Merry Bloody Christmas - A Musical Guide

Vitriola Music Shambles by Michael Legge

This month, Eric Clapton has released his version of ‘White Christmas’ and, let’s face it, he’s not the only one who’ll make thoughtless and appalling musical choices during this festive season.

A few years ago, a man called Christopher Gamboeck from Wisconsin threw a beer bottle at a barman who turned off Black Sabbath to play a Christmas song. Again, a regrettable choice, but perhaps more relatable than Eric dreaming of a white Britain with every Christmas card he writes (to Britain First).

Christmas music only delights and infuriates. First one and then, moments later, the other. ‘Fairytale of New York’ goes from the best Christmas song evs on the 1st of December to an offensive honk that should be banned, despite all language used being utterly correct in context, on the 2nd. But Christmas without music just isn’t magical. So, what do we listen to make our Christmas Day warm and cosy and not screamy and stabby?

First, throughout December, wear ear plugs the second you leave the house. They suit you. Plus you can avoid all the usual Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day/Mistletoe & Wine/That East 17 thing that just has bells on it but isn’t even a little bit Christmassy shit. Some of you may like those songs, of course, but that’s only because it’s still relatively early in the season. These songs all soon become the reasons that families argue, people drink alcohol at breakfast and George Michael dies on Christmas Day. 

So let’s start with Sparks, one of the greatest bands of all time. The Mael brothers realise it’s not really Christmas without glam rock and, therefore, write a glam rock song that is definitely NOT for Christmas: ‘Thank God It’s Not Christmas’. All the energy of Wizzard but with an art school hatred of forced joy and lyrics written especially for the true Christmas cynic. “Popular days, the popular ways, are for the chosen few. Not meant for me and you”.  Merry Christmas!

Of course, indie music has made Christmas Day gloriously depressing with festive albums by the likes of Sufjan Stevens, Mark Kozelek, Tracey Thorn and way too many more. All these snowflakes dreaming of a grey Christmas. Perfect for anyone who likes introspection and an empty house on Jesus’s birthday. 

I blame the band Low and their absolutely phenomenal Christmas album. It’s beautiful. After their perfect, sad, cold and cosy record, everyone wanted to do it. If you want a perfect Christmas Eve, just light candles all around your living room, sit under the tree with some mulled wine or some mulled person and put that album on. It’s just so pretty. And if you ever get the chance to see them perform this album in a church, take it. You’ll finally get what all the Christmas fuss is about.

Even indie martyrs want a little bit of festive joy though. It is with great reluctance then that I fully recommend Tim Wheeler and Emmy the Great’s ‘This Is Christmas album’. It’s so joyful and sweet and happy. On paper, I should hate it. But I put it on every year and immediately get sucked into the sugary, sugary joy of it all, singing loudly in the kitchen while getting the turkey ready (to be taken to a turkey sanctuary where he’ll live out his years naturally cared for and loved). Also, give Saint Etienne’s ‘A Glimpse Of Stocking’ a go. More joy, and you can’t even call it ironic. It’s Saint Etienne: it’s already ironic. This is just fun, indie disco carols. And a great musical compromise for you and your awful relatives.

Can you do Christmas and avoid all the usual songs? Maybe not. And maybe, after all I’ve said, you might not want to. Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Santa Claus is Coming To Town’ is a ridiculous classic. The amount of work that the E Street Band put into making a daft song utterly majestic shouldn’t be ignored on the big day. And yes, yes, yes, yes… the Phil Spector’s ‘A Christmas Gift For You’ is a masterpiece. Know how much I adore Darlene Love’s stunning ‘Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)’? I even like the U2 version. THAT’S how good that beautiful song is. And now for the ultimate hypocrisy…

The greatest Christmas song of all time is ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’ by Mariah Carey. It’s not indie, it’s not avoidable, it’s definitely not cool but it is Christmas. Jingle bells, hand claps, sing along chorus. Perfect. It’s not The Fall doing ‘Hark The Herald Angels Sing’ (which is great) or Gurr and Eddie Argos singing ‘Christmas Holiday’ (which is great) or even ‘Christmas In Hollis’ by Run DMC (God in Heaven please help me because I LOVE that song). It’s just a Christmas treat and sometimes you just have to give in and treat yourself.

Also, and not many people realise this, the Die Hard soundtrack is a Christmas album.

You can listen to the playlist that goes with this blog on Apple Music here or Spotify here (which has two less songs because for some mad reason Spotify doesn’t have the Die Hard soundtrack so producer Trent has added two extra songs in from his Christmas recommendations to make up for it.)

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Michael Legge is a stand up comedian and writer who has performed all around the world. He is a previous winner of a Chortle Award for best blog and is a team captain on the popular podcast ‘Do the Right Thing’. His 2017 live show Jerk was recently released accompanied by the EP Jerk:The Musical. Michael can often be found both on The Cosmic Shambles Network and Vitriola yelling about music with Robin Ince. He is @michaellegge on Twitter.

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