Saturday Flashback: The Darkness – Christmas Time (Don’t Let The Bells End)

Tom: Tim, we should tell our reader about a bit of the behind-the-scenes discussions we’ve had this year. With Christmas Eve falling on a Saturday, we’ve been hunting for a Saturday Flashback that’s suitably… Christmassy enough.

Tim: Such as Sheena Easton’s It’s Christmas All Over The World, my first choice, as it’s perfect for Christmas Eve.

Tom: The trouble is, I’ve got zero Christmas spirit this year. You’ve sent me syrupy Christmas track after syrupy Christmas track, and while I could happily write a couple of hundred words ripping each of them apart, I just can’t bring myself to write anything positive. It’s rare for me to veto a track; to veto two in a row is entirely unheard of; but I killed three in a row here.

Tim: Reader, I’ve tried, I really have. It’s been distressing.

Tom: So I’ve suggested this. Because it’s simple: you can enjoy how Christmassy it is, and the fact that, unlike almost every other Christmas cash-in single, it’s actually pretty good. And I can shout the word “bell end” as loud as possible.

Tom: Merry Christmas, Tim.

Tim: Merry Christmas, Tom.

Lisa Ajax – Santa Bring My Baby To Me

Tim: Lisa, former Swedish Idol winner and Melodifestivalen finalist, brings us a festive number, presumably after having no luck on nights out and getting bored of Tinder.

Tom: Oh! Tim… I think this is the first really good Christmas track you’ve sent this year. You’ve saved the best for last. Well done. Heck of a voice, decent melody. As for the lyrics…

Tim: She dumped him a while ago, realises that actually she was being silly, and now wants him back, and has therefore turned to Santa to force him back rather than just, you know, asking him, like a normal person would. Still, who cares for free will and his feelings and stuff like that at this most wonderful time of the year?

Tom: It’s probably best not to analyse songs too much, particularly not at Christmas. I don’t think this is actually making me feel Christmassy, but… well, I don’t mind this right now, and that’s a pretty good start.

Tim: What we really care about is the song and the music, which is all pretty good – heck of a chorus in there, for starters, with an entirely decent voice and a proper mixture of tinkling and banging all mixed up together.

Tom: Shame about the middle eight, but it comes back with a brilliant final chorus and lovely whistle-register notes over the top, so I’ll forgive it.

Tim: So since Christmas lyrics are frequently nonsense anyway, I’m all in for this. SORTED.

Owl City – Humbug

“Mr City’s been off for a while doing other stuff.”

Tim: Mr City’s been off for a while doing other stuff, but now he’s back to tell us about a problem he’s got.

Tom: So here’s the thing, Tim: I am not Christmassy this year. At all. Zero. I’ve had bad years in the past, but this is a new one: I’ve got absolutely no Christmas spirit. So I’m not expecting to…

Tom: …huh. That actually made me smile. That’s a surprise.

Tim: Well there you go – a festive treat, with an issue we can all relate to, lyrics to crack a smile here and there, and closing with a shout-out to, of all people, Magnus Carlsson! (Yes it definitely is a deliberate reference, no it definitely isn’t a coincidence, I don’t care how enormously unlikely it is that it would be a deliberate reference, I AM CERTAIN THAT IT IS.)

Tom: Mate, if the ‘Wrecking Ball’ ripoff yesterday wasn’t deliberate, I’m guessing this isn’t either.

Tim: Not listening, can’t hear you. One issue, though: if he really loves her but doesn’t know which of two restaurants she prefers, I’m sure something’s gone a bit wrong somewhere in the standard dating process. But never mind.

Tom: The lyrics are terrible. Can we just agree that the lyrics are terrible?

Tim: Yes, though I would direct you to the very first sentence you wrote about Good Time, and also your remarks on Alligator Sky. Complexity isn’t his strong point, you should expect that by now.

Tom: But you know what, the rest of the song is happy enough that I actually don’t mind. And, hell, “sorry for the hand towels” is actually a lovely little descant to put at the end.

