Greetings, Glancers! It’s the festive season again, that most wonderful time of the year when we open our chimneys and beckon Good Old St Beardy McBuldgingsack into our homes so he can spurt joy all over our hearth. That run up to Christmas may be getting earlier each year, and as we grow older and more cynical it’s increasingly easy to aim a sneering ‘humbug’ at the whole tinsel-draped event. But ‘fie’, says I. Fie, to all the naysayers, scrooges, sadsacks, and seasonally-challenged. Fie to those who would rain on our snowy parade in a vain attempt to wash away our once a year spending spree in a moaning puddle of sleet. Who could deny the smile and wonder of the wide-eyed child when they stumble out of bed to find a Winter Wonderland frosting up their windows? Who could hold back a tear and an oh so human warmth when seeing the innocence and excitement of finding a half-munched carrot in the living room and bags upon bags of toys and treats just waiting to be discovered? Dicks, that’s who.
Growing up in the turgid 80s wasteland of Northern Ireland, where a large snowfall usually meant having to spend longer on your hands and knees checking for car-bombs each morning before heading to school, Christmas was nevertheless something unimaginably special. The lights, the music, the parties; the end of school, the Television specials and adverts, and of course the presents. Even though Christmas as depicted on screen, in such far-flung places as England and the USA looked like an impossible dream, where everything was bigger, brighter, and even more snow-packed and gift-wrapped, in our wee corner of the globe we still shared in the united glory and tradition.
A very large part of that tradition – one that has been going of course for centuries, but at least as part of modern culture, is the Christmas song. I’ll say this about the USA – as impressive as their Christmases looked, their Christmas music is wank compared to ours. This list therefore is going to be primarily British. What list? Why, this list of my favourite Christmas songs! This selection of songs never fails to bring back memories, nostalgic feelings, and the fact that they have been enjoyed for so many generations and continue to be passed from parent to child each year will ensure that even as our descendants are old and frail, they will still be taken back to a place of happiness and wonder upon hearing them. I hope you read, enjoy, and comment with your favourites, but above all I wish you a safe and happy Christmas.
22. A Winter’s Tale – David Essex
Slow. Dreary. These are things that are not reflective of Christmas, yet so many Christmas songs, particularly US ones strike me as being such. This song I feel skirts dangerously close to falling into that category, but avoids it due to the warmth and comfort of melody. The horns work, the violins hit the mark, and the sentiment ripples outwards.
Did it reach Number 1 in the UK: Nope, but it did get to number 2
Is The Video Terrible: Yes, just David meandering through various depressing snow-covered fieldsand hanging about near a shed
21. Lonely This Christmas – Mud
Firstly – this is NOT Elvis. Okay? It sounds like Elvis, but this has nothing to do with him aside from the fact that the band are deliberately trying to sound like him. I always assumed it was him when I was young, and when I saw the video I assumed Mud were covering him. It’s slow too, but it has always struck me as funny – that along with the harmonies keeps it from being dreary. It could absolutely do without the spoken section.
Did It Reach Number 1 In The UK: Yes, and it was a Christmas Number 1.
Is The Video Terrible: Of course – a live version taken from TOTP where the band sit about looking depressed in front of the world’s most 70’s Christmas tree. They are wearing gaudy suits and covered in tinsel and bauble accessories, yet rather than appearing festive they look like four local low-grade thugs who have broken into your home and demanded a warm plate of turkey and ham – and they’re not pleased about having to wait.
20. Thank God It’s Christmas – Queen
It’s another slow one, and it has terrible 80s drums, but it does have Mr Mercury belting out the vocals – particularly the title – so it’s immediately worth hearing. It’s far from being exciting, nothing really happens, yet it somehow still works.
Did It Reach Number 1 In The UK: Nope, not even close
Is The Video Terrible: There isn’t one.
19. Stay Another Day – East 17
Many people argue that this isn’t a Christmas song. Yes, there’s very little Christmasy about it, except for the fact that the video has fake snow and the boys are wearing hoodies. There is some timpani or bells or something which gives it the edge, and the fact that is was released in December and was such a massive hit means it has become associated with the period – that’s fine with me. On a serious note, the lyrical content bears mentioning as it was written about the suicide of one of the member’s brothers. It’s unusual subject matter for a boyband, it’s unusual for a boyband member to actually have any input into a song’s creation nevermind write the whole thing, and it’s unusual that it actually ends up being pretty good.
Did It Reach Number 1 In The UK: Yes. It was apparently their only UK number 1 and it was a Christmas Number 1.
