FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: WISH IT COULD BE CHRISTMAS?
Trundling around Sainsbury’s this morning I was once more struck that all the great Christmas songs are the old ones. That’s not the same as all the old Christmas songs are great, though. I still visibly cringe when I hear the rampant over-singing during “All I Want For Christmas Is You” (pick your version though Mariah takes my Santa biscuit), the overwrought fifties American schmaltz (as many as you can think of) and the gratuitous key changes that scarcely mask a thin tune (answers on a postcard, please).
Still there are some Christmas evergreens out there – from the likes of The Pogues, Wham, Slade, Wizzard, Chris Rea and The Waitresses to mention a few – and, if you look for them, plenty of alternative Christmas songs. Some nine years ago I wrote a feature about the latter but we’ll save that one for another day as today I want to begin by highlighting two new songs that already have the hallmarks of Christmas classics. As the first one is the deepest, let’s start with The Kut, the alter ego of the multi-talented Princess Maha who performs as a band flanked by bassist Jennifer Sanin and Diana Bartmann on drums.
The Kut, better known for its alt-rock blend of punk and grunge, might not seem obvious candidates to employ cello and violin to embellish a simply gorgeous tune. Nonetheless the enlarged ensemble carries it off with the sparkle of seasoned Christmas pros on its new single, “Waiting for Christmas”. While it is officially released on 18 December with all proceeds from sales and streams going to the Red Cross Coronavirus Fund to support those affected by poverty as a result of the pandemic, you can preview it out now via a video filmed during the actual recording session. This is the expansive full-length version while there are two others – a radio friendly edit and an instrumental - also available, each with individual cover artwork by Daniella Batsheva.
Lyrically, “Waiting for Christmas” is a simple plea for reconciliation between lovers, friends, family or whoever could “light the way to build a bridge between us”. The reflective mood of the song immediately gave me Dum Dum Girls chills, calling to mind the erstwhile project of Dee Dee Penny and especially the band’s final 2014 album, Too True. The chances of this indie song making it to No 1 at Christmas are somewhat remote given the marketing heft of the major labels but wouldn’t it be magnificent if it did. To help, go to the dedicated website, raise a candle for those we have lost and spend some cash to show solidarity with our wider community this Christmas. Finally, a plug for the wonderful content-rich website curated by Princess Maha. Among the many treasures, make sure you scroll down and find “The Kut Digitial Exhibition of Well-Being”; an amazing digital art experience.
Photo of Liam Gallagher at the Isle of Wight Festival 2018 by Maja Smiejkowska
I did not have to go too far to locate the second future classic for this feature. Now this one might go to No 1 as it flew in at no 4 on Sunday. The man himself even bagged himself an appearance on The One Show this week! Of whom speak I, you ask? Why, Liam Gallagher of course for whom "All You’re Dreaming Of” represents the first piece of new music since he released his 2019 second solo album Why Me? Why Not. Speaking about the song there was characteristically no holding back from the former Oasis frontman yet, as ever, a tongue-in-cheek twist: “All You’re Dreaming Of” is an instant classic that is perfect for this time of year. Considering the year that we’ve all had, I hope this brings back some much-needed love and hope. Bing Crosby would have been proud."
With Salvation Army brass heralding Lennon-like minor piano chords and a charmingly familiar vocal to match, “All You’re Dreaming Of” sees love triumphing in the worst of times. Co-written with Simon Aldred, it’s a reminder that you don’t have to mention the C-word in the lyrics for a song to resonate at this festive time if it hints at the normality of life we once took for granted and speaks of hope for its return. As with The Kut, proceeds from this release will also support a charity; in this case Action For Children.
Harking back to those Christmas songs of old now, a number have come under scrutiny for not being sufficiently woke. You can understand how someone may be offended by words or actions that were acceptable in the past but no longer are but overall this is a difficult one as lyrically most are simply a reflection of their age and context. When they are enshrined in songs from “Baby It’s Cold Outside” to “Fairytale of New York” I wonder whether we can’t just accept the appropriateness to character and still play the originals.
We began with two new Christmas songs but let’s end with two older ones. Hopefully neither will offend anyone. Released in 2011, I recall attempting a wholly unsuccessful Rage against the Machine-inspired social media campaign to install “Snow” by Kate Walsh as the UK Christmas No. 1. Maybe I needed more than MySpace and 14 followers. Kate took a step back from recording and performing some years ago but no Christmas is complete without a reprise of this perfect blend of contentment and regret, encapsulated in the pure symmetry of the couplet, “Our love is like snow/It covers all we know.” What a voice too!
Finally, possibly my favourite Christmas alt-pop song of all time; The Waitresses with “Christmas Wrapping” from 1981. It’s a wonderfully bittersweet song that still delivers a happy ending to befit the season of goodwill. The late Patty Donahue, who fronted The Waitresses with such panache, delivers it as a deadpan semi-rap. Chris Butler’s lyrics shouldn’t fit, but somehow manage to do so. It wasn’t the hit that it should have been, but it has stood the test of time, and you’ll hear it in department stores up and down the land this month. That’s if there are any left now. You can sing-along to this video too. It’s a wrap.