On the first day of Christmas my true love said to me: Forget those other Festive foibles and listen to twelve Christmas songs that really matter:
- CHRISTMAS – The Who: Poor Tommy doesn’t know what day it is, but Townshend, Moon, Daltrey and Entwistle knew exactly what they were doing on this key song early in the story.
2. SAME AULD LANG SYNE – Dan Fogelberg: For someone who could be so lyrically obscure, Fogelberg pens a Christmas Eve tale of touching simplicity. Since being released it must have inspired a dozen screen plays.
3. RIVER – Linda Ronstadt (feature picture): The best singer of her generation covers the best songwriter (Joni Mitchell) of the era. Joyful and triumphant does not do it justice.
4. COLD AS CHRISTMAS – Elton John: Opening track on the his best album, Too Low For Zero, of the eighties (doesn’t say much I know), but this account of a failing relationship under a summer sun remains chilling thirty five years on.
5. WINTER SONG – Lindisfarne: Once described by Elvis Costello no less as the best song ever written, this astounding lyric alone enters the great Alan Hull into a pantheon reserved for only the very best of songwriters.
6. FATHER CHRISTMAS – The Kinks: As far removed from a Christmas card of merry old England as it was possible to get – in 1976 only The Kinks could have Santa as the victim of urban crime.
7. THE REBEL JESUS – Jackson Browne: Rather than chestnuts Jackson sounds like he would rather put the clergy and politicians on an open fire in a cautionary update of ‘A Christmas Carol.’
8. DECEMBER’S CHILD – Gretchen Peters: Beautiful melody, breath-taking lyric, stunning vocal. From her we have come to expect nothing less.
9. POSTCARD FROM LONDON: Ray Davies: Even an old Kinks Kurmudgeon like me, who had serious reservations about Ray’s Choral project could not fail to be moved by the poignancy of this story, particularly knowing the Davies family history. Reflection, hope and regret abound – as it does for most of us come the end of the year.
10. CHRISTMAS IN CAPE TOWN – Randy Newman: This unnerving track written seven years before Nelson Mandela was freed puts the listener right at the heart of apartheid South Africa – Christmas in Los Angeles or Liverpool could have similarities, but they had nothing in common with Cape Town.
11. A MARSHMELLOW WORLD (live) – Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin: Hey it’s Christmas – and with the deadly duo forget Ho Ho Ho, it’s ring a ding-ding all the way. Try not laugh (Frank can’t) as Deano hams it up in the way only he can. These are the guys who put the cool in Yule.
12. CHRISTMAS MUST BE TONIGHT – The Band: Where do you start with this masterpiece? The Christmas story told in the most simple but poetic way imaginable with vocals and instrumentation only The Band could produce. Puts every other Christmas song in creation into the shade and for the past forty years should have been providing much needed Festive respite from the usual Yuletide yawns.
NEIL SAMBROOK is the author of MONTY’S DOUBLE – an outstanding new thriller now available as an Amazon Kindle Book.