18 of the most under-appreciated Christmas songs…

Published

snow

Rhys Harper
Online Editor

Christmas at The Glasgow Guardian is about one thing and one thing only: the birth of our Lord and Saviour, Annie Lennox. But we are prepared to put aside this devotion to she who gave her sweet dreams for our sins for you, dear reader, as we celebrate what is now an annual parade of capitalist excess and Upworthy-esque weepy advertising. We’ve compiled a list of the least appreciated Christmas songs to get you, Glasgow Uni student with looming exams, in the mood for Saint Annie’s special day despite the inevitable stress of never getting a space in the library, failing, being kicked out of uni, becoming homeless, dying alone beneath a bridge and having your innards feasted upon by hungry, carnivorous foxes. Merry Christmas, reader.

Mariah Carey – O Holy Night

Everyone is familiar, perhaps too familiar, with that other Mariah Carey Christmas tune of which we do not speak. Less famous is her cover of the 1847 Victorian club banger recorded in 1994 before most of us were born or old enough to say “YAS, QUEEN”. Back when Mariah was at the peak of her whistling powers, this is the definitive version of our modern era (take THAT, Josh Groban). Even those of us who aren’t religious ought to get in on the action with some light cultural appropriation of the gospels. Stick this on and let the elusive chanteuse, to adopt the modern expression, ‘take you to church’ (though The Glasgow Guardian has been to church several times and still sees little attraction in drinking wine with no real intention of getting drunk).

Destiny’s Child – 8 Days of Christmas

Back in 2001 when Queen B needed Kelly and The Other One to hold her luggage at airport terminals, the trio released an entire album of RnB takes on Christmas/ a grab for the cash of their juvenile fans. ‘8 Days of Christmas’, though, is quite the sassy Christmas gem. Nothing evokes the meek image of Christ in the manger quite like “a pair of Chloe shades a diamond belly ring”. This is definitely one to stick on when cooking or reminding your other half that if the gifts aren’t up to scratch this year, then perhaps nor are they.

Leona Lewis – One More Sleep

Poor Leona. The first British Simon Cowell protégé to really crack America, and then they went and replaced the window. She’s been in the wilderness ever since, intermittently flirting with Adele-esque white ASDA mum soul and, worryingly, EDM. One of these Shelley inspired attempts at a comeback was, of course, the inevitable Christmas album; largely a dud, save for this diamond in the rough, this Beyonce in a world of Michelle’s (yes, reader, we do know her name after all). ‘One More Sleep’ is among the stronger samples of latter day Christmas music, lyrically old-fashioned (“Cause I got five more nights of sleeping on my own/ Four more days until you’re coming home/ Three more dreams of you and mistletoe/ Two more reasons why I love you so”) but slick enough production-wise to stay on the right side of, you know, Wizzard. A must for Christmas parties and 10:55pm in the gay club when the only people yet dancing are the terrifying straight women.

Kelly Clarkson – Underneath the Tree

On the subject of modernity’s gift to Christmas music, Dame Kelly of Clarkson rises above all your faves like the Hiroshima mushroom cloud. ‘Underneath the Tree’ is a midday-shopping-in-Boots anthem, saxophone solo included. Some people would call it an overt rip-off of Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want…’: and those people would be quite right. But a glorious rip-off nonetheless.

Lady Gaga – Christmas Tree

The Glasgow Guardian has no idea what made Lady Gaga, one of the most talented pop songwriters and performers this side of the millennium, have a crack at Christmas music as a rising star back in 2008. It took Paul McCartney two decades. But we’re glad that she did give this vaguely pornographic present to the world. Enjoy at your own peril.

Florence & the Machine – Last Christmas/ Ariana Grande – Last Christmas / Carly Rae Jepsen – Last Christmas

We are morally compelled to include three covers of the Wham! classic, dear reader, because this is not Sophie’s Choice and The Glasgow Guardian is not Meryl Streep. Much as we may dream. In order to appease stratified tastes, moods and age ranges, it’s only fair that we feature the three most glorious reinterpretations of our day. Ariana’s version meets your every over-polished, sickly sweet expectations; nothing more, nothing less, hitting the spot just as we’ve come to expect from the Mariah.2 hitmaker. Florence Welch’s take is not polished in the slightest. She has not yet bothered recording the song in a studio; all we have to go on are the salvaged live recordings, like recovered ancient manuscripts – much coveted but not quite intact. It makes for a Cranberrys-esque sorrowful affair, all wails and heartbreak. Festive. Carly Slay Jepsen, the thinking man’s Taylor Swift, brings post-E•MO•TION pop prowess with fewer bells and whistles, particularly bells, than Grande. This is one for the sort of folk who prefer Robyn over GaGa, Years & Years over One Direction, cloudy lemonade over Irn Bru, etc. It’s 2015, everyone loves a synthesiser.

