Twelve Songs for Christmas
Pitchfork music critic Simon Reynolds and best-selling writer Chuck Klosterman are two of today’s sharpest wits breaking down what makes pop culture tick. In advance of their conversation at the Bing on November 1, Reynolds was kind enough to put together a short playlist in time for the holidays. It’s a selection that might surprise you.
John Lennon and Yoko Ono/ Plastic Ono Band
“Happy Xmas (War Is Over),” 1971
It’s hard to believe that the man capable of the acrid disillusion of “Working Class Hero,” “God,” and “My Mummy’s Dead” could just one year later record this soppy sway-along.
“Merry Xmas Everybody,” 1973
Fronted by the Lennonas- foghorn blast of Noddy Holder, Slade was Britain’s biggest hit-maker during the glam early 1970s. But out of its half-dozen number ones, it is “Merry Xmas Everybody” that has endured as a hardy perennial.
“I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday,” 1973
Another glam-era chart topper, Wizzard’s Roy Wood was a pasticheur with an uncanny facility for replicating the signature sound of admired predecessors. Not for the first time, the target of Wood’s sincere flattery here is Phil Spector.
“Wonderful Christmastime,” 1979
This ought to be too ingratiatingly sickly to stomach, but Macca’s deft craftsmanship and clever touches (synth squiggles like bubble bath, that burbling reverb-shimmered bass) make this song charming rather than cloying.
“Don’t Bring Harry,” 1979
Punk-era misanthropes the Stranglers released this morosely languid ditty about heroin—personified as the creepy and insidious “Harry”—as a Christmas single in 1979. Amazingly they would have a huge winter hit a couple of years later with another song about smack, the gorgeously bittersweet and implicitly hymnal “Golden Brown.”
“A Merry Jingle,” 1979
What most likely started out as a beery jape conceived in a Soho pub—“let’s give a brace of yuletide standards a lumpen sub-punk do-over, shall we lads?”—became a minor UK hit.
“Things Fall Apart,” 1981
Fresh from her disco-noir remake of Peggy Lee’s “Is That All There Is?”—with altered lyrics so decadent that original lyricists Leiber and Stoller had the cover version suppressed—Cristina made a contribution to ZE Records’ A Christmas Album that was a nihilist subversion of the seasonal song, festering not festive.
“Christmas Wrapping,” 1982
Best known for “I Know What Boys Like,” these Akron New Wavers also scored with this wonderfully tart tale about being too busy and too jaded to celebrate the holidays.
“2000 Miles,” 1983
Another Akron New Waver, Chrissie Hynde is one of rock’s true originals as a vocalist, with her magnetic alloy of tender and tough, needy and nasty. But here the edge softens and Hynde allows herself a completely moist moment of Christmassy wistfulness.
Frankie Goes to Hollywood
“The Power of Love,” 1984
Frankie dominated 1984 with a triptych of singles with epic themes. “Relax” was about sex, transgression, and shock (it was banned by the BBC); “Two Tribes” grappled with war, Armageddon, and U.S. vs. USSR geopolitics; and the ballad “The Power of Love” hymned the redemptive power of devotion and faith.
“Walking in the Air,” 1993
This rambunctious bassbooming rave anthem is a Christmas song only by association, sampling Welsh choirboy Aled Jones’ hit single “Walking in the Air.”
“A Christmas Grind,” 2003
Off the album Crunk and Disorderly, “A Christmas Grind” belongs to a surprisingly sizeable subgenre of holidaythemed rap songs: Kurtis Blow’s “Christmas Rappin’,” the Treacherous Three’s “Santa’s Rap,” Run DMC’s “Christmas in Hollis,” Ludacris’ “Ludacrismas,” Master P’s “Christmas in da Ghetto,” Ying Yang Twins’ “Ho Ho Ho,” and Run the Jewels’ “A Christmas F*cking Miracle.”
Related Event: Nov 1
Bing Concert Hall
Chuck Klosterman & Simon Reynolds in Conversation