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.

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Disney Songs – Dumbo

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You know, I’ve no idea when I first saw Dumbo. I mean, it must have been when I was young but I don’t have any real memories of watching it as a child and as such it’s one of the Disney movies that I’m not overly familiar with. It lacks that important connection – that tie that binds a film to your brain, heart, and soul because you saw it in your youth, regardless of whether or not it is a piece of crap. There’s really only one song I know well from the list below, and it’s not one I like. In my last post I mentioned songs to take with you to the next world – landing on a new planet armed only with the essential cultural artifacts of Planet Earth and sharing them in a non-preachy, non-hostile, non-colonial manner with the…. natives. You see where I’m going with this.

Look Out For Mr Stork: It’s that choral style of singing that gets me. I just can’t enjoy vocals like these, there’s something lodged in my psyche which won’t allow it. So dreary, even though it’s meant to be funny and light. Along with the visuals the song works, but on its own it isn’t strong enough.

Casey Junior: A diving attack of brass and strings gets this off to a romping start. It’s mostly an instrumental, though that train’s voice is damn creepy. Just when we think it’s over, those annoying vocals come in again – they are short-lived this time around, so it isn’t so bad.

Song Of The Roustabouts: Well, now. Is it racist? Is it about racism? Is it a sign of the times? Am I just a PC libtard leftie self hating safe-place-needing sheeple for daring to think about such things? I don’t know. But I do know it’s not a very good song – more like a simplistic chant. Was that racist too?

Baby Mine: Well, that’s more like it. Sort of. The singing is a little too whiny and the less said about the backing vocals the better. Still, it’s a rather lovely little lullaby.

The Clown Song: A jaunty, French sounding song, but not a lot to it. Entertaining filler.

Pink Elephants On Parade: Yes yes, it’s all rather disturbing to watch. As a song it plods along with a sort of threatening pace and tone. It’s over a minute before the weird vocals begin, men putting on ‘They’re coming to get you, Barbara’ voices and ranting. At one point it goes all Middle Eastern, then it becomes a flighty little dance, then a rumba or something. Then it goes crazy. Then it ends.

When I See An Elephant Fly: Hmm. More confusion. Hmm. The song isn’t great either.

So, only two songs worth mentioning and neither of those I would consider very good. I’m not even sure I would call any of the songs here essential – not essential enough to bring to another world and spread as Gospel anyway. Onwards and upwards!

Nightman Listens To – Bryan Adams – 11

Greetings, Glancers! We are well and truly off the beaten, choked, eviscerated, and charred path now. Yes, that’s right – I have not heard any piece of any song on this album. Mr Adams released his 11th studio album imaginatively titled The Cardboard Cut-Out Breasts Symphony but then changed to the more palatable 11 in 2008. A lot of other bands and artists have had albums entitled 11 but I haven’t heard those either, so I’ve no idea why I even mentioned it. Just filling up space I guess. What do you call a guy with leaves in his hair? Russell. 

The album made it into the top ten in various countries – not the US – and was received with critical nonchalance. I wonder what I will think. What do you think? What do you call a guy who only sleeps in front of doors? Matt! Oh look, there’s 11 songs too. I wonder if the albums lasts 11 minutes.

Tonight We Have The Stars. Guitar and swirling. Atmosphere. Vocals. More swirling. Decent though not overly exciting. His vocals sound a little odd in the chorus. He sounds younger or something, less gruff. Definitely written to be a hit, but not sure it has big enough hooks. A decent start.

I Thought I’d Seen Everything. Fading in. Chord clang. Distant beats. More chords. Vocals. Nice verse. Wholesome. Drums. Verse again, seems okay. Good chorus. So far these sound like two middle of the road commercial soft rock songs – better than average, maybe better than what you’d expect from someone at this point in their career, but definitely not strong enough to win over fans or stand alongside his big hits. A tier below, but better than a lot of his standard album tracks.

I Ain’t Losin’ The Fight. Guitars. Harmonica. Don’t be going all country on me now. Slow steady beat. Piano. American dad rock. Building. Not much of a change heading into the chorus meaning this comes off as little one note. Lots of boxing lyrics. He should name drop Apollo Creed. ‘Baby you got everything I need/Like a ring, a crowd, and Apollo Creed’. More easy listening than rock.