Tim: It really is, and I’ll take this, because the lyrics may be dodgy, but they’re fun, and jingly, and lovely.

Saturday Flashback: Gregorian – A Spaceman Came Travelling

“You remember Gregorian.”

Tim: You remember Gregorian – they’re from Germany, and typically do covers of songs in a medieval chanting style.

Tom: For once, I actually do remember them. They… left an impression.

Tim: You’ll be ASTOUNDED to hear that they’ve made a Christmas album, cunningly entitled Christmas Chants. It’s hard to pick a stand-out track, largely because most of them are tedious and forgettable.

Tom: Like almost all Christmas songs. And almost all novelty Gregorian chant covers.

Tim: Cynical, but very true. However, there are a couple of gems on there. Try this.

Tim: It’s safe to say this has always been a somewhat ridiculous (albeit excellent) track, what with the whole reimagining of Jesus being from space, and the idea that something weird like God aliens impregnating a woman does indeed happen every couple of thousand years (genuinely, it came from a poem and everything).

Tom: I think my main complaint about this track is the phrase “light years of time”. Light years are a distance, damn it.

Tim: Top marks for pedantry. Reimagining the song as a Gregorian chant (which it definitely is and I won’t have you convince me any other way) doesn’t really do anything to change the ridiculousness – in fact, the ah-ah-ah-ah-etc almost sounds more suited here than with Chris de Burgh’s original, which basically amounts to yelling.

Tom: If you ignore the lyrics, it almost sounds like a genuine religious chant. I’ll give them that. But aside from that: just no.

Tim: Either way, though, guess we need to start preparing for those aliens.

Cruz Beckham – If Everyday Was Christmas

“It’s all downhill from there.”

Tim: I finished off yesterday’s post with “nice work, everyone”. SPOILER ALERT: I won’t be saying that today.

Tom: The first few seconds are promising. And then there’s those autotuned “ooohs”. And it’s all downhill from there.

Tim: Now, I have no problem with people getting a leg up from famous parents – the world is a better place for having Wrecking Ball in it, for example – but, there has to be some notable talent there to begin with. This? This just sounds like he’s said “Dad, Brooklyn got to hang out with The Vamps, why I can’t do stuff like that?” and David said “oh, we’ve got loads of cash, hire a recording studio.”

Tom: I have a feeling that a few more managers and agents were involved than that, but yes, that’s not an unlikely story.

Tim: The output is bland, the lyrics are stupid (think about what Christmas every day would actually be like), and…

Tom: I mean, that didn’t stop Wizzard, and there have been enough hackneyed comedy routines about that already. You’re right that it’s bland — but that’s not stopped lots of other songs before. And while I agree that, overall, this is not a particularly good song, I will admit to actually liking the first three lines of the chorus.

Tim: Hmm…

Tom: I can’t believe I’m defending any of this song, but seriously: those three lines are really nice.

Tim: Well, I suppose technically you’re right, but I can’t help thinking, with the line ending “…with you”, that the song was written for someone else, maybe someone who’s not so young they’ve never been around for a decent Spider-Man film – and that someone else may well have done a more listenable recording of it.

Tom: To be honest, I can’t really think of any reason this version of this song exists other than to make one single toddler happy. And surely, that’s not why we should have music.

Saturday Flashback: Backstreet Boys – It’s Christmas Time Again

“It seems more like they wanted to do a Christmas song.”

Tim: It’s December, I’m waking up to sub-zero temperatures, and Christmas tracks are all out in force, so LET’S JOIN IN, but we’ll begin with a Yuletide tale of days gone by.

Tom: And I’ll provide a bit of context for our new reader: over December, Tim sends me Christmas tracks. I’m a lot more cynical about Christmas music than he is. Actually, I’m a lot more cynical about many things than he is, but here it’s just a bit more obvious.

