Sleigh bells ring – my ears are blistering

I’ve been running a ‘Christmas songs on Spotify’ playlist competition at work. The rules are simple:

1) 10 songs

2) Must be Christmas related

3) Points deducted for inclusion of Mariah Carey (actually I didn’t tell anyone that, but that’s how it’s going to get scored)

Bells - it's all about the bells

Bells - it's all about the bells (oh and the choir of children if you've got the budget and the production values)

What is great is about the Christmas song genre is that it’s so broad, so diverse and almost every artist at some point has given it a go – generally because it’s a bloody good commercial idea (and crucially, not necessarily the best artistic idea).

Did you know for example that Jimi Hendrix did Christmas songs? Or that the Manic Street Preachers basically admitted they must have nicked and enjoyed their sisters early 80’s copies of Smash Hits by doing a cover of ‘Last Christmas’.

What I’m especially looking forward to in a few days is when my old school friend Michael Jones mails me his annual CD of Xmas songs. It’s always a belter and always has really obscure random madness on it. Wham sung by a computer – check, a generous helping of Reggae from the Trojan Christmas album – check, Old School Hip Hop Xmas songs – check, Philly Soul Christmas songs – check.

A Christmas song playlist can be taken in many directions – you could do the drop dead classics – start with Slade and Wizzard, end with Nat King Cole and go past Shakin Steven’s, Wham, Greg Lake, Mud, Jona Lewie and Kirsty McColl & The Pogues on the way.

OR

You can explore a hatred of Christmas (look no further than Helen Arney and ‘It’s going to be an awkward Christmas, darling‘)

OR

You could go US punk for Christmas.

OR

Go with a proper jangly, boy-girl  C86 indie pop Christmas (the ‘Very Cherry Christmas’ compliations are always a favourite round these parts)

Or

You could look for god awful cover versions featuring sampled dog’s and cats  (I blame the Casio SK 1 for this) or worse an allegedly keyboard playing cat.

OR

Grab your cocktail shaker, consider whether eggnog is a good idea and smoulder with a 60’s lounge feel – with the stylish vocals of Julie London, Dean Martin, Lou Rawls, Peggy Lee and the orchestrations of Billy May and Eddie Dunstedter.

OR

If you live somewhere properly posh, or have a fondness for muzak and prefer your Christmas pop tunes delivered by a string quartet then that’s available too.

And even though he’s now a weird, be-wigged, incarcerated, actress murdering loon, back in the 1960’s Phil Spector delivered what is still arguably the best overall single christmas album with ‘A Christmas Gift For You, From Phil Spector.’  The title alone hints at the rampant ego-mania that would eventually consume him. However, it’s Christmas – put that to one side (just like a recently discharged weapon) and revel in the pop-tastic brilliance of it.

So what makes a good Christmas playlist ?

A good playlist should (too my ears at least) have a mixture of styles, it should be un-afraid to mix the known with the unknown. Like Christmas day itself it should conceal some surprises but equally it should (mostly) stick to a reasonably expected pattern. There should always be at least a couple of Christmas classics – but possibly as covers or less well-known styles. You don’t want it to sound like the Christmas muzak in a shopping mall or rely too heavily on the over-played and over-familiar. Most of all, it should make you smile and want to put it on again. I’ll even let you put Mariah Carey in it if you really want to – after all it’s the season for generosity.

To help you tiptoe through this mince-pie strewn mine-field you can explore some of the playlists the team and I have produced so far >>

D247 Happy Winterval 2011 – Paul Smith (By Me)

D247MikeH-Christmas (By Mike Hlaford)

KennyMas MMXI (By Kennhy Milliner)

Eclectic Xmas (By Jamie Bartlett)

D247 – Pauls Christmas B-Sides (By Me)

D247 Merry $*(%!” Xmas  (By Andrew Garner – which featuers only one song but it’s a corker)

It’s even possible to enjoy Christmas through the soundtracks of films commonly associatated with Christmas (It’s a Wonderful life, Wizard of Oz, Singin In The Rain, Nightmare Before Christmas, The Muppet Christmas Carol etc):

Christmas At The Movies  (By, errrr Me)

It also amuses me to think that the Ronnettes backing melodies of ‘Ding a linga lling long ding’ in sleigh ride is REALLY not a million miles from Ministry’s ‘Jesus Built My Hotrod‘.

All that, and not a single mention of Bing either.

How to recover your sanity

If this has all got too much for you – as it often does this time of year. There’s always the Festive 50 to look forward too. Since the death of John Peel this has been picked up by the brilliant folks that run Dandelion Radio. They start playing the Festive 50 as soon as the click stikes midnight on Christmas Day – and I for one will be tucked up in bed listening via their iPhone app, I’ll have had an overdose of Frosty The Snowman by then and need an antidote.

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