The Crystals, ‘Santa Claus Is Coming To Town’

It’s the three-minute warning, so we’ll finish off the Christmas songs with this. Plus we needed another from the superlative Phil Spector album, in honour of the big-haired nutter (that case is ongoing, isn’t it?). Speaking of nutters, his old rival Brian Wilson has just released a Christmas album himself. It’s getting panned. I did buy the recent single unheard, and it’s useless.

This is a sinister record, right? Santa’s painted as this all-seeing disciplinarian, there are threatening chord sequences – you’re not even allowed to cry, for pity’s sake. Again, it’s lucky that Junior doesn’t understand (I think), or she’d be keeping a wary eye on that fireplace. 

The tune and production are immense, but let’s not allow that to disguise the message. You’d better have a long, hard look at yourselves over the next couple of days. You may still have time to turn it around.

Nat “King” Cole, ‘The Christmas Song (Merry Christmas To You)’

Junior treats this as a time for quiet contemplation, lying back on her mum’s lap. There are smiles at the start because this is on vinyl so Dad’s been standing by the decks again. When she’s able to talk I’m going to get to the bottom of why this is so amusing.

We all know this is a lovely song, so I won’t poke fun. Well, sometimes I wish he’d ended the phrase “Everybody knows a turkey..” right there, giving us a chance to remember all our fowl friends. Then there’s the line “I’m offering this simple phrase to kids from one to ninety-two”, where he appears to be excluding both Junior and my Nana. I never thought Nat was elitist. Fortunately, Junior doesn’t appear to notice.

So I have poked fun. Sorry.

Band Aid/Band Aid 20, ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’

As a globally conscious 12-year-old, I spent my hard-won cash on the single like millions of others. I was struck by how much one of the Ethiopian children on the cover looked like Bob Geldof. Yesterday morning, Junior was subjected to the original and the recent remake – she was lucky that I couldn’t find the awful Stock Aitken Waterman version, or I would’ve carried out my threat to play one a day ‘til Christmas.

I’m one of the few who admits to liking the 1984 song. I’m one of the even fewer who can see value in 2004’s edition. I like Thom Yorke’s piano. The Darkness guitars are dreadful, though, and it goes on way too long. Also, don’t we get proper heavyweight pop stars any more? There’s hardly anyone on the later record to compete in terms of fame, glamour, ego and interest with the likes of Simon Le Bon, George Michael, Boy George, even Sting. I bet Status Quo weren’t plying Will Young and Jamelia with Class A drugs.

Junior can’t see what any of the fuss is about. She manages to laugh near the Dizzee Rascal bit, and I can see her wondering who Glenn Gregory is. Or was.

Jona Lewie, ‘Stop The Cavalry’

Pomp-a-pomp-a-pomp and dub-a-dub-a-dum. That’s always going to work for a five-month-old. You can do the “riding on a camel in the deeeeee-sert” to it, and generally bounce up and down. Of course, with all that frolicking, you could miss the serious message in Jona Lewie’s song. Like everyone else. 

It’s just a Christmas song now. In fact, I think it was released as a Christmas record, but I don’t suppose it was written that way, unless Jona had some mad premonition of how many compilations it was going to appear on and how he wouldn’t have to lift a finger again. On the other hand, by marrying an anti-war message to a Christmas lyric, Jona is a forerunner in a rich tradition. If not for him, we might not have ‘The Pipes Of Peace’ and ‘Altogether Now’. Harrowing thought.

Thumbs up from Junior, then. For the rest of this week’s festive records, I’m toying with doing all three versions of ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’. Who’s going to stop me?

Paul McCartney, ‘Wonderful Christmastime’

I won’t give it its full title, as suggested by one esteemed reader. This record is what Christmas is all about for me. Not because of any great quality, or special essence, but because it was a hit when I was four years old at about that time you understand what Christmas means. Loads of presents. Ever since, those synthesised squelches have been tied up in the whole shebang for me.

Junior is again more interested in the vinyl going around on the turntable. We let her put her hand on it, for a photo op, and she manages to slow it down, speed it up and stop it completely. She thinks this is pretty smart. And hey, it’s a decent remix.

The video was on TMF (or something like that) the other day. What a lady mullet Linda had. A little hedgehog bit on the top, with the rest long and lifeless. You just know that the Levellers were taking notes that day. There are some staggeringly cheap graphics, some forced “let’s stage the show right here” false spontaneity and that pervading air of McCartney bonhomie. See? It’s what the festive season is all about.

Wizzard, ‘I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day’

We’re not the sort to embrace cliché here at Jukebox Junior, as everyone knows, and we don’t try to act out the words as if we were on Dave Lee Travis’ Golden Oldie Picture Show. That said, this song “put a great big smile on somebody’s face” at the very moment it promised. I hadn’t even moved away from the stereo, let alone launched into a fittingly silly dance.