Tim: And every year, I change to change his mind. So, waaaaaaaaay way back when, in their 1996 heyday, Backstreet Boys did a Christmas song, Christmas Time. It was typical Backstreet Boys ballad and, much like *NSync’s one, was ill-advised and generally a bit shit.

Tom: That’s 99% of Christmas music right there.

Tim: Sixteen years later, though, when they got back together they decided to have another go, with a pleasing self-referential title.

Tim: And that’s one that’s really not shit. It seems more like they wanted to do a Christmas song, rather than were just told “you need to do a Christmas song so we can release a Christmas version of this album”.

Tom: It’s not like they just took an old track and added some sleigh bells over the top. It’s actually not all that bad, is it?

Tim: I don’t know if it’s partly just because I’m judging it from a 2016 perspective – 20 years ago the first may have seemed perfectly acceptable – but this is just so much more fun. More life, more instruments, more general bangingness…

Tom: Excuse me?

Tim: You heard. Quite surprised I’ve never used that word before, to be honest. Still, though, they’re keeping in all the standard bells, chimes and twinkliness of a typical track.

Tom: And some incredibly unflattering artwork. But yes, I’ll grant you, this is at least above average as Christmas tracks go.

Tim: Ah, we’re off to a good start then. Incidentally, what first drew my attention to this was the fact that the typically reliable Ida LaFontaine covered it last year; it’s not on YouTube, tediously, but is very much worth seeking out on Spotify or Apple Music or indeed any other musical provider, whatever floats your festive boat.

Kylie Minogue – Christmas Isn’t Christmas ‘Til You Get Here

“FINALLY, WE’VE MADE IT THROUGH.”

Tom: ANOTHER one?

Tim: Yes indeed, another new Christmas original from Kylie. PREVIOUSLY: Only You, a well-meaning and enjoyable but ultimately unnecessary cover; 100 Degrees, a lyrically misjudged disco anthem thirty years too late; and Every Day’s Like Christmas, a festive dance track that you reckoned was missing a special something. Finally, though: the Christmas ballad.

Tom: Oh. Huh. That’s… actually really good. I wasn’t expecting the fourth single to be any good.

Tim: Yeah – I’ve no idea who came up with the release order, or what they were thinking, because this, actually, is the first one of them that I can imagine ending up on Christmas compilation CDs in years hence (or, more likely, curated playlists on your local music streaming service).

Tom: I can’t work out which bits are chorus, pre-chorus and middle eight, but you know what? I don’t care. That key change makes up for any flaws: this is the very first Christmas track you’ve sent me this year that I’ve actually played more than once.

Tim: Oh, you have MADE MY DAY. FINALLY, WE’VE MADE IT THROUGH – I almost want to plan a street party in Kylie’s honour. But, this for the future: it has a sense of timelessness that the others didn’t really get, it’ll sit pleasingly alongside All I Want For Christmas Is You and One More Sleep with that same “Christmas is best with loved ones” message, and, most of all, it’s got ALL THE JINGLINESS. And that is very important for a Christmas compilation.

Tom: You know what? I won’t say it’s a full-on, armour-piercing dose of Christmas spirit, but you know what? I think it’s the closest we’re going to get this year.

Tim: Oh, I’m so happy you’ve reached at least that level of qualified approval. Because given all though pleasing qualities it’s one I’ll happily listen to again, this year, and the next, and the next, and so on.

Tom: As, I suspect, will I. Merry Christmas, Tim.

Tim: MERRY CHRISTMAS TOM!

Si Cranston – A Christmas Twist

“I put the video in a background tab and suddenly it wasn’t a bad song.”

Tim: CHRISTMAS EVE, so it’s late night Christmas parties for some, including me, and here’s a fun one to get the party stated.

Tom: Oh blimey, that’s a terrible video. Let me explain: I was about to absolutely slate this song, and write a whole bit about how you’d ruined Christmas by sending this — but in order to do that, I put the video in a background tab and suddenly it wasn’t a bad song.