Is The Video Terrible: It’s a boy band, so obviously the video is terrible. It looks like it was put together on Media Player by a child, and it consists almost entirely of the group in various poses shooting around the screen or giant close-ups of their faces panning across. It’s doubly terrible because of how the group were portrayed as ‘bad boys’, so they have all these looks that aren’t so much smouldering or heartfelt, but rather come across as ‘I’m going to stab you and then ram your nan’. Also, did you ever notice how whenever a new boy band becomes popular, within months an alternative appears and they are ALWAYS – without exception, portrayed as bad boys? It’s hard to take any of it seriously when the songs are wafer-thin love-letters or requests for sex. Aimed at 10 year olds.
18. In Dulci Jubilo – Mike Oldfield
The only hymn on my list, the only instrumental, and the only song that’s over 500 years old. You have to hand it to Oldfield – he’s a musical beast, playing all the parts himself and using roughly 500 instruments too. It doesn’t feel like a Christmas song at all, except for the fact that it’s always played around Christmas. It’s also repetitive as hell but remains dynamic throughout thanks to the gradual building of instruments and the occasional little twist on the standard.
Did It Reach Number 1 In The UK: Nope, number 4 only.
Is The Video Terrible: Yes, it is kind of terrible, but that’s mainly due to the age and hair and fingernails and clothes, yet it apparently influenced every Youtube video ever made with it’s grid based format showing Mike playing each instrument.
17. Do They Know Its Christmas? – Everyone
The ultimate ‘get together a bunch of famous people to sing a song’ song. It has also been re-recorded and released with diminishing returns numerous times, but there’s not getting away from the original. It’s not the most complex song – it’s not supposed to be. It’s meant to be a message to the world, delivered in an earnest and easily digestible, commercial way. It worked, becomes one of the biggest selling songs of all time.
Did It Reach Number 1 In The UK: Yes, and was a Christmas Number 1.
Is The Video Terrible: Yes, given that it’s just a bunch of famous people singing into the camera or walking around in slow motion. It’s interesting now though as you try to work out who each person is and what the hell was wrong with the world in the early 80s to make some of them so famous in the first place – to be fair, each version of the song has featured mostly unremarkable artists and the odd diamond.
16. Walking In The Air – The Snowman – Peter Auty/Jones/Nightwish
I’ve no idea how popular this, or The Snowman is in the USA – let me know in the comments, I guess. Over here though it’s a must for Christmas viewing – the timeless story of a boy and his adventure one night with a snowman. In some ways I wish this hadn’t been such a choirboy vocal as those are almost always unlistenable. It works though, although I will say the Nightwish version gives some much needed oomph – I don’t think the best version of the song has yet been recorded, or if it has I haven’t heard it. I do love the quiet instrumental version which is played over the end credits – beautiful. I’ve given three links above – the original by Auty, the Aled Jones version (yes folks, it’s not him in the movie), and the Nightwish one.
Did It Reach Number 1 In The UK: Nope.
Is The Video Terrible: The Snowman is excellent – everyone should see it. The Aled video is fairly bad, unless you’re into watching Welsh boys traipse around barren mountains, while the Nightwish version was not a single and had no video.
15. Don’t Let The Bells End – The Darkness
Back in that brief period when The Darkness was a popular band, they cranked out an impressive number of hits. This is arguably their widest reaching song, aimed directly at the Christmas market and ensuring annual rotation. Good marketing, sure, but it’s also a fun, festive song with all the hallmarks of other British classics. There’s a wry sense of humour, heapings of cynicism, and plenty of double-entendres. Musically it has everything you would want from a Christmas hit – big chorus ripe for a drunken singalong, hefty verses filled with festive lyrics and traditional instruments, a choir of kids etc. It doesn’t take itself seriously, just like most of the best hits for the time of year.
Did It Reach Number 1 In The UK: Unfortunately not, just like a bunch of other better songs. It was held off the top spot by the absolute wank cover of Mad World – one of the worst songs of all time.
Is The Video Terrible: It’s fine – deliberately cheesy, it fits with the rest of the band’s visual output and humour while also harking back to a few previous Christmas videos. It’s mostly the band unwrapping presents in front of a roaring fire inside a log cabin, but done with plenty of panache and larfs.
14. Mr Hankey The Christmas Poo – South Park
Nothing says Christmas like squeezing out an enormous yuletide log of your own, and this song continues the grand tradition of animated characters recording a Christmas song. The song appears in the episode of the same name, along side other classics like Kyle’s Mom Is A Big Fat Bitch and A Lonely Jew On Christmas, but this is the winner. It’s as ridiculous as it is ridiculously catchy as well as being endearing and funny.
Did It Reach Number 1 In The UK: Of course not.
Is The Video Terrible: Of course not.
