Taking a very short break from Red Dwarf to discuss something we all love: Christmas music. Wait, is that right?
With Christmas just around the corner, I thought I’d get into the spirit of the season in about as alternative and obtuse a way as is possible to me – which isn’t much: I’m not a very interesting person. But see, have you ever heard a song on the radio or your iTunes library or, I don’t know, on your Spotify stream and thought, “is it Christmas already?” only to find that not only is it not Christmas already (although, on this occasion, it in fact is), but that the song in question wasn’t even a Christmas song in the first place?
No? Just me? Well, we’re off to a bad start here, aren’t we? Let’s just get to the point: here are five popular (or otherwise) tunes that sound like they could be Christmas songs with a bit of rewriting to have something to do with Christmas.
Note before we start: I haven’t studied music theory since 2010, so I’m not particularly clued in to specific terminology and what makes what sound what. I might be a little vague at times as to exactly how these songs sound Christmas-y to me, so don’t pressure me on that or I might just cry, and nobody wants that.
1. GLENN HUGHES, “Why Don’t You Stay” (1994)
I thought I’d jump in with a deep cut. A really deep cut. Like, a gaping wound stitched up long ago with adamantium twine. What I mean is that Glenn Hughes himself might struggle to remember this song (which wouldn’t be surprising, given that he’s written quite a few since). But I remember – a little while back I decided to dig into Hughes’ solo catalogue, having already been a fan of his other work in Deep Purple and Black Country Communion. After listening to a fair few of his solo records I wouldn’t say that his 1994 effort, From Now On…, is my favourite, but it might just be one of his best. But that’s a discussion for another day. On to the Christmas.
One of the songs that I refused to like at first was the mawkish fourth track, “Why Don’t You Stay.” After a few more listens it grew on me because, well, it’s just a nice, unpretentious love ballad; but for some reason it also reminded me of East 17’s “Stay Another Day” – not a song I’m fond of, but one that is synonymous with Christmas and the winter period, which led me to think that this song might also fit into that style. Maybe it was the chilled-out nature of both songs. Maybe it was because they both had ‘stay’ in their titles. Whatever it was, there’s something about “Why Don’t You Stay” that says, “hey man, it’s winter: let’s wrap up warm, drink some wine and think about that woman who left you and won’t come back for all the money and goodly possessions you own. Or not. I’m not very good at this sort of thing.” Just imagine Mr. Hughes walking through a snowy woodland, reflecting on his past relationships with bittersweet melancholy, and we have a Christmas no. 1 contender right here.
Have a listen yourself HERE and see (hear?) what you think.
2. DEF LEPPARD, “Love and Affection” (1987)
The final track on Def Leppard’s 1987 (magnum) opus, Hysteria, is a sweet, poppy gem of a ballad that makes for a nice coda to the bombastic glam of the previous eleven tracks – as if the album, rather than going out with a bang or a whimper, decides instead to saunter out with a pleasant amalgam of the two. A ‘bimper’ if you will (we won’t), or perhaps a ‘whang’ (we definitely won’t). It’s a nice song, is what I’m saying, with one of the catchiest choruses on an album that includes “Armageddon It,” “Pour Some Sugar on Me” and “Animal.”
But what only came to me years after I bought the album is just how the track doesn’t just seem to wind down the twelve songs of the album, but the twelve months of the year as well. It’s so soft and warm (despite the cold, distancing lyrics), it’s like a woolen blanket wrapping around your shoulders: that little chord-change in the verse that lets you change your drunken swagger just a bit, those harmonised vocals like a choir of coke-fuelled angels, the bouncy chorus… sheer fun all the way, and so smooth and rich it’s like sonic chocolate. Let’s just pretend the lyrics are like that as well.
It’s HERE if you want to have a listen yourself.
3. CHEAP TRICK, “I Want You to Want Me” (1977)
Before I was even aware of the artist that had written “I Want You to Want Me,” I figured it was a Christmas song. Years later, I found out that it was, in fact, the American band Cheap Trick who had originally performed it. A few years after that I bought some of their albums and realised that they’re actually a pretty awesome band in their own right. It’s not surprising that “I Want You to Want Me” is one of their best-known songs – it’s catchy, polished and thoroughly pleasant, even if the lyrics are a tad questionable in that regards.
But what’s striking is just how Christmassy the whole affair is. Maybe it’s that choppy, descending glam-rock riff that reminds me of jingle bells; that ‘vwohb, vwohb, vwohb’ in the intro that recalls Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmas Time;” Robin Zander’s syrupy-sweet vocals that cast my thoughts to a carol singer standing on a cold front porch in the mid-December chill; or that bouncy “didn’t I, didn’t I, didn’t I see you crying?” chorus hook that takes me back to Christmas morning when you were a child, elated at the presents soon to be unwrapped? And also someone was crying? I don’t know. Like I said, the lyrics don’t really fit what I’m going with.
Have a listen HERE. I went with the studio recording as I think it illustrates my point better, but the live version (and the more popular version, I believe) isn’t too different and pretty easy to find (it’s pretty much every other version on YouTube).
4. THE UNION, “This Time Next Year” (2010)
This one’s a no-brainer, really. Christmas time and the end of the year are all about looking back on the past twelve months while looking forward to the next – along with intrafamilial tensions, bloated spend-all consumerism and the crushing reality that after a solid year’s efforts you’re still single and unemployed (fa la la la la…). But, as the chorus to The Union’s “This Time Next Year” says, “we’ll sit and look back and laugh at this, this time next year.” These lyrics are pure reflection and optimism, while the music is warm and catchy with an acoustic gospel vibe accented by Peter Shoulder’s soothing whisky-punch vocals. Not bad at this, am I?
HERE you go. Turns out it was also the official ChildLine Rocks Christmas single for 2010, so I’m clearly not that far off-course with this one.
5. WHITESNAKE, “Love to Keep You Warm” (1978)
Any effort I can make to educate people on the sheer, face-melting fantastic-ness that was pre-hair metal Whitesnake is energy well spent, as far as I’m concerned. This gem’s from their first full LP Trouble and, much like most of the other entries on the list, it’s a ballad. Weird that, innit? Early Whitesnake had strong elements of blues and soul in their music, which come together well here to produce a lean, smooth love song.
So what makes it Christmassy, exactly? Well, it’s got a jolly solo, it does have that. Plus the line “love to keep you warm both night and day” indicates both warmth and love, two things we seek and cherish around Christmas time – I’m not just making this up as I go along, I swear. You know, it must also be those descending chords in the, I suppose riff – you know, like with Cheap Trick. It sounds like the winding down of a long, fun party – or perhaps a long, fun year, like with Def Leppard. And–
Wait, am I tying this all together now? Okay, right then, how does it fit with Glenn Hughes and The Union? Er, well, it’s one of the more relaxed songs on the album, much like “Why Don’t You Stay” was on its parent record, so there’s that. Plus it has a strong soul/gospel influence, much like “This Time Next Year.” It even has whoo-oos in the background that resemble carol singers or a church choir, like the backing vocalists in the chorus for The Union’s song. Boom! Out of the park!
Get some love in your bones HERE.
If we’re thinking even further, the only other obvious choices that come to mind are the oldies: songs like “Winter Wonderland” and “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” which have a winter theme but don’t specify Christmas. There’s a fair few of them as well. Otherwise, I don’t know, anything that makes you feel warm, fuzzy and wonderful inside.
Think I’m on to something? Think I’m completely off my rocker? Leave a comment below and tell me what you think. Sorry about the inconsistency of descriptions for each track, by the way – I’ll get better.