Here’s the first installment of our singles expert Philip Lickley’s top 50 Christmas songs ever…
Top 50 Christmas songs – part 1
As we hit the month of December and the decorations start to go up (at least a month or so after the shops!) it’s time to whip out that old copy of ‘Now! That’s What I Call Christmas’ and enjoy the festive-flavoured songs that can only be enjoyed at this time of year – unless you want to get funny looks from anyone in earshot!
But, out of such a huge selection of Christmas tunes, which are the best? Well I’ve gone through my extensive collection of Yuletide mp3s and considered which half-century I would pick as my utter favourites.
Out have gone some difficult choices. I love slotting in Enya’s ‘Trains and Winter Rains’ and Andy Abraham’s ‘December Brings Me Back To You’ into my Xmas playlist but they’re not specifically Christmas songs, but then again there are some I’ve included in my countdown that are not actually, officially, by-the-book Christmas tracks. Basically, I’ve made some difficult decisions and will probably disagree with myself come Boxing Day, but here is part one of my fifty favourite Christmas songs of all time – running from number 50 down to number 41. Keep your eyes on All-Noise over the coming weeks for the next instalments of my top 50 Christmas songs. Ho ho ho!
50. Coldplay – Christmas Lights (2010)
A standalone single released before ‘Mylo Xyloto’, ‘Christmas Lights’ by Coldplay has all the hallmarks of a festive release from the focus on piano, sleepy vocals and warming atmosphere. Sure it sounds like several other Coldplay tracks and takes a while to get going, but the chorus, when it finally arrives, deserves some applause, but the bridge about ‘not feeling like Christmas at all’ captures how a modern holiday can feel. With some of Coldplay’s stadium-sound thrown in, it mixes these with a low-key appeal that feels like the soundtrack to the period.
49 Jona Lewie – Stop The Cavalry (1980)
An instantly recognisable riff that is very easy to whistle, this is a song that isn’t outwardly a Christmas song even though that word is name-checked, originally actually an anti-war song that got adopted by the Santa singers due to that one line. With its classical music style, brass elements and several hummable and singable sections, this is a strong single that isn’t all tinsel and turkeys in its lyrics. Though, admittedly, it does get annoying on repeat and it’s one that some of my relatives can’t stand so I don’t hear it as often as I’d like. But, here I am, supporting it at number 49!
48. Chris Rea – Driving Home For Christmas (1988)
With a very distinctive voice and, alongside ‘The Road To Hell’ clearly inspired a lot by the motorways, this is a perky piano-based track that works well in conjuction with Rea’s gravelly singing. Covered by The Bachelors, Michael Ball, Joe McElderry, Saint Etienne and, er, Stacey Solomon (who, sounds completely different when singing, thankfully!), this original is still the best and feels like the sort of song you could well listen to as you are, well, driving home for Christmas.
47. Ricky Tomlinson – Christmas My Arse (2006)
If there’s one thing you get a lot of at Christmas it’s novelty tunes and here is an incredibly novel tune from Ricky Tomlinson, channelling his Royle Family persona well in this song. Sure, the singing isn’t the strongest and the lyrics hardly highbrow but the words capture the more annoying side of the festive period well and has its moments of pathos, and how good is it to get away with playing a song with several mentions of ‘Arse’? OK, it’s not a huge crime, but if you want a song that tells Xmas as it is, this is the one.
46. Geraldine McQueen – Once Upon A Christmas (2008)
Peter Kay dragged up as Geraldine McQueen for his spot-on reality show parody programme, and here he is with his “cash-in” Christmas song. Co-written with Gary Barlow, it nails the sound of a Yuletide single and the ‘over and over’ riff both parodies the catchiness of these records and becomes equally catchy itself. With some well-written lyrics and an insane singableness (if that’s indeed a word) this will get you singing it over and over again.
45. Queen – Thank God It’s Christmas (1984)
A lot of big bands dip their toes into the world of Christmas songs whilst trying to retain some credibility, and with this May / Taylor composition from 1984 they succeed. Including the typical bells and name-checks of the festival, it’s a less positive sounding record even if the lyrics are actually pretty happy. Keeping the Queen sound but also fitting in with a Christmas playlist without becoming cheesy, this is a rare thing: a credible Crimbo record.
44. Steel Eye Span – Gaudete (1973)
A modern release of a very old Medieval track, this is one of the most atmospheric Christmas songs released and captures the traditional feel of the festival. Presented in an acapella form, this certainly stands out on an Xmas playlist. With very few variations through the song it could easily become boring and repetitive, but the mixture of the choirboy vocals and the band’s deeper singing, it keeps bringing new things to the Xmas table as it moves along.
43. Harry Belefonte – Mary’s Boy Child (1956)
The original version of the song, and some would say inferior to the chart-topping 1978 cover by Boney M, is a thing of beauty. Simply produced and expertly sung, it foregoes the bells and whistles of the later fast-paced version. That said, there’s enough room on the playlist for both versions but this one feels much more Christmassy, and emotive in its final version.
42. David Essex – A Winter’s Tale (1983)
A song that isn’t distinctly a Christmas song, but captures the mood well with an atmospheric backing and echoes of a Disney movie song – ‘Beauty and the Beast’ anyone at certain points? With a singable, lighters-out chorus, this is a beautifully written song that fits the mood perfectly.
41. George Michael – December Song (I Dreamed of Christmas) (2009)
Released originally in 2009 but then re-released each year after that (we’ll wait to see if it re-appears this month), the former Wham! singer came out with this track that sounds much older than it actually is, thanks to its retro-sounding opening and old-style production values, and though it sounds very messy on first listen and the verses pale next to the hook, the chorus is a real grower and though the religious elements feel a little forced against the more modern elements – watch TV all day – it’s an imperfect song with more good about it than bad and has that touching feel to it and captures that feeling you have as a kid at this time of year.