13. Wonderful Christmastime – Paul McCartney
It’s another one that reminds me of Christmas parties as a child, ones we had at home, or the more organized group ones in my town. This was always one of a number of songs which seemed to be played every day of December and therefore it’s intrinsically linked to toys, snow, and good times in my mind. The song has a lot of weird synth stuff going on meaning it doesn’t feel inherently Christmas-like, but it does have those bells and the video is festive as hell. It’s super repetitive and simplistic, but still good.
Did It Reach Number 1 In The UK: Nope, it only got as high as number 5.
Is The Video Terrible: It’s certainly dated, with a lot of weird effects and fashion, but the setting of the pub in the midst of a party is a great idea – all the locals are hammered, everyone’s dressed up in cosy garb, the booze is flowing, and Paul keeps bouncing about in every shot like he’s snorted a snowball right off Rudolph’s red nose.
12. A Spaceman Came Travelling – Chris De Burgh
The most unusual song on the list – weird considering the list includes a singing turd. De Burgh posits that the Star of Bethlehem was actually an alien spacecraft. The lyrics are interesting and the song feels both ethereal, somehow faith-driven, and otherworldly. I love the organ/keyboard.
Did It Reach Number 1 In The UK: When it was first released in the 70s it failed to chart, but it had better success when re-released in the 80s with a more Christmas themed arrangement.
Is The Video Terrible: There wasn’t one, so I’ve linked your standard live version.
11. Hazy Shade Of Winter – The Bangles
Okay, this one isn’t necessarily very festive – it does have those jingle bells though and if you play it each Christmas it’ll soon sink in to your annual festivity. There aren’t many Christmas songs which rock as well as this one, so you should stick it in your playlist.
Did It Reach Number 1 In The UK: Nope, only number 11.
Is The Video Terrible: It has Susanna Hoffs in it, so it couldn’t possibly be terrible. It’s just the band playing with clips of Less Than Zero in the background.
10. Mistletoe And Wine – Cliff Richard
It seems weird that soon we’ll have kids (actually, we already do) growing up in a world without Cliff Richard’s music. I’m hardly a fan, but he’s nevertheless a British icon. Cliff has always been no stranger to Christmas songs, but I think this is his most well-known and best, and you can’t pass December without hearing this at least five times. Cliff took a rather sordid song and made it more religious, more Christmasy. It’s all about the kids, as Christmas should be, but hopefully it doesn’t take on a more dubious meaning given recent rumours about Cliff. Again, though I’m not a fan, it’s pretty shocking that many people don’t recognise his influence and impact. Back on topic, this is a super-happy song with lyrics about presents, Santa, hymns, fires, baby Jesus et al. It’s great.
Did It Reach Number 1 In The UK: Of course, one of the four times Cliff has had a Christmas Number 1. Speaking of Christmas Number Ones, looking at the list the last one I’ve actually heard is 2009’s Killing In The Name. Sad.
Is The Video Terrible: Depends on you really. It’s just Cliff and a bunch of extras roaming around a set filled with fake snow, singing carols and swinging their arms.
9. Merry Christmas Everyone – Shakin Stevens
We’re into the classics now – another song you’ll start to hear in shops around the middle of November. The moment you hear those opening notes you can’t help but grin like a maniac and it’s another which takes me back to my childhood with zero effort.
Did It Reach Number 1 In The UK: Does Santa shit in your chimney? Christmas Number 1. Incidentally this, along with a few others in my list re-enter the UK charts every Christmas and generally reach the top 40.
Is The Video Terrible: It’s certainly different, starting out with some kid getting a private jet trip and landing in some far-flung snowy land. From then on it’s as Ultra-Christmasy as the song itself, with snow fights, sleigh rides, presents, Santa, elves, and the rest. That dance remains terrible, as are the rolled up sleeves.
8. Fairytale Of New York – The Pogues
My wife’s personal favourite. I’ve had a love/hate relationship with this one as in the UK it’s held up as this untouchable thing – it’s not, it’s just a decent song. Out of all these songs I feel like it’s overplayed the most and it’s the one I get sick of most easily. Perhaps it’s the whole Irish thing that annoys me given my feelings about that particular brand of music. Yes the lyrics are cynical but that loses its impact after the billionth play and you begin, quickly, to remember how terrible the vocals are. Still, you can’t have Christmas without it!
Did It Reach Number 1 In The UK: Nope, held off the top spot by The Pet Shop Boys. There’s no question it should have made Number 1 though.
Is The Video Terrible: It gets points for featuring a snarling Matt Dillon, but loses points for showing Shane Macgowan. If Shane Macgowan starred in a horror movie it would be banned. The video is mostly a lot of bored, dour, sour faces sitting in bars or walking around New York – it has become iconic, but that neither means it’s terrible nor good.