Oxygen. Guitars. Faster. Drums. Faster. More atmosphere. Low register. Beat doesn’t change for the chorus but sounds more urgent. Another decent track, maybe would have been something more if he’d written it in his heyday. Probably the best track so far, a little more edge. He has shouted ‘come on’ in every song so far though. He seems quite adamant that he needs oxygen every day. I’m fairly sure we all do, bud.

We Found What We Were Looking For. Yawn noise. Light beats. Light vocals. More decent verse work. Oh, oh, strings. Building. Guitar blast. Slow down. That was a weird change of beat and sound. More strings. This one is growing on me, even though it’s nothing special. It’s very nice and I could happily listen to it again. Not so sure about the middle section which pulls away some of the momentum.

Broken Wings. More slow MOR country rock stuff. Fine, not bad, not great, not anything.

Somethin’ To Believe In. Guitars. Vocals. A little plain. Strings coming in. Rest of band. Backing vocals. One to slow dance to but not very exciting. Still has a country vibe. Sudden pause. Key change. Same. Bit boring.

Mysterious Ways. Piano and guitar. Slow again. Strings. I am having difficulty finding the album on youtube so I’m listening to some of these as live versions. This sounds familiar. Plain verses. Big ‘ohohoooh’. Funky organ. Slow chorus too. A little boring again.

She’s Got A Way. Digi beats. Slow again. Piano and vocals. Absent guitars. Now guitars. Bulding. Yeah it’s awfully cheesy but sincere. I’ve always wondered how people can keep writing love songs after so many decades. Like I keep saying, there are other things to write about. He isn’t saying anything new here so it’s all extremely familiar ground. Fine but forgotten after five minutes.

Flower Grown Wild. Apparently this was written for or about Amy Winehouse. Simple chords, nice lyrics. Nice melody. The chorus is mostly wank. In fact, all of the song is pretty good except for the chorus – it needed something more powerful.

Walk On By. Guitar. String. Greyhounds again. Will he say ‘come on’ or ‘lets go’ again? Slow. Very plain. Simple. I assume this is supposed to be inspiring, but it’s too plain with nothing to grab you.

All in all this is exactly the sort of album you would expect Adams to release at this stage of his life. There is nothing new, no experimentation, no chances taken, but for his many existing fans that won’t be a problem. It lacks the energy and hits of his early days but where that is lacking he makes up for it with plaintive, easy listening ballads which will always find an audience. Again by now he has written so many songs of a similar style, structure, and sound that many are blending into one – there are a few songs here with enough verve or which generate enough interest that I would listen to them again, but outside of those I can’t see myself ever returning to this album.

Let us know in the comments what you thought of 11 if you have heard it!

 

Unplugged – Guns ‘N’ Roses

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Greetings, Glancers! Remember MTV Unplugged? It was this show where bands, singers, performers played a mostly acoustic show in front of a small live audience. It was great. There are a tonne of bands, singers, and performers who never appeared though and today we’re going to talk about one of them. For more on the idea behind this post, click here!

This is my first choice of band I’d love to have seen perform an Unplugged show. You may think G’n’R would not suit such a setting and yes, you’re probably right. However, other heavy rock and metal bands managed it successfully so there’s no excuse for Axl and Co in their prime to not have done the same. I love the idea of such a balls to the wall, rock band of wonderful excess to tone it down and allow their talent, songwriting and performance skills speak for themselves with little or no frills, little or no production, and little or no filter or space between them and the crowd. Below is a dream setlist for a Guns ‘n’ Roses Unplugged show.

Track 1: Civil War (7-8 minutes)

Most sets, especially rock sets start out with a balls to the wall, fast paced song to get the excitement levels up to a million. This is MTV Unplugged though, so that approach my not work. G’n’R are known for starting out with something like Nightrain, accompanied by some spoken shtick like ‘from Hollywood – Guns And Roses!’. I think we still get that spoken intro, maybe a little more subdued so that leads nicely into Civil War. I feel like this would work brilliantly as a dark, acoustic song – check out the link above for a Slash and Myles version, though the whistles are crap. The band could play a little with the structure, changing up those spoken parts into something unique. Obviously the rest of the band would need to pitch in, so plenty of room for experimentation.

