Christmas songs – a change from ‘same stuff different year’?


Having a look around for some different Christmas songs

You know the score: “The bestest crimbo recordz in the world evva evva evva!!!” screams the tellybox. Every year. I won’t list the songs because most of you probably know them already.

Given that this is the case, why has the pop music world been so poor at coming up with anything new? After all, it’s a guaranteed money spinner long after your band has disappeared from existence. And it’s not as if Christmas with swing-along-a-deano (or in that style) is anything other than blandness personified…or am I being too harsh?

Christmas Carols

My personal historical context matters in why I generally despise Christmas carols. This includes:

So…irrespective of any musical issues, the top three bullet points explain why I find Christmas carols hard to enjoy. There are far too many loaded and negative messages within them that I will never be able to escape. Which is a shame because Charlotte Church’s version of Hark the herald angels sing (see here) – especially her arrangement for the final verse is very uplifting.

Hence some of the more ‘high brow choral music at this time of year is something I find very inaccessible because going anywhere near it triggers far too many negative emotions and memories and vanquished hopes, dreams and aspirations for me to cope with.

What about secular ‘winterval’ songs – santa and all that jazz?

‘We wish you a Merry Christmas’ has to be just about one of the worst Christmas songs written ever. Awkward phrasing, musically uninspiring and lyrically about a bunch of little brats moaning about Christmas pudding, which like too many ‘traditions’ with Christmas, we put up with even if we despise the stuff. It’s not as if sprouts are best selling vegetables at any other time of the year.

I’ve mentioned the traditional same stuff different year songs. Unfortunately we are also burdened with a new theme of song that has become more regular over the past 20 or so years: The Christmas novelty record – because it’s all for charideee!

No. No. No.

Raise money by all means. Have a little fun by all means but please don’t butcher musical instruments with rubbish lyrics and even worse music for the cause. Some have even gone further and dropped the charity bit altogether, persuading too many people in the industry that it might be an idea to concoct something for a buying public that decides December is a splendid month to buy lots of things that you will otherwise never use or need. That or the inevitable ‘novelty’ Christmas present/song, such as this horror from Keith Allen and friends which sort of gives an insight into ‘lad’ culture of the late 1990s. 

Alternative covers?

How about Rudolph in heavy metal mode? Or even Alice Cooper singing about Santa coming to town? Those didn’t really do it for me, though I like the version of Christmas Wrapping by The Donnas. I like the arrangement for Warm this winter by Gabriella Cilmi too. (See here)

Actually, it takes more than a fair amount of musical talent to transpose a song from one musical style to another. Noel Gallagher tried it with Slade’s famous number. (See here).

Anything ‘original’?

One of my favourites is I was born on Christmas Day by St Etienne (see here). I also tend to hunt for anything I consider ‘danceable’ to. Blackmore’s night wrote a lovely tudor-esque carol Christmas Eve that makes for a lovely Viennese Waltz – see here. When it comes to tracks suitable for a ballroom ball, decent Christmas songs are hard to come by. No, I am ***not*** going to link to strict tempo versions of Rudolph as a cha-cha. You can bounce to Lulu with Chuck Berry’s Rudolph number instead (see here). I also really like Cee Lo with The Muppets (See here).


The joke goes that if you include sleigh bells onto your sound track or have a bit of fake snow thrown in on the video (SClub7 and ‘Never had a dream come true’ for example), irrespective of the lyrics it becomes Christmassy. I’m sure you can think of your own examples. I suspect few of you will have heard of Still Me by Erkan Ali (see here). It was a slow waltz played at a Christmas ball I went to in the late 2000s.

A couple from my very late university days are Lift the wings from Riverdance (see here – compellingly haunting) and May it be, by Enya – the latter from the first Lord of the Rings film which I went to see on a very snowy day. Both for me are about wandering cold, lonely roads on a long journey towards some point in the future where there might be better days, but where those better days are not guaranteed. Yet at the same time, they also remind me of the need to keep going, and how there is no ‘road back’ so to speak.

You’ve also got some numbers from blockbuster movies – Edelweiss from the Sound of Music, the Harry Potter themes, and Lord of the Rings that I mentioned earlier. A sort of ‘time of year’ they were released thing? Ditto with Heal the World by Michael Jackson, and Paul McCartney’s Frog Chorus? .

But…what about tradition?

I’ll leave you with this little story. While you’re watching (if), what are your recommendations for ‘alternative’/lesser known Christmas songs?


5 thoughts on “Christmas songs – a change from ‘same stuff different year’?

  1. Given what you say about liking things with a dance feel, it’s worth considering that the word carol was originally the name for a peasant round dance, accompanied by singing (rather than danced to instrumental music). Originally there were carols for any times of the year, not just Christmas. Although these carols have broadly religious words, for centuries they were banned from churches as the dance associations made them to bawdy for church use. In England for over 100 years, the only carol that was permitted to be sung in church was “While shepherds watched”, as the words are a strict paraphrase of the nativity narrative in Luke’s gospel.

    You can read various more-or-less scholarly accounts of the original dance origins of carols (and their development to today) from the British Library, Part 1, Part 2,, Unusual Historicals, Christmas Music from Medieval and Renaissance Europe on Atrium Musicologicum and Medieval English carols on History Hoydens. At least one of the pieces mentions the ancient Irish carol “Angelus ad virginem” – I recently learnt a new arrangement of this by Carol Barnett, which can be heard via her website.


  2. There are plenty of good songs around outside the pop world 🙂

    Bellowhead have a Christmas song out (Christmas Bells), which is quite jolly. It’s based on traditional mummer’s play words, but very much mucked about with.

    I’m supposed to be providing some interval entertainment at a Christmas dinner tomorrow, so I’m looking at things like “Please to see the King” (Steeleye Span did perhaps the best-known version), and stuff from Ramskyte’s “Dark December” album (mix of traditional and new songs) such as “Drive the dark away” and “Summer is a-coming in again”, both of which have good choruses. Maybe some older carols like “The Boar’s Head” and “Down in yon forest”.

    There’s plenty more folky stuff out there. The Watersons collected a load on their “Frost and Fire” album, for another one which jumps to mind. There are any number of wassails, and making up your own words is dead easy 🙂

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