TTT – Top Twenty Five Christmas Specials/TV Episodes

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Greetings, Glancers! I’m back again to lovingly twist tinsel around your throats and tug until your baubles burst – in other words – to make you read these words about Christmas. If you liked my Christmas songs post, you should seek counsel with your local priest or GP promptly, but while you wait, why not make things considerably worse for yourself by browsing this post too? What’s the worst that could happen?

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Ah.. yes…

In case you didn’t know by now- I love Christmas. I love the TV, I love the atmosphere, I love the presents. I may be in my thirties, but some childhood traditions never go away – I still get the Christmas TV times and highlight all the TV shows and movies I want to watch or record. One of the things I loved most when younger was getting off school in the run up to the big day, and planning out my day of watching – waking up to catch a few 7.00 am cartoons, then seeing which movie I could watch in bed before breakfast. Even on Christmas Day, I would switch on the TV in my room while going through my stocking – Channel 4 always had the best stuff.

As much as the internet is populated with all the classic American TV specials – The Grinch, Charlie Brown etc – those never entered my Northern Ireland childhood in any real sense. I saw them, but they seemed too cutesy or foreign and as such were not deemed required annual viewing. Much of my list consists of shows which were force fed by my family or which I found myself returning to each year by myself once I gained such critical faculties. Don’t worry US readers – there’s a lot more American content here than there was in my TTT Christmas songs list.

I was too young for a lot of the more traditional British Christmas specials – Morecambe and Wise, The Two Ronnies etc, and I won’t be including any soaps, even if Eastenders and Coronation Street have both had their fair share of memorable one-offs. Remember that time when Bradley fell off the roof, or when Archie was done in by Queen Victoria? No, neither do I. No, old soap episodes aren’t the sort of thing you watch each year as they are ever replaced by new episodes, the Langoliers munching up all that has come before. No game shows or compilation clips shows either, both stalwarts of December viewing – sorry QI and It’ll Be Alright On The Night. Also, The Office will not appear in any guise. Because Ricky Gervais is a dick. Finally (finally!) there’s no ranking because I can’t be arsed.

Alan Partridge – Knowing Me, Knowing Yule

For whatever reason, I never saw much, or any of Alan Partridge in my formative years. It was around the age of 18 that I started watching the odd episode here and there before blasting through it all a few years later. In this episode, Alan is hosting his very own special festive edition of his show and invites guests including a devout Christian lady, a Carry On style innuendo spouter, and the disappointed and increasingly angry Chief Commissioner of the BBC, setting up nicely for the following Partridge series. The format is essentially the same as the others – Alan awkwardly interviewing increasingly ridiculous guests and trading insults, but with a nice Christmas backdrop and theme, and a slightly longer running time.

Beavis And Butt-head

Beavis And Butt-head had the occasional special episode during their run, and while many of the entries on my list are satires on British culture, this one is of course US aimed. That’s not to say it isn’t universal, or at least understandable in Western White culture. There’s A Very Special Christmas With Beavis And Butt-head – the name itself a send up, which sees the useless pair watch a bunch of Christmas songs on TV. It isn’t that exciting an episode, but as always their reactions are amusing and they do get to sing along near the end. Due to those pesky copyright laws, this one is very difficult to find in its original form.

The second episode(s) is Beavis And Butt-head Do Christmas. It’s split into the usual two separate episodes, this time linked with a festive theme. Huh Huh Humbug is another version of A Christmas Carol – but don’t worry, there is absolutely no moral here. Beavis falls asleep while his boss lectures him, and dreams that he is in fact the boss. While trying to watch Porn, he is visited by Ghost Butt-head and a bunch of other familiar faces who show him his past, present, and future – the past being particularly funny. The plot doesn’t go anywhere, but they never do. The second one is It’s A Miserable Life and it has a little more story, with Butt-head being visited by his guardian angel who shows him how wonderful life in town would be without Butt-head messing it up. Again it’s funny seeing the little twists within the world – Stuart and Beavis are now best friends and it seems like Beavis has sunk to Stuart’s level by wearing a Winger shirt – the horror. These ones always take me back to my pre-teen and early teen years and still get a chuckle.

Bottom – Holy

Bottom is one of my favourite sitcoms of all time, with two performers and writers at the top of their game, bringing the unfocused anarchy of their 80s work into the self-referential 90s. Aside from being about getting drunk, ‘doing it’, and slapstick ultra violence, the show has always skewered everything from British traditions to the sitcom format itself.

While Bottom also features a fantastic Halloween themed episode, it’s Holy which really gets the juices going, literally at times. Richie and Eddie, the Hammersmith Hardmen, are trying to celebrate Christmas with Richie in usual jubilant, devoutly English form and Eddie simply wanting to get pissed and watch Goldfinger. We have the unwrapping and sharing of presents, hope and disappointment in unequal measure, charades, Christmas Dinner mishaps (including the hilarious loss of a finger and even more hilarious fixing of said finger),  and even a Christmas miracle. It’s one of the finest British comedy episodes of all time and it’s the one which is most quoted by me in the run up to, and on the big day itself. Has heeeee been?

Buffy The Vampire Slayer – Amends

I talked about this episode in my Season Three Buffy Review so I won’t go into details here other than to say that this isn’t your traditional, drop in and watch, episode. There’s a lot of back story going on, as well as plenty of foreshadowing, but if you’ve seen the whole show a few times then you’ll be fine. The story follows Angel still trying to readjust to life on Earth once more, while being tormented by visions of The First Evil, showing his past brutality and encouraging him to kill himself, or kill Buffy. Buffy, meanwhile is trying to host a normal, family Christmas dinner and invites Faith along. If you’re not a Buffy fan it won’t mean a lot to you, but it’s a nice change of pace from the centrally comic or horror themed episodes.

Friends

Being (one of) the biggest show(s) of the decade, Friends was obliged to have a variety of Holiday Specials – Halloween, Thanksgiving, New Years, Christmas are all covered. There are a few Christmas episodes, as well as other which were filmed around that time of the year and feature New York in all its snowy glory, so you have a few to choose from. In The One With Phoebe’s Dad, the gang are off doing different Christmasy things – Joey and Chandler leave their shopping too late, Monica is on selfish baking mode, Ross and Rachel fight while the heating is off, and Phoebe drives to meet her father. In The One Where Rachel Quits, Rachel quits, Joey gets a job selling Christmas trees, Phoebe witnesses a tree massacre, and Ross helps a scout after breaking her leg. In The One With The Girl From Poughkeepsie Ross is dating two women at the same time and ends up falling asleep on the train and going to Canada, Phoebe is writing a Christmas song, and Monika a Joey scheme to earn respect and money. The one With The Rockin’ New Year’s Eve features some Christmas fun while The Holiday Armadillo is the most famous Christmas episode and features Ross trying to teach his son about Jewish traditions as well as Christmas. Finally, we have The One With The Creepy Holiday Card which sees Ross and Mona’s relationship at breaking point, and The One With Christmas In Tulsa where Chandler is forced to work on Christmas Eve. Watched together, the amount of laughs, nostalgia, and Christmas tone will definitely get you in a festive mood.

Harry Enfield

I could be wrong on this, but I think there were two Christmas episodes in the 90s for Harry Enfield And Chums – it’s difficult given the show hasn’t been released on DVD and it changed its name at least once. These are quite difficult to track down, though you can find it them on Youtube. The shows were sketch based, featuring a wide array of classic characters in various scrapes. The Christmas episodes were extensions of these, with most of the sketches featuring a (mostly very sleight) festive slant both simple characters and those with some sort of progression. Along with this, there was usually a sing-song or longer section such as the characters singing ‘Perfect Day’ or parodying Titanic. There’s were repeated every so often on BBC and now on UK Gold, so catch them to remember a simpler time and some of the based character catchphrases ever.

Inside Number 9

Inside Number 9 is undoubtedly one of the finest TV shows of recent years – an ode to film-making, a love-letter to the creative craft. I know quite a few glancers of this blog are massive movie and TV fans, but may not be as exposed to British Television as those over here. I implore you all to watch this show – if you love horror, comedy, film in general, then this will be a new favourite for you, with the show ranging from gut-wrenching emotional episodes, to horror homages, all down with the typical sadistic wit, love of language, and sinister twists that you would expect from Reece Sheersmith and Steve Pemberton.

For those who don’t know, Inside Number 9 is an anthology programme – each episode featuring a new cast of characters and a new self-contained story, generally set in a single room or location. While the absolutely wonderful The 12 Days Of Christine features Christmas in some key scenes and is referenced in its name, it’s the Series 3 premier The Devil Of Christmas which should be a future viewing tradition. It’s a retro piece, set in the late 70s, and follows a family on a Christmas holiday where one of the locals explains the legend of Krampus. The episode, aside from being a faithful attempt at recalling 70s anthology horror and TV, is very funny, and very dark, and should not be missed. Black Mirror made it big – this should be just as big.

