Who’s your favourite? Is it Glen Campbell? Of course it is!
Is it still the 13th? It is where I am, just. I’ve had a VERY BUSY DAY of working, napping and rehearsals for a play in which I have been cast as an angry old mother of five. No comments please, thank you. Here’s a cowboy singing a carol.
Well, now. Joni Mitchell’s River is one of my very favourite Christmas songs and I was a bit sad that it’s never been a big enough hit anywhere for a version of it to sneak into my top twenty-four, but THEN I listened to every available version of Santa Baby (with the exception for obvious reasons of Eartha Kitt’s), and it turns out every single cover version is unbearable, with the closest to palatable being from an album called A Very Ally Christmas which seems to be a selection of songs “from, and inspired by” the Ally McBeal Christmas special(s). This version is better than the execrable efforts turned out by luminaries including, but not limited to, Kylie, Madonna, and Mae West – really – but on the same album I discovered this recording of River by Robert Downey Jr (of course), and I like it better than any version of Santa Baby (except the original), so we’re having this instead.
Here’s a story which you probably didn’t know. In 1972, Italian composer Ciro Dammicco wrote this song, which he subsequently recorded with his band, The Daniel Sentacruz Ensemble, in an amended version called Soleado. In 1974 Soleado became a hit across Europe and various notables, including Vera Lynn, performed and released their own versions with a range of titles and lyrics in at least three different languages – but it wasn’t until Johnny Mathis recorded it in 1976 with the title When A Child Is Born that it was elevated into the Christmas hit parade proper. This, the original, starts familiarly, then becomes something completely different (and very Italian).
Obviously having the original of a famous cover version is sort of cheating on the premise, but I make the rules, so that’s OK.
This is a day late, because yesterday was the first day in a week which hadn’t had to be organised and executed with military levels of precision, and as a result I didn’t get anything done. But this exceptional instrumental version by Tony Evans And His Orchestra (who have previously worked with Tom Jones, Englebert Humperdinck AND Gilbert O’Sullivan, so you know you’re getting quality) of maybe the best Christmas song of all is worth the wait. It’s cruise ship music, in the best possible way. Look out, in particular, for the delightful piano run at 1:54.
What do you mean, you’ve never listened to Kylie Minogue’s Christmas album? What’s wrong with you? I have loved this song since it came out in 1994 when I was in my first term at university and it made me feel homesick for London boys and their stupid haircuts, but Kylie’s version is genuinely an improvement on something that was already close to perfect.
Oom, I could eat a whole bowl of this. The Gentlemen of St John’s are ex-choristers of the St John’s College, Cambridge choir and based on this I think they should sing at every Christmas concert ever.
You almost got the Three Tenors version of this 1970 classic from Puerto Rican singer-songwriter Jose Feliciano, which did big business the other side of the Atlantic despite never making much of an impression here (where, to be fair, we have a lower proportion of Spanish speakers). Anyway, be glad that I’ve gone for this 2017 ska version featuring (among others) Jools Holland, the boogie woogie bastard, and original artist Jose himself, which I have decreed different enough from the original to count as a cover version, because the version featuring Luciano and co. demonstrates two important truths: firstly that you should never under any circumstances dye your beard, and secondly that it doesn’t matter how good they are at singing, two people doing it in unison never sounds good.
Look out, this is a bit special. Did you know that Sir Cliffmas has just released his first festive album in nineteen years? I confess I once did, but had forgotten. And imagine if we’d all missed out on this excellent piece of Cliff Dancing™? The great man is eighty-two and still going as strong as ever, with a special coming up on the BBC this Christmas, which is very good of him considering how they treated him last time they had words.
OK, not all of them are better than the originals. But what this effort lacks in musical brilliance, it makes up for in oddity value. You may remember – I don’t – a reality TV show from about ten years ago which reunited UK (and, I think, B*witched, and incidentally I am a big fan of unexpected punctuation in band names, from Hear’Say to Therapy? to Panic! At The Disco) bands of the nineties and early aughts in an attempt to, I think, record a charity single. But maybe they all had to live in the same house while they did it? It’s hard to work out from the limited accounts that survive, which I have decided is probably for the best.
There is, though, indisputably a single, and this is it. You will want to watch at least up to and including the rap by Abs from 5ive, who by this time should perhaps have been renamed 4our (unless it’s Ritchie, I can’t remember which is which and have not the faintest intention of checking).