It’s that time of year when you will come across countless lists of the best Christmas songs in a multitude of genres. The top 34 Taylor Swift Christmas songs, Fall Out Boy’s 9 alternative anti-holiday anthems – you know the sort of lists I am referring to.
Well, I’m a traditional kind of chap, so I’m going back a little further and have thrown together a list of some of my favourite Christmas songs from the 1970s and 1980s. A lot of them you will remember, some you will wish you had forgotten, and maybe one or two you will have never heard before. If they end up on your holiday playlist in years to come, then my work will be done.
Kate Bush “December Will be Magic Again” (1980) pulls out all the seasonal trappings, with sleigh bells, mentions of Bing Crosby and husky’s pulling sleighs through the snow. A real sense of winter pervades this beautiful song. Kate revisited the season more recently, with her winter themed 50 Words for Snow album in 2011.
David Bowie & Big Crosby “Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy” (1982) is probably the strangest duet pairing of all-time, but remarkably, it works. The video seems to be set in the Addams Family mansion, and the dialogue is corny, but this meeting of two very different generations is a genuine holiday classic.
John Lennon & Yoko Ono “Happy Christmas (War Is Over)” (1972) is the oldest song in my list, and the most reflective. The lyric “So this is Xmas / And what have you done” is so simple, yet so powerful. As Christmas rolls into the New year, this is often the time to reflect on what we have achieved and whether we have made a difference to those around us in the past 12 months, as the present slips into the past.
Paul McCartney “Wonderful Christmastime” (1979). Macca being Macca, his seasonal song is so much more upbeat than Lennon’s. A synth-driven song that sounds very of its time, with the new-wave / electronic crossover that typified the late 70s / early 80’s. McCartney had a UK Christmas no1 single in 1977 with “Mull of Kintyre”, but “Wonderful Christmastime” is the McCartney seasonal jewel for me.
Wham! “Last Christmas” (1984) – probably the cheesiest song in my list. The video is certainly piling on the clichés, in the season where we traditionally pile on the pounds. But still, this track always sends me back in time to the decade that taste forgot.
If you want proof that beneath the slick 80s production, a good song lurks, you will find it in the cover version by All About Eve. They recorded a haunting electronic version on their Iceland album. If it’s not the snow, but the Wham! version of “Last Christmas” that leaves you cold, check out the more alternative All About Eve take on the song.
The Pogues “Fairytale of New York” (1987). Chaotic, raucous and dripping with Guinness and whiskey, this song as a conversation between two lovers is a holiday treat. The Pogues with the late Kirsty MacColl light up any tv channel, radio station or loud city bar when this song blasts out of the speakers. This song deserved to be Christmas no1, and in my heart, it is.
Bruce Springsteen “Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town” (1985). Recorded in 1975 but not commercially released until 1985, this song was a staple of FM rock radio for years. The Big Man Clarence Clemons from the E-Street Band stars in this powerful (and at times pretty silly) live track.
The Pretenders “2000 Miles” (1984) is a less obviously seasonal track, and maybe for that reason, it has stood the test of time. Chrissie Hynde revisited the song for a solo 2014 remake.
Jona Lewie “Stop The Cavalry” (1980). Apparently written as an anti-war protest song, this is a staple of many Christmas compilation albums. Sleigh-bells and a wonderful brass-band arrangement dress the song, but listen to the lyrics which reference the First World War.
“If I get home, live to tell the tale / I’ll run for all presidencies / If I get elected I’ll stop- I will stop the Cavalry.”
Greg Lake “I Believe In Father Christmas” (1975). Away from the prog-pomp of Emerson, Lake & Palmer, this rare solo single from Greg Lake is my favourite Christmas song of all time. “I Believe in Father Christmas” strikes just the right mix of nostalgia and protest, rallying against the commercialization of the Christmas festivities. It conjures up a cosy picture of families gathered round the fire, with the smell of the tree and tinsel all around, before hitting you with the final pay-off verse: “They said there’ll be snow at Christmas / They said there’ll be peace on earth / Hallelujah noel be it heaven or hell / The Christmas you get you deserve.”
So that’s my top 10 holiday songs from the 70s and 80s. I hope you fire up the music streaming service of your choice and investigate my chosen songs. I also truly hope that you and your friends and loved ones get the Christmas that you deserve, and have a happy and healthy 2015.