Bored of the usual Christmas tunes played at this time of year? Then have a listen and a read of Geoff Gilborson’s guide to neglected and abandoned Christmas Classics. Some you may know – most probably not. They are seldom played on the radio and almost never in supermarkets or shopping malls. Hope you love them too and discover some new classics for your Christmas playlists. Remember a good tune is for life, not just for Christmas.
1. CHICAGO – Little Drummer Boy. This is the one Christmas song to take to a desert island. When I first came across Chicago25 and their first Christmas album in 1998. I was stunned at the sheer quality of each track. Here is a Christmas album to rank with Pet Sounds, Sgt. Pepper and other great rock masterpieces. The horns on this track are just wonderful. Shivers down the spine.
2. KATE RUSBY – Hail Chime On. Kate has released five Christmas albums based around the unique carols that have been sung in Yorkshire pubs for centuries. Many, like this, are versions of ‘While Shepherds watched’, one of the few carols considered acceptable by Puritans as it was so closely based on the Biblical narrative of the nativity. Kate’s voice is purity itself.
3. GREG LAKE – I Believe in Father Christmas. Greg’s surprise 1975 hit was snapped up by those who are rightly jaded by the commercialisation of Christmas. It incorporates Prokofiev’s lovely melody from Lieutenant Kije Suite.
4. LINDISFARNE – Winter Song – The late and much lamented Alan Hull’s equally cynical but deeply heartfelt critique of Yuletide hypocrisy is a timely lesson for all of us.
5. THE BAND – Christmas must be tonight. Robbie Robertson has written here a traditional Christmas carol to rank with the best of all time.
6. BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN – Santa Claus is coming to town. A few years ago I saw Bruce incorporate this into his set at the Etihad Stadium in the middle of Summer as a request from a guy dressed in a Santa suit – and it felt exactly right! Only the Boss could get away with that.
7. STEELEYE SPAN – Down in Yon Forest – This is a little known folk carol collected by Ralph Vaughn Williams in a Derbyshire village. What a fabulous find. It deserves much wider exposure. The strange words may refer to the Holy Grail.
8. DENNIS WILSON – Morning Christmas. Dennis was the Beach Boys’ pin-up drummer who lived too fast, too hard and died too young . Beneath the party boy image however was a composer and producer of genius comparable with his older brother Brian, as this superb solo track illustrates. It’s a song as deep, dark and beautiful as any bleak midwinter.
9. ALBION CHRISTMAS BAND – Julian of Norwich. One of our annual Christmas treats is to go to one of the Albions’ Christmas concerts. The band which includes one current and one former member of Fairport Convention always come up with some unusual gems. This one was written by the brilliant but underrated Sydney Carter – most famed for writing ‘Lord of the Dance’.
10. JETHRO TULL – Ring Solstice Bells. Christmas celebrations have roots deep in Britain’s pre – Christian past and this fabulous song celebrates the pagan new year.
11. THE MOODY BLUES – December Snow. Justin Hayward is a fantastic singer and here he excels on this lovely melody. He plays quite a mean guitar too
12. ROGER DALTREY – Always Heading Home. I saw Roger perform this beautiful song at last year’s Teenage Cancer Trust concert at the Albert Hall. Not really a Christmas song but the message certainly fits. A peerless performance from another of the best voices in Rock..
13. LEONARD COHEN – Closing Time. With a reputation for writing songs for manic depressives I can hardly believe Leonard Cohen penned this jolly song about partying – but he did!
14. STACKRIDGE – Together by Christmas Time. I just had to include this bittersweet song from Bristol’s finest sons.
15. BRIAN WILSON – Peace on Earth. Brian displays his genius for vocal arrangements on this 2011 track which was given away to fans on his website. Gorgeous!
16. SIOUXSIE AND THE BANSHEES – Il est Née It never ceases to amaze me how great Christmas tracks come from the most unlikely sources! This is perfectly illustrated by this track. I love the accompanying video and check out Robert Smith. A festive gothic treat indeed.
17. SHOW OF HANDS – Crow on the Cradle. Another superb Sydney Carter song performed by the undisputed masters of modern English Folk music. If you don’t know Show of Hands then give yourself a treat and check out one of their albums or better still, go and see one of their gigs.
18. ENYA – Trains and Winter Rails. Enya’s ethereal music perfectly expresses the magic of Christmas.
19. STRAWBS – Benedictus. Dave Cousins based his profound modern prayer on the I Ching . This is the opening track of their magnificent New World album. Underappreciated like all the Strawbs’ fantastic body of work. They continue to play live and to release great new music to the delight of their very loyal but far too small fan base.
20. GEORGE HARRISON – Ding Dong. I love George’s silly-but-fun celebration of the New Year. His unmistakeable voice blends perfectly with his incredibly tight band. It gives one a real sense of optimism for what the future might hold.
21. THE BEACH BOYS – Auld Lang Syne. Peerless five-part harmony, just exquisite. ‘Nuff said!