Lost – The Constant

Lost, you say? Lost never had a Christmas episode! Well, you’re wrong, and not only are you wrong but you’ve forgotten the single greatest episode of the series. Not only that, but you’ve forgotten one of the best episodes of any TV show, ever. The Constant culminated in the resolution of many crossover-plots and saw, finally, the happiness of my favourite character on the show. There aren’t enough words I can give to praise this episode – the acting, the writing, the way it all comes together – this is how the series as whole should have ended in terms of quality and tone. While I still enjoyed the last episode, The Constant is the pinnacle of the show. My love for it can be stemmed all the way back to all of those 70s, 80s, 90s cartoons and shows I watched and loved, featuring a person or people trying to find their way home – think Dungeons & Dragons or Quantum Leap or Sliders or Battlestar Galactica. Taken further, it all goes back to my love of The Odyssey – a tale I have been obsessed with my entire life. Hell, lets take it further still and say it’s related to those times I got ‘lost’ as a child and didn’t know how to get home or find my parents. Lost brought this idea into the new millennium, in a time when the world became smaller and there were no more undiscovered lands to explore – The Constant wringing out emotion, drama, adventure, tension, romance, time-travel, parallel balls, and all the rest of it into a single satisfying whole.

Christmas though? Yes, because Desmond has to make the call to Penny on Christmas Eve to let her know… well, I don’t want to get into the plot. This is frankly impossible to watch unless you’ve followed the show from episode 1, closely. Even watching as a standalone when you’ve seen the series before is difficult because you’ll miss most of the intricacies and details and will likely forget many of the more minor characters and references. However, if you’re a superfan, then this makes for excellent Christmas viewing and will warm your heart and make you believe in miracles.

Merry Christmas, Mr Bean

Out of all the shows on my list, Mr Bean is the one my kids have watched most regularly at the time of writing. I try to get them to watch this around Christmas each year, but they prefer the one where ‘Mr Bean shows his bum to all the little kids’. Their words, not mine. Merry Christmas, Mr Bean has a load of iconic and hilarious moments – the most famous of which is of course that Turkey on the head scene. The episode follows Mr. Bean preparing for the big day by doing a spot of shopping. His girlfriend drops hints that she wants a ring, a proposal, leading to much hilarity later on, while Bean messes around with a Nativity scene, leads a Brass Band, raises money for charity, and steals a tree. In the second half he decorates his house, posts a card to himself (which always makes my eldest laugh), makes a hash of Christmas dinner, and designs his own cracker. Mr. Bean is one of my oldest and most most favourite series and another which never fails to warm my soul.

Only Fools And Horses

I’m not even going to bother listing the various Christmas themed episodes for Only Fools And Horses…. incidentally, for any of my US glancers – are you even aware of half these shows? What British shows did you get (before the days of downloading and streaming and Kodi etc) on your shores years ago? A lot of these probably don’t translate well, but if Monty Python gets an audience worldwide then I don’t see why others can’t. Out of all the shows on my list, this is likely the biggest British institution. There have been a whopping sixteen Christmas episodes, starting in 1981, and ending in 2003. The ones I am most familiar with are the ones in the 90s, coincidentally around the time I started watching the show, having previously dismissed it as grimy and depressing. Namely, the 1996 Christmas Trilogy which sees Del Boy and Rodney dressing up as Batman and Robin and then, finally, becoming millionaires. It’s classic British humour, but it helps to have a history with the characters before indulging.

Peppa Pig

Peppa and pals have been around for years now, and with each new generation parents get roped in to watching and end up realising that it’s actually really good. I mean, it doesn’t have the same invention as Ben And Holly but it’s more of a family show. There are now a whole host of holiday themed or one-off Peppa episodes, but the Christmas ones were among the first. Peppa’s Christmas was the first episode to run longer than five minutes, and sees Peppa having to remember what all of her friends want from Santa – then he pops in to say hello. Later on the show started doing multi-episodes where the story followed on from the previous episode – we have one where the family visits a Santa’s grotto followed by an episode where they wake up on Christmas day to see what presents they have, and later still there’s an episode where they see Mr Potato in panto. Due to the short running time you can blast through these quickly, but it’s good to supplement them with some of the snow-themed episodes, like when the family build a snowman, go to a snowy beach, and go skiing. These are great for younger kids and cuddling up to watch and get into the Christmas spirit. At time of writing there is a new Christmas episode coming – by the time I post it should have been shown in the UK.

The Simpsons

What quickly became the Daddy of the festive episode, thanks to the yearly Treehouse Of Horror episodes, and later more regular Christmas episodes. Even though the show is largely unwatchable now, you can still revisit those classics, including the very first episode – Simpsons Roasting On An Open Fire. It looks terrible now, but it still sucks you in and avoids a lot of the terrible, flat humour of Season 1 by piling on the charm. I’ll move next onto the least best episode of the classic era of the show – Gift Of The Magi. By this point in the series the scale was tipping over to having more misses than hits, this one following an evil toy company trying to unleash a new must have on citizens. It’s an okay episode, but not one I’d recommend watching every year. I’d say the same about Skinner’s Sense Of Snow except I remember less about it aside from people being trapped in school. There’s also one about Lisa becoming a Buddhist. No, stick with the good ones; Miracle On Evergreen Terrace sees Bart accidentally burning the presents and lying to the town and features the immortal ‘where is Christmas’ line, and the best of the lot, by a huge margin – Marge Be Not Proud. This one nails what it’s like being a boy at Christmas, from putting up with the lovingly bought, but terrible videogames or knock off action figures (I am Carvallo), to jealousy, to wanting to be loved, and all that other junk. This is the one to watch every year. Recent years have seen almost annual Christmas episodes, but I haven’t seen any of those that I’m aware of – I’ll get round to them eventually, but watching the show now is at once a chore, depressing, sad, and infuriating.

The Snowman

What is there to say about this – you have to watch it. Is this a thing in the USA, or anywhere else? Let me know. Like Mr Bean, it’s universal because it’s mostly silent, even though it’s inherently British. Follow it up with Father Christmas and The Snowman And The Snowdog for added points.

Wallace And Gromit

Although none of them are honestly Christmasy, the fact that they were released and are always shown at Christmas means they have become part and parcel of the whole package. You can take your pick of any of them, but you’re best watching them all over a few days – A Grand Day Out, The Wrong Trousers, A Close Shave, A Matter Of Loaf And Death – and while you’re at it, watch a few Timmy Time and Shaun The Sheeps too.

The Vicar Of Dibley

I say this is just as much of a British institution as Only Fools And Horses and any other sitcom which has lasted more than a few years. It is harmless, family oriented humour which anyone can ‘get’ which makes it great for watching with older kids. I hope my kids end up with a similar sense of humour to me, tending towards the zany side, playing with conventions, playing with language, more on the bizarre, non-sequitur side of the scale. The Vicar Of Dibley has just enough of this, mixed with traditional laughs to make it cross borders, and its Christmas episodes work well enough as standalones, though you’re better with a grounding in the characters. There are a few Christmas episodes, the one where Geraldine has to go to all the different meals on the same day, the one where Alice has her baby, the sort of double episode where it’s Geraldine’s 10th year in Dibley and the anniversary of Live Aid.

The League Of Gentlemen – Yule Never Leave

As mentioned above, my sense of humour was waiting for this show to come along. I already loved Bottom and everything Vic & Bob did, and this came along to merge both styles as well as my love of horror. The League Of Gentlemen instantly became my favourite show after its premier, but this Christmas Special is one to whip out and return to thanks to its anthology nature. Sure it means more if you know about the characters, but it’s a better choice to watch on the spur of the moment than any other episode as the series was fairly plot heavy.

I love anthology series and movies, and in this special episode, the Vicar is trying to have a bit of peace at Christmas but is disturbed by three visitors, each with their own macabre tale – the highlight of which is the Herr Lipp story. If you want to laugh your balls off this Christmas, this is the one to watch – I highly recommend you watch the series from beginning as it’s an all time great. Even better is that we’re getting new episodes this year as part of the 20th anniversary!

The Royle Family

This was grabbing all the headlines around the time The League Of Gentlemen first came out, and as such it was like Oasis Verses Blur all over again. I didn’t watch the show for quite some time, and the pieces I saw of it, all the slow panning cameras of people sitting, eating, yawning, scratching themselves, pissed me off. When I finally did watch, I began to appreciate it. I mean, I still hate all that slow panning stuff and the repetition, but I love the characters and the dialogue. The series last for three seasons, and had two Christmas episodes, but since the original run it has been brought back a number of times for specific new Christmas episodes. Again, it’s perfect for family viewing, but better suited to having teens in the house as the kids won’t understand any of it. I’m not sure I’ve even watched any of the other later Christmas episodes, but I must do that this year as we won’t be getting any more after the tragic passing of Caroline Ahern.

The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air

The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air remains, well, fresh. It’s still LOL funny today, has more one-liners, yo momma, and fat jokes than anything else, and is still a better written sitcom with more fully formed characters than most around today. It’s one of those shows which influenced me to the point that I can’t answer a simple question without including some sort of joke or sarcasm. I used to tune in to every new episode on BBC 2 and laugh my ass off, and the show still gets regular viewing by me today. The show had a bunch of Christmas episodes – all are worth revisiting in December, from Will decorating the house, to the one where they are robbed, and the one with Boys II Men, or the one where Hilary decides she wants a baby…. or does she?