Mind you, Junior often saves her biggest beams for the very start of each record, when I’m still standing at the decks. It might not just be about the music. She could be saying, “Ha. Dad, you really reckon you look like a Superstar DJ there, don’t you?”. She may well mock, but, yeah, she may well mock.

To give Roy and Wizzard their due, the whole song goes by in a whirl of limb-kicking, smiles and squeals. And when her dad unveils his falsetto to sing along with the children’s choir at the end, Junior can scarcely contain her joy.

Unless she’s just mocking me again.

Wham!, ‘Last Christmas’

“Why get to work at 9.30 when you can get there at 10.30?” Dumbfounding myself with this unshakeable logic, I realised it was time for another Christmas tune.

So, I’ve spent 20-odd years thinking it’s “hiding from you and you’re so revised” and now it turns out be “your soul of ice”. Ok, I haven’t spent the entire 20 years thinking it – that would be frivolous – but I have wondered how she/he could be “so revised”. It’s still worth considering, because it’s a better lyric than “soul of ice”.

George knew how to write a tune, though. Well, Barry Manilow did, in this case. Junior loves it. She’s smiling to the point of laughter, and her arms and legs are swinging all over the place, in the manner of Pepsi and Shirlie trying to ski* in the video. Her mum had her office Christmas party last night, so she’s less than festive, but she seems keen to indoctrinate Junior into the ways of the Wham!, making it a hit all round.

*They may have just sat by the fire for the whole song, but I’m projecting. I know that the edit that goes to MTV is just a snapshot of the artist’s life at that point. I’m still wondering how Take That are managing to reform after being pushed off that cliff.

The Pretenders, ‘2000 Miles’

He’s gone. He’ll be back at Christmas time, according to the children. Is Chrissie Hynde singing about Frosty the Snowman? Diamonds in the snow sparkle. These could be the coals he had for eyes. Not sure about the 2000 miles – seems a little far to run down to the traffic cop, but I’m sure he covered that kind of distance with the boy who wasn’t Aled Jones.

We’re back once more with the happy/sad side of Christmas. Junior adopts an appropriately serious expression and spends the entire 3 mins 40 secs watching the flat black vinyl circle going around and around on the turntable, without looking away once.

Is that a record?


The Ronettes, ‘Frosty The Snowman’

Listening to yesterday’s Christmas song, I was reminded of a truly insignificant record-buying moment in my youth. 20 years ago, when the death knell for vinyl first rang out, WH Smith still displayed the entire Top 40 singles in four rows of 10 7” singles. It was a wonder. I used to pop in before school on a Monday morning to pick up a latest release or two from the racks below and to perhaps choose a favourite I’d heard on the chart rundown the night before. 

This time, I was after Art of Noise’s ‘Close (To The Edit)’ in its shiny white sleeve. I spotted it, must have turned away, turned back again and grabbed it from the shelf, paid and went on my way to assembly. At break I pulled it out of the bag to admire it. There, in a shiny white sleeve, was Kirsty MacColl’s ‘A New England’. My classmate thought she looked “fit”, but I wasn’t happy and exchanged it at lunch. These days, I’m not sure which record I like more. 

When Junior’s downloading mp3s to the chip in her right earlobe, these errors will be a thing of the past. Nah, computers stuff up everything. Anyway, I digress.

The Wall of Sound, replete with jingle bells and sparkle, brings the hugest grin to Junior’s face. It’s a song which has all the magic of Christmas with its enchanted snowmen and gambolling in the white streets and gardens, but it also expresses the melancholy when it’s all over. The snow will melt and we’ll go back to school – never fear, though, because Frosty will be back next year. 

It’ll be a few more winters before Junior gets excited about this sort of thing. Being a big kid, I’ll just have to do it for her.

The Pogues with Kirsty MacColl, ‘Fairytale Of New York’

“You scumbag, you maggot, you cheap lousy faggot..”. Not an obvious nursery rhyme for Junior, and not exactly a “children playing, having fun” chestnuts on the fire festive heartwarmer. But we all enjoy bitterness and recrimination at this time of year and if it’s accompanied by tin whistles, all the better. The intro brings more squeals of delight from the play-mat, however, and the best attempts yet at rolling over from back to front follow. 

This single is enjoying a re-release this year, on the fifth anniversary of Kirsty MacColl’s death, and proceeds are going to a charity appealing for an investigation into the accident. It’s a sad record in many ways, then, but still a triumph.

The bells are ringing out too, from the little Piglet ball as it’s kicked in time.