Friday, 25 December 2009

25 Days, 25 Songs (December 1st - 25th 2009)

This was the third Billy Blagg Advent Calendar run on my old football home site at and a blog at Soccernet before it became ESPN FC. I had no idea the idea would prove so popular and I have saved the original posts here, both for posterity and to enable those who like to join in the still-running Calendar, to see what has appeared previously and make suggestions for new songs.

In the early days of the Calendar, the general WWW usage for music was MySpace and there wasn't a lot of opportunity to actually hear old tunes. Consequently, some of the text here explains what I was listening too and I've left that alone in order not to change the tone of the blog. For the most part - although not all - this changed with the rise of YouTube. The third calendar was the first time I started to use YouTube but not for all songs as many simply weren't available. 

To keep this blog relevant I have returned since to update all to YouTube where possible and I return periodically during the following festive season's to check and update the links (but you'll understand it's not something I'm not keen to do it in April or July!).

As of December 2019, this blog was up to date.


Photo: B.Blagg

December 25, 2009
Day 25: 'Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas' - Judy Garland

I stress every year that this is no all-time Christmas song chart or listing of the best of the year so the 25th song should be no different from the others (My joint winners this year would be Dylan and Thea Gilmore if it were) but the very notion of a calendar usually means Christmas Day gives you the biggest window or the largest chocolate so, to get round that, I've usually gone with a track dedicated to Lady Blagg to neatly sidestep the issue. This year though, again tugged by the emotions of the season, I've pulled the song I was going to select and gone with dear old Judy and dedicated it to .... well, me really.

The resonance of the lyrics 'next year all our troubles will be out of site' and 'From now on, our troubles will be far away' are not lost on me and I trust 2010 will see me fully employed and earning a shed-load once more.

This is the original version of the song, first sung by Garland in 1944's 'Meet me in St Louis' and probably more in keeping to my mood. Sinatra recorded it too, of course, but he asked Dean Martin to change the lyrics to make it 'more upbeat' and to celebrate the current season rather than looking forward to a better one. I thought the original more apt.

You can see Judy's performance here:

December 24, 2009
Day 24: 'Silent Night / Noapte de Vis' - Glasvegas

Good to see the Glasvegas album was shortlisted for the Mercury Award this year although scant attention was paid to the important fact that the later release included a Christmas CD which was almost worth the cost of the album alone.

Last year I featured the title track, the wonderful 'A Snowflake fell (and it felt like a kiss)' and this year 'Silent Night' was always guaranteed to make it onto the Calendar as the Christmas Eve song, being entirely appropriate fare for this special day.

This track was recorded in Transylvania with the full Concentus choir singing both in English and Romanian and, complete with howling wind blowing all over the track, It is brilliantly chilling - in all senses of the word - and best heard with only the Christmas tree lights on and a strong brandy in the hand.

Ethereal, haunting and quite magical.

December 23, 2009
Day 23: 'Run with the Fox' - Chris Squire and Alan White

I'll admit I'd not heard this until I started these threads a few years back and started to get a large number of emails suggesting it for the Calendar. At first I was a bit sceptical; I was never a big fan of Yes and a Prog rock Christmas song looked as if it would stray dangerously into Greg Lake territory but, hey! I've come to quite like it and I can get with the 'Are you hopeful Are you haunted / By the ghost of Christmas Past / Face the future undaunted / Step aside or take your chance' lyric this year. It's also got a killer bass line and the refrain from 'On Christmas Night all Christians sing' to recommend it.

I'm only sorry I didn't run with it - Ha! - last year as I'd intended, as I could have pointed you to a YouTube video link but, sadly, it's been removed to be replaced by a strange dude in a Santa hat playing the bass. Worth checking out though as I can't find the track on Spotify and I notice Google seems to credit the track to Yes, making me wonder if there's some type of copyright dispute going on.

Anyway, King Crimson's Pete Sinfield wrote the lyrics but there's nary a 'veil of tears' in sight, while Squire takes lead vocal in a distinctly Jon Anderson style. It's been around since 1981 and sounds like it, but worth checking out if you're still searching for a Time and a Word.

