The pick of this year’s seasonal crop also features Chris Isaak, Cliff Richard, A Charlie Brown Christmas and – but of course – Slade
The Christmas album is an interesting point in any artist’s career. A half day booked down Abbey Road in August to hood through some standards can result in an annual wage for some turns, and a lifetime of clip shows claiming ‘it was the hottest day of the year so I hung some tinsel up, and voila!’.
For others, it can be a little bit of fun and a nice bonus to their fans. Each year a phalanx of releases hit the schedules with varying contents and results. Here I’ve decided to empty my sack, as I tend to do, and round up some of 2022’s offerings. The wonder of Christmas music is that it’s a perennial scene, and so last year’s column is where you can get some further ideas.
Safe to say – I mean I’m not offending anyone here – but the bulk of Slade’s annual PRS cheques come from airplay in December and that despite having six number ones in total, it’s primarily one song that does the business, and that’s their iconic 1973 million seller Merry Xmas Everybody. Well, if you’ve ever yearned for it on vinyl, this year it’s out as a 12-inch marbled snowflake vinyl.
This is obviously good news, and if it should get pressed up in time rather than delayed until February, it should help lift the song into the festive Top 10 for the first time in years (it regularly gets as far as the Top 20 – Number 18 in 2020, thanks – due to streaming and the like). The 12-inch has bonus tracks Let’s Dance, Okey Cokey and Auld Lang Syne from their 1985 album Crackers which itself is back out on vinyl and CD. Hurrah Slade.
Such is life. One tries to be a good and law-abiding citizen, and, y’know, emanate peace and love through an ever more increasingly dark and shitty world, but despite having an epiphany in recent years that Green Door was alright, the Christmas output of Shakin’ Stevens is where a line is crossed. When I was younger, there was Rudolph – basically a slightly sinister-yet-cheery facsimile of the red nose-afflicted reindeer, that would hammer around the housing estates collecting money for charity.
My parents would locate his whereabouts, and where he would be on his route, and prep me ready to run out and see this magical fibreglass creature racing around the estate on the back of a flatbed truck, and I’d go out and wave at Santa (who was inevitably dwarfed by Rudolph) and Santa would wave back and say ‘Merry Christmas’ at the kids he encountered over the jolly parpling of Tijuana Christmas. Then, at around the age of 16, things changed. Santa got ‘with it’ and sadly, this getting ‘with it’ constituted him swapping Tijuana Christmas for Shakin’ Stevens’ Merry Christmas Everyone. On repeat. Call it a late puberty, a bout of depression or a general interest in murder, but I. Was. Not. Having. This. Bullshit.
There is something so calculated and dead-eyed about Merry Christmas Everyone: its formulaic presets and the delivery of Shaky, sounding like he’d sooner get it over and done with as he needed the toilet or something. Like he couldn’t be arsed to offer a gentler tone and so blasts through this fakeness. Of course, Christmas songs aren’t something that artists pore over for years perfecting. But Merry Christmas Everyone was such a plastic, Poundland ghastly bauble – operating on the premise that Christmas is tacky already, so let’s just toss some old shit with a veneer of cheapness and easy flammability.
Look though, I know Shakin’ Stevens is having the last laugh. He’s making good dollar with this shit. If Mariah Carey is the Queen of Christmas (although contested), Shaky is the cheeky market trader. The Pete Beale of rock ‘n’ roll. Chirpy knock-off. ‘Here’s some sprouts, Treacle.’ The guv’nor of ersatz. His decision to postpone it a year to release it in 1985 because of Wham! and Band Aid shows a shrewd mind at work. He was the biggest-selling male solo turn of the decade with the most chart entries. Merry Christmas Everyone, of all the many re-entries into the charts each December, has been regularly going Top 10. Yep, below Mariah, Wham!, Pogues and Band Aid, but he’s there. Not bad for something so microwaved, so will-this-do. Anyway, this little rant was brought on by the news that the ENTIRE ALBUM is back out on vinyl, so fill your boots, Shakers! *turns off notifications*
Cheerier news now, and Louis Armstrong’s Louis Wishes You A Cool Yule has been billed as Louis’ first Christmas album, and it will be intriguing to see how the label try and track him down for a follow-up. Cheerily, it’s in fact six of his Decca singles from the 1950s, a pair of duets with Ella Fitzgerald and Velma Middleton, and What a Wonderful World. It also includes a previously unheard recording of Louis’ reading of Samuel Clement Moore’s poem A Visit From St Nicholas (also known as The Night Before Christmas), with fellow New Orleans jazzer Sullivan Fortner. It’s actually rather amazing and comes in red vinyl as a bonus.
A Charlie Brown Christmas is one of the greatest life-affirming viewing experiences during a televisual advent. It’s just beautiful (man) and the soft focus jazzery of pianist Vince Guaraldi providing a snug blanket of plinkery.
Now, being a Charlie Brown kinda cat, I’ve always loved Christmas Time Is Here and popped it on my delicious homemade mix CDs, even if my other half thought it felt like it went on for an hour and would start trying to opening a vein during it rather than sit through the song and await Boney M or something. SO GOOD NEWS DARLING, A Charlie Brown Christmas has come out as a super deluxe edition with five discs, with discs 2-4 featuring the five recording sessions and outtakes, and there’s a further blu-ray disc with the new remastered mix of the album. It’s also available as vinyl, but just the key texts, as you’d need some serious melancholic moods (or an entire flagon of gin) to sit through all of that in one go.