Track 2: Pretty Tied Up (12-13 minutes)

The thing about MTV Unplugged is that it gave the artists an opportunity to mess with songs in a different format and perhaps play songs that were not normally part of their setlist. We’d need a faster song after that intro, so why not go with something a little left field? I’m not the biggest fan of Pretty Tied Up but I think it’s ripe for some innovative tinkering. The link above gives an idea of the direction the song could take – it’s not the best cover but you get the idea.

Track 3: Mr Brownstone (17 minutes)

I think after two maybe not so well known songs they’d need to pull a more mainstream song out of the hat. You can switch Track 3 or 4 around if you wish, but I think the important thing at this point is keeping some continuity of classics going for a spell. The link above has an early live acoustic performance – I’m not too happy about the tambourine – there’s a place for it, but it’s used too much in that video. The song has a loose, jam quality anyway so it feels suited to a smaller unplugged setting.

Track 4: Welcome To The Jungle (22 minutes)

Yes, keep the momentum going with the classics. The link has an acoustic instrumental only version which gives a good idea of how the song could still retain its raw power even without the distortion. I like the idea of the piano filling in some of the guitar parts, so Axl could get down on those.

Track 5: You’re Crazy (26 Minutes)

This one was already pretty unplugged anyway if you pick the Lies version. There’s isn’t much they really need to add to this one, the crowd would fill in the blanks.

Track 6: You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory (30 minutes)

Well, we’d better get Spaghetti out of the way. A few songs from that album would work here but this feels ready made and has the added bonus of giving Axl a vocal break, something we know he enjoys. It’s a short one too, and a bit of a novelty, so true fans would be happy to hear it.

Track 7: So Fine (34 minutes)

Axl’s still taking a breather, so we’ll have another ready made slow-number that isn’t too far away from being acoustic in its original form. The song does pick up pace in places so that would lead nicely into another more up-tempo selection of songs. This is another curious choice which would be nifty so hear for most fans.

Track 8: Live And Let Die (38 minutes)

We’re over half an hour in and there’s still a bunch of big boys we haven’t heard from yet. I couldn’t find a decent clip to link to, so you’ll have to use your imagination on this one. Axl’s back, it’s a fast song, will get the crowd pumping again, which will lead nicely into our next pick.

Track 9: You Could Be Mine (44 minutes)

Another fast one with plenty of room to play around, but I think for this one they should just go all in on the guitars and play a stripped down version as close to the original as possible. Alternatively they could go completely in the opposite direction with something like in the link above.

Track 10: This I Love (49 minutes)

Chinese Democracy up now – don’t think I forgot about it. We’re already running tight to our time rule so we may have to cut back on the longer songs. This could be an Axl and Slash duet, the piano, vocals, and guitar mingling together for an atmospheric centerpiece.

Track 11: Patience/Don’t Cry (54 minutes)

Cheating a little here, but when the band play their mammoth live show they usually switch between Patience and Don’t Cry. I love them both and while the former is essentially an acoustic song already, the former could be stripped back without losing any of its impact. Both songs could have some piano added acting as an effective bridge between track 10 and 12. There’s an early live acoustic performance of Don’t Cry complete with terrible crowd noise in the link above.

Track 12: November Rain (62 minutes)

So, this would maybe be the most interesting song to translate into an unplugged setting. Technically you could bring out a backing choir and bunch of violin players etc. Alternatively, have them in place from the start contributing to other songs. Much of the strength of the song rests on Slash’s integral guitar parts which bridge the different sections of the song together, but you can still have those without full ear-splitting electric. Unplugged doesn’t necessarily mean 100% acoustic. This would be a chance for the pure core of the song to shine through. The link above contains an early, shorter acoustic version by the band and is quite different from what we eventually got.

Track 13: Street Of Dreams (67 minutes)

We keep the piano led sentimentality going with a song which is a highlight of Chinese Democracy even if Axl does try to mess it up with some weird vocals. It’s a crowd-pleaser, even for those who haven’t heard it, and you can get a bit of a singalong going in the big moments.