The Fast Show

The Fast Show was the master of one-liner, catchphrase character based, surreal skits and sketches. It feels weird now looking back at a show which was often based around building up to a certain character saying their unique catchphrase, but the show was so much more than that, creating a world of interesting and weird characters with a wealth of humour and drama. As the name suggests, the show was quick moving, with sketches rarely lasting over a couple of minutes. Everyone had their favourites – while most loved the likes of Ted and Ralph, it was always the weirder side of the scale that I enjoyed – Johnny Nice Painter and the ‘what if you feel down a hole’ guy. Johnny Depp made an appearance, many of the characters featured in spin-offs, other shows, or ended up having their own dedicated series, and it has been brought back for various new series or specials over the years. The Christmas Episode as exactly as you’d expect it – more sketches with the usual suspects, though with a Christmas twist or backdrop. It will either be entirely bewildering to any newcomers watching now, or you’ll be sucked in and left gasping for more – for regular viewers it’s another great one to watch at Christmas for a quick collection of laughs with old favourites. SLAP. IT. IN.

The X Files

Like Lost, you may think it’s a bit strange that a show such as The X Files would contain a Christmas episode. Why not, though? WHY NOT? There are two episodes which overtly features Christmas – in Christmas Carol, the ongoing saga of what happened to Mulder’s sister is avoided and instead we look at Scully’s dead sister Melissa. Melissa had been killed off in an earlier episode, but here, during a Christmas trip with the rest of her family, Scully begins receiving phone calls from a young girl who sounds just like her sister – investigations and twists ensure. It’s not the most festive episode, and you’d need to be a longstanding fan to follow everything, but it’s still good. On the other hand, How The Ghosts Stole Christmas is a monster-of-the-week festive experiment. By this point in the series, the writers were creating more outlandish and unique episodes outside of the main arcs, and this was one of the most popular – I can remember watching this in bed in its original BBC run and chatting about it in school the next day. It’s Christmas Eve again and Mulder ropes Scully into investigating a haunted house – ghostly hijinks ensue in what is simply a good fun romp – its standalone nature makes it a strong candidate for one-off viewing.

3rd Rock From The Sun

I was a huge fan of this during its original British run, but it was one of those shows that no-one else seemed to watch. It was the right mixture of surreal and traditional, the performers were excellent, and the writing and jokes were always top notch. Jolly Old St Dick is probably the best festive episode, with Sally and Harry getting part-time Mall jobs at Christmas, leading to plenty of laughs, Dick being arrested, and Tommy again becoming frustrated with August. Happy New Dick almost qualifies but focuses more on New Year, while Gobble, Gobble, Dick, Dick is based on Thanksgiving.

The Twilight Zone

The Twilight Zone must surely rank as one of the greatest, most rewatchable, and most influential series of all time, and even it was no stranger to the Christmas episode. The Night Of The Meek deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as other Christmas Classics such as A Christmas Carol and It’s A Wonderful Life, being a hope-based story in the midst of troubling times. It centers on an alcoholic store Santa on Christmas Eve, a well-meaning character who wishes that just for one day all the beaten, downtrodden, and hopeless people he knows could be happy. This being The Twilight Zone, his wish comes true, and for a change there isn’t a stinging twist in the tale. Next up is The Changing Of The Guard in which Donald Pleasance learns on Christmas Eve that his job is going to be given to a younger man, so he contemplates suicide. Enter a guardian angel to show him that this would be a mistake. There are plenty of other episodes of the show which feature snow or moral quandaries suitable for watching at this time of the year, and as always if you’ve never seen the show, there’s no better time to start than today.

South Park

I’m not going to bother listing all the festive or Christmas related shows here – any or all of the Mr Hankey episodes will do nicely here, and most are delightful and hilarious send ups of various tropes and cultural norms.

Spittin’ Christmas

I freely admit that anyone not from Northern Ireland and of a certain age will have no idea what this is. It’s a bit of a cheat given that it’s not actually a TV show, but a comedy recording – I have it on cassette but you can find it on CD or online. What is it? It’s a comedy recording by one John McBlain – a wonderful impersonator from my country whose voices are second to none and whose comedy centers on British and Irish politicians. Even if you listen to it as a non NI person, you’re unlikely to understand the voices never mind the references or know who the various players are, but for me it’s a vital part of Christmas tradition. There are actually two versions of it (at least) – Christmas at Adams’ and Christmas at Paisley’s but they’re essentially the same.

For existing fans of McBlain’s Spittin series, this is a joy – you’l already be familiar with the characters (caricatures of their real life counterparts) – the ultra violent beast Ian Paisley, the cowardly pervert Gerry Fitt, the shit-stirring Adams, John Cole who tries to hold it all together, and many more – even Bill Clinton pops in. They are all getting together for Christmas dinner in one of the homes which Gerry A owns (or should I say frequents, for various reasons) and to have a bit of a chat and a party. Naturally all hell breaks loose, there’s piss in the soup, Robert craps himself, Fitt cuts down a tree and wrecks himself…. yeah, I’m laughing my head off typing this but you are likely losing the will to live. It’s packed with one-liners, hilarious gaffs, great moments, and it’s also fucking disgusting. Click the link above, but be warned, this is racist, sexist, makes jokes about the handicapped, pedophilia, and anything else you could possibly be offended by… but it’s all funs and games.

Warehouse 13

Warehouse 13 is such a wonderful show – it’s the geek show that not even geeks talk about. It’s a lighter take on something like The X Files with a great cast, interesting ideas, lots of sexy ladies and (sort of) lads, and it’s written by Jane Espenson – if you’re not sold, you’re not worth talking to. Basically, there’s a big warehouse in the middle of nowhere which houses mysterious, mystical, and powerful artifacts – items with the ability to stop time, to give super powers, to hurt people etc, and they are typically based on some historical moment or famous person. A group has been protecting these artifacts for hundreds of years, preventing them from doing harm or falling into the wrong hands. Each episode follows a different artifact, though there are larger arcs too. Oh yeah, loads of Buffy people and other famous guest stars pop up too.

Anyway, the show has a couple of Christmas episodes which are, again, best viewed if you’re already a fan but still are entertaining standalones for the uninitiated. Secret Santa sees Claudia trying to reunite Artie with his father, while Myka and Pete investigate a Christmas artifact which seems to be making Santa evil while The Greatest Gift is a little more trippy as Pete accidentally sends himself to a parallel universe where he doesn’t exist and has to convince his friends to save him and send him back. Both episodes are a lot of fun, have plenty of drama, laughs, and Christmas cheer, and are good as an early December entree.

I think that’s enough yapping for now. Even as long as this post was, I’m sure there’s a load of shows and episodes I’ve missed. Let us know in the comments what your favourites are, what your Christmas viewing routine is like, which shows you absolutely couldn’t miss when you were young, and if I don’t speak to you again before the big day – Merry Christmas!

TTT – Top Twenty-Two Christmas Songs

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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.

  1. 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.

#Thisisyourfilm: 1983 – 1990

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Greetings, Glancers. So, if you’ve been lurking around blogs or tweets in the last few weeks, you may have noticed this hashtag doing the rounds. It’s nothing exciting, but the brevity and transparency of the medium allows you to jot down your choices and share with the world in a matter of moments. What’s it all aboot? Thanks for asking. Basically, you pick your favourite film from every year that you have been plaguing Mother Earth with your presence. Me being me, most of the time, I have decided to branch out a little further so y’all can get to know and hate me a little more.

My branches will cover music and literature too. So, for every year I’ve (officially) been alive – starting in 1983 – I’ll pick my favourite movie, my favourite book, my favourite album, and my favourite song. There’s a caveat on the musical choices as I’m going to pick a song which is not from my favourite album, just to mix things up a little. On top of that, I’m not doing the music in any great detail – more of an afterthought so I’ll probably miss some songs I like more than the ones I give. The ‘official’ info may also be balls. From a film point of view, you’ll get an idea for what my future Oscars posts will look like when I get around to writing them and catch up to the 80s and beyond. As a final twist, I’ll give the top-grossing movie and best selling album/song of the year too, and see if there is any comparison. Today, it’s 1983 – 1990!

1983

Top Grossing Film: Return Of The Jedi.

My Favourite Film: Return Of The Jedi.

My favourite film from my favourite trilogy (yeah, suck it Empire fans), Jedi has all the adventure of the first movie, all the emotion of the second, tops off the series with a great ending, and has one of the most bad-ass fights sequences ever. The year also saw good efforts from Tony Scott, Coppola, Luc Besson, Cronenberg, Scorsese, Brian De Palma,

My Favourite Album: Piece Of Mind by Iron Maiden

Not too many great albums this year, but it did have possibly my favourite Maiden album.

Best Selling Album: Thriller by Michael Jackson (bit of a cheat as it was released in 82, but anyway..)

My Favourite Song: The Four Horsemen by Metallica

Or No Remorse or Seek And Destroy. All chugging, frantic epics showcasing the young band’s ability to play fast and hard, while changing it up throughout the song so that each is filled with ambition and vitality.

Best Selling Song: Karma Chameleon by Culture Club

My Favourite Book: The Witches, by Roald Dahl.

I have been reading this to my eldest daughter recently, and remembering just how creepy it actually is – Dahl beckoning the children to trust him with his promises of knowledge to protect you from the REAL WITCHES that grown-ups deny or don’t believe exist. I loved it when I was young, and now I pass it on. Also, for the books I didn’t bother going into research mode too much so I’m picking more or less off the top of my head – this means you’re going to see a lot of repetition of authors.

