Re-released this year to commemorate and make money from George Michael’s death. It never got to number one in 1984, it could do this time. Read Rachel Areosti’s inside story of Wham!’s Last Christmas. George Michael died on Christmas Day in 2016.
Mary’s (calypso) Boy Child by Bony M gets into the mix at number seven. Its well cheesy and uses tin pans. There’s something slightly odd and exotic hearing a Caribbean accent on a Christmas track. And I don’t know if it was planned with this in mind, but an all Black band getting in on the traditionally ‘white’ Christmas scene, portrayed by the outfits and stage, feels a little iconoclastic, a little street. Jesus was Black anyway right?
Put the Lights on the Tree is twee, and tree and twee rhyme with three, but this is number six. OK, so there’s no way that this is a classic really, but you probably haven’t heard it and should give it a go. And you know what, its probably the only Christmas song that combines the excited expectation of Christmas with the isolation, loneliness and desperation experienced by many people at this time of year. Sufjan Stevens sings beautifully and he is an obsessive. This track forms part of a four and a half hour homage to Christmas, packed up in a boxette, released over ten years ago.
Not really about Christmas this one is it? But it charted in 1984 and 1985 at Christmas time, and it will always remind me of Christmas so its in. Furthermore it undoubtedly embraces the spirit of being together, and does so to the sound of an orchestra and frog burps.
That opening keyboard burst to ‘Always on My Mind’ was a declaration of intent to own this oft recorded song, but it also triggers a vague memory of the excitement of Christmas in my early teens. There’s no real inherent Christmas theme or metaphor that could tie it to Christmas. But if you were around in 1987 then you will know the Pet Shop Boys stunning rendition was Christmas in 1987. Christmas is a time for nostalgia as much as it is about the present, and on this basis I want to make the argument that ‘Its a Sin’ for Christmas play lists and all time fave lists to absentee former Christmas number ones on the basis of lacking a Christmas theme. There’s as much of the excitement of Christmas in ‘Always on My Mind’ as there is any track, because in 1987 it defined Christmas, it owned Christmas. Although, having just looked at the dross that has charted at number one at Christmas over the last twenty years I think ‘Always on My Mind’ is the case that proves the exception rather than the rule.
The Pogues Fairytale of New York is so well known, perhaps annoyingly ubiquitous, but it captures perfectly both that sense of unwinding that one has on the last day of work before Christmas and combines it with an Irish jig reminiscent of an idealised notion of New Years’Eve. New York, Christmas movies and a drink. Read Dorian Lynskey’s story behind the making of the Fairytale of New York.
Paul McCartney gets number two too with a song that is conspicuous by its absence in Christmas lists. Pipes of Peace is not part of the British musical Christmas canon, in fact I wonder if these days many people even remember it at all. But the fact is, that whilst it has a melancholy air to it and it is a homage to the plight of soldiers fighting in World War I, it is essentially a Christmas song. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so many goosebumps as I did watching the video to this, which depicts the story of German and English soldiers meeting each other in No Man’s Land to celebrate a day of peace together. The sheer relief that those soldiers must have felt to have received a bit of compassion and affection and experience a break in hostility. I’ve read that the whole thing was a myth, but either way it brings me close to tears. ‘All round the world; Little children being born to the world… Help them to learn songs of joy instead of burn, baby, burn.’
The Power of Love by Frankie Goes to Hollywood is spine-tingingly cheesy. The lyrics so beautifully describe the overwhelming sense of love and dedication that a doting parent has on a newborn. It could equally be an unflinching declaration of love for a partner. The fact that the track was written and performed by a band that had made their name through an iconoclastic celebration of gay carnal desire made it even more special, somehow it helped people see that carnal desire and pure love could co-exist in the same soul. Not only that they somehow managed to make references to the ‘Hooded Claw’ and vampires fit into a track the video to which recounted the biblical birth of Jesus. Beautiful, it brings me close to tears every time I sing it to myself. Oddly the track saw its first airing on the John Peel show, I wonder what Peel made of it.
In doing a bit of research for this article I also came across this selection from the NME.