Track 14: Sweet Child Of Mine (73 minutes)

It had to be in there somewhere. If you want, swap this out for Rocket Queen or a personal favourite. While Nirvana played hardly any of their big hits for Unplugged, most bands tend to cover their most famous songs and for G’n’R they don’t come any bigger than this. Ideally it should be nearer the centre of the gig, but what are you gonna do? Various artists have covered this song in acoustic over the years, but I think the writers could knock those out of the park with their own take – Myles and Slash are in the link above again.

Track 15: I Used To Love Her (76 minutes)

Another acoustic original to wind things down before the inevitable big finish. The band wouldn’t need many additional flourishes to make this work – it’s good to go from the first whisper and gives the rest of the band a chance to add their own backing vocals. It’s a funny song and would work well in an intimate environment.

Track 16: Paradise City (83 minutes)

I was toying with not actually including this – how do you ever make an unplugged version of something that is basically six minutes of head-banging and lewd guitar fingering? As balls to the wall as the outro to this song is, maybe a wacky dueling banjo type ending would be entertaining too? Really anything they did with this song would probably work, followed by a ‘Good! Fucking! Night! Yeah!’ If that doesn’t work for you, close it with Rocket Queen. The link above is an acoustic instrumental version.

What about you? Which songs would you love to see in a an Unplugged G’n’R show? There wasn’t time for Coma or Estranged. I couldn’t fit my own personal favourite Think About You in either. Cornshucker would turn a few heads. There are plenty of tracks from Chinese Democracy which I think would work well – namely Catcher In The Rye –  but I tried to keep to my 70-90 minute time frame as much as possible. Let us know in the comments what your ideal setlist would be, and what other artists you would love to see perform in this style!

Unplugged – Dream Artists

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Back when MTV was actually all about the music, they made a variety of original programming. One of the most notable of these was MTV Unplugged – a series which ran for 10 years (89-99) before returning sporadically over the next decade for a number of specials. It’s still kind of around today, but no-one cares. At its peak, the series saw artists as diverse as The Corrs, Alice In Chains, Paul McCartney, Mariah Carey, Oasis, Bjork, Duran Duran, Joe Satriani, Jay-Z, and most famously – Nirvana.

The idea behind my series of posts is simply to suggest a bunch of artists that I wished had performed an Unplugged set along with my picks of songs I think would have worked in the setting. I don’t simply mean to pick acoustic songs – Unplugged always felt more intimate – like a secret gathering of fans coming together to witness a one time event. You can play along too – share your picks in the comments or in your own blog – but rather than allowing all this silly freedom, I’m going to lay down some general rules. The band needs to play at least 70 minutes of music, but not more than 90 – so count your songs carefully. The band would banter with the crowd between tracks, but any show pushing two hours would be excessive. My only other rule is that the artist needs to play at least one song from every album – of course those artists who have upwards of 10 albums may find this difficult or impossible. In those extreme cases, maybe they get to play two shows!

So yeah, that’s kind of it. It’s the sort of silly, pure imagination, pub chat post I love, and it’s always interesting to hear who others would pick. As a side note, before I get into my choices in future posts, I wanted to suggest a similar idea for discussion or thought. I don’t think I’ve written about this before, but I can’t be expected to keep track of all my wheelings and dealings.

Basically, I’ve always wanted to be a radio DJ – not really, but in my daydreaming moods I find my brain wandering back to this again and again. I don’t mean just someone who spins a tune or adheres to a playlist, I mean someone who has a daily/nightly, regular show who is free to play and do whatever they want. One show a week would be focused on movies – with guest critics, fans, stars etc – almost like a podcast where we would look at new releases and discuss classics. Each week would maybe have a theme, like horror, comedy, Western, Coen Brothers, Oscar Winners etc etc, and we would play songs and instrumental music from films. Another night could be sports based, talking about football, wrestling, and… well, those are the only two I pay attention to anymore. There would be a night where we just follow The Human Zoo format (Youtube it) where callers phone in randomly and unscreened to say and do whatever they please.

