DUNCAN BARKES: We need better Christmas songs

Duncan Barkes
Duncan Barkes

We are now into November, so muttering the word “Christmas” is almost acceptable.

But as the supermarket shelves groan with festive treats and the tinsel twinkles in Poundland’s window, I find myself increasingly frustrated by the lack of decent Christmas songs.

Some shops already have their festive soundtrack playing. The usual, uninspiring selection of songs accompany your trundle around the shops while you decide whether Uncle Jack would prefer a bottle of gin or the Kylie 2013 calendar (I dare say Uncle Jack would appreciate both in equal measure).

Paul McCartney’s Wonderful Christmas Time, Slade’s Merry Xmas Everybody (not to be confused with Shakin’ Stevens’ Merry Christmas Everyone), Wizzard’s I Wish it Could Be Christmas Every Day – they all blast out of the PA system, which must be utter torture for even the most festive-loving of shop workers.

I once worked in a store where the Christmas music started in the third week of October. By the middle of December, I was ready to bludgeon customers with a rolled up copy of the seasonal Radio Times.

And when I worked in music radio, I used to get the same urge when Wham’s Last Christmas appeared on my playlist for the umpteenth time in a week.

Of course, there are exceptions. One of my few personal favourites is Fairytale of New York by The Pogues and featuring Kirsty MacColl. A bittersweet festive song, the opening bars still make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up in anticipation of the raspy voice of Shane McGowan colliding with Kirsty’s luscious vocals.

My default Christmas playlist tends to feature classics of a very different nature. Frank Sinatra’s Christmas Album, Ella Fitzgerald’s Christmas, Christmas with Peggy Lee and Dean Martin’s Christmas with Dino are life-savers if you’re looking to escape the usual festive musical tat. Baby, it’s Cold Outside, Dino’s duet with Martha McBride, is especially evocative, easily conjuring an image of an open fire, two people reluctant to part, and a couple of tumblers of Scotch.

This week marks the release of a festive album by Tracey Thorn, entitled Tinsel and Light. Her name might not be instantly recognisable, but she was one half of the band Everything But the Girl.

Tracey has a voice that could melt a heart of ice. I hope her new album will not only nestle beside my other seasonal favourites, but that it will also offer music fans a welcome alternative to the likes of Cliff and his Mistletoe and Wine.