Update: Beware this YouTube track seems to disappear with alarming seasonal regularity - that's the fourth time since I first posted this - so, with apologies to strange bass line dude (who I understand is actually Miguel Falcao), I'm changing my default destination for this again. However, I like his bass lines and he deserves credit for keeping the line open to the song so feel free to seek him out.

December 22, 2009
Day 22: 'A Silent Night With You' - Tori Amos

Young Myra Amos's father was a Methodist minister so the Christmas album was inevitable sometime, I s'pose. This is from the 'Midwinter Graces' album released last month, and it is absolutely gorgeous. Blinded by the reflection from ten million envelopes, I'm in a Christmas mellow mood and, partial as I am to a redhead, if Tori wants to pop round to Blagg Acres and spend a silent night with me then I'll happily keep her topped up with Snowballs and Mince Pies. See and hear her at:

December 21, 2009
Day 21: 'The Little Drummer Boy' - The Dandy Warhols

Firstly this is far and away the best version of this hoary old chestnut I've ever heard but, more importantly, what the hell is this addition to the Nativity all about?

Ok I understand that even Matthew, Mark, Luke and John can't agree on what happened one night about 2,000 odd years ago but let's look at this logically, shall we?

There you are; you've just given birth, you're a virgin - possibly - and there's no room at the Inn so you've had to go into labour in a stable. After hours of struggle you've given birth to the Son of Man and been visited by Angels, some shepherds and some Magi. So far, so bippy. Then this kid turns up with a drum and says "I've got no presents but I have a drum, shall I play for you?" You think for a moment; you've just got the baby Cheesy back to sleep and this kid wants to bang a drum because he forgot to stop at the All-nighter for a present (I mean, anything would have done - Gold was good obviously, but Myrrh?).

What would ANY Mother say in this situ? "Aw go on then, I'm sure He will smile as he's woken up and, in any case, the Ox and Lamb can beat time so it will be a real good atmosphere and make a lovely song in years to come. Perhaps, by another miracle, some black kid will sing it and then turn white as a result."

No, patently Mary would have flung the kid out on his ear or told him to take up the Harmonica or something. It never happened, did it? Ok Jesus may have been born to a virgin and arrived in Bethlehem, but there was never any drummer popped in. There is absolutely no account of the incident anywhere and the only reason we now see a drummer at Nativity's everywhere is because of this dumb, dumb song. Who wrote and why? Seriously, who though this was a good idea? You may have well as written a song about a Spaceman visiting the scene....... WHAT? WHO? You mean the bloke who wrote about his wife wearing red? Sheeeeeeet!

December 20, 2009
Day 20 'In the Bleak Midwinter - Ed Harcourt

Talking of pointless rules, it's the Sunday Carol and this one is right out of left field.

Harcourt's sings this in a voice that makes Tom Waits sound like a soprano, starting the song off so low that you can't believe he's going to be able to finish it. But finish it he does, the Carol getting faster and faster and heavier as it lurches towards a climax. The result is bizarre but also quite wonderful.

December 19, 2009
Day 19: 'O Holy Night' - Eric Cartman

I'm not at all sure why I insist on imposing certain rules on this thread, but I always like to run with at least one novelty record - probably because that's what a great number of Christmas records are - so I'm going for this extract from 'South Park' because there are two versions and both have merit.

One is on YouTube and is a really funny sequence where Mr Garrison provides Kyle with a cattle prod which he can use on Eric every time he gets the words wrong. You can see it here 'O Holy Night'

The other is a track from the 'Christmas Poo' album that just features Cartman and a choir and just has Eric singing the wrong words in a style that is and is both funny and ...well, touching too.

Genuinely funny.

December 18, 2009
Day 18 'Let it Snow / Let it Snow / Let it Snow' - Dean Martin

You can't deny this thread isn't at least fluid.