1984:

Top Grossing Film: Beverly Hills Cop

My Favourite Film: The Terminator

Three films from this year feature in my top ten favourite films ever. The Terminator is probably my favourite film of all time, with A Nightmare On Elm Street being my favourite horror movie. But what about Police Academy? I know.. I know. The problem is you don’t know. You don’t know how hilarious this film is, you’ve been swayed by your smart-ass friends. It’s ok, you don’t have to tell them you watched it and laughed till your face fell off – just watch it and enjoy it on your own.

My Favourite Album: Ride The Lightning by Metallica

Losing a little of the youthful energy of their debut, this sees Metallica maturing and further bridging the gap between heavy music and commercial prowess.

Best Selling Album: Yep, Thriller again…

My Favourite Song: Summer Of ’69 by Bryan Adams

Why the hell not?

Best Selling Song: Careless Whisper by George Michael

My Favourite Book: The Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub. King and Straub’s first joint effort is an instant classic – an adventure across worlds with a young boy as the major character. Featuring obvious parallels with The Dark Tower it stands on its own feet admirably and has a wealth of charm and magic.

1985:

Top Grossing Film: Back To The Future

My Favourite Film: Commando

It’s difficult to argue against Back To The Future but 1985 was a terrific year for now classic adventure and action film – many of which also featured in the top grossing list. 85 may well be the ‘most 80s year’ of the decade. It’s another Arnie winner for me, and one of the most watchable and fun and quotable pure action movies you’ll ever see. The plot is simply A to B, but necks are snapped, Sullys are dropped, buildings are blasted to bits, and steam is most definitely let off.

My Favourite Album: Brothers In Arms by Dire Straits

Actually a pretty crap year as far as I can tell, so I’m picking an album I haven’t even heard since my childhood and hoping it’s still good.

Best Selling Album: Born In The USA by Bruce Springsteen

My Favourite Song: Into The Groove by Madonna

There was any number of Madonna songs and good pop hits by other artists this year… but lets just go for this one.

Best Selling Song: Shout by Tears For Fears

My Favourite Book: Hard Boiled Wonderland And The End Of The World, by Haruki Murakami. Probably still my favourite Murakami book, this one saw his one chapter per plot style perfected – with two central characters spread over two worlds drawing closer with every page. The inherent strangeness in the novel is downplayed by the semi-passive characters, and all the Murakami trademarks are there – music, food, sex, detachment, free will and fate etc. Throw in the converging plots and a clashing of realism with fantasy and we have a classic.

1986:

Top Grossing FilmTop Gun

My Favourite Film: Aliens

Even though there’s a vast number of personal favourites this year, nothing really comes close. Even the Arnie movie is crap. But imagine if Arnie had been in Aliens…. holy shit, just imagine.

My Favourite Album: Master of Puppets by Metallica

Metallica hit the big time with this one, belting out classic after classic while honing their craft and striving for ever more complex compositions.

Best Selling Album: Whitney Houston by Whitney Houston

My Favourite Song: Angel Of Death by Slayer

Listen. Just listen. As mind-blowing today as it has ever been – absolutely ferocious.

Best Selling Song: Rock Me Amadeus by Falco

My Favourite Book: IT, by Stephen King. Another year, another epic by the Master. It is longer than it needs to be and does ramble on at the start for too many pages. But beyond that, this is a terrifying tale with a large cast of characters which covers a group of friends on the cusp of adolescence and later, on the cusp of middle age. You all know the clown, but there is a lot more to fear here – bullies, psychos, sociopaths and more, and once you get over the slow start it flies to the finish like an arrow to the eye.

1987:

Top Grossing FilmThree Men And A Baby

My Favourite Film: Robocop

This was always going to be a tough year, given that Robocop and Predator both feature in my personal top 5 movies ever. So either one wins. Or both. Robocop is probably the better film but in my eyes they are both perfect.

My Favourite Album: Bad by Michael Jackson

Bad and Appetite For Destruction are arguably the two most important albums of my life, coming along before my later love of Nirvana and Manics. I can’t choose between them and they’re both flawless in my eyes. Bad does however have Just Good Friends which I have to skip EVERY TIME.

Best Selling Album: Slippery When Wet by Bon Jovi

My Favourite Song: Think About You by Guns N Roses

A great year and a toss-up between anything from Appetite or Bad for my favourite song. I went for Bad for my favourite album so I’ve gone for G’n’R here – with a song no-one ever talks about.

Best Selling Song: Livin’ On A Prayer by Bon Jovi

My Favourite Book: Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami. The Japanese maestro’s most famous work, a nostalgic coming of age story about love and loss – naturally it’s much more than that. Runner Up? Clive Barker’s Weaveworld or James Elroy’s Black Dahlia or Stephen King’s The Drawing of The Three.

1988:

Top Grossing Film: Rain Man

My Favourite Film: Beetlejuice

I don’t think there were as many classics this year, or at least personal favourites. Burton was on the rise though, and Beetlejuice is still great.

My Favourite Album: … And Justice For All by Metallica

I didn’t plan to have all these Metallica albums listed, but that is how it has turned out. Production issues aside, this is the high point of the band – the creativity and intensity coming together to create one of metal’s finest moments.

Best Selling Album: Faith by George Michael

My Favourite Song: Eternal Flame by The Bangles

One of my favourite songs of all time and one which cemented my obsession with Susannah Hoffs.

Best Selling Song: A Groovy Kind Of Love by Phil Collins.

My Favourite Book: Queen Of The Damned by Anne Rice. My favourite thing about Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles has always been the large cast of characters and their collective and individual histories. With Queen Of The Damned she perfected this focus while maintaining a pulsating plot and a vast scope – we fly through past millennia in this story which acts as both an origin and an end to the first era of her novels – the books which follow seem minute in comparison. Runner up? Clive Barker’s Cabal or Banana Yoshimoto’s Kitchen. 

1989:

Top Grossing Film: Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade

My Favourite Film: Bill And Ted’s Excellent Adventure

There are a few films here i could just as easily have gone with, from blockbusters to cult hits, to indie dramas with fresh faces, but Bill & Ted has probably stayed with me the longest out of all of those with its nonsensical slacker humour and quotable script.

My Favourite Album: Like A Prayer by Madonna

Yeah, after only recently listening to it in full, it’s clear what a fantastic album it is.

Best Selling Album: Don’t Be Cruel by Bobby Brown

My Favourite Song: Patience by Guns N Roses

This had been chucked about by the band in previous years but saw an official release here – one of my favourites by them.

Best Selling Song: Like A Prayer by Madonna

My Favourite Book: The Great And Secret Show by Clive Barker. Barker finally gets in there. It’s another epic as the man continued to move out of the realms of overt horror and into fantasy. Runner Up? Banana Yoshimoto’s Goodbye Tsugumi.

1990:

Top Grossing Film: Ghost

My Favourite Film: Edward Scissorhands

Some great entries this year – some terrific standalones and sequels from around the globe, including many of my favourite comedies, but there’s only one winner for me.

My Favourite Album: Facelift by Alice In Chains

Slim pickings this year with metal already collapsing with inferior releases by the big bands (Rust In Peace and Seasons In The Abyss are still good) and with grunge bands not quite hitting the big time yet. Facelift is a fine debut though.

Best Selling Album: Rhythm Nation 1814 by Janet Jackson

My Favourite Song: Man Of Golden Words by Mother Love Bone

I couldn’t be arsed looking through for one-off singles so I just went for a great song from a hit/miss album.

Best Selling Song: Nothing Compares 2 U by Sinead O’Connor

My Favourite Book: Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton. No stranger to science fiction, and a writer who convinces the uninitiated of the possibility of such science leaving the realms of fiction (like Richard Matheson before him), Crichton never forgets that it’s a book about people too. And dinosaurs. Most importantly dinosaurs.

Let us know in the comments what your favourite movies are for each year of your life so far, or alternatively get in on the action and write a blog post or tweet about it. The you can be cool too!

TTT – Akira Kurosawa

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Greetings, Glancers! It’s been a while since my last Top Ten Tuesday list, so why not kick it off once more by looking at my 10 favourite films by The Master. Akira Kurosawa is frequently cited by anyone with even a passing interest in cinema as one of the greates directors of all time. His influence is seen in most movies today, from a technical point of view, from a storytelling standpoint, and simply because his sheer bulk of work made the likes of Spielberg, Lucas, Scorsese, Fellini etc start making movies. His working has a lasting impact on Japanese Cinema and Western movie makers have taken his ideas and either remade them or added their own touches. There will be quite a few films not making this list as the quality and breadth of his work is stunning, but this is as good a place to start if you are interested in getting into Kurosawa.

10. Kagemusha

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We start with a latter day Kurosawa epic charting the downfall of one particular clan and their attempts to trick those they are warring with by replacing their dead leader with a thief who happens to look like him. Amidst the massive battle scenes we have the old questions of loyalty and honour coming back again again as the thief first only cares about himself but over time sees himself as a de facto leader and member of the clan. It’s that blending of the personal drama offset against the massive scope of warring armies all shot with Kurosawa’s flawless eye for detail which sets Kagemusha apart from the lay man’s epic.

9. Ran

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Continuing with the epic, perhaps Kurosawa’s biggest and most ambitious film, Ran may be the most beautifully shot piece the director created. In many ways it feels more like a Western movie than any other one Kurosawa shot, with a memorable score, vibrant colours, and a bleak and depressing outlook. A gorgeous film to look at, it is a tough watch due to the fact that almost every character is either ruthlessly self-interested or doomed to a needless death. It’s sad to note that at his age at the time of filming Kurosawa was viewing the world with such futility and fatalism, especially considering the heroism and hope in his previous works.

