Advent song for December 5: The Land Of Christmas (Mary)

What I like about this song is that it’s so completely and essentially Carly Simon that it’s impossible to tell what era it dates from. Go on, have a guess. No, go on. It’s from 2002! Did you get it right? I somehow thought it was from the eighties, although I guess the production values are maybe not quite right for that. This is from her album Christmas Is Almost Here, making it the perfect advent song. I am writing in a hurry because I have to be on a plane to Prague in just over two hours, so tomorrow’s song will come from the land of Good King Wenceslas. Na zdraví!


Advent song for December 4: O Holy Night

Welcome to the first artist who is here for her mad skillz rather than for a specific song: you can’t have a list of the best women singer-songwriters without Tracy Chapman on it, duh. And this version of O Holy Night is a perfect showcase for her beautiful voice. Are you calm? If you’re calm, this will suit your mood perfectly. If you’re not calm, listen to this and you will be.

Advent song for December 3: Don’t Forget To Feed The Reindeer

Did you know that Peggy Lee had a Christmas album? I mean, I suppose most crooners (and she is one, which is why she is featuring on our first Crooners’ Sunday of 2017) have a Christmas album, but what sets Peggy’s aside is that she wrote about half the songs on it, including this one. It is a little more middle-of-the-road than our first two entries, but no less charming for that. If you want to know (or remember) what Christmas sounded like in 1960, here’s your answer.

If you like this, there’s a whole lot more where that came from.


Advent song for December 2: Christmas Tree

From the sublime to the ridiculous and back again, because what Kate Bush and Lady Gaga have in common is that they are both both, more than almost anyone else. I love this song and it makes me want to dance like Gaga which, let’s be clear, I cannot do.

If you don’t like this song never fear, it is – like all the best songs not counting November Rain – under three minutes long.

Advent Song for December 1: December Will Be Magic Again

I can’t think how we’ve never had this theme before, but it works out nicely because if there was ever a year to celebrate the achievements of Phenomenal Women (thank you, Maya Angelou), 2017 is it. So here are Christmas songs from twenty-four of my favourite female singer-songwriters, although I will definitely have missed some good ones so feel free, as always, to send me your nominations.

Point of information: some of the artists that will be featured have written amazing songs, but never a Christmas song. In those cases I have decreed that it is OK to have them singing someone else’s Christmas song, because they are too important to leave out altogether.

It’ll give you an idea of the calibre of songs coming up to enthral and delight you over the next twenty-three days that we are starting with Kate Bush and this very twinkly 1979 live performance of December Will Be Magic Again. If this doesn’t get you in the festive spirit, go away, drink a small sherry (or a sparkling cranberry juice with a slice of orange in it) and then come back and try again.

The key(s) to happiness

Just because you MOSTLY only write about Christmas music doesn’t mean you are ONLY allowed to write about Christmas music. I was going to tweet this, but it’s a complex and many-layered story which won’t work in 140 character-bursts, so here we are.

It did start out on Twitter, though, when last night I tweeted this from a train that had just left Brighton:

Screen Shot 2017-11-04 at 12.03.06

Screen Shot 2017-11-04 at 12.07.15

I mean, everyone knows that tempting fate is a terrible idea, and tempting fate when you’re super-tired and relying on Southern Rail to get you home is an even worse idea. But here’s the thing: all my connections worked! I got to East Croydon in time for the 23.32 to London Bridge and I got to London Bridge in time for the 23.56 to Victoria via Crystal Palace, and I caught a bus from New Cross Gate and I was home not much after midnight. And as the lift stopped on my floor I thought, I am SO HAPPY that I’ll be in bed in five minutes, and then I fumbled my keys and dropped them down the lift shaft.

Have you ever done a proper, filmic gasp? I don’t think I had until that moment. There followed ten minutes of going up and down in the lift, trying to see whether the keys had got caught on something or were hiding on a ledge somewhere. No luck, so I went outside to the concierge and asked if he had a torch I could borrow to shine into the spaces and see whether I could spot them. He didn’t, but he pointed out that I probably had one on my phone. And he was right! I went back and had another look, and managed to see that the space underneath the lift is deeper than I expected, six feet or so, but there, just within the corner of my vision, I could see the glint of what could only be my keys.

