Heark! Hear the Herald Angels sing! Wait....there seems to be something different about these angels. They sound less hallowed and more vital. They sound embellished with the yuletide spirit, but definitely grounded. What are these earthbound wise men singing about?
Well, Christmas actually. The Retrospective Soundtrack Players have crafted their very first Christmas album. It's a Wonderful Christmas Carol is inspired by - as the name suggests - two classic winter tales: the American seasonal cinematic treat It's A Wonderful Life and Charles Dickens' masterful A Christmas Carol.
To celebrate its release today (24 November), an early Christmas gift for those shopping for family, friends and lovers - get it now on CD or vinyl from Xtra Mile Recordings, Banquet Records, or Amazon CD or LP, or beat Santa's overladen sleigh and download it via iTunes (the red vinyl is especially lovely though) - frontman, songwriter and all round Christmas fanboy Kyle Evans has given us his Xmas soundtrack wish list; 10 songs of celebratory power, poignant and heart warming, or just plain *awesome*. They all describe the joy, the happiness, the pain, the sorrow, the fear, the love, the wamth and the overall energy and power of this annual winter holiday. We'll leave it to Kyle to (candle) wax lyrical about these songs that even Father Christmas doesn't get sick of...unlike your mince pies you leave out every flippin' year. Ungrateful kids.
I have always loved Christmas music completely and unashamedly - from hymns and carols to pop hits, seasonal tunes always get my blood pumping. Since I have managed to achieve a lifelong ambition this year by releasing an album of original Christmas material, it seems the perfect time to share my personal Christmas top ten. I have erred more on the side of the obscure here – apologies to Mariah, Nat, Noddy et al – but all of these tunes will improve your December immeasurably. Played back to back they may actually give you an overdose of goodwill. Let us begin.
Reuben’s festive offering is far removed from every other Christmas song you have ever heard, yet it cannot fail to bring joy to all who watch the hilarious video (and it really does need to be watched with the video – not least for the fact that the words would be nigh on incomprehensible without).
My mum had some shamelessly brilliant Christmas records when we were growing up, the pick of the bunch being the Phil Spector album (more of which later) and 'It’s Christmas in Motown', a record which still has quite a profound effect on me. There have been tonnes of reissues of similar Motown Christmas albums, but the one you want has a blue and white cartoon sleeve with five overlaid photographs of the recording artists featured.
Finish reading this list and then seek it on ebay.
A song that is so familiar (in the UK) that it’s easy to forget how odd it is – a perky synth bounce coupled with dementedly energetic brass section and the most deadpan singer ever to grace a Christmas song (check out that TOTP performance).
Oh and it’s a protest record too – in fact I’m sure I’ve heard somewhere that the only line making it a Christmas song at all was added at the very last minute. Thank goodness.
He has earned the right to do exactly as he pleases, and this riotous Cajun stomp shows that he should continue to do so.
I have not had this much fun trying to memorise rapid-fire Dylan lyrics (yes, I know it’s a cover) since first discovering ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ when I was 15.
I’m afraid I may have to sacrifice some hipster points by admitting that I am not generally a fan of Low, yet every time I hear this I get all tingly. When the band kicks in over the inevitable-yet-welcome sleigh bells I am instantly transported to snow-bound Stockholm, despite never having gotten closer to Scandinavia than Southampton Ikea.
If the chord change just before ‘but you were wrong’ doesn’t melt your guts then you are possibly dead.
Sufjan’s Christmas albums are bonkers-brilliant but so incredibly huge that it can be hard to take it all in. But Volume 5 is the pinnacle of the set, and its crowning glory is 'Sister Winter', which starts off like one of those depressingly tender proper Sufjan tracks before running through the most perfect quadruple chorus crescendo. It then (snow)ploughs into an outro so joyous that it could bring on world peace, if only enough people were willing to shell out £35 for the box set.
Listen now, thank me later.
This deceptively touching song is told from the perspective of Father Christmas’ long-suffering wife, awaiting another Christmas Eve alone while her husband gallivants around the globe making girls’ wishes come true. What a perfect idea, and perfectly executed.
I don’t know why this is a Christmas song, but I do know that I could listen to it 50 times in a row and still be smiling. I’m a sucker for a slow build, and when those marching drums come in it just kills me every time. Then there’s the guitar solo! AND THEN AN EVEN BETTER ONE! Check Mike playing it on the video too – this is the most insane solo you have ever heard and he looks like he’s filling out a tax return. This brings back fond memories of waltzing round the living room with my mum in an ever-more energetic fashion as the song builds and builds. I was 23 years old.
It is 2014 and the last raft of memorable original Christmas songs is now beyond the memory span of anyone under 30. Somewhat like antibiotics, new Christmas pop singles stopped being produced in 1987*, when The Pogues put out 'Fairytale..'. Somehow, this song escaped my attention until I was about 14 (my parents were too old to embrace The Pogues), and when I first heard it I felt completely electrified. I still do every time I hear it. This song is so good that the band had to stop playing any gigs in the spring or summer because their fans wouldn’t let them not play it.
*I just remembered 'All I Want For Christmas is You', but that spoils the antibiotics gag.
If I could perform a last.fm summary on my entire life, the album with the most plays – sitting proudly above Abbey Road, Blood on the Tracks and In the Aeroplane Over The Sea – would surely be the Phil Spector Christmas album, A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector. I have probably listened to it 10 times a year for my entire life. I'm no mathematician but that probably adds up to over 300 plays, and I see no reason for the rate to slow down any time soon. Looming ominously above the whole album – just waiting, towards the end of side two – is a piece of pure pop gold that is surely one of the greatest achievements of humankind. The mischievous bass in the intro, the drum roll into that first ecstatic chorus, the powerhouse vocal that could slay a thousand 'warbling Mariahs'... If you don't think this is what heaven might sound like then we are not friends. And I didn't even mention Gremlins.
So go, listen, enjoy. Our new Christmas album is out today (24/12/14) and if anything on there can punch its weight against any of this lot, I'll be a happy man indeed.
Kyle, The Retrospective Soundtrack Players
(We also recommend you go see the album played live in Portsmouth, if you can, or one of the other December dates with Christ T-T and the Hoodrats. Check our gigs calendar for those, and for all of our artists' shows and ticket links - Xtra Mile Recordings)