You cannot escape the holiday soundtrack… it’s everywhere around you at this time of year and I love it.
While there are many songs that tire quickly (Little Saint Nick, I’m looking at you) here are three that I could listen to on repeat from December 1st right through to Boxing Day.
Dominick The Donkey
This is a terrible song that I inexplicably love and that immediately puts me in a jolly mood around the holidays. Lou Monte sings about the Italian Rudolph, the amazing Dominick, who helps Santa conquer the hills of Italy.
If you’re looking for a Christmas song that implores you to hook elbows with a friend and circle around in a jig, this is the song for you.
Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas
My favourite version of this Christmas classic is the duet between Rowlf the dog and John Denver. It’s sweet, tender and belies a friendship between the two that plays well with the overall message of the song.
Not much more to say on this one; it’s awesome.
Fairytale Of New York
This is my absolute favourite Christmas song and given the number of covers and tributes to the song on YouTube, plus the fact that it is the most-played Christmas Song of the 21st century in the U.K., it would seem I’m not alone in this.
It’s almost an anti-Christmas song in a way as it’s about a couple looking at their lives, fighting and cursing and it just so happens to be taking place at Christmas. Not the usual schmaltz we hear in other holiday songs. But I say “almost” for a reason because, in the end, it is very much a Christmas song.
Christmas is a time to reflect on the past and look ahead to the future. Following the story of the song, we start off with hope for the future and a turning point from the troubles the couple currently face. He’s come into some money and hopes that can help them rebuild their lives. They then wax nostalgic on the past and how great everything was in the beginning before settling in for a row on how terrible things are now due to various drug and alcohol addictions and a failure to make it big as entertainers in an unforgiving city.
But the last verse is an apology. A coming together. An outstretched hand seeking reconciliation and a reminder of how intertwined the pair are. The whole conversation is a reminder of how messy love can be. How imperfect.
The couple are symbols of everyone who doesn’t fall into the traditional view of Christmas; the warm hearth, surrounded by family, stockings hung with care. They are the marginalized within our society who spend Christmas in hospitals, on the streets or, in the case of this song, in the drunk tank of a police station.
Christmas is the time for love and togetherness and this song shows that everyone embraces the spirit, regardless of their social standing, and it is ultimately a song about a couple with a well so deeply filled with love and shared experience that they will stay together no matter where they are in life.
If that’s not a Christmas message, I don’t know what is.
Shane MacGowan of the Pogues and Kirsty MacColl play the couple perfectly and, while I am a sucker for a good cover and often find covers that out-do the originals, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the original is the gold standard when it comes to this song.
I’ve spent a lot of time over the past week listening to covers of this song and there are a large number of Irish or Gaelic singers who take this on with beautiful effect.
The YouTube channel belongs to Hazel Hayes but it’s her guest Niall McNamee who steals the show with his performance and I’ll be checking out more of his music as a result.
One of the best versions I’ve ever seen live was by STARS. On a December night years ago we watched them close the show with an amazing rendition of this song, completely filled with all the right passion and emotion in all the right places.
As the encore finished we left Lee’s Palace to find that it had started to snow while we had been in the show. Big, fat flakes covering everything and the joy of all the concert-goers spilling out into the street carried the song on into the night…
Another Canadian favourite band, Gianni and Sarah from Walk Off The Earth, also do a lovely version of this and love the setting of their video. Admittedly part of the charm here is having followed this band for years and watching this couple and their relationship and family grow.
With all the controversy over the lyrics over the years, there are a few very whitewashed versions that skip over the fighting verse completely (like they do in the completely wretched A Very Murray Christmas, further adding to the stinkbomb that was this holiday special) or otherwise change the words to make them more palatable for the masses as this couple do in a syrupy-sweet version of the song that is actually heart-warming in their genuine affection for each other, if not true to the nature of the song itself. Ed Sheeran also shies away from the controversy in a version that is musically well produced but completely emotionally lack.
The last cover I’ll post here is a combination of the Irish lilt I love associated with the song as well as a unique interpretation of the lyrics that doesn’t attempt to whitewash away the naughty bits but rather creates a whole new version of the song and does so rather brilliantly. Irish folk singer and song writer Christy Moore wins for the most charming Fairytale.
I could listen to every version out there of this song for 24 days straight; now there’s an idea, a musical advent calendar!
Might just need to work on that for next year.
Merry Christmas, everyone.