector, and should therefore be listened to in lieu of the original where possible, although I did discover today that one of the backing vocalists on the original is Cher, which sort of makes me want to go back and listen. I won’t, though. (I will.)
This is a bit special: a recording of this standard from 1965 by Living Voices, the commercial name for the RCA studio singers. The Burl Ives version we all know had come out just a year earlier, and RCA clearly decided to take advantage of its popularity, and that of other Christmas classics, by putting out this album which, I am delighted to tell you, you can listen to in its entirety here, and I think you should; ideally immediately. If you are in need of comfort today, I’m pretty sure this will help.
The answer to “Blur or Oasis?” is of course, “Pulp”, and of all the mid-nineties bands I grew up with Oasis are probably the ones I find least interesting (not counting Wonderwall, which is a masterpiece. In fact I insist you go and listen to it now, then come back).
Back? Good. This version of the Slade classic, though, is the only one anyone’s ever recorded that not only isn’t awful, but is actively good, which shouldn’t be possible and I don’t understand quite how Noel did it, but also if you’re going to cover a difficult Christmas song, being called ‘Noel’ is probably a good place to start.
Ten advents ago, in 2013, we had twenty-four versions of White Christmas but since there are [checks] around 2,000 versions, we had to skip a few. One which we shouldn’t have missed out, except that in having done so I have an excuse to include it today, is from the Godmother of Gospel, Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Her Wikipedia page tells me that she’s also the Godmother of Rock’n’Roll, having directly influenced Little Richard, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and, um, Eric Clapton.
Clapton aside that’s an impressive line-up and while I’m going to say that this isn’t necessarily among her best recordings (you can go here for those), what it lacks in badass rock’n’rollery it more than makes up for in charm.
Most cover versions of this song are pale imitations of the perfect original; this is the only one I found that did something interesting of its own. I hadn’t heard of Emily Hall, who is a British musician and composer who appears to be annoyingly talented and beautiful. This is almost a John Lewis ad version, but is saved from that worst of all musical fates by being a bit too up tempo to qualify.
We hear from Pentatonix fairly regularly in these pages, I think, because they are interesting and don’t sound like anybody else (and have a lot of Christmas songs). I think this is completely a capella but someone with a better ear than me can say so for sure. This is today’s song of choice because it’s the most wonderful day of the year*; the day I go for Christmas Thai food with my ex BBC colleagues. We only manage it once a year, and we had to skip a year because of Covid (we somehow still pulled it off in 2021; I’m not sure how), and some people have to travel thousands of miles for it, but it’s always worth it. Happy Friday!
*My weekends away with university friends also fall into this category, but happily we usually manage those more often than once a year.
I’m never sure how much I like the original of this song. You know when something is bound up with memories, and you’ve no way to tell whether you ever had an objective aesthetic judgement of its merits? So I can’t tell you whether this version is any good, either, but I can tell you that it will make a lot of straight men and gay women (and all variations therein) of my age very happy. YOU’RE WELCOME.