So I went back to the concierge and asked whether he had some string and a magnet. Astonishingly he didn’t (you can’t get the staff) but he did have a long pole and some sellotape, so I fashioned a sort of makeshift fishing rod and went back to the lift (my block is across the courtyard from where the concierge lives, so all of this involved a certain amount of back-and-forth in the rain).

Shining my torch into the void whilst being careful not to send my phone the way of the keys, I slid my sticky-ended pole downwards towards the glinting object. The pole caught on something at the bottom – I couldn’t really see at this point – and I ever-so-gently lifted it out, only to discover that the a glittering treasure on the floor of the shaft was actually a piece of plastic wrapper.

I mean, what do you even do in a situation like this? Like, what do you even do? I shone the torch around a bit more but nothing was visible, so I slowly packed up my makeshift fishing rod and headed back out to the concierge, thinking that I’d have to check into the hotel opposite my block and try again in the morning, when I’d be able to retrieve my spare set of keys, which live too far away for a late-night raid and anyway, I didn’t want to call anyone up at that time of night. Fine. Except that I have deliveries coming today, and one of them has a starting window of 7am. Fine, I’ll leave a note asking them to call me when they get there and I can run down and let them i – no, hang on.

Just as I was on the point of giving up I remembered about emergency locksmiths. I Googled. The first result said “£59, we’ll be with you in twenty minutes”. That sounds OK, I thought. I mean, I don’t really have any spare cash this week but I can stick it on the credit card and it’s cheaper than the £89 it’ll cost to stay in the Premier Inn.

I called them up. “£59,” said the man. “He’ll be with you in half an hour.” I waited. After ten minutes I got a phonecall from a different man. “I’ll be with you in half an hour.” I waited a bit more. Eventually a very polite and smiley locksmith showed up, introduced himself and shook my hand. We went inside. “Ah, two locks,” he said. “You know it’s £69 for each one?”

I made a vague, tired attempt at arguing for the extra tenner (the per-lock price, while a nasty surprise, seemed fair enough) and we agreed to disagree for the time being. “I’ll have to drill,” he said. He drilled. It was LOUD. I think my neighbours were all out, because there’s no way the sound wouldn’t have woken them. Either that or they thought there was a monster outside and were wisely ignoring it.

I have no idea how long it all took; I wasn’t paying attention, which is why it came as even more of a surprise when he asked me whether I wanted the cheap lock or the expensive one.

Say what?

“Ah, the price we quote is just for busting your lock open; if you want it replaced that’s more. Do you want it replaced?”

Now, my block is pretty safe, which is one of the reasons I live there. But even so I’m not keen to leave my front door open for anyone who takes the fancy to wander in and out while I’m sleeping. So YES PLEASE I’D LIKE IT REPLACED.

“OK, what kind of locks do you want?”

I don’t know! I’m not supposed to know about locks, you’re supposed to know about locks!

He tapped away into a calculator. “OK, total is £252.”

At this point I was resigned to spending more than I could afford just so I could go to bed, but even then this seemed a bit steep. I protested.

“£200 if you pay cash.”

“I don’t have £200 cash!”

“You can go to a cashpoint.”

No thank you, it’s 2am and raining. And I’m really tired, and as I continued to protest I realised he didn’t want to be here any more than I did, and he probably wouldn’t be seeing much of this money anyway, and I should probably stop being so graceless and just agree to pay. So I did, and we shook hands again, and he went home and I went to bed, and at 9am the next morning the daytime concierge called me and said “I’ve been down into the lift shaft and got your keys, do you want to come and get them?” and I couldn’t decide whether to be sad or glad, but on balance I think the night concierge is probably also not paid enough to be held responsible for solving my late-night problems, and after all I paid with the credit card so it’s not real money, and at least now I don’t have to ring the bank and ask for a replacement dongle-thingy, which was attached to the keys.