7. River – Joni Mitchell
It’s arguably the finest rip off/musical homage of all time, with Joni twisting ‘Jingle Bells’ and transforming it into something serene, heart-rending, and timeless. This is likely the finest song on this list and a haunting reminder that Christmas can be rough. It doesn’t go into some of the more important issues we should think of at this time of year – homelessness, starvation, families drifting apart etc, instead fixating on a single relationship. But who cares, it does what it does beautifully, the lyrics and music centre on Christmas, and it’s a gorgeous listen every damn time.
Did It Reach Number 1 In The UK: It was never released as a single, so nope.
Is The Video Terrible: No video.
6. Last Christmas – Wham!
I prefer the James Dean Bradfield solo version as it cuts away most of the chaff, but this is the better of the two in terms of pure festivity. This is Christmas through and through, managing to be tragic and happy at the same time. It’s great, and again you can’t have Christmas without it.
Did It Reach Number 1 In The UK: Nope, kept off the top spot by Band Aid – the song remains the biggest selling UK single to never reach number 1.
Is The Video Terrible: It’s certainly a dated relic of the 80s, but it isn’t terrible in and of itself. There’s nothing amazing, just Wham and a bunch of extras prepping for a party and having fun up a snow covered mountain.
5. The Ghosts Of Christmas – Manic Street Preachers
Did It Reach Number 1 In The UK: Nope, it was released free so wasn’t eligible for charts. Damn Capitalism.
Is The Video Terrible: Manics videos are rarely very exciting, and as this never had one we can assume it would have been standard fare. However, given the band’s love of nostalgia we may have had childhood clips and the usual twists on British culture. I can’t even find the song on Youtube, so you know it must be good.
4. Happy Xmas (War Is Over) – John And Yoko
An anti-Vietnam war song, became an anti-war song, became an anti-hate song, and remains a pro-Christmas song. It’s another which doesn’t feature a lot of traditional Christmas sounds or lyrics, but the sentiment is one of hope, peace, and looking towards a brighter future – things we can all support at this time of the year. Musically it’s one of the best post-Beatles pieces of work, and not even Yoko’s wailing can dampen it.
Did It Reach Number 1 In The UK: Nope, number 4 in 1971 and then number 2 in 1980, as well as other positions in other years.
Is The Video Terrible: There are a couple of different versions, but they’re both fairly similar. The original features John, Yoko, and Sean and a lot of footage from their War Is Over period, while the newer one is news footage of the aftermath of war, famine, murder etc.
3. All I Want For Christmas Is You – Mariah Carey
A frequent winner of many Best Christmas songs lists, it’s certainly one of the most fun, unashamedly buoyant, and downright joyous Christmas songs. How can you not smile or get excited when you hear this? It makes me want to live somewhere where there’s actually a guarantee of snow each December, not the same grey clouds and drizzle we get every other time of the year.
Did It Reach Number 1 In The UK: Nope, number 2, kept off by Stay Another Day.
Is The Video Terrible: No, it’s probably one of the best videos on the list. Back before Mariah was a dick, she was incredibly hot, supremely talented, and crucially – not a dick. Her frolicking about in the snow should be watched at least once during the holiday period and it makes me, again, wish I lived somewhere with actual seasons – warm summers, freezing winters, not this endless grey shite we deal with 90% of the time.
2. Merry Xmas Everybody – Slade
IT’S CHRIIIIIISSSTMAAASSS! There’s isn’t much else to say about the song – it’s great, and you need it in your life in December.
Did It Reach Number 1 In The UK: Yes, Christmas Number 1 in 1973
Is The Video Terrible: Absolutely, but it’s great too. Laughing at the hair and the fashion and the Noddy, but then remembering that whatever you are wearing, however you are dancing, is going to be ridiculed in 10 years time. Not me though – my look is timeless. It’s another live performance video so you can’t say much about it.
- I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day – Wizzard
My favourite, and it has mostly always been that way – all those memories I’ve mentioned before about my own childhood are most perfectly recalled by this, it’s probably the song I listen to most at the time of year, and it’s definitely the song I find myself singing or humming most. It’s perfect. I think it’s the only Wizzard song I’ve ever heard.
Did It Reach Number 1 In The UK: Nope, kept off the opt spot by Merry Xmas Everybody.
Is The Video Terrible: Well, yes. The band, in all their bizarro, glam, glory prance around in a semi-frightening manner while a bunch of kids arse about with them.
There you have it, my favourite Christmas songs. I’m sure you have plenty of your own. As I was typing the list, I remember the Gary Glitter classic – Another Rock ‘n’ Roll Christmas – a song I always kind of liked, but then… Gary Glitter. Let us know in the comments what your favourites are and if you have any fond memories of Christmas music!
Bonus – Sexy Christmas USA – yeah, best watch this one alone. Or Never.