Monday, 22 December 2008

News, Views and Music Issue 17 (Top Five): AAA Xmas Songs

Not many AAA artists have issued Christmas-                        

                                      themed albums (so watch us struggle filling these 

                                   pages this time next year!) But loads of them seem

                               to have issued at least one festive-related single at

                        some point or another. So, with the special exception of the

                       Beach Boys’ Xmas repertoire (discussed above) and the

                        Moodies’ Xmas album ‘December’ (which disappeared from

                       the shops quicker than you can say ‘snowflake covered

                       mellotron’) here is a handy guide to every AAA-related

                  Christmas song we can think of – and where to find them so you

              can make your own Christmas Compilation:

                 Beatles: The fab four released a special fans-only Christmas

                 flexi-disc every year between 1963 and 1969, delivered free to

                 members of their official fan club every year and – amazingly – even Apple haven’t got their hands on the copyrights for them yet, so they’re unlikely to see a proper re-issue any time in the next few years. However, only one issue (the 1967 disc) comes close to sounding like a proper festive ‘song’ (most of the rest sound like a hilarious drunken Christmas party with a few pantomimesque spoofs thrown in – usually by Lennon). That song is ‘Christmas time Is Here Again’, a track credited to all four Beatles which un-surprisingly comes out sounding a bit like all of the festive songs they did solo (Lennon’s ‘Happy Xmas (War Is Over)’, Macca’s ‘Wonderful Xmas Time’ and Harrison’s ‘Ding Dong’, not to mention Ringo’s rarely heard and poorly received Xmas record). Ringo takes the lead on the Beatles’ composition, a song that’s hardly a missing classic but still has just enough goodwill and Christmas cheer to overcome the fact the band actually recorded it in September at Abbey Road studios. You can find an edited version (the original kept getting interrupted by lots of sketches and fab four banter) on ‘Anthology Two’ (EMI/Apple, 1997).     

George Harrison: Well, actually George released a new year song but as it’s the only AAA-related one we could find we’ve added it to our Christmas list instead. ‘Ding Dong, Ding Dong’ has a mixed reputation among fans, thanks to its rather odd mix of repetition and invention. Based around the sentiments ‘ring out the old, ring in the new’, George actually ‘stole’ most of the lyrics from lines that had been dotted around George’s Friar Park home and had originally been written by its delightfully dotty architect. Find it on: Dark Horse (EMI/ Apple, 1974).

Kinks: The 1977 novelty single ‘Father Christmas’ is very odd as seasonal songs go and yet somehow very Kinks-like too. Like many of the band’s late 70s/ early 80s material it matches a very dry wit with an honest compassion at (yet another) worldwide recession. The song is narrated by a little boy who doesn’t want any toys this year and wished his father would be given his old job after his redundancy – but rather than a tearjerker in the Johnny Cash mould this is a savage song, with a group of bullies attacking Santa and telling him to save his toys ‘for the little rich boys’. This song - which never appeared on an album ‘proper’ - is still blooming hilarious when seen in Kinks concerts of the day, however, thanks to the sight of Ray Davies dressed up in a Santa suit and his brother Dave trying not to keel over with laughter at the sight of him. Find it as a bonus track on the Kinks CD ‘Misfits’ (Konk/Velvel, 1978/re-issued 1998).

John Lennon: ‘Happy Xmas (War Is Over)’ is probably the best known song on this list, charting on three separate occasions. Typically for the Ono-Lennons, however, this song started its life as something of an obscurity, released too late in the day for the 1972 Christmas market and at the time was one of the lowest placed singles of Lennon’s solo career to date (it was beaten by everything but ‘Woman Is the Nigger Of the World’). A 1973 re-release really caught the mood of the nation in the middle of the Watergate scandal and the end of the Vietnam and Korea wars, however and it became firmly lodged in the public’s Christmas sub-conscious. This lovely song also became a worthy last choice in the rush of Lennon ‘tribute’ re-releases that came out after Lennon’s death in December 1980, finally reaching #1 the third time around. Lennon always said that he wanted this song to become an ‘alternative’ to record buyers bored of hearing ‘White Christmas’ over and over – more than any other song in the rock and pop market, it’s Bing Crosby’s closest challenger. Find it on any self-respecting Lennon compilation (the 1970s ‘Shaved Fish’, 1980s ‘Lennon Collection’ and 1990s ‘Lennon Legend’ are the best places top start).

Paul McCartney and Wings: Macca, too, got his timing all wrong with this single-only release – the last release by Wings, just before their un-announced split in 1980, there was no band left to promote it bar one slightly dodgy promo video that gets shown every year. Out of fashion for only the second in his long career, this song also got eclipsed by the re-issue of Lennon’s Christmas song he following year. The cheesy synthesisers and (by Macca standards) simplistic tune and woolly lyrics probably didn’t help either, although like many of Wings’ songs the production is fantastic. Against all odds, however, this song has been experiencing a comeback recently, nearly 30 years since its release – proof that Christmas really is a time for forgiving after all. Find it on the ‘McCartney Collection’ CD re-issue of ‘Back To The Egg’, along with the song’s undistinguished instrumental B-side ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reggae’. (EMI, 1979 re-issued 1990).   


Monkees: Tucked away at the tail-end of the Monkees’ second TV series is a Christmas special is a moral-booming, morale-boosting tale about the band looking after a child who doesn’t believe in Christmas. Never one to short-change their fans (whatever the press of the 1960s believed), the band added a late Christmas present in the shape of a jaw-droppingly beautiful a capella rendition of the traditional Spanish carol ‘Riu Chiu’. Annoyingly the band never issued the song at the time – indeed, this TV version of the carol is only available on the DVD soundtrack – but there is an equally thrilling alternate take available on the band’s out-takes collection ‘Missing Links Two’ (Rhino, 1990).

Simon and Garfunkel: Equally forgotten and neglected are two originally unheard carols sung a capella by two of the finest harmony singers on the planet. ‘Star Carol’ and ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’ are among the more understated of S and G’s work but no less beautiful for that – the unusual ‘rounds’ harmony arrangement of the latter is especially thrilling. These two uplifting carols also make for a nicer contrast to the only official ‘carol’ in the S and G canon, ‘Silent Night’, recorded as a peaceful contrast to a fictional news broadcast full of horror, terror and fear at the unsettling events of the late 1960s. Alas, classic as this track is, the original unadorned version of this carol still lies unreleased. You can find the former two tracks on the box set ‘Old Friends’ (Capitol 1993) and the latter on ‘Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme’ (Capitol 1967, re-issued most recently in 2006).    

And that’s it for this year! We at the AAA wish you a merry Christmas and a musical new year and look forward to seeing you all again next year. And what a year 2009 promises to be – a Beatles CD re-issue bonanza, a CSN concert and possibly a Kinks re-union are all on the cards. See you then!   

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