This is a classic track certainly, but wasn't on the list until it took me 2 hours to do a 15- minute journey tonight as I drove home from a busy night sorting parcels. As I finally managed to get up the hill I decided to run this tonight and dedicate it to the friendly policeman and his trusty shovel, without which I would probably still be out there somewhere. 

Doubt he'll ever see it mind. ...

Oh the weather outside is frightful / But the fire is so delightful / And since we've no place to go / Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!

Great stuff!

December 17, 2009
Day 17: 'Christmas Day' - Squeeze

Aw hell! I will argue long and hard into the night that Chris Difford and Glenn Tillbrook are two of the finest songwriters this country has ever produced. Word is they are out on tour next year and, if you catch them - and you really should! - then you'll be staggered at the number of genuinely classic songs they have written

Why then, do I really not like this? It just never gets going for me and sounds like a mash-up of several rejected songs tacked together because they thought - not unreasonably - that with talent as they have, they should be able to produce a classic Christmas single. It's surely not too late lads but, sadly for me - hit though it was - this is not it. 

December 16, 2009
Day 16: 'Sound the Trumpets' - The Wailers (featuring Bob Marley)

Ah-har! See what I did there? This is the Wailers you know and love. I'm not sure why Bob is only 'featured' but judging by the sound - that kind of dirty Trenchtown sound before it was cleaned up for world-wide consumption - I would guess this track pre-dates most previously known BM & the W tracks. Research has revealed little. Still, no matter, 'cos this just wonderful and should be heard at all costs. And, don't forget 'Rasta Ras will be there'...

December 15, 2009
Day 15: 'Christmas Spirit' - The Wailers

I was going to crack a great joke about Bob Marley being out haunting for the evening but it is in poor taste and if you haven't heard this before then you won't know what I'm talking about until you play it.

Suffice to say you will quickly realise that this isn't the Wailers of Peter Tosh and 'Family Man' Barrett but rather a '60's kind of proto-punk meets Jug band ensemble impersonating Dylan / Donovan in what, I assume, is a tongue-in-cheek protest song. It is really very good indeed and - although my original invitation to pop round to Blagg Acres for an Eggnog, a mince pie and a listen is now redundant as it is now on YouTube - I'm quite happy for you to break out a sherry in your own home.

December 14, 2009
Day 14: 'When I get home for Christmas' - Snow Patrol

This has been on the festive Jukebox at Blagg Acres for a few years now and its a shame I haven't included it before as it may have given this thread a much-needed credibility boost back when this mob were indie darlings.

As it is their bass-driven, doom-laden offerings have now become a bit tedious and it's surely too late to commend this in much the same way that it was difficult to persuade the crowd at the V festival this year, that Snow Patrol was a suitable substitute for Oasis.

That death knell of all bands - the 'Greatest Hits' compilation (has there been more than two hits?) - is now upon us and it's easy to understand why when Gary Lightbody sings "When I get home for Christmas / I'll do anything you want" that the response you feel like making is "Anything? well then bloody cheer up a bit will you?"

Make yourself miserable here:

December 13, 2009
Day 13: 'Christmas is now drawing near at Hand' - Steve Winwood

It's the Sunday Carol again, and this has a special meaning for me as the young soprano Blagg - with little ruffle and angelic face (!?) - sung this at a Christmas Concert way back when men were men and women were grateful.

It's a lovely toon and I've always liked Steve, and his voice gives this a gravitas the Carol deserves. It's also very appropriate to the Godless bunch that hang around the Forums on WHO and ESPN.

'So proud and lofty do some people go / Dressing themselves like players in the show / They patch and paint and dress with idle stuff / As if God had not made them fine enough / Even little Children learn to curse and swear / And can't recite one word of Godly prayer'

Sound like anyone we know?

December 12, 2009
Day 12: 'That'll be Christmas" - Thea Gilmore

New this month and a bit of a cracker comes this from Singer / Songwriter Gilmore from her 'Strange Communion' album. Excellent lyrics with the right balance of longing and cynicism and a driving tune guaranteed NOT to annoy you by Christmas Eve. Plus it seems you get a listenable version of Yoko Ono's 'Listen, The Snow Is Falling' too. Make it Number One now!