8. The Hidden Fortress

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A rip-roaring old school action movie with samurai fights, scheming, and plenty of laughs. You have the group journey of four characters, each individually has their own plot and life, and they additionally can be split into groups of two – a road movie without cars or spaceships where the quest for gold and honour clash and combine. Like other films on the list, this is a good one to surprise people with when they believe that old black and white or foreign movies can’t possibly be entertaining.

7. Stray Dog

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On the cusp of greater success, both Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune made this noir detective thriller which stands out for most people as their finest non-Samurai work. Both borrowing from the US hard-boiled works of the 1940s and in turn adding a style which would be later adopted by the West, it is notable for the great rapport and performances of Mifune and Shimura. Both leads basically invent a thousand tropes as the hotshot rookie and weary veteran team up to chase Mifune’s missing gun around Tokyo as it continues to be used in increasingly barbaric crimes. Another wonderfully shot and well-paced movie

6. Sanjuro

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The partner to Yojimbo is perhaps the more entertaining film due its overall lightness. Mifune returns as the ‘unnamed’ Ronin who has a knack for appearing in the right/wrong place and the wrong/right time and using his wiles and considerable sword skills to sort out the rights/wrongs of a town. There is plenty of violent action here and a surprising amount of laughs, at least for me.

5. Rashomon

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The first true masterwork of Kurosawa’s career, this is a small piece utilizing the immense skill of a talented cast and crew. Most of the crew lived together throughout the shoot to create a sense of family and a one direction purpose to make something as good as it could possibly be. With experimental shots and storytelling techniques, an ambiguous plot, superb performances, rain, silence, light, Rashomon is one which continues to impress and is one of those films which all students of film should watch to vastly increase their knowledge and appreciation.

4. Ikiru

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A motivating tale, one of hope and laughs, of the difference between youth and old age and the impact one can have on the other, also a satire of the working life, of bureacracy, and a discussion on the anonymity and powerlessness we can feel being a cog in the wheel – all topped off with the message that we can each make a difference and overcome the odds and the uncaring world.

3. Yojimbo

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The more influential and more fondly remembered partner of Sanjuro sees Kurosawa and Mifune create an action hero archetype which remains to this day – the nameless wanderer, the anti-hero, the loner in search for person glory, the mysterious stranger. Forming the basis for Leone’s A Fistful Of Dollars, Mifune is masterful as the wily, fearless, and skilled unnamed ronin who visits a town under the thrall of two warring clans. He conspires with each group, turning them against each other for his own ends and to rid the innocents caught in the midst of the struggle of these gangsters. Even though Kurosawa was influenced by Western Literature in crafting the story, it is the style, tone, and look of his film which had Western filmmakers trying to emulate – the wide shots featuring a lone warrior in the distance, the wry humour, the lack of dialogue from the main character, the violence both on screen and implied – the dog carrying the severed hands in the opening moments telling us the town’s history without needing to hear about it.

2. Throne Of Blood

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One of Kurosawa’s lesser known films, and one of his most direct adaptations, this retelling of Macbeth remains the creepiest version yet committed to film and is perhaps still the closest at getting to the root of the lust for power and the stain of madness which ruins anyone who comes into contact with it. Again Toshiro Mifune leads the way with perhaps his finest performance as the tortured Taketoki Washizu, together with an absolutely terrifying Izuzu Yamada as his Lady Macbeth. We follow the loose plot of a mysterious force whispering honeyed prophecies into the ear of an ambitious warrior, a scheming wife eager for glory and power coaxing a husband into doing what must never be done, and the inevitable downfall – that sense of inevitability pervades every shot, with fog closing in, with shadows growing and becoming denser, until a rain of arrows courses down. The use of Noh imagery is suitable for the plot and adds another layer of mystery and unease for Western audiences, destined to be haunted by the vision of Yamada’s grinning death-mask like face. The climax is still among the most thrilling in movie history and that last arrow is still brutal and shocking.

1. The Seven Samurai.

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I’ve mentioned elsewhere that I believe that the best films of all time must be a mixture of immediate and long-lasting critical and commercial success, be classed clearly as both entertainment and art, be influential on a number of levels both technical and otherwise, and retain ‘watchability’ for a wide audience over the decades. I’ve said before that I believe the best four films of all time which fit this criteria are Vertigo, The Godfather, Star Wars Episode IV, and The Seven Samurai. Its influence on multiple genres from action to drama is clear and it’s as entertaining and engaging today as when I first saw it – presumably it’s just as good as it was upon release. Its influence on filmmakers cannot be understated. It is Kurosawa’s signature film and whether or not you feel it is his best is a testament to his skills. At almost three and a half hours it is Kurosawa’s longest movie, but it flies by like a 90 minute movie. With a large cast we somehow manage to feel empathy and sympathy for all of them, we engage with them and love them, and feel a sense of loss when they fall. The plot on the surface is simple – a village abused by bandits recruits seven warriors to protect them, but the interactions between characters gives a snapshot of life like few films come close to achieving. Modern viewers should not be put off by the length, or the age, or the subtitles – if you watch it for the first time today, you won’t see anything better this year.

What are your favourite Kurosawa films – which ones are missing from my list? How do you convince friends to watch a fifty year old Japanese film? Let us know in the comments!

The 31 Days Of Halloween (For Kids)- Part 2

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Alternatively:

The Abominable Dr Phibes: This is a nice bridge between the Monster movies of the pre- 60s era and the more intense stuff of the 70s onwards. Price is at his hammy best, chewing up the dialogue and relishing the inventive plot. It’s all about the kills and atmosphere here so older kids will appreciate the varying, often funny death scenes based on the biblical plagues. Some of it may be a bit too shocking for younger kids so make sure you are there if it gets too much. Classic Halloween Scene: The locust kill is hard to beat.

The Birds: Hitchcock’s thriller may not pack the punch that it used to for adults but thanks some great ideas, strong performances, and inspired set pieces it can still work for an early Halloween viewing. The kids will love it and it may make them think twice about chasing a flock of pigeons in the park. Classic Halloween Scene: Tippi Hedren goes into the attic when every person watching knows she shouldn’t.

The Blob: You could really go for either the 50s or 80s version as both are harmless products of their time, yet the story of some giant, unstoppable thing killing everything in its path retains its power to absorb the viewer. Both have aged horribly but therefore they make for interesting and humourous viewing for adults, but kids will be able to look past the funny hair as they wonder who will get eaten next. Obviously the modern version has the darker content with gore, swearing, and a more threatening nature. The 50s one though has Steve McQueen. Classic Halloween Scene: I’ll go for the kitchen sink scene in the 80s remake.

Bride Of Frankenstein: James Whales most famous masterpiece is one which has kept audiences scared for 7 decades now, thanks to its creaky old atmosphere and timeless creations. Although obviously watered down with each passing decade, this is still a good introduction to scary movies for kids who will learn that the evil which lurks in the shadows can sometimes come stumbling out to get you. Classic Halloween Scene: When we first learn that The Monster has survived the fire from the first films and begins another rampage, killing two characters in quick succession.

The Black Cat: Keeping with the oldies you can choose either the 30s original or 40s follow-up; both feature Legosi, and both are greats of the genre, although the 40s version of Poe’s story focuses more on humour while the original’s psychological and Satanic slant has ensured that it still has power today. Pairing Karloff and Legosi for the first time, your kids will be introduced to the first horror superstars and will get sucked in by the dark tale of rituals and creepy castles. Classic Halloween Scene: The basement ritual.

The Black Cat

The Fly: I wouldn’t advice letting your kids anywhere near Cronenberg’s vision- they’ll get to it eventually on their own time. For now you can let them learn everything they need to know about Science here (don’t mess with it). The story of a man splicing himself with a fly to create both a fly-man and a man-fly sounds utterly ridiculous but there are moments of brilliance here which make you forget all about the plot and watch the characters fight for survival. Classic Halloween Scene: For any spider haters out there, one scene here will stay in your head for weeks.

The Fog: One of the great campfire spook stories, The Fog is still sadly underrated. Carpenter creates a wonderful atmosphere here which suits the season perfectly; even better if you’re near the sea or if there is fog around. Classic Halloween Scene: The introduction with the wizened old sailor sets the tone for the rest of the show, and should set the tone for your night.

Ghost: Settle down, the kids won’t even remember the pottery scene, they’ll be too busy talking about and recovering from the scenes where the things come to claim the souls of the recently departed; the effects may be dated but the sounds, screams, and general idea remain terrifying. The girls and boys will both get wrapped up in the plot, whether it be the romance from beyond the grave or the revenge plot, while parents will revel in the genuine performances from all concerned. Classic Halloween Scene: When the spirits come for Willie.

Ghostbusters 2: The first film may have the more obvious jump scares, but the sequel has Vigo The Carpathian who is creepy just by being a static painting. Classic Halloween Scene: The Titanic returns.

House On Haunted Hill: Gimmick king William Castle teams up with Vincent Price to deliver a camp horror classic. In many ways the plot mirror’s Castle’s own style with Price’s weirdo millionaire offering obscene incentives to gain an audience. The story is a nice twist on the ‘stay overnight in a haunted house’ archetype and there are enough old fashioned scares to please the family. Classic Halloween Scene: The skeleton coming out of the acid- for your Halloween party buy your own skeleton and try a bit of Castle gimmickry yourself.

