Category Archives: music

Revising the Modern Christmas Standards, personal edition

Your Honour, in the long-standing argument that pop music trends tend to overlook truly creative work for more mediocre, predictable music, I’d like to enter some examples in the genre of Christmas music.

Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay

This is the time of year when I actively avoid anything by Pentatonix, Mariah Carey, or Paul McCartney. Santa Baby has no place in my music rotation, nor does Driving Home for Christmas.

These past few years, I’ve gotten very tired of the usual suspects. I’ve started digging deeper, following hints and vague mentions to find tracks that don’t get heard as often.

I guess the seeds for this were planted a decade ago or so, when I unexpectedly spent a whole Christmas season in Canada. Greg Lake’s I Believe in Father Christmas was getting airplay as a ‘deep cut’ on FM rock stations looking for token Christmas songs to play (and tired of the usual Springsteen / U2 / Brian Adams fare).

Father Christmas isn’t as much of a departure from tradition as, say, The Pogues’ Fairy Tale of New York City, but it was a solid ear worm to replace anything by Michael Bublé.

And Father Christmas pairs nicely with another song popular a decade ago, Faith Hill’s Where Are You Christmas? Both songs follow similar emotional journeys, from despair to a renewal of hope, of sorts. I know Faith’s song is widely popular, and that’s fine, it’s just a nice addition to the season; beats another rendition of Marshmallow World any day.

Then I came across a song called “The River,” originally by Joni Mitchell, although it was Blue Rodeo’s cover that I heard first (and will probably always be ‘my’ version of the song). Again, it’s not a particularly happy song.

The next three songs that became part of my Christmas playlist aren’t Christmas songs at all (not even in a token form like “Winter Wonderland”).

The first was Chagall Duet by Jon Anderson. The second song is by him also, Hurry Home (the version from Change We Must). Neither is a Christmas song. Hurry Home is about intergalactic travel.

The third song most definitely isn’t a Christmas song either, it’s called Easter. It’s by Marillion, a band that, if you’re British, you either love or hate, and if you’re American, you’ve never heard of them. I’ve known them (and this song) for decades, being one of the few Canadians to fall in love with their song Kayleigh (along with Warm Wet Circles). Easter never popped for me until I saw the video of their performance of it at the Royal Albert Hall in London.

Most recently, I’ve been adding actual Christmas songs to my playlist, although they may be obscure. Surely most people my age had at least heard of The Band. I’ve never been a big fan beyond a few songs, but their song Christmas Must Be Tonight has popped to the top of my playlist this year. And I’m not the only one. I’ve seen others suddenly recommending it, too.

Jann Arden is a Canadian singer who has always written songs that sound personal. Her Make it Christmas Day, a plea for reconnecting with Christ, is definitely one of those songs.

I’ll end this with two lighter songs that I enjoy even if their style is rather mainstream. The first is a Canadian act from when I was younger, the Partland Brothers. Their Christmas song, Christmas Day has a heavy pull of nostalgia for me, even though I’ve only known the song for five years or so. I think it may be the chord that it’s sung in, with the long sonorous notes.

The second one I’ve just discovered in 2022 even though it’s over a decade old. My Favourite Time of Year by the Florin Street Band is a nice song that sounds like it would do well on radio. Reading up on it, it’s basically a one person project started to reinvigorate Christmas songwriting in the UK.

I’ll end by mentioning two new entries that may end up becoming favourites in our household, both from the Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special: I don’t know what Christmas is (but Christmastime is here) and Here it is, Christmastime.

Merry Christmas, 2022