“Snow Is Falling, All Around Me…”

Published by Rick on Tagged Uncategorized

                … Children playing, having fun”  So goes the first line of Shakin’ Stevens’ “Merry Christmas Everyone,” and as I woke up to the snow finally reaching London after having covered nearly the whole rest of the UK for the past week, that Christmas perennial was implanted in my head and hasn’t left some five hours later. I no doubt will hear this song either on the radio or in some public place several times in the next 25 days. But here’s the rub: I actually LIKE it. And I’m also not sick of “Merry Xmas Everybody” by Slade or “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday” by Wizzard or “Drivin’ Home For Christmas” by Chris Rea, and maybe the best seasonal Rock tune ever, “Fairytale Of New York” by The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl (OK, they’re Irish!). Even the original Band Aid single still does something for me despite two dreadful remakes.

                  So sorry, you American readers, if only the latter tune rings a bell. The fun fact is, UK Rockers have created some of the most durable Christmas anthems of the last 40 years, tunes that are sadly unknown across the Atlantic. The greatest US Christmas music still seems to be from the 50’s and 60’s, and admittedly, the Elvis and Beach Boys’ singles took some time to really grow on me. What has the US created in the past even 30 years? There’s the Mariah Carey single, which is not bad, but PLEADING to be of another era so it could have been included on the Phil Spector Christmas album. There’s Bruce Springsteen’s version of “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town ” which owes more than a tip of the hat to The Jackson Five’s 1970 version, which was not even as clever as the Four Seasons’ 1962 version (“Better watch out, Better not cry-yi, ba-yay-bee”). There were also plenty of great Soul renditions of classics, like sax master King Curtis’s 1968 reading of “The Christmas Song,” that manages to instrumentally wring the melancholy out of that song without even mentioning the chestnuts. Of course, there’s The Ronettes “Sleigh Ride” (1963) that continues to sound good, but hell, so does LeRoy Anderson’s original from the early 50’s before anyone THOUGHT to put lyrics to it. Oh and sentimental me, I believe “Merry Christmas Darling” (1970) to be The Carpenters’ best single ever!

                  But again the cutoff date seems to be 1970, and we shall ignore “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer,” (1982) possibly the biggest and most annoying US Christmas tune of the last 30 years. The above tunes by Slade and Wizzard were both released in 1973, by two highly eccentric groups who ignored whether or not making a Christmas single was a sell-out, opting to create something that lyrically had the cheerful holiday message, but without compromising the groups’ musical styles. Slade’s record hit #1 first time out, and both continue to chart almost every December. The Pogues’ single, first released in 1987, continues to grow in popularity each year; perhaps the recession of the past two years has made this song’s less-than-positive message hit closer to home than ever before. The same could be said for the Chris Rea single, which only peaked at #53 first time out in 1988, but has emerged as a new sentimental favorite since its 2007 re-issue. And Shakin Stevens’ tune, a #1 from 1985, was able to cull his rockabilly influences to make a holiday tune that, while lyrically scrolling the laundry list of Christmas song clichés, still has an undefinable appeal.

                           Before it starts to look like the Brit Christmas Rock fizzled after the 80s, there were a couple of notables from the last decade. The Darkness appeared to be the group of destiny in 2003 with their debut album, and their classy holiday single “Christmas Time (Don’t Let The Bells End).” They fizzled a year later, but the song still garners the play. Also a shout to the novelty single “Proper Crimbo,” from 2003 and recorded by the cast of the comedy show “Bo Selecta.” At the time it was out, I didn’t even know that “crimbo” was slang for Christmas, so of course the song made no sense to me, makes a little more now, but the Craig David and Michael Jackson impressions are pretty spot on.

                            So, American readers, as you’re pulling out the Bing Crosby, Elvis, or Nat King Cole albums, find the above tunes, download them, and listen to them on your iPod while Christmas shopping. I swear it’ll make the whole ordeal less taxing. British readers, you already know the tunes are great, so I’m probably preaching to the choir. Maybe because I’ve only been living here seven years, I haven’t found reason to get sick of them yet! 



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