"Hot Wine and a Christmas Tree / The Sound of Music and the family / Faith, Hope and Gluttony / That'll be Christmas / Join the others in the bar by ten / Peace and Goodwill to Men / Me missing you again / That'll be Christmas"

December 11, 2009
Day 11: 'Not Tonight Santa' - Girls Aloud

A populist selection perhaps, but it's Friday and a lot of you will be having your Christmas party tonight so what better than a few words from the girls to get you in the mood?

I'm sure you're hiding something hot / You wanna give to me / And not another pair of socks / from underneath the tree

Sound like anyone you know lads? How about?

Ooh, ooh, you give me something I could never get from Santa Claus Baby / Ooh, ooh, I'll let you peep inside my stocking If you show me yours

It writes itself doesn't it? You all be careful out there and keep it zipped y'hear? (I speak from experience as that is how I came to meet the Good Lady Blagg). No video sadly but you can listen here.

December 10, 2009
Day 10 - 'Rockin' around the Christmas Tree' - The Rubber Band

"Blagg, Why do you do this every year and torture yourself - and us?", they ask me. Well, this is why...

How good is this? A Scandinavian Beatles tribute band who recorded an album of Christmas songs called 'X'mas - The Beatmas' in a Fab's pastiche style.

This is the regular 'Rockin' round the Christmas Tree' as recorded originally back in the '50's by Brenda Lee but probably more readily recognised by younger readers as a No: 1 for Mel and Kim - Kim Wilde and Mel Smith not the other ones - in a seasonal 'comedy' spoof. Here though it is done in such a way that it actually sounds like 'I Saw Her Standing There'. Genius!

There's a 'One-Two-Three-Four' count-in like the opening to 'I Saw Her Standing There' and the band launch into a glorious Beatles sound-alike before finishing with a screamed 'I got Christmas on my fingers!' a parody of Lennon's scream after 'Helter Skelter'.

Truly inspirational and not to be missed.

December 9, 2009
Day 9: Every December Sky - Beth Neilsen Chapman

I'm in reflective mood this evening - sorting 1st and 2nd Class letters for the Royal Mail will do that to a man - so what better way to unwind than with this sumptuous song from Chapman.

I suppose, strictly speaking, this is more seasonal than Christmas, but it sings cold nights and twinkling lights and that'll do for me right now. On this, Beth duets with John Prine - whose 'Christmas in Prison' has nearly made this list several times now - to make this gorgeous song even more beautiful. It almost makes me forget my back is killing me...

December 8, 2009
Day 8: 'Christmastime' - The Smashing Pumpkins

One from Billy Corgan's mob cut in 1997 with a 45 piece string ensemble - the Yuletide season always seeming to be a time to lay everything on with a trowel. It's certainly Christmas-ey and evocative even if the 'Christmastime has come / There's toys for everyone' lyric jars a bit, it's worth checking out.

December 7, 2009
Day 7: 'I Want to Come Home for Christmas' - Marvin Gaye

I've been intending to include Gaye's 'Purple Snowflakes' for a couple of years, then while researching - stop laughing at the back! - that track, I found this curio from 1972.

The Viet-nam war was still raging then, of course, and in this song Gaye plays the part of a homesick POW wishing he was home for Christmas. Shortly after this track, Marvin Gaye embarked on his 'What's Going On' period, a move that catapulted him into super-stardom and enshrined his name in the annals of classic soul forever. There’s a trace of that mood already here; Gaye's impassioned, soulful voice as smooth as a White Chocolate drink from Whittards.

I knew a bloke once who was sent home from work for wearing a black shirt on the day that Marvin Gaye died; another sad indictment on the 80’s.

December 6, 2009
Day 6: 'Hark the Herald Angels Sing' - Bob Dylan

Regular readers will know I usually try and assign a carol to the Sundays of the Advent Calendar and, in any case, I need to return to the real meaning of Christmas after yesterday's faux pas, so what better way to make amends than to introduce Bob Dylan's new album to the mix; and - oh Dear God! - what a mix it is.

