Many years ago, I read a book in which the American author made a comment about his first Christmas in the UK and how it didn’t really feel like Christmas because none of the songs he grew up with during the season were played here.
Instead, they were replaced by a selection of other songs that he had never heard but which every British person seemed to know off by heart. The passage was something of a revelation. It had never once occurred to me that there would be millions of people who had never heard “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day” by Wizzard and who didn’t know the appropriate place to yell “it’s Christmas!” during Slade’s “Merry Xmas Everybody.”
These are the songs I’ve grown up with. They play constantly in every public place from around mid-October and I’d wager that everybody who has grown up in Britain can sing them word-for-word–even if they would never admit to it in public. Here then are some classic Christmas tunes from the UK to inject new life into your iTunes Christmas playlist (admit it, you have one).
Song: “Merry Christmas Everyone”
Artist: Shakin’ Stevens
Released: 1985 (postponed a year so it didn’t clash with Band Aid)
Notable for: The deeply creepy video which features the longest intro ever (a full minute elapses before the music actually begins) and a number of children who look as if they are being forced to smile for the cameras.
Listen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZeyHl1tQeaQ
Song: “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”
Artist: Band Aid
Notable For: The story of the song’s conception and recording as well as inspiring the Live Aid concert in 1985. Band Aid was a supergroup and included members of Duran Duran, U2, Genesis, Ultravox, and dozens more who all recorded the song, written by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure, on a single November day in London. Geldof even phoned Boy George (asleep in a New York hotel when recording began) and persuaded him to fly to London on Concorde that day so he could eventually record his lines in the evening.
Listen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bjQzJAKxTrE
Song: “I Wish It Could be Christmas Everyday”
Notable for: The adorable small children in the video. The song was kept off the Christmas number one by Slade.
Listen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZoxQ4Ul_DME
Song: “Merry Xmas Everybody”
Notable for: The bit at the end where lead singer Noddy Holder screams “It’s CHRIIIIIIIISTMAAAAAAAAS!” Screaming along with this is an impromptu staple of all drunken Christmas parties.
Listen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0A8KT365wlA
Song: “Lonely This Christmas”
Notable for: The terribly cheesy talky bit in the middle where the singer speaks directly to the girl who has recently broken his heart. The song is performed in the style of Elvis’s later career and is often mis-attributed to him, there is even a video on YouTube that incorrectly identifies Presley as the singer and runs a slideshow of photographs of him as the song plays.
Listen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NJ6kJ7GWtv0
Song: “Last Christmas”
Notable for: Competing against Band Aid for the Christmas number one spot; Wham! later donated all the profits from the single to the same charity appeal. The cheesy video is also notable for being the last filmed appearance of George Michael clean shaven.
Listen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E8gmARGvPlI
Song: “Mistletoe and Wine”
Artist: Cliff Richard
Notable for: Being one of very few popular Christmas songs in the UK that actually uses religious lyrics. The song was originally written for the musical Scraps which was based on Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Match Girl.” Richard changed the lyrics to reflect a more religious theme with the agreement of the original writers.
Listen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BjmGbI-Mnys
Song: “Fairytale of New York”
Artist: The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl
Notable for: Being easily the most inappropriate popular Christmas song ever. The duet features the two singers bickering and calling each other a number of offensive names as they reminisce on how their lives have gone awry thanks to drugs and alcohol. Despite this apparent negativity the song was voted Britain’s “Favourite Christmas Song” in 2012 after a nationwide survey.
Listen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j9jbdgZidu8
There are of course hundreds more amazing Christmas songs you may not have heard before. Some of my favorites include “In Dulci Jubilo” by Swimming, “Once Upon a Christmas Song” by Geraldine McQueen, “Sleigh Ride” by the Late Greats, “Troika” (the fourth movement of Suite from Luitenant Kije) by Sergei Prokofiev, and the soundtrack to The Muppet Christmas Carol.
What songs do you play every year?