My Top Ten Christmas Songs
Some weird people hate Christmas music. Some slightly less weird people only listen to festive tunes at Christmas. I am absolutely not in either camp. Hang up the mistletoe, round up your reindeer and let’s start the music!
10. Troika From Lieutenant Kijé – Philharmonia Orchestra
Ironically for a Christmas song, this was written for the 1930s soviet-era film Lieutenant Kijé, at a time when religious celebrations were officially discouraged. Now however, just the first few notes are enough to get me in a festive spirit. Composed for a sleigh ride scene, this song fabulously captures the excitement of waiting for Christmas to arrive.
9. Oi to the World – No Doubt
As a complete contrast to number 10, number 9 is definitely a Christmas song, but in a completely different way. Probably the least well-known song on this list, No Doubt chose to cover fellow Californians The Vandals.
I love how vibrant and energetic this track is, and it’s surely the only Christmas song to reference nun-chucks.
8. Stop the Cavalry – Jona Lewie
Following in the footsteps of Troika, we have another song that wasn’t originally a Christmas song. Yes, it references Christmas, but it was intended as a protest song. Released on the same day that John Lennon was murdered, only reissues of Lennon’s songs stopped Jona Lewie from having a number one.
Classic Christmas songs have a timelessness to them, but the war in this song is impossible to place on the time line. Churchill, Tsars, cavalry and nuclear fallout zones all feature in this song. Whatever form conflict takes in the future, this message won’t lose it’s importance.
7. The Twelve Days of Christmas – Spinners
This song has a very long and interesting history. As a folk song there is no true original version, and the items sung about have changed over the years. Early versions included bears-a-baiting and ships-a-sailing.
Did you know that altogether 364 gifts are given in the song, one for every day of the year … except Christmas day!
6. Christmas Time (Don’t Let The Bells End) – The Darkness
This song is entirely based around not so subtly hiding the words bellend and ringpiece indside a full on parody of classic Christmas songs. Funnily enough though, Christmas songs are already so over the top, that this parody fits right in with all the other songs on the list. Filled with snowflakes, sleigh bells and mistletoe and backed by a real school choir, all the Christmas tropes can be found here.
2003 saw one of the closest races for Christmas number one of all time. The Darkness were the favourites but were narrowly beaten by a cover of ‘Mad World’ by Michael Andrews and Gary Jules from the film ‘Donnie Darko’. This song reminds me of the time before the X Factor started. After 2005 the winners of X factor dominated the Christmas charts to such an extent that Rage against the Machine’s “Killing in the Name of” was the focus of a protest movement. The iconic rap-metal anthem topped the charts in 2009 to prevent an X factor winner claiming the title for a fifth straight year.
5. The Season’s Upon Us – Dropkick Murphys
There’s no Christmas party like a Dropkick Murphys Christmas party. This catchy banger is highly reminiscent of The Pogue’s Fairytale in New York. It’s not just the accents, but the way it combines an upbeat tune with a ‘warts and all’ look at Christmas time. Honest, frank but at no point gloomy, this is just as much a Christmas song as any other on this list. I think Christmas playlists need a few bands like The Pogues and Dropkick Murphys to add a dose of realism alongside the magic.
4. Merry Christmas Everyone – Slade
Frequently topping polls of Britain’s favourite Christmas songs, this is one of the most iconic Christmas tunes of all time. In 1973 glam-rock bands Slade and Wizzard both released festive songs in an attempt to be top of the charts at Christmas. Slade not only won the race, but started an annual competition to be the Christmas number one.
Catchy, optimistic and unashamedly merry this song definitely gets me excited for Christmas. It is also a strange case of a song that is ubiquitous in the UK, but almost unknown in America. It has even appeared in five different Christmas episodes of Doctor Who.
3. Gaudete – Steeleye Span
First published in 1581, Gaudete is one of only three songs sung entirely in Latin to ever make the Top 50 Chart in the UK. On top of that it is one of only a few acapella songs to make the charts. It’s not typical of Steeleye span’s usual folk-rock output, but Gaudete was one of their biggest hits.
Many different groups have recorded Gaudete over the years. I’m also very fond of the rendition by Mediæval Bæbes but I will always prefer the intense feeling that Steeleye Span bring to this music.
2. Christmas Wrapping – The Waitresses
One of my favourite Christmas songs was written by someone who hates Christmas. Guitarist and songwriter Chris Butler wrote this classic and catchy song after being forced to write a Christmas tune by the record label. Written from the perspective of a single woman choosing to ignore the demands of celebrating Christmas. Christmas songs can be so formulaic that this unique point of view helps this song stand out amongst a crowd of festive classics. And it doesn’t hurt that the tune is so catchy and the happy ending melts my heart. Described as ‘ironically sappy’ by Butler, it wouldn’t be Christmas without Christmas wrapping.
1. A Spaceman Came Travelling – Chris De Burgh
Have you got a song that always gives you goosebumps? For me, this is that song. The melody hauntingly beautiful but the lyrics are the true genius. Chris De Burgh found inspiration in a very unusual place, the book Chariots of the Gods? by Erich von Däniken. This book about ancient alien astronauts influenced De Burgh to create his own interpretation of the story of Christ.
I’ve always been fascinated by alternative histories that speculate on how history could have happened very differently to our own. What really gives me the goosebumps in this song is the idea of history being destined to repeat itself. Such a far-out combination of predeterminism, extra-terrestrial stewardship and secret histories is like rocket fuel for my imagination. This is why this song has such a powerful effect on me.