The truly astonishing 'Hark' is taken from the 'Christmas in the Heart' album released last month, in which his Royal Bobness ...errrr...'sings? No, let's say 'performs', a selection of Yuletide staples and carols in his own inimitable style.

It's usually granted that Dylan doesn't 'sing' in the conventional meaning of the word but then the same argument could easily be applied to Waits and Cohen, although they seem to have developed a kind of resonance and richness to their stentorian tones, as they have gotten older.

Dylan? Well, he just seems to warble and croak in a way that sounds as if someone, in a kind of Weird Al Yankovich homage, has suggested a parody album in similar vein to the time I once heard an Elvis impersonator attempt to tackle 'Feels like Teen Spirit'.

Dylan has always done things his own way and that's certainly the case here. Is it fun, does it have its own warmth and humour? Or is it one of the most bizarre things you'll hear this festive period? I doubt you can hear a track of this album without thinking 'He's having us on isn't he?' But hear it you must anyway. Seriously.

Listen but have a drink while you're doing it though....

2016 Update: It's happened before and once again the 'Hark' track has been pulled from YouTube. You'd almost think Mr Z doesn't want you to hear it. If it's updated I'll post it here.

December 5, 2009
Day 5: 'Stop the Cavalry' - Jona Lewie

A good song, certainly festive and definitely something you can lay claim to owning and playing without looking desperate but isn't it a little...ummm..'mainstream', I hear you cry? Well, I've just got back from a Christmas party - not mine; I have no company or business any more so I had to make do with a sympathy invite - and I'm a little worse for wear, so I'm going to let you into a little secret. *Glances around surreptitiously*

I once worked with a girl who was Jona Lewie's ex-girlfriend, and one Christmas long-long ago, me and said female - a comely wench - had a drunken fumble and tongue evening after the company Christmas party. So, assuming she and Jona's relationship was more than just platonic - I never asked you understand - then I reckon I can claim a Christmas hit by osmosis.

Why do I feel I will regret that story in the morning...?

December 4, 2009
Day 4: A Change at Christmas (Say it Isn't so) - The Flaming Lips

From the ridiculous to something rather wonderful as Wayne Coyne and friends turn to an old chestnut and pray for world peace for Christmas. In the hands of others it could be a schmaltzy disaster but the Lips are too smart and sassy to mess up the opportunity to impart a haunting yuletide message via a spacy, other-wordly track. Worth a download.

Oh, if I could stop time / It would be a frozen moment / just around Christmas.

Hallelujah fellas!

December 3, 2009
Day 3: 'We Wish you a Merry Christmas' - David Hasselhoff

The Hoff singing Christmas songs? Surely, this is awful Blagg? Oh no, my friend - oh no! - it is much, much worse than that.

Singing kiddies, heavenly choirs, 'we all know that Santa's coming' and Hoff talking over the end 'God Bless'. What's more, it's part of a whole Christmas album that was released - or should that be escaped? - in 2004.

Please, PLEASE - Someone stop it.....

December 2, 2009
Day 2: 'It Doesn't Often Snow at Christmas' - The Pet Shop Boys

As you'd expect; bells by the bucket-load, electronica by the sackful, gloriously over-the-top 'Che Guvera and Debussy to a disco beat' and a song as camp as a Scout's Jamboree. Any other time of the year you'd turn the thing into a Frisbee and fling it as far as you can but in December you'll play it again and again. Superb!

December 1, 2009
Day 1 - 'It's Christmas all Over Again' - Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

I don't want everyone sitting around looking miserable just because it's the twelfth month and, like me, you're out of work and can't afford a sock to hang, let alone anything to put in it, so what better way than to rock out with Tom and friends on this seasonal stormer.

'Long distance relatives / Ain't seen 'em in a long, long time / I kinda missed 'em / I just don't wanna kiss 'em'

Driving drums, plenty of bells and a nice finish as Tom lists what he wants Santa to bring this year make this a good opener to any festive CD. The party starts here!


Photo: B.Blagg