On the music front, I would have a section each night for new, unsigned acts- basically send me your demos and I’ll play it if I like it. Playlists are entirely anti-music and undemocratic, so those are completely out the window – if we want to play 1930s Blues, followed by 90s Trance, followed by 60s Folk, followed by Black Metal, well shit, we’ll do it. On to the crux of the imagining – the live set. One night a week we would have a live band come in for a chat and to play a few songs. This wouldn’t take on the appearance of a gig, more like questions, banter, and a handful of songs. The rule though, and the fun part is that each act needs to play at least one cover (which they haven’t played before), one non-single album track, and one ‘unreleased’ song (such as a B-Side or rarity). Five song maximum, so that leaves room for a couple of more famous songs. Unfortunately this is all a dream, a personal one, but if I ever become super rich and powerful, it’s something I’d love to do. For all you rich and powerful readers of my blog – get on it – make the world a better place.

Sorry, we got off track for a moment – that’s what happens when I don’t plan or rewrite posts. Feel free to share your thoughts on any of my delusions above – what would you do if you had your own Radio Show, what artists and songs would you love to see performed in the Unplugged setting?

Chart Music – 2003

Yes! Back thanks to an almost universal lack of demand, I stretch back the scalp of time and feast upon the mushy innards of the past – in this instance I return to the UK music charts. If you’re interested, you can read my original post here – https://carlosnightman.wordpress.com/2015/10/22/the-uk-top-40/

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2003, Baby! Well, back then I had just passed from the jaded land of teenage dreams into the terrifying world of ‘I’m in my twenties’. I went to Glastonbury and saw a tonne of great bands – old and new, and I both marveled and despaired at the commercial music scene. On one hand, we had the continuing resurgence in the popularity of metal and rock from a commercial sense – shitty pop punk bands were ruling the airwaves alongside even worse post-grunge do-gooders. Most of the commercial metal hitting the charts in the US and UK was stagnant, but behind the scenes there was plenty to love. Bland UK and US mainstream rockers were the main order of the day, with a billion ‘The’ bands popping up from everywhere and some truly awful indie types making repetitive garbage that would be best suited to the numbing hell of a club dancefloor. On the other hand, what was now termed R’n’B continued to rise, manufactured, vapid pap from Television talent shows consistently traumatized those who actually like music, Madonna kissed Britney Spears, Pete Townsend looked at some awful pictures for research purposes, Michael Jackson met Martin Bashir and was then arrested, Phil Spector was accused of murder, Napster came back from the dead and was used by nobody, and ITunes was born and used by everybody.

But surely the music was influenced by what was happening in the word? The Space Shuttle Columbia fell to pieces on reentry, US and pals invaded Iraq looking for those pesky WMDs, and everybody continued to laugh at George Bush. As usual, various coups and uprisings began and ended around the world while people in US and Europe began taking steps to legalize or make same-sex marriage possible. Leslie Cheung killed himself, while many other notable stars passed away including Gregory Peck, June and Johnny Cash, Katherine Hepburn, Bob Hope, John Ritter, Jonathan Brandis, and many more. I was in my middle year of University witnessing all these things which would later inspire my billion selling book.

Lets take a look at what was being forced into our earholes by the radio overlords in October of 2003. Some of these are making me vomit just from remembering how bad they were, and a few I don’t recognize at all. Some I’m sure I’ll remember when I listen, and only one is remotely likeable. Here we go:

1: Black Eyed Peas: Where Is The Love. Does anybody even like Black Eyed Peas? I mean, honestly? Sure they have little tunes and little beats, but it’s all so showy and shitty. This isn’t their worst – it’s well meaning, apparently, but that chorus is a clear rip off of Natalie Imbruglia’s ‘Torn’. There’s no two ways about it. When it’s not ripping off some melodies from there, it’s ripping ideas from Michael Jackson to make an inferior, slightly twee but mostly okay song. Drum sounds are awful.

2: Beyonce: Baby Boy. I have no idea what this is. More miserable attempts at Beyoncé’s laughable grasping of feminism? Oh dear, it’s a ‘feat’. song. And oh dear, it’s Sean Paul. Has there every been a single song that Sean Paul has appeared on that has been anything better than terrible? Cheap Thrills is so much better without his robotic shite. Does Beyoncé have a thing for infants – is that what this is about? It’s about sex. It’s terrible. The backing thrusts of music are all faux-drama and threat, but with Beyoncé’s warbling over the top it sounds pathetic. It turns into some tribal Indian disaster near the end, not for musical reasons you understand – just so, I bet, Beyoncé can try out a new outfit and dance for the video.

