Christmas brings out a lot of musical schmaltz over the festive period, most of which is consumed in earnest like mince pies and mulled wine. The usual suspects blare out year in year out, some retaining their upbeat charm (Slade, Wizzard, David Essex) and others their campy factor (Wham, Mariah Carey, Band Aid). The festive fave Last Christmas now has a romcom film seemingly based around its popularity. Mariah scored a recent Billboard No 1 with All I Want For Christmas 25 years after its release.
I’ve decided to dig around Santa’s vintage vinyl to find some more discerning winter jukebox favourites in both recordings and performances…
Andy Polaris programmes
his own fantabulous Yuletide jukebox
Eartha Kitt Santa Baby – The definitive original version which has been covered several times (Sugarbabes, Kylie, Madonna etc), mostly missing the vampy wit and unique delivery of Eartha. She later said: “I used to have fun with this song, and then Madonna sang it.”
Poly Styrene Black Christmas – A post X-Ray Spex single, this is a surprisingly effective festive song despite the darker lyrical content. Featuring mother and daughter, it’s a poignant reminder from an iconic and inspirational artist.
Bob Dylan Must Be Santa – Surprised this is not a perennial favourite as it’s a clever singalong that captures the frivolity of get-togethers with friends and family. Not the typical style you would associate with the gruff vocals of Dylan but hits the yuletide target with aplomb.
The Waitresses Christmas Wrapping – As if the Shangri Las had grown up a bit jaded, this what-if scenario is delivered with the insouciance rarely found in festive songs from this cult band from Ohio fronted by Patty Donahue, a 22-year-old waitress. The song that apparently broke up the band after its success and another gem from Ze Records. Apparently the Spice Girls did a cover but I can’t bring myself to listen.
k.d. lang Jingle Bell Rock – A Christmas special from the endearing Pee Wee Herman whose surreal TV series was one of those off-beat treats in the Eighties. An exuberant pre-ingenue k.d. and her glorious rendition.
Stevie Wonder One Little Christmas Tree – Perfectly synced with a Charlie Brown cartoon episode, this sweet narrative is new to my ears and deserves a wider audience especially with Stevie’s storytelling clarity.
George Michael I Dream of Christmas – A more melancholic and reflective song from the much missed voice of George Michael in a rare TV appearance. A shock when we heard of his untimely death on Christmas Day three years ago.
The Emotions What Do The Lonely Do At Christmas? – If you’re thinking of angelic voices you can’t go wrong with this soulful girl group. Alas no performance video.
Kurtis Blow Christmas Wrapping – When rap emerged with a comic sense of humour and styling back in the Eighties this was perhaps the best track to get the party started with a thumping bass and a smiley face. This TOTP appearance shows the young Kurtis in atypical hip-hop attire.
Marvin Gaye I Want To Come Home For Christmas – Only heard this recently and the beautiful soulful yearning of his voice makes me wonder why this is not a regular of the season. A gift.
Sounds of Blackness Soul Holiday – When you think of choirs, SOB have always been the quality you should aspire to. In one of the best live shows I’ve seen in London, Ann Nesby’s voice glides through this soothing mid-tempo number guaranteed to elevate the spirit.
Darlene Love Please Come Home For Christmas – The Phil Spector Christmas album is head and shoulders over the many compilations and yuletide releases that cascade onto the airwaves. This more recent live performance by the wonderful Darlene Love brings the house down and encapsulates the mood triumphantly. Should be an evergreen addition to any winter playlist.
Also in with a flurry…
Sufjan Stevens That Was The Worst Christmas Ever, Sparks Thank God It’s Not Christmas, Clarence Carter Back Door Santa, James Brown Santa Claus Goes Straight To The Ghetto, Take 6 You’re A Mean One Mr Grinch, The Carpenters Merry Christmas Darling and Jackson 5 Santa Claus Is Coming To Town.