Aretha Franklin – This Christmas

The Queen of Soul. A living legend. Simon and GarFUNKel. The Glasgow Guardian had to include Ms Franklin in our definitive list of underrated Christmas songs, if only because no tribute, no matter how grand, can fully account for the pure majesty of hearing the award-drenched icon warn her guest vocalist son Eddie that he “mustn’t upstage momma with those high notes”. Blood may well be thicker than water but she’ll spill yours all over the stage if you try to snatch her spotlight. This cover of the Donny Hathaway record opens with Ms Franklin pretending to speak with an unnamed pal on the phone, describing all the effort she’s putting in to personally preparing Christmas dinner for her family: a tale even less plausible than the virgin birth itself. See also: her bizarre album epilogue – a spoken word reinterpretation of T’was The Night Before Christmas: “A bundle of gifts he had and what did I get? / As I squealed, opening the package/ The same old shit! / I’m not ungrateful, you know that I shouted! As he backed out of the front door, my sincerity, he doubted.”

Britney Spears – My Only Wish (This Year)

Rumour has it that this song was actually mined from the deep,  sub-freezing, unreachable by human foot, core of the North Pole. The explorer seeking it became trapped when he looked directly in to the song’s blinding primary colours and slipped between two glaciers. He was then compelled to hack off his own left arm with a candy cane acquired from nearby to free himself.

Whitney Houston – Deck the Halls/ Silent Night

Pop culture eats everything, including itself. Decades from now academic essays will be written about the media’s dual kingmaker/suicide bomber role in the careers of many women, including this latter day figure of tragedy. Often forgotten is that while possessing that much-worshipped voice and sacks full of personal problems, Whitney Houston always maintained immaculate pronunciation. No one in twenty-first century pop music has yet to even challenge Whitney in the realm of musical diction, immortalised masterfully on this recording, far less match it. A smooth Stevie Wonder-like head-bopper; Motown spliced with your corner coffee shop. Not to waste valuable time, two Christmas classics are here economically rolled in to one song: and yes, there’s a choir.

Joni Mitchell – River

Only a Christmas song in the very technical sense, much the way that Adam Sandler films are only technically comedies. Depressing from start to finish. 10/10.

Mary J. Blige & Jessie J – Do You Hear What I Here?

Don’t let the inclusion of Jessie ‘sponsored by Tuc biscuits’ J deter you from enjoying this lovely number from Mary J. Blige’s Christmas album (amazingly titled ‘A Very Mary Christmas’). Jessie is, after all, rather an impressive singer, capable of hitting a wide range of notes: indeed her main fault is that she insists upon doing so as often as possible, an Aguilera-like fireround succession of vocal acrobatics, rather like musically cracking a safe. Fortunately Jessie shows restraint here and we are gifted a simple duet: simple and nice. See also, Mary’s cover of ‘Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer’ .

Mariah Carey – Jesus Oh What a Wonderful Child

That she is appearing for a second time on this list just goes to show that Mariah Carey is the real star of Bethlehem. Y’all can kiss the Bethlehem of her Versace gown, etc (we have more of these). On this track, Mariah goes full Lauryn Hill in Sister Act 2 meets Jennifer Hudson-in-Empire meets Aretha Franklin in general. The final third alone is breathtaking enough to forgive the ‘E=mc 2′ diva for her lyrical clangers to come later in the ’00s (“them chickens is ash and I’m lotion.”) Bring your inhaler.

RuPaul – Merry Christmas, Mary

Probably the song Pope Francis will twerk to this coming Christmas morning after he unwraps his new Paco Rabane gift set. Probably. The original drag superstar has been around long enough to know a formula for success: and sticking some bells on top of a what sounds like an already-great dance song is as sure a formula for Christmas music success as you’re going to get (just ask Las Ketchup, wherever they are). Christmas drag is the best kind of drag and ‘Merry Christmas, Mary’ comes from Mama Ru’s first Christmas album since 1997’s ‘Ho Ho Ho’, ‘Slay Belles’, so we are blessed indeed.

Kelly Clarkson – Please Come Home For Christmas

Clarkson, too, gets a reappearance in praise of this cover to end all covers. The crack in her voice is just right, the simplicity of the live-ish production – spot on. Not many singers share Kelly Clarkson’s talent for believably living in the emotion of a song, particularly one as old as ‘Please Come Home…’. She could sing passages from The Little Red Book and have us waving the red flag over the People’s Communist Republic of Byres Road within hours.

Eartha Kitt – Santa Baby

Keep your Kylie Minogue and Michael Bublé covers, nothing beats Catwoman. Unless you’re referring to the 2004 film starring Halle Berry: because everything beats that.

Annie Lennox – God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

The only song on our list to explicitly reference Satan, unless you play the Ariana Grande one backwards.

We’ve compiled these songs and more in to a special Christmas playlist for you to listen to this month: or the next, if you’re weird.