And what last night felt like an actually insurmountable problem (“what do you even do?”) went away with the application of (1) a small amount of clear thinking, (2) a credit card and (3) the passage of time, which I think is a lesson to remember, because although of course I am lucky to have had a credit card and been able to pay that much at short notice, it really wasn’t an insurmountable problem and now that it’s gone away my mood is lighter than it would have been if none of it had happened, because happiness is only ever relative.

That said, next time I think I’m an hour and three quarters from my bed I will remember the time I said that and turned out to be four hours and £252 from my bed, and I will keep my thoughts to myself.

December 24: Beatles Christmas Supermash!

I know what you’re thinking, you’re thinking you don’t need to listen to any more Beatles Christmas music. But wait! Because I have saved the best for last in the shape of this incredible mashup by Tom Teeley, who has taken fragments of all the Christmas messages and mixed them with extracts from Beatles songs, in a way that sounds on paper like it shouldn’t work, but totally does, because he’s done it amazingly (thank you Paul for seeking this out and sending it to me).

For the dedicated Beatles fan, spotting where each sound is taken from is like a mini treasure hunt (and we get pretty esoteric – there’s an instrumental segment from You Know My Name, Look Up The Number which is a song I haven’t heard in actual years), and even for the regular listener it’s just brilliantly clever, AND comes with a video that I promise you will love. Happy Christmas Eve, and thank you for accompanying me along this odd and intermittently rewarding journey. I think Sweeney would have liked it (and you can listen to his own songs here, if you feel so inclined, and if you like them, or have enjoyed this year’s advent calendar, you can also donate to the hospice where he stayed).


December 23: Wonderful Christmas Time

Come on, you knew it was coming. How much more McCartney can you get than this? None more McCartney, that’s how much. This is a terrible-quality video because I can’t find a better one but watch it anyway, because even when it’s this fuzzy, you can see how much fun everyone is having. EYE would like to have Christmas with the McCartneys and friends. There’s also a pleasing foreshadowing here, in the voices the choir of children singing their song, of the Frog Song, in which after extensive auditions for a child for the part of Rupert, Macca ended up doing it himself because – well, I’ll let him tell you:

We searched high and low for Rupert. We must’ve auditioned every kid in London. And they all came in and we said, ‘All you need to do is say ‘Hello, my name’s Rupert.‘ And nearly all of them came in with, ‘Hello, my name’s Wooper‘. We said, ‘Not ‘wooper’, ‘Rupert”…. In the end Geoff [Dunbar, the director] said, ‘would you do it?’

December 22: Christmas Time Is Here Again

This is the only actual Christmas song ever recorded and officially released by the Beatles, which is why we have saved it for near the end, although if you listened to the 1967 Christmas message (yeah, I know you didn’t) you will have heard a version of part of it. This eventually had a re-edit and a release in 1995, as the B-side to Free As A Bird. I can’t argue that it’s a lost classic, but it is an Actual Christmas Song by the Actual Beatles, and it also has an entirely peculiar Auld Lang Syne flourish at the end, which is kind of more fun than the actual song, although I’m not sure about John’s Burns impression. Enjoy!

December 21: White Christmas

This is, tragically, the last entry for this year from Ringo’s seminal 1999 album I Believe In Santa Claus, and if you thought the ones we’ve already heard had a lot of percussion, you’ve got a treat in store. There is a bit of guitar and some fun backing vocals on this, but what there mostly is is REALLY A LOT OF DRUMS, of about every type you can think of, although I don’t think there are any bongos in there, which seems like an oversight, Ringo.

I can’t believe I didn’t find this when I was scouring the internet for twenty-four different versions of White Christmas back in 2013. It is quite the oddest thing I’ve ever heard, and would have been given a novelty spot somewhere towards the beginning of the month. I am very happy now to be able to rectify the omission. Tomorrow: a Christmas single by the Beatles that is an actual song! I know!