Chris Isaak has released his second Christmas album and it’s called Everybody Knows It’s Christmas. It’s a jolly affair recorded at Sun studios and features him a-smouldering and swoonsome across a series of classics and is effectively begging for your hand in marriage with a song called Dogs Love Christmas Too. Oh man.
You gotta feel for Neil Diamond really. The man is an absolute genius and has written a vast amount of incredible songs, but alas when he eventually dies, he’ll probably be remembered for Sweet Caroline, much like any actor who enjoyed a vast and varied career but popped up in Harry fucking Potter for 20 seconds, gets that as the headline on their digital obituary.
Sweet Caroline has been bastardised and cheapened with all that ghastly ‘so good’ nonsense. The terrace-isation and association with wankers. Football ruins everything. And of course, that abominable shitsack Boris Johnson danced to it at his wedding. Anyway, Neil Diamond doesn’t deserve to be stained by this hideousness. The reason I’m fighting for his honour is that he’s issuing A Neil Diamond Christmas on 2CD/1CD or 2LP. The dude has issued four festive collections over the decades and so handpicked his favourites. He is the don, really, and his warming Neil Diamond-y tones were made for this. Oh, and all the other stuff.
I had a 15-minute chat with Debbie Gibson last month (it was for an interview for a magazine, not just a catch-up down the shops) and, man, she is one busy lady. Not only did she return last year with her first album in a dozen years, she’s back AGAIN with her Christmas collection Winterlicious. It’s actually kinda fabulous, and you can imagine hearing selections from it while queueing up to buy a diffuser for one of your mum’s friends in M&S for years to come.
Alicia Keys has released her first Christmas album, Santa Baby, and it’s exclusive to Apple Music. It’s actually been out for a month and according to Wikipedia ‘Santa Baby failed to enter the Official UK Charts, but instead entered the UK Digital Albums chart at its peak of Number 24. In the United States, the album did not enter the US Billboard 200, making it Keys’ first studio album to not enter the chart, though it reached number 19 on the US Top Holiday Albums chart.’
Another serial festive feature is Cliff Richard. Fancy spending Christmas With Cliff? Well, haven’t we all spent Christmas with Cliff in some way or the other over the years? The general consensus being that Mistletoe And Wine has grown to be acceptable over the years, although the best Cliff Christmas (Cliffmas, if you will) banger is a tie between Little Town and 21st Century Christmas. The Millennium Prayer, however, remains the undiscussable. So, look, he’s back. Back. BACK with his first festive collection in 19 years. Christmas With Cliff features 13 tracks, 10 of which see him lunging it on the likes of When A Child Is Born and The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year, alongside three new tunes – Mary, Did You Know, Heart Of Christmas and Six Days After Christmas. It’s on CD and white vinyl even if the sleeve – in any size – isn’t quite the Photoshop masterpiece it thinks it is.
You can half imagine Joss Stone rocking up on daytime television talking to Holly and Phil or some villainous reprobates about her Merry Christmas, Love as being her first holiday album in her weird mid-Atlantic accent. She’s hoping to get a Christmas Number 1 with this. LOL. I’ll win the Euromillions before that happens, sweetheart. So yes, she lungs through the usual standards as expected and if you make it to the end, there’s hopefully a prize or eternal life or some shit on offer.
Probably having seen, with obvious envy, the coin that Michael Ball and Alfie Boe made with their Christmas album, Russell Watson and Aled Jones have teamed up to do crime. Sorry, release an album. Their joint Christmas album, Christmas With Aled & Russell follows their own solo efforts, but this team-up is for anyone who fancies a festive spit roast where you can imagine the two of them placed at either end, and their semen dripping over your sequinned Ho Ho Ho cushions. You’re either disgusted or curiously turned on. I was going to go off piste and talk about Backstreet Boys’ A Backstreet Christmas but it will probably end in violence.
OKAY LOOK IT’S ALL GONE A BIT GROTTO hohoho. So let us end on an imperial release of high majesty and wonder. I’ve said it before but it bears repeating – Now basically invented the modern Christmas canon, the concept of Christmas pop. Since the first edition in 1985, they helped curate/ create the nation’s appetite for what constitutes Christmas pop. At least 90% of the key texts of what have gone into legend still infiltrated today’s festive playlists. Rescuing the likes of Elton John’s Step Into Christmas – a mere Top 24-er the year of Slade and Wizzard – and rejuvenating it.
So, the 2022 offering, I’m pleased as ever to report, is an absolute festive feast. There’s a 4CD selection with 85 tracks, and a 50-track 3LP version. The new news here is that the fourth CD collects together December hits such as The Human League’s Don’t You Want Me, Münchener Freiheit’s ELO-sobber Keeping The Dream Alive, East 17’s Stay Another Day, Spice Girls’ 2 Become 1 and Jason Donovan’s When You Come Back To Me alongside a CD exclusive of the original 12-inch version of Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas which has not been on CD before. The main collection has space for all the bangers: Wham!, Slade, Nat King Cole, The Darkness, Saint Etienne, Boney M, Chris Rea, Waitresses, Ronettes, Wombles, Jona Lewie and more. There are also recent smashes such as Ed Sheeran & Elton John’s Merry Christmas and George Ezra’s Come On Home For Christmas. You really have something for everyone here, and the reindeer on the sleeve look cheery. Well done Now. Again.