3: Jamelia: Superstar. Yeah, this song was everywhere at the time and it’s still played quite frequently for something that’s almost 14 years old. Listening to this and the previous song, and listening to the charts today, makes you think that music has not progressed whatsoever in the last decade. Think about what happened between 1960 and 1974. Or 1974 and 1988. Or 1988 and 2002. I didn’t have any real problem with this one. It’s light, and it does have good melodies in verse and chorus. Jamelia’s voice is fine, doesn’t standout, but serves the song. It’s about sex.

4: Rachel Stevens: Sweet Dreams My LA Ex. So, this was the hot one from S Club 7. I think I’ve heard the song name, but don’t think I’ve heard the song. Spanish/funky chords. Terrible drum noises. Terrible attempts at sexy vocals. Terrible attempt at emulating Britney. Feeble, generic verse and chorus. Bland bland nothingness. It’s about sex.

5: The Darkness: I Believe In A Thing Called Love. I saw The Darkness at Glastonbury just before they exploded for a brief couple of years. Sure they’re a joke band, but that didn’t stop them from making catchy songs and they don’t get more catchy and unusual than this in chart music. It’s about sex.

6: Dido: White Flag. Speaking of bland bland nothingness, ladies and gentlemen… Dido! We all loved Stan when it came out, but then Dido started popping up everywhere, for no reason. I think this song would be better if someone else was singing. But that empty void of a voice, coupled with the silent elevator fart of the music does make the whole thing sound like a surrender.

7: The Strokes: 12:51. Ugh, I can’t stand The Strokes. They are basically Status Quo, but without the musical ability. Ha. Or the ear for a tune. Lets see if I know this one. Surprise surprise – tap tap tap the SAME FUCKING RHYTHM AND SAME REPETITIVE CHORDS ON EVERY SINGLE SONG. Here is every Strokes song ever – d d d d d d d d d duh duh duh duh duh duh duh duh DO DO DO DO DO DO DO DO CHUH CHUH CHUH CHUH CHUH CHUH CHUH CHUH. How did The Strokes even happen? How did people fall for this!? It is as generic as Rachel Stevens and as bland as Dido. Arguably the worst successful rock band ever.

8: S Club 8: Sun Down. There was an S Club 8? Why don’t I remember this? Did they add another member to 7 or is it a sequel to Juniors? Who the fuck cares, none of it should have ever happened. Holy hell this is bad. Just listen to that music? The annoying thing is that the leading melodies are catchy, even if it does rip off everything from Abba to Kylie Minogue. This exists solely to teach 8 year olds how to dance. Badly. It’s about sex.

9: Texas: Carnival Girl. Jeebus, this really wants to take the crown of most bland list ever. Texas is the same as Dido. Charlene Spit-Near-Ye may well be Dido in disguise. I thought I knew this one, but it doesn’t sound familiar. WTF rapping balls is this. Is that Sean Paul? Possibly Paul Sean. It’s definitely Feat. someone. Poor poor poor.

10: Fast Food Rockers: Say Cheese. Never heard of this in my life. And within the first three seconds I wish I could still say that. What the absolute balls is this? Chav noise for the braindead.

Now that’s out of the way, lets take a look at what you could have been listening to. We had decent album releases from the likes of Children Of Bodom, Cult Of Luna, Strapping Young Lad, Opeth etc. Outside of metal there was a new Madonna album, and releases by Radiohead, The Mars Volta, Placebo, Muse, and probably others. Below is a much better selection of songs to enrich your life and remind you that yes, somewhere out there are folks making genuinely good stuff.

  1. Pink: Humble Neighbourhoods.

2. Lene Marlin: Fight Against The Hours

3. Alice Cooper: The Song That Didn’t Rhyme

4. Muse: Thoughts Of A Dying Atheist

5. The Bangles: Something That You Said

6. Iron Maiden – No More Lies

7. Manic Street Preachers: Judge Yrself

8. Radiohead – Myxomatosis

9. Opeth: Windowpane

10. Ben Harper: She’s Only Happy In The Sun

Listen to mine, it’s the only logical choice. Let us know in the comments what you thought about any of the songs above and what you remember about 2003!