This had to be our final choice just for the video, although it is also a beautiful song. But there’s nearly nothing more Christmassy than Christmas Peanuts, and Snoopy is obviously the best character of all and Snoopy ice skating is just about the best thing there has ever been, and even though this is a poor-quality video it’s still lovely to watch. But not so lovely that you won’t also be struck by the purity of Joni’s voice or the simple perfection of the song and arrangement.
Before I leave you to your preparations I would like to note that this wasn’t, in the end, a list of songs by my favourite women singer-songwriters, because some of my favourite women singer-songwriters simply never went near a Christmas song, so with apologies for the lack of Nina Simone, Joans Baez and Armatrading, Billie Holiday, Janis Joplin, Dolly Parton, Barbra Streisand, Laura Nyro, Sheryl Crow, Amy Winehouse and Taylor Swift, I will be posting a playlist later today of all the songs we’ve had that are on Spotify, and maybe some extras just for fun. Merry Christmas! I have high hopes for 2018, you guys.
Some singer-songwriters are celebrated for both skills, and others seem only to be known as singers. I can’t decide whether in the case of Aretha Franklin this is due to plain old discrimination, or whether it’s because her voice is so sensational that there isn’t time to appreciate her as a songwriter. But she is both (she wrote Think, which is also her actual best song), and an arranger to boot.
I have a burgeoning theory as to why women singer-songwriters in general, and women singer-songwriters of colour in particular, have written so few Christmas songs, but it’s not fully-formed yet so I’ll save it for another day. When you sing like this, though, you can sing anyone’s songs, even when they’re eighteenth-century hymns.
So here’s the thing. This was on the list from the start, but although I love Kirsty (and she has an extra connection with Christmas in my mind, because my parents once spent Christmas morning with Peggy Seeger and Ewan MacColl, although I was too teenagedly grumpy to join them), I never used to love this song. I don’t know why: probably for the same reason I don’t much like Withnail And I and am ambivalent about seeing Hamilton next week, which is that when other people like something too much, it puts me right off.
Anyway, somehow over the years I got to like it a bit, maybe enough to not press “skip” when it came on, and since this year is about amazing singer-songwriters and Kirsty absolutely was one, it was an obvious pick for a late-December slot. And then a couple of days ago I saw these tweets from Justin Myers, aka The Guyliner:
…and I thought, OH YEAH. You know when you realise something so blindingly obvious that you’re ashamed that it never occurred to you before? Well, THAT.
And it seems Kirsty felt the same way, because when she performed the song live in later years, she changed the words. So that’s the version we will listen to today, and I’m going back to hitting “skip” next time the original plays, because if 2017 has taught us anything it’s that the only way to combat inequality and injustice is to listen to the voices of those who are affected and change our behaviour accordingly. Also, look at Kirsty in her Christmas jumper and sunglasses and nineties hair! She’s so fricking awesome.
I’ve got a double-bill for you today, because I’ve run out space and I haven’t run out of Phenomenal Women. And there is something genuinely glorious about the fact that Deborah Harry (with Blondie) and Patti Smith have both recorded versions of We Three Kings, and that they are so completely different. Patti’s is much, much weirder, but showcases more of what is unique and thrilling about her, whereas the Blondie version is just a big rock’n’roll singalong, although I do like what they’ve done with the way the verses end, which is different but not in a jarring way.
All together, now!
♬ Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying/Sealed in a stone-cold tomb ♬
Did I say we’d have a happy song today? Sorry, that wasn’t exactly true. I guess it’s happier than Le Noel de la Rue, but that’s not saying much. Instead of being about starving homeless children, this is about missing someone at Christmas. And we’ve all done that. Tomorrow’s song is more interesting than happy but after that it cheers RIGHT UP, I promise.
I hope you don’t speak French, because this song is really sad. I mean, you can tell it’s sad even if you don’t speak French, especially by the time you get to the end. But it’s also quite beautiful, and if you listen carefully you will also hear Il est né, le divin Enfant insinuate its way into this Frenchest of Christmas songs by the Frenchest of chanteuses-parolieres, and sometimes Christmas is about being cold, sad and lonely rather than warm and well-fed and if this makes you feel despair don’t worry, we’ll be warm and well-fed again tomorrow. After all, as John Ruskin said, unless it was Lady Gaga; “light deprived of all shadows ceases to be enjoyed as light”.
A change of plan today: this is a song for Andrew Behr, an old and beloved family friend, who passed away yesterday. A few years ago on a day when I needed cheering up I asked people on Facebook and Twitter to tell me the happiest song they knew, and Andrew picked Rosetta, by Alan Price and Georgie Fame, which I had never heard. It cheered me up then, and if you need it today I hope it does the same for you.
When I think of Andrew I think of him singing and playing the guitar, or sharing a joke with my dad. Here he is doing both.
Here’s something out of the ordinary. Molly Drake was a poet and musician whose work was never published in her lifetime, and only came to a wider audience when it was uncovered as part of a documentary on her more famous son Nick in 2000, seven years after Molly’s death. This is a winter song, rather than a Christmas song, but I’m still allowing it because it’s lovely, and also – if you know Nick Drake’s music at all – shows what an influence his mother had on his own songwriting. I don’t know what the weather’s like where you are, but from the comfort of my sofa I can tell you that at least in SE10, it’s definitely a wintry sort of a Sunday, so I suggest you have a cup of tea and a mince pie while you listen.
Here’s what we’re going to do. Before you scroll down and watch the video, I want you to listen to a snippet of the audio version and see if you can tell who it is, because her voice is so distinctive that I think if you’ve ever heard her sing you’ll know right away. Don’t peek!
NOW you can scroll down.
OF COURSE it’s Stevie Nicks, who recorded her version of Silent Night as part of volume 5 of the A Very Special Christmas series of compilations, which were recorded by various artists to benefit what used to be called the Special Olympics. You should probably listen to the version I linked above, but I’ve also found a live video of Stevie performing it with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and since he is also one of my favourites and we lost him MUCH TOO SOON earlier this year, I’ve picked this one instead. Hey, why not listen to them both? It’s Saturday and like me, you’ve probably got no chores or shopping to do.
After Wednesday’s mother-daughter combination, today we have an even bigger family affair with Kate and Anna McGarrigle’s final studio album, The McGarrigle Christmas Hour from 2005, which features Kate’s children Rufus and Martha Wainwright as well as less well-known family members like the third sister, Jane, Anna’s husband Dane Lanken and their children, plus a bonus smattering of famous pals (Beth Orton, Emmylou Harris, Jackson Browne). Rufus also co-produces (although I am never quite sure what that means, and sometimes I think it definitely means “features in the credits for financial and publicity purposes”, though I expect that is not the case here).
Anyway this track is the only one written and performed solely by Kate and Anna themselves, and it’s lovely, as is this accompanying video which, I think, has nothing officially to do with the song.