You may not have known that about me.
I mention this because in Canada, by the end of October, we’ve scratched both Thanksgiving and Hallowe’en off our lists and the next major holiday for many is Christmas. Of course, many others don’t celebrate Christmas as such, not being of a Christian faith. It can get into sticky political correctness territory here, so all I’ll say is this: come December, do what makes you happy! I’m doing the Christmas thing!
I love the lights, the tacky, bright decorations, Santa Claus at the mall and I love a lot of the music I hear in stores. Some songs I really don’t like, but they get played anyway. Over the years, though, I’ve built up a mental list of Christmas and related songs I almost never hear during the holidays unless I play them myself. These are what I call The Lost Christmas Songs.
In no particular order…
A non-album track from 1984. The guys who gave us Bohemian Rhapsody, Another One Bites The Dust, We Will Rock You and We Are The Champions made one shot at an exclusively Christmas single and it was actually a hit (#21 in the UK) that year. It has all the Queen trademarks of lush harmonies and production and has aged reasonably well considering it comes from the ’80s.
Funny Christmas songs are as much a part of the holidays as the straightforward classics, but many are just parodies of existing songs, changing the words. Not this 1987 track, from comedic rockers Bad News. It’s its own song and a very good one too (though it borrows its intro from the Troika written for “Lieutenant Kije”). It pokes fun at the many (many!) artists who record Christmas albums just to cash in on the season, rather than those artists having a legitimate artistic expression about this time of year. And it’s a catchy tune!
“Silent Night” is hardly a lost Christmas song, for sure, but this performance, the B-side of his 1992 “Tattoo” CD single, is a beautiful instrumental version. Sit by the window and watch it snow while listening to it and you’re imagination will be transported somewhere magical.
A rock and roll suite of selections from Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker and it’s just as much fun as you’d imagine. This 1962 single was later covered live by Emerson, Lake & Palmer, who released it as a single, and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra did a version on their album Night Castle.
From the collection Merry Axe-mas, this track sees the guitarist from the prog-rock band Rush performing a gentle acoustic rendition that will warm your heart.
This is a tough one and I almost didn’t include it out of deference to my US readers. The horror of 9/11 has made the term “ground zero” almost exclusively linked to New York City and the World Trade Center twin towers. What “ground zero” actually always refers to is the point of impact of an explosion on the ground. In 1986, when the song was written and released, it referred to a nuclear explosion. The song humorously describes the holiday aftermath. Not a parody, as Al is famous for, but an original song that sounds like an early-’60s Wall-Of-Sound number. The world lost much on 9/11, but it’s time to take this song back!
Written by Queen’s guitarist at the same time as “Thank God It’s Christmas.” Queen chose the one track to record, so Brian brought the other to Anita as he was producing her first solo album. A sweet little track, maybe a bit sacchrine for some, but it comes by it honestly.
I mentioned this piece earlier and I can guarantee you’ve heard part of it. It’s been co-opted for the backing of numerous Christmas songs, like “I Believe In Father Christmas” by Greg Lake and Helen Love’s “Happiest Time Of The Year.” Well, here’s your chance to get to know the original and if you’re like me, once Prokofiev’s original sleigh ride music grabs you, you won’t care for the pieces that stand on its shoulders.
The closing number from their film The Meaning Of Life. Python humour is an acquired taste, but this calypso-themed celebration of everything great in Heaven (where it’s Christmas all the time!) is no less silly than what you hear on the radio all December long.
Not specifically a Christmas track, but it certainly fits the season. A single in 1995 from their album Made In Heaven, it was a #6 hit in the UK and is a gentle reflection on winter.
This single, from the album Christmas In The Stars, reach #69 on the Billboard charts in 1980. I freely admit, it’s utter cheese, but so what?! I’ll take it over lame-as-all-fuck “Christmas Shoes” any day. With Disney buying Lucasfilm, don’t be surprised if this album gets re-issued. And no, this album has no connection to the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special from 1978.
A Gaelic rendition of “Silent Night” that loses none of its power in the translation and arguably gains a good deal more elegance sung by Enya. Those put off by the religious tone of the English-language version can enjoy this recording for the music, melody and vocals without the words getting in their way. This version appears on her 1994 single and her 2006 Sounds Of The Season EP.
This is a very old Christmas piece with a long and varied history dating back to the Middle Ages. Oldfield’s instrumental hit (#4 in the UK) version is based on Pearsall’s adaptation. It’s a jaunty, lighthearted folk arrangement that will put a spring in your step. More recently, Mike played part of this at the Opening Ceremony to the 2012 Olympics, so we may hear it get a resurgence in popularity in North America.
If you can’t bring yourself to play “Christmas At Ground Zero,” at least there’s this track to fall back on. Another original composition, a rocker this time, comes from his album Bad Hair Day. Santa loses it and goes on a killing spree at the workshop. Play it loud!
The Ladies recorded a full Christmas album (Barenaked For The Holidays) and re-recorded this song for it. “Elf’s Lament,” the radio favourite from the album, overshadows this track, which is also an original composition and dates back years earlier. The first recording appears on the 1995 collection Cool Christmas, has more energy to it. (The video linked isn’t the 1995 recording, but a live version, because the 1995 is no where to be found. It retains the punchiness of the original, though.)
Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker gets most of the love when it comes to seasonal classical music when it’s not sharing it with Beethoven’s “Ode To Joy,” which is a shame because there are other great pieces dedicated to winter. If you find yourself growing weary of the modern pop Christmas standards and want something different, Joseph Suk’s Opus 9 “A Tale For A Winter’s Evening” (also known as “A Winter’s Tale” on some recordings, such as the excellent Naxos label release) is a great place to start.
Not heard nearly as often in commercials, TV shows and movies, Vivaldi’s Winter should sound unsullied in the imagination. You’ll recognize Vivaldi’s string sound as it relates to the more well-known “Spring” and “Summer,” but it will take you somewhere bright and new if you’re not as familiar with this piece (and I’m betting you’re not, unless you’re into classical music).
Bax himself described Winter Legends as “a northern nature piece full of sea and pine forests and dark legends.” Couldn’t have said it better myself. Winter Legends is sort of a power ballad of classical music, intense and full of energy long before the Trans-Siberian Orchestra rocked Christmas. It may be a bit dark for some, but it’ll balance out the sweet cheeriness of holiday music when it gets to be too much unbridled joy for one person.
19) Father Christmas – The Kinks
(Reader Suggestion) A tongue-in-cheek track about what kids really want for Christmas: money! Edgier than most humorous holiday songs, but that’s what The Kinks do best. This 1977 punk-rock single was later included on re-issues of their album Misfits. Thanks for the suggestion, Brian Pat!
I’ve heard people lament that every Christmas it’s the same old thing. The same songs are re-recorded over and over, they say, and they’re mostly right. It’s hard to write either a brand new Christmas song or even an original take on an existing song. My list above has some of both. There’s no reason I can fathom that in the sea of versions of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” and “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)*,” songs like “Thank God It’s Christmas” get overlooked by radio programmers looking for something else to liven things up. Maybe all the songs listed aren’t quite fit for the mainstream airwaves, but load these onto your MP3 player and fire them up at the next Christmas party. The other people in the room probably haven’t heard most of these.
If you have Lost Christmas favourites, let me know and I’ll add them to the list**.
* Darlene Love’s original recording of “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” kicks so much ass no one ever need bother trying to top it. That means you, Bono!
**Unless I know the song and hate it, then it’s not making the list. ;-)