Saturday, December 19, 2020

15 Songs of Christmas

 12 songs for Christmas 

Stanford Live - Stanford Arts

November 2017

{plus 3 bonus xmas chunes at the end}

^^^^^^A 'Fairytale of New York'-Free Zone^^^^^^


John Lennon and Yoko Ono / Plastic Ono Band, “Happy Xmas (War Is Over),”  1971

Hard to believe that the man capable of the acrid disillusion of “Working Class Hero,” “God”, and “My Mummy’s Dead” could just one year later record this soppy sway-a-long.  Wonderfully incongruous, also, to hear Yoko “The Scream” Ono juxtaposed with a children’s choir. But this was not Lennon’s first attempt at a Christmas Number One. There was also “Cold Turkey”, about eating left-overs on the 26th   - what Brits call Boxing Day.

Slade, “Merry Xmas Everybody”, 1973

Fronted by the Lennon-as-foghorn blast of Noddy Holder, Slade were Britain’s biggest hit-makers during the glam early Seventies. But out of their half-dozen Number Ones it’s  “Merry Xmas Everybody” that has endured as a hardy perennial, reappearing in the UK charts another 22 times around Yuletide. Its blend of stomp and sentimentality captures those woozy-boozy festive feelings. From Holder’s mirrored top hat to guitarist Dave Hill’s silver suits, the band actually looked like Christmas tree ornaments.


Wizzard, “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday,” 1973

Another glam-era chart topper, Wizzard’s Roy Wood was a pasticheur with an uncanny facility for replicating the signature sound of admired predecessors.  Not for the first time, the target of Wood’s sincere flattery here is Phil Spector. This time the Wall of Sound is decked with tinsel and the tinkle of sleigh bells. Slade’s 1973 offering was the bigger smash, but “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday” was close behind, reaching #6 and making seasonal re-entries on another dozen occasions . 


Paul McCartney, “Wonderful Christmas Time”, 1979

This ought to be too ingratiatingly sickly to stomach, but Macca’s deft craftsmanship and clever touches (synth squiggles like bubblebath, that burbling reverb-shimmered bass) make this charming not cloying.


The Stranglers, “Don’t Bring Harry,” 1979

Punk-era misanthropes the Stranglers released this morosely languid ditty about heroin – personified as the creepy and insidious “Harry” – as a Christmas single in 1979. Amazingly they would have a huge winter hit a couple of years later with another song about smack, the gorgeously bittersweet and implicitly hymnal “Golden Brown”.

The Greedies, “A Merry Jingle”

Full name The Greedy Bastards, this supergroup of Brit rock scene liggers consisted of most of Thin Lizzy plus ex-Pistols Paul Cook and Steve Jones. What most likely started as a beery jape conceived in a Soho pub – “let’s give a brace of Yuletide standards a lumpen sub-punk do-over, shall we lads?” -  became a minor UK hit.


Cristina, “Things Fall Apart”, 1981

Fresh from her disco-noir remake of Peggy Lee’s “Is That All There Is?” – with altered lyrics so decadent that Leiber & Stoller had the cover version suppressed –  Cristina’s contribution to ZE Records’s Christmas Album was a nihilist subversion of the seasonal song, festering not festive.    


The Waitresses, “Christmas Wrapping”, 1982

Best known for “I Know What Boys Like”, these Akron New Wavers also scored with this wonderfully tart tale about being too busy and too jaded to celebrate the holidays, but then drops the cynical front for the sweetest of unexpected happy endings.


The Pretenders, “2000 Miles”, 1983

Another Akron New Waver, Chrissie Hynde is one of rock’s true originals as a vocalist, with her magnetic alloy of tender and tough, needy and nasty. But here the edge of Pretenders classics like “Brass In Pocket” and “Talk of the Town” softens and Hynde allows herself a completely moist moment of Christmassy wistfulness.


Frankie Goes To Hollywood, “The Power of Love”, 1984

Frankie dominated 1984 with a triptych of singles with Epic Themes. “Relax” was about sex, transgression, and shock (it was banned by the BBC); “Two Tribes” grappled with War, Armageddon and US vs USSR geopolitics; the ballad “Power of Love” hymned the redemptive power of devotion and faith. All three reached the top of the UK charts, but “Power” failed to be the Christmas Number One as intended, despite its lavish Nativity- themed video and overblown orchestral arrangement.