House On Haunted HIll

The Invisible Man: One of the best Universal Horror films, albeit one which has not had the same impact/amount of remakes as the more famous Monster films. Claude Rains ‘stars’ as a deranged scientist who goes on a rampage after discovering the key to invisibility. Strong effects and a creepy atmosphere ensure this is still strong watching today. Classic Halloween Scene: When the Doctor takes of his clothes and first reveals his gift to the locals. Ooh-er.

The Mummy: Keeping with the Universal theme, why not make it a double with Karl Freund’s dusty, creaking classic. Or you could go with the modern, action packed Brendan Fraser effort, though it is more of an adventure film than horror. Classic Halloween Scene: Imhotep’s awakening.

The Nightmare Before Christmas: I saw this at the cinema when it was first released, and quite a few families had to leave with their younger kids as it must have been too scary. In truth, I think it was the showing of Vincent at the start of the movie which freaked most out. The film itself pulls together everything festive about Halloween and Christmas and presents them with both childish wonder and Poe-esque darkness. The story, songs, and characters meld into an animation which kids of all ages should love. Classic Halloween Scene: When Oogie shows that he’s just a pile of bugs.

The Old Dark House: Few films have a more traditionally Halloween title, story and feel than James Whale’s early hit. The story of a group of travellers seeking shelter in a creepy mansion, the dark, rain covered, dreary setting, the mysterious residents, all create a superb, festive tone and the scares come thick and fast towards the end. Early jokes help to lighten the mood and make the film something of an oddity. Classic Halloween Scene: You just know that the deranged, locked up brother will escape

The Pit And The Pendulum: Arguably the best of the Corman/Poe productions, The Pit And The Pendulum has heaps of atmosphere, plenty of invention, and a top rate Price performance. Taking extreme liberties with the original tale, the film follows a man in search of his lost sister, a search which leads him to a foreboding mansion filled with torture devices, mystery, and strange characters. This one has plenty of shocks and a fair amount of genuine scares, so maybe keep the younger kids away. Classic Halloween Scene: When the ‘corpse’ of Elizabeth is first uncovered or the tense ending as the pendulum falls.

The Pit And The Pendulum

Stir Of Echoes: Continuing with the Richard Matheson stories, Stir Of Echoes is a supernatural thriller which stars Kevin Bacon as a man who gains the ability to experience visions of the past, and his son who is able to speak to the dead. This is a good one for older kids and while low on obvious jump scares, it has an interesting plot and is more like a detective story with ghost elements rather than an all out horror movie. Strong performances, ghostly visions, great script, and watching Bacon’s slow descent into madness all increase the chill factor. Classic Halloween Scene: When the son is talking to his mum about the babysitter and he goes a little odd.

The Thing From Another World: Carpenter’s remake is one of my favourite movies of all time and is the epitome of sci-fi/horror crossover. Due to it’s horrific nature though, it is not suitable for kids. For the same basic tale of paranoia, claustrophobia, and shadowy, alien evil, Howard Hawks’ original will do the job for kids at Halloween. The stark visuals, small cast, and threatening tone ensure this is still a classic. Classic Halloween Scene: When the team set The Thing on fire- great scare, awesome stunt work.

The Wolf Man: Lets return to The Universal Monsters once again and visit the hit werewolf tragedy. Although neither the first Werewolf film by Hollywood or Universal, this was the first of Chaney’s installments and is probably still the best. Again, Universal strike a perfect balance between focus on the Monster and the human side, all filmed in glorious B and W. Classic Halloween Scene: When Chaney attacks the Gravedigger, his first victim.

Wallace And Gromit- The Curse Of The Were Rabbit: After many succesful adventures (which are usually shown every Christmas in Britain) Wallace and Gromit enter the Halloween market with their take on werewolves, albeit changing to were-rabbits here. The film was a huge financial and critical success, picking up the Best Animated Film Oscar. Retaining the unique English charm of previous adventures, this is nevertheless accessible to all with its clever humour, fast pace, strong sight gags and set pieces, and strong voice cast. This is a gentle introduction to scares for the youngest children, but there is enough action and wit to please the whole family. Classic Halloween Scene: When the Reverend is attacked by the were-rabbit.

The Monster Squad: This is another one of those films whose VHS cover freaked me out when I was young. This is more of an action comedy with horror elements which succeeds due to yet another brilliant Shane Black script and because of the love for the genre it spins. It’s another quintessential 80s movie featuring a group of savvy kids on an adventure, this time battling famous monsters like Dracula, The Mummy, and The Wolf Man. This retains a cult following, but wasn’t a smash on Goonies/Gremlins/Stand By Me levels. It’s another strong introduction to horror for kids of all ages, with plenty of gentle scares and a lot of action and laughs. Classic Halloween Scene: Any scene with Dracula’s ‘Daughters’ has a high freak-out quota.

The Monster Squad

The Halloween Tree: What better introduction into the world of horror, and of Halloween, than this festive animated treat. Although lacking the big budget style of Disney/Dreamworks/Pixar type films, the film relies heavily on its script, backed up by a decent voice cast featuring Spock and writer Ray Bradbury. The story is set at Halloween, features a quartet of friends Trick Or Treating, and discusses the origins of Halloween and its traditions. Kids will love the spooky costumes and settings and older viewers will appreciate the Scooby Doo nods. Classic Halloween Scene: Nimoy’s poetic description of the tree.

The Sixth Sense: It may be too wordy and dramatic for younger kids, but the series of stand out scares will surely live on long in their imagination. The same should apply for older kids who will appreciate the plot, the performances, and the twists. Classic Halloween Scene: Under the table.

Pan’s Labyrinth: Frequently described as a fairy tale for adults, I don’t see why kids can’t get in on the act; the film is gorgeous and depicts an all too realistic nightmarish world which their young minds will thrive upon, while the story will teach them that sometimes it is the people around us we should fear as well as the demons. Classic Halloween Scene: The Banquet table chase.

Twilight Zone: The Movie: Spielberg, Landis, Dante, and Miller get together to make this homage to Rod Sterling’s classic series. Featuring 3 remakes and 1 original story, the focus is more on horror than the original series was, but the twists and ironic lessons are still in place. Each sequence is stronger than the one before, but each has its own charms and chills. Classic Halloween Scene: Miller’s final segment is a great remake of the original and packs some big punches (as well as having the always excellent John Lithgow).

Salem’s Lot: Well, hello. This is probably the first film which led me on the depraved path to horror geekdom. It scarred me at the time, but they best way I could deal with it was by telling all of my friends and neighbours about it. Through this catharsis I realised that this horror stuff was pretty cool and my friends and I began to seek out more scares. For people of a certain age, this one will still have an impact. As far as realistic vampire movies go, there are few to beat this nasty one. Classic Halloween Scene: There are tonnes to choose from which darkened my dreams for many a night, but it’s difficult to top the first- Ralphie Glick comes-a-scratching at the window of his brother.

Salem’s Lot

The Gate: This frequently bizarre horror movie has plenty of 80s hallmarks- cool creature effects, heavy metal music, evil books, kids battling demons etc etc. A group of friends inadvertently raise a host of demons and subsequently have to do battle with them. This is a darker version of The Lost Boys but this cult hit is still waiting to be rediscovered by a new generation. Why don’t they make horror films with kids anymore?Classic Halloween Scene: When Al almost gets pulled under the bed by monstrous arms- bed scare scenes always get me good, dagnammit.

Night Of The Living Dead: Few horror films have had such a long-lasting impact as Romero’s original. This is a must for all horror nuts and acts as a good gateway into the genre for viewers of any age; it’s smart, it’s terrifying, it’s brilliant. For younger kids this will be too much, but from around the age of 10 this is ideal Halloween viewing. The bleak setting, the black and white colouring adding to the tone, the isolated group dynamic which the imaginative child will link to their present situation, it’s all good. Spice things up by adding zombie make-up to the group. Classic Halloween Scene: The entire opening, from first second until Barb reaches the house.

Silent Hill: Perhaps a bit too complex and horrifying for younger viewers, this should satisfy younger teens. There are some spectacular visuals on display, the night scenes are powerful, and there are plenty of big scares on offer. It’s just a pity the plot is quite messy. The dark depiction of the town should make your kids ventures outside at Halloween more interesting as they question the noises and shadows surrounding them. Classic Halloween Scene: Pyramid Head’s first appearance.

Psycho: Why not break your children by subjecting them to the movie which broke the genre? Hitchcock’s mutha-luvin, lady-hatin, stabby creepfest has enough big scares involving scary houses, knives, and weirdos that all viewers will find something to be freaked out about. It’s one of the original behind-the-sofa watches, and 60 years on the power is still potent. Classic Halloween Scene: The shot of ‘mother’ strutting out of one of the upstairs rooms to claim another victim.

Tideland: Terry Gilliam’s massively polarizing film remains essentially unknown outside of the critical circle. For such a demented movie it is criminal that it made barely half a million at the box office- there is surely an audience out there for another twisted fairy tale, so it makes an ideal experiment for kids at a Halloween party. It may not make a lot of sense to them, but as is expected from a Gilliam film, the visuals are like nothing you will have experienced before with an invention sorely lacking in films of most genres today. Classic Halloween Scene: Any scene with Noah’s decaying corpse is both ghastly and tragic.