Tim: Yes alright, I will give you that – the video is indeed awful. And yet, although I only heard this for the first time a couple of days ago, the song itself has pretty quickly jumped up the list of my favourite Christmas songs, because OH THE CHRISTMAS SPIRIT – it’s right there throughout, music, party stylings and lyrics alike.

Tom: I guess I just can’t quite get over just how much that singer looks like a used car salesman. (At least, in this video: he’s probably quite nice in person.) Plus, there’s the slightly creepy synchronised dance with the weird flappy-hand movements.

Tim: Hmm, maybe this should have come with a video warning then. I would nitpick the lyrics by saying that “there won’t be any tears if we just open up our hearts” is about as far from the truth as you could possibly get in most extended family gatherings, but other lines like “now’s the time for us all to bring it all together and party party” with an instruction to “get your festive fix” really can’t be faulted for their intention.

Tom: That middle eight is dire – that would have sounded cheesy in the era they’re ripping off, let alone half a century later.

Tim: Again, yes, also a thought I had – I’m not a fan of it. But then comes the ending, and what a perfect ending! No repeat to fade, no gradual tonight down of the instruments, just a trumpet and bell chime and you’re done, with just one thought left in your head: Merry Christmas Everyone.

Tom: Two thoughts: wishing everyone a merry Christmas, and a strange desire to buy some teeth-whitener.

Michael Fannon – Första Julen Utan Dig

“Forget that you ever heard The Who’s Baba O’Reilly.”

Tim: Before you press play, one request: please forget that you ever heard The Who’s Baba O’Reilly.

Tom: Oh. Oh dear, that’s either a very unfortunate coincidence or someone really hoping no-one’ll notice.

Tim: To be honest, I’m verging towards the first, because I can’t believe anybody would deliberately use a line that often and think they won’t get noticed.

But, trying to ignore that that the entirety of the piano backing line, through the whole song, is identical to the intro of a fairly well known and recognisable song (and the middle eight is that, note for note), how are we finding that then?

Tom: See, the melody on top of it — those vocals — are really lovely. Perhaps it’s because I was expecting something much slower and energetic (I can’t think why) — those urgent, heartfelt vocals worked for me. And again with that middle eight: yep, the backing I’ve heard before, but everything on top of it was great.

Tim: Title translates as First Christmas Without You, though I’m not sure if that’s something to commiserate or to celebrate – the music certainly suggests the latter, because it’s very much major key, up and about, proper party style, and to be honest I’m all for that. You said that yesterday’s track had “just the right amount of bells” – has this overdone it for you? I really do hope not, because I LOVE the amount.

Tom: It’s not bad at all: close to overplaying them, but it’ll do nicely. Apart from the fact, obviously, that it’s riffing even more strongly on the Who than One Direction did.

Tim: Cockup or conspiracy in this case, I say, so basically I’ll describe as excellent bellage.

Kevin Walker – Christmas Nights

“It doesn’t quite hit home as much as I think it could do.”

Tim: Remember Christmas Is Here? A properly saccharine Christmas track that hits every single emotional button there is, and which wouldn’t do anywhere near as well if it had a male vocalist. Well.

Tom: That’s some beautiful scenery there, although the director’s intention seems to be “make sure the audience knows we can afford to hire a drone”.

Tim: And what else have we got: massive soaring emotional notes, YEP. Lyrics that couldn’t be more melty if they lived in a furnace, YEP. An image that Christmas can make things right, YEP. And yet, somehow, it doesn’t quite hit home as much as I think it could do.

Tom: Yep: maybe it’s just that video, but it just leaves me a bit cold. Yes, you can have by-the-numbers songs that can absolutely floor you emotionally — but this isn’t one of them.

Tim: Much as Kevin was a very worthy Idol winner and does have an excellent voice, I can’t help feeling that female vocals may well have me breaking down in tears. OH MY GOOD SHE JUST LOVES HIM SO MUCH AND THE LIFE WILL BE PERFECT AWWWWW – you know, that sort of thing.

Tom: Rather you than me, mate.

Tim: Well, in any case, opportunity missed, I feel.