X Project, “Walking in the Air,” 1993

This rambunctious bass-booming rave anthem is a Christmas song only by association, sampling Welsh choirboy Aled Jones’s hit single “Walking in the Air” - a song originally written for the animated film of Raymond Briggs’s children’s book The Snowman, in which Santa Claus makes an appearance.  Not content with simply expropriating Jones’s angelic vocal, X Project sullies his cherubic aura too by turning the innocuous lyric into drug imagery: “We’re walking in the air / while people down below are sleeping as we fly” becomes a metaphor for the all-night rave’s collective Ecstasy high.


Killer Mike, “Christmas Grind”, 2003

Off the album Crunk and Disorderly, “Christmas Grind” belongs to a surprisingly sizeable sub-genre of holidays-themed rap songs: Kurtis Blow’s “Christmas Rappin”, Treacherous Three’s “Santa’s Rap”, Run DMC’s “Christmas in Hollis”, Ludacris’s “Ludacrismas”, Master P’s “Christmas in Da Ghetto”,  Ying Yang Twins “Ho Ho”, Run the Jewels’s “A Christmas F*cking Miracle”. (Oddly there’s no “Have Yourself a Gangsta Gangsta Kwanzaa” out there).  Kicking off with a shotgun blast, Killer Mike’s seasonal offering does not exactly comprise tidings of comfort and joy: the chorus goes “it’s Christmas time/I’m on the grind/Gonna take what’s yours and make it mine.”


Monday, November 16, 2020

robert wyatt and friends

Robert Wyatt & Friends
Theatre Royal Drury Lane 8th September 1974
Observer Music Monthly, November 20th 2005

by Simon Reynolds

Long bootlegged, this glorious live album documents an intriguing moment in UK rock history, when the rock mainstream and the outer-limits vanguard were in bed together.  Three decades on, it’s hard to imagine a contemporary equivalent to the supergroup that Wyatt convened in September 1974: multiplatinum-selling musos Mike Oldfield and Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason rubbed shoulders with out-jazz players Julie Tippetts  and Mongezi Feza, and with avant-proggers such as Henry Cow’s Fred Frith, Hatfield and the North’s Dave Stewart, and Soft Machine alumnus Hugh Hopper. There’s also a cameo appearance from Ivor Cutler,  John Peel’s favorite comic eccentric. Peelie himself features as the show’s compere, informing the long-haired, afghan-wearing audience that the musicians will be uncharacteristically sober tonight, because the door to the Theatre Royal bar has been locked for fire-and-safety reasons.  

The wondrously woozy music played that evening must have been intoxication enough, surely, for performer and listener alike. After the Dada-esque sound-daubings of “Dedicated To You But You Weren’t Listening”, the bulk of the set consists of a run-through of Rock Bottom, the Wyatt album released earlier that summer, a crushingly poignant masterpiece shadowed by the singer’s paralysis following his fourth-floor tumble during a wild party. “Sea Song”,  as mysterious and beautiful an oceanic love ballad as Tim Buckley’s “Song To the Siren,” opens up into a fabulous extended improvisation, a malevolent meander of fuzz-bass and glittering keyboards that’s something like an Anglicized Bitches Brew. Wyatt’s falsetto spirals up into ecstastic scat arabesques, as though his spirit is trying to escape his shattered body.  “Little Red Riding Hood Hit The Road” --its title a whimsy-cloaked allusion to the accident--is equally stunning. Feza’s trumpet again channels Miles, while Wyatt’s delirium of anguish is only slightly softened by the English bathos of lines like “oh dearie me, what in heaven’s name..”  The singer actually miauows at the start of “Alifib,” a gorgeous quilt of shimmering keys and glistening guitar (courtesy of Oldfield, then regularly voted the top instrumentalist in the UK by music paper readers). The feline thread is picked up with “Instant Pussy,” originally recorded by Wyatt’s short-lived band Matching Mole and featuring yet more gorgeous abstract vocalese from the wheelchair-bound bound singer. “Calyx”, a different sort of love song, features killer lines like “close inspection reveals you’re in perfect nick”, and the set ends with a rampant, edge-of-chaos take on  “I’m A Believer,” the Monkees cover that took Wyatt into the UK hit parade. 

Alarming but true: the best record released in 2005 is a time capsule from 31 years ago.