Tideland

The Omega Man: We end the list with another Matheson tale. Based roughly on his classic I Am Legend, this sees Chartlon Heston battling groovy hooded freaks rather than the terrifying and pitiful vampires of the novel. Heston was obviously a huge star and is able to carry the film on his own, but once the love interest is introduced things get messy. I’m still waiting on the definitive version of the story, but for an action packed siege film this has plenty of nice scares and no gore or swearing, so is suitable for all ages. Classic Halloween Scene: The wine cellar attack.

As always, feel free to leave your comments: what did you think of my list- are some of the films too extreme for kids? Which films would you choose for Halloween family viewing, and which films haunted your youth?

Hally Happoween!

Favourite 31 Led Zeppelin Songs

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Much has been said about the greatest rock band of all time, and every magazine and music blog worth 50p have given their list of favourite/best/most influential Led Zep songs. My list highlights my personal favourite 30 songs- the songs that carry the most weight for me and while some of them may not be considered the best or most influential, they all kick ass.

31. Hey Hey What Can I Do (Unreleased): Unfortunately for Zep fans there aren’t too many ‘rare’ songs, or at least ones which weren’t a result of jamming, merging, or covering. The band never released any British singles and those songs released in the US had B-sides of other album tracks so a trove of rarities was sadly never built up. When you look at the number of unreleased Beatles tracks and the high quality of some of those, it makes you wish that Zep had a few more hidden gems up their sleeves. Hey Hey is the only track worth mentioning. It could have made an appearance on any of the first 6 albums as it has that slow folk burning with the twist of a rock stomp. Classic bluesy lyrics are soothed by Plant, the song structure is as basic as the band would ever get with chorus following verse as surely as a bad 80s solo album would follow the break up of a great 70s band. Strong melodies, easy playing and some interesting backing vocals make this a highlight.

30. In My Time Of Dying (Physical Graffiti): The biggest of the big Zep songs at over 11 minutes. It isn’t as immediately catchy or memorable as Stairway, Kashmir, or Achilles, but once the main riff kicks in you know that you’re onto a winner. As Zeppelin were known to do, they took a blues standard which was in itself an old religious song, and turned it inside out. Featuring eerie, distant Plant vocals and Page’s supreme slide guitar, the song has a fairly dark tone turning the themes of religion and mortality into something much more grim. The song chops and changes throughout the entire length with some excellent jamming moments, Bonham blasts as powerfully as possible, while Page changes his sounds and guitars as often as possible without become jarring. The structure, while complex, is much more free than the other epics given the feeling that much of this was just improvised on the spot. Of course, the comic ending adds to the improvised nature with the band chatting and coughing rather than ending with a fading chord.

29. Dyer Maker (Houses Of The Holy): An oft-maligned song from an oft-unfairly maligned album, D’yer Maker features exquisite performances from Bonham and Page, while Plant leans between comically emotional to full-blown classic shrieks. A reggae/calypso style song which may have seemed unusual to some of the more die-hard fans, it was yet another sign that the band could take any style and give it the Zep taste. As usual the melodies are wonderful and there are countless moments that you will be whistling hours after hearing. And no, it’s not pronounced Dire Maker.

28. Fool In The Rain (In Through The Out Door): A similar song in many respects to the one above in that it isn’t a typical Zeppelin sounding song and is an attempt to turn a certain style into their own. It has a samba feel and even goes as far as having a carnival like breakdown halfway through with manic drumming and whistles. The band doesn’t get much credit more when they moved out of their many comfort zones, yet this is both a fun and interesting song which nevertheless highlights the extreme talents of all involved as well as their genuine love for listening to and making music.

27. Tea For One (Presence): This is one of the band’s last epics, reaching over 9 minutes and passing through a few differing stages. Opening rather jubilantly it quickly descends into a sombre blues piece at a funeral march pace. Similar in structure, style, and sound to Since I’ve Been Loving You it shows how the band had matured emotionally and explores many of the feelings they had early in their career to see what had changed. Primarily a song about loneliness and homesickness the lyrics cover the pain of an empty room, of time standing still, and of having no-one you love near. It’s a feeling even those of us who haven’t been on long tours or trips away from family or friends are aware of, and it’s one of the great Zep tracks to listen to on the road, though for a different reason to all the other ones.

26. Down By The Seaside (PG): Another unusual song by the band, and probably another unusual one for me to include on my best of list. I love those moments when a band does something that no-one expects and it totally pays off; This is one of those moments. The tremolo effect on the guitar does give that Blackpool/Scarborough/Summer holiday seaside feel, sounding at once like it is being played underwater and like a wurlitzer. This being Zeppelin, it’s not enough being different- they have to add additional twists and so we get a lively, ice cream eating main course split by a heavier, sudden middle section which seems to come from nowhere.

25. Dazed And Confused (I): The original epic saw a young, ambitious band deciding that they were going to break a few boundaries and take things up or down a notch depending on how you look at it. This is as raw and raucous as they come with vicious lyrics about love and cheating, sex and violence, all set to the sound of an apocalypse. Just listen to the way Jones and Page’s collapsing, wailing riffs merges with Bonham’s falling down drum pieces- a perfect blend. Then we get the call and repeat between vocals and guitar and the infamous bowing, demonic sounds followed by a massive breakdown jam where the band unleash some of the most manic playing ever recorded. I wish I’d been around to witness certain reactions of this when it was first released- this band of long-haired youngsters creating an unspeakable noise with abandon whilst looking and sounding posessed- brilliance.

Jones
Jones

24. Dancing Days (HOTH): Yet another unusual song from the group, this time seemingly featuring their less than enthusiastic but wholly successful take on Disco. It’s more accurate though that this was a take on Indian style songs given what the group have said and through the guitar effects employed. A kick ass riff leads the way although it isn’t one of their most famous. There is a simple structure which helps the melodies be all the more memorable and instant. It’s played at a fairly fast tempo too which is always good.

23. Black Dog (IV): The opener for their seminal 4th album is full of innuendo and powerful playing- Page gives one of best riffs, Bonzo bashes the skins to pieces, and Plant screams to the heavens. Featuring arguably the most famous breakdown in rock history it is understandably a classic of the genre and highlights the band at their most sexual, at their heaviest.

22. Whole Lotta Love (II): The opener then for their second album was a breakthrough of monumental size. Page had found the riff he’d been searching for while Plant had perfected his steaming vocals to give true prowess to the sexually provocative lyrics. Naturally Jones and Bonham let rip on the bones and bass, never highlighted more accurately than when the song was played live. The instrumental/orgasm section on record sounds fine but becomes like a frenzy, a mantra, a tribal chant when played live as each performer blasts away and everyone comes together in harmony for the final moments- ooh-er.

21. Night Flight (PG): A standout from Physical Graffiti but not one that you’ll find on many favorites lists. The lyrics concern a man trying to evade those seeking to enlist him into the military, but it’s the music which keeps this ticking over in your mind. The band sound like they are enjoying themselves and contrasting with the lyrics it sounds like a rare completely happy Zeppelin song. From it’s swirly opening with Bonham’s growing drum pieces the song gets more rawk as it moves along, and once again the band nail down the sound of the song title as the backing effects do sound like a plane taking off.

20. Over The Hills And Far Away (HOTH): From one rare happy song to another, this gentle folk number is sublime in its simplicity yet complex in it’s endearing hidden charms. A soft intro thanks to wonderful stuff from Page and Plant soon gives way to a surprisingly bombastic period. Any time Bonzo comes in with a crash, no matter how soft the song, it becomes a stomping rock piece. This is excellent guitar parts and playing throughout and some of the best melodies from the album.

19. Babe I’m Gonna Leave You (I): Of the many songs which Zeppelin turned around and made their own, this is one of best. It is a shining example of a perfectly serviceable song being ripped to shreds and becoming a unique Zeppelin hit. Thanks to the skills of each member of the group and the way each person brings their own talents to the studio it seems like this is the original and that everything that went before was a lie. It is dark, angry, and heavily blues ridden like much of the first album and it has the light and shade, soft and heavy phasing which the band used to such great effect. Like many tracks on the list this is a good one to blast out of your car stereo when passing anyone playing techno or Beyonce- just be sure to give them a good old-fashioned Plant squeal as you go.

18. The Lemon Song (II): A song about sex which sounds like sex. A seductive, sleazy riff clambers all over lyrics about trying to break up with someone whose lovin is too damn good. Zeppelin were known for their sexual antics, a lot of which may have overblown, a lot more which probably remains unspoken, but songs like this only further the legend. It’s a hard rocking blues standard with a lot of tempo changes and blazing solos thrown in to heighten the pleasure. The musicians teeter on the brink of ecstatic collapse while Plant is furious in the throes of orgasmic shrieking. Lovely.

Bonham
Bonham

17. What Is And What Should Never Be (II): This is another example of the light and shade dynamic which the band perfected, with quiet verses contrasted with explosive choruses. Both stages are wonderfully realised, but this being Zeppelin, a few extra are inserted- manic blues breakdowns, otherworldly vocal effects, and Bonzo going off on one.

