An Alternative to Side to Christmas Music

Kevin O’Neill puts on his cynical face and takes a look at all those old Xmas staples

“Christmas is going to the dogs…”

Or so said Eels.

Don’t think for a second that I don’t like Christmas – I love it. In December. Every year, though, it seems to get earlier and earlier. The decorations turn up in some shops in September and before Halloween is even out of the way, the music is blaring, the ads are cropping up on screen and it seems as though it never left.

The result of all of this, of course, is that we are more and more familiar with Christmas music. Some of the tracks still seem fresh; though I’m sure I’m not the only one that feels the need to put my foot through the radio every time Mariah Carey rears her head.

So perhaps Christmas itself may not be gone to the dogs, but Christmas music sure has.

The Christmas number one race became so formulaic with the usual X Factor song at number one. Luckily, the floodgates were opened last year with the successful Facebook campaign that resulted in Rage Against the Machine topping the UK chart and reaching number two in Ireland. This year, campaigns have been started to get Surfin’ Bird’s “The Bird is the Word” (brought back to pop culture by Family Guy) to number one, with an alternate option in Jon Cage’s ‘4”33’ (effectively four and a half minutes of silence and natural sounds)

Now, again, don’t get me wrong, I liked the change. But for some reason, yelling “F*ck you I won’t do what you tell me!” on Christmas Day didn’t seem quite right to me, while I’m not sure if the incessantly annoying “Bird is the Word” or the silence of Jon Cage’s effort have the charm of classic number ones.

The connotations of cringe inducing songs at Christmas number one isn’t necessarily true – “Bohemian Rhapsody” twice topped the number charts at Christmas, while the Beatles (on four separate occasions), the Human League and the Pet Shop Boys all made their mark before the Spice Girls, Cliff Richard, Westlife and Mr. Blobby destroyed the institution.

Killers ©Island

Scraping under the surface, it becomes clear that there are still some great Christmas songs being recorded. Eels, the Killers, My Morning Jacket, the Flaming Lips, Low and Pearl Jam have all crafted fantastic Christmas tracks, while the Darkness made a great effort a few years back with “Christmas Time (Don’t Let the Bells End)” – though someone may need to tell Justin Hawkins that constant references to male genitalia aren’t necessary for a Christmas classic!

It remains to be seen whether any modern Christmas tracks will come to retain the ‘classic’ status associated with the likes of Slade, Wizzard and the Pogues, though it is refreshing to see people trying. The Killers, for example, have released a Christmas track every year since they formed, and even took time out of their hiatus to continue the tradition this year, while a favourite of mine, Sufjan Stevens, released a four disc reworking of Christmas classics a few years back.

I can’t help but feel that come December 25th we will all be listening to Matt Cardle’s version of David Bowie’s classic “Heroes” and it doesn’t feel right to me. In ten years time, will people remember the track?

Though in all fairness, maybe the majority have stopped trying because it’s tough to beat the classic. Chris Rea’s “Driving Home for Christmas” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Santa Clause is coming to Town” have such sentimentality that the rest just seem unnecessary…

Whatever your poison, whether it Bruce or Blobby, have a good one.

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