16. The Rain Song (HOTH): Zeppelin rarely created evocative sounds which conjured up specific imagery to match the tone of the song, but Rain Song is prime example of just that. It don’t know if it’s the drip dripping guitar sounds or the overall dreary nature of the vocals which has the biggest influence, but we do get the sense of sitting and staring at the rain when we listen. Throw in some JPJ string noises, a lack of Bonzo, and some excellent smaller guitar parts and the song is one of their best, yet unusual epics. The drums do eventually come in and the song does eventually pick up pace and volume as the dark clouds pass directly overhead, and it is at this point that the song transcends it’s seemingly laid back nature in a bombastic fashion.

15. Communication Breakdown (I): Zeppelin, the original punk band. This ferocious JYD bark proved that the band could throw out a 3 minute hit if they so desired. It’s amongst the most simple song they band ever wrote, one of their fastest too, but every second has a potency that many punk bands sick of the excess of the Seventies failed to match. It is a primal showcase for each member, promoting Bonzo’s power, Plant’s insane range, Jones’s technical perfection, and Page’s wild flair. It’s a good one to play to naysayers not convinced of Zep’s metal or punk cred.

14. Ten Years Gone (PG): A contemplative epic for this huge double album is one of my standout moments. Page is King, weaving together many solemn guitar parts in the introduction which get expanded upon throughout the duration of the song and which Plant strangles every ounce of pain from with his anguished vocals. Naturally Bonzo and Jones are there to keep things thumping and grounded respectively when they threaten to get too sombre or chaotic. Few people outside of the Zep main fan base know this one- a great pity.

13. No Quarter (HOTH): Jones is permanently the unsung hero of Zeppelin, but No Quarter is largely his song, and Houses Of The Holy is in many respects his album. When played live, Jones would often turn the song into a plus 20 minute piece by splicing in classical piano pieces and improvising on the spot. It’s one of the most downbeat, moody Zeppelin songs and showcases their restraint as they refrain from unleashing the usual noise levels they would on most other longer tracks. There are a few parts where (led by Bonzo) the song threatens to explode, but everything is constantly being reigned in. With strange scales and timing employed throughout it is another breakthrough for popular music and opened a lot of doors for a lot of bands.

12. How Many More Times (I): The original jam session-cum-album track, this shows the bands prowess as musicians, but more importantly, just how in tune they were with each other- knowing what each person was going to do next and taking your next step in anticipation. It’s something which usually takes a group years to accomplish, but Zeppelin simply got it straight away, or at least it comes across as such on record. As the final song from the first album you’d hope that it would leave a lasting impression- it does thanks to its free form carelessness, super playing, and surprise surprise, epic riff.

Opening with that smooth riff on bass while Page makes seemingly demonic guitar disasters in the background, Plant yelps from a distance, and Bonzo taps away to get warmed up it all seems very jazz bar. The song quickly explodes as Page unleashes his guitar all over the riff while Plant explores his blues history by tapping into any number of past hits for the lyrics. After a frantic solo, the song slows, Page bows, and Plant becomes the hunter. This all grows with more and more overlapping of guitar sounds and tumbling drums and bass. The Rosie section grooves along and everything begins to build up once again as we head back towards the main part of the song with a few extra riffs thrown in for good measure. The song races along once more to the conclusion, which ends in a flurry of confidence and bragging and noise.

Plant
Plant

11. Livin Lovin Woman (II): This oft overlooked rocker from II is just a good time all round. It tells the infamous story of a notorious groupie the band encountered on their travels and has some hilarious lyrics befitting the tale. This one was never played live as for some reason Page never liked it, but it always seemed to me that it would have been a live favourite. Starting immediately after Heartbreaker ends on the album, this keeps up the pace of the record with its speedy verses and strong riffs. The song is just full of fun and energy, and has one of Page’s most interesting solos- wavey, almost seeming to go nowhere, it is a wacky piece. It’s a fast, basic piece, but one which I have a special fondness for.

10. Heartbreaker (II): This is one of the most well-known tracks from the second album and remains a staple of rock radio. Huge riff? Check. Bombastic bass and drums? Check. Epic solo? Double check. Heartbreaker is one of the most pure, fantastic, unadulterated, guitar songs in history. It’s another song which all players aspire to playing, although those solos will take devil’s fingers to mimic. The solo begins as an unaccompanied piece at a billion miles an hour before the drums crash in and the solo takes on a less crazy form. The lyrics are typically gritty, lifted from many blues standards and the swagger of the bulk of the song lend an eternal cool.

9. That’s The Way (III). An utterly gorgeous song brightened by hippy sentiment, darkened by the twist on innocence within and the tragic acceptance of things being unchangeable. Plant barely sings throughout the verses, gently reciting the words instead lending a placid ambivalence to proceedings, while Bonzo is completely absent. Page’s lead riffs is airy and folksy enough to catch the ear but also leave space for the flourishes to be all the more powerful. The coda is interesting, complete with tambourine and Jones’s mandolin, floating off over the horizon in a sweet dew of loveliness. The BBC Sessions recording adds a slightly more Country twist as Page slides about the fretboard, while Plant adds comedic pronunciations to certain words.

8. Going To California (IV). Another wistful, largely gentle folk love song from a band mostly famous for destroying eardrums rather than settling nerves. This apparent dedication to Joni Mitchell is another flawless example of how a heavy rock band can make a softer song. Again, the acoustic guitar and mandolin duelling over Page and Jones serves the song well. Not only acting as a hippy statement it also stands as Plant’s description of his feelings moving from a quiet life in England to the craziness of excess, groupies, stardom, war etc in the US. Free from choruses, the song has a loose feel with the words and music rambling along in an endless journey.

7. Tangerine (III). The third mostly soft, mostly acoustic track in my top 10 is Tangerine. I did one of those awful ‘Which blah blah blah are you?’ surveys years ago – Which Led Zep song are you? Apparently I am Tangerine. With more misheard lyrics than you can shake a choirboy at, Tangerine is 3 minutes of genius. A false start, a count in, and then a basic verse/chorus structure followed by a swirling, double-tracked ending is pretty much the whole song, but that would be discounting the wonderful steel pedal guitar, the touching lyrics, the prominent bass, and the weird guitar solo. It’s simple, but with a wealth of feeling and depth of emotion, it is a song which will win over romantics for the rest of time.

6. Kashmir (PG): Possibly the most covered/sampled song the band ever wrote, it is an epic which never fails to stir a crowd into a frenzy of dnacing, moshing, and appreciation when played live. That stomping, scaling riff, balanced to perfection by Bonzo and Jones is eternal -creepy, stormy, evocative, and gives Plant all the freedom he needs to stretch his cords. Plant is at turns, crisp, growling, whining, the strings lend a richness and Eastern otherness, while the lyrics are typically mystical.

Page

5. Thank You (II): Plant’s loving, gorgeous dedication to his wife is one of the all time great underated love songs. The lyrics are at once heartfelt and unashamedly embarassing – everything a dedication of love should be. It was Plant’s first solo writing credit, Page fills in with backing vocals, an endearing progression, and sublime solo, Bonzo slaps away, while Jones gets to show off his great organ work. I love the false ending and swirling return.

4. Since I’ve Been Loving You (III): An absolutely brutal blues metal track with some of the greatest guitar ever recorded, including an extraordinary intro (accompanied by thunderously lazy drums, vacant organ, and an occassional Plant scqwuak) and one of the all time great solos. The entire song is basically 7 minutes of Page wankery, but it’s so powerfully and atmospheric, and it suits the steamy lyrics and Plant’s anguished delivery so well. The high point of an originally ill received third album, this is perfection at its most perfect.

3. Stairway To Heaven (IV): The greatest song ever written isn’t my favourite by the band, but that leading sentiment is one which I struggle to deny. Inspired and inspirational, epic and creative in every sense, beautiful, loud, gentle, with writing and playing so stunning that you wonder how four blokes from England ever created it. I don’t want to gush about it too much, as much better people than me have been doing it since the first time it was played, but it is simply put, one of the greatest achievements in music.

2. Achilles Last Stand (P): The most epic song by a band known for their epic songs, this is one that is largely forgotten and rarely spoken of, unsurprising when you have Kashmir, Since I’ve Been Loving You, and Stairway in your team. Achilles Last Stand is completely overblown in every way, absurdly mystical, and filled with ridiculous musical and lyrical moments – and it’s all the better for it. With massive over-dubbing, multi-layered tracks it is the essence of excess, but taken to such extreme precision that it becomes a frighteningly well-crafted beast with incredible depth – how many plus 10 minute songs can you listen to on repeat and never get tired of? Everyone is on top form, but it’s largely Plant’s stage, breathtaking at every turn. Oh, and that dual drumming and riffage pretty much single handedly created metal as we know it today.

1. All My Love (ITTOD): Most would consider this as one of the worst Led Zep songs, the band jumping the shark, the band at their most cheesy, the band signalling that they were about to depart, but you must remember that those people are idiots. This tearful dedication to Plant’s dead son is haunting, horrible, tragic, and I suspect that most dislike it because of that synth. I’m not sure the song would have worked without the synth, but I’d love to hear a clean piano version, or a plain acoustic version – come on, Tori, get on it. It’s easy to recognize its faults, but with some wonderful lyrics, a painfully touching chorus, and that bizarre synth solo all add up to make this my favourite Led Zep song.

As always, feel free to comment on my list and offer your own favourites.

Gettin The Led Out