Christmas Flashback: Ronan Parke – Cheers

“A full on combination of ‘stupidly festive’ and ‘by any normal standards utterly shit'”

Tom: It’s Christmas Day, Tim. But we’re doing a Flashback?

Tim: Well, it’s not unheard of, and in any case, I was struggling for a while about what to feature today. It could be a new track, but there’s nothing that really just screams PURE CHRISTMAS, as would be appropriate. I considered featuring Wham!’s Last Christmas, as that video has just been given a 4K redo and it looks great, but that’s just the video, we all know the song. And then I happened upon this, which is perfect, because it is very very festive, and so twee you’ll want to throw your laptop out of the window.

Tom: Good heavens, it’s like they went through a checklist to make A Standard Christmas Song. They even go for toy-soldier military-drums at the end.

Tim: This is our tenth Christmas, and I think by now we all know that songs that are a full on combination of ‘stupidly festive‘ and ‘by any normal standards utterly shitget me overjoyed, and as such I can’t listen to this for more than the ten seconds it takes for the dog to appear on screen without laughing with pure, unadulterated JOY.

Tom: And you know that I’ll immediately start grumbling about it. But… well, sure. I have issues with this (“Family friends are all that matter” is… arguable) but, you know what, it’s Christmas Day. Sure. I’m not going to say it’s in the Pantheon, but in the absence of anything better, it’ll do right now.

Tim: The one single thing that would make this song more brilliant/awful would be an enormous key change, but even without that, the fa-la-las are more than enough to make up for it. It’s stupid, it’s joyous, and I love it.

So Tom: Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year! Cheers!

Tom: Merry Christmas, Tim.

Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia

“Have any architects ever been referred to in pop music?”

Tom: Good title for both an album and a song. You’ll hate the verses, and I would too, were it not for an astonishing shoutout in the first one.

Tim: Hmm…certainly an interesting one, probably not one that’s ever happened before. In fact, have any architects ever been referred to in pop music?

Tom: I checked Genius for the first architect that came to mind, and: technically yes.

Tim: “Art Garfunkel has stated that the origin of the song came from his request that Paul Simon write a song about the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Simon has stated that he wrote the song despite not knowing who Frank Lloyd Wright was.” Hmm, fair enough.

Tom: Leaving aside architectural shoutouts: I’m not really sending this to you because I think you’ll like it. I don’t think I even like it as a song. But I’m really impressed by how — like the title implies — this is a song that successfully manages to pull together sounds from several different decades.

Tim: Yeah, I think it works – well, sort of. I was enjoying it until I skipped back to the tab and thought “jeez, are we only two minutes in?”

Tom: That… is fair. I think this is a grower, though, like a lot of Dua Lipa’s songs. And how good is that chorus?

Tim: Yep, can’t deny that – it is a good chorus.

Saturday Flashback: DJ Ötzi – Ring The Bell

“I’m not sure what else I was expecting from him.”

Tim: We’ve mentioned a couple of times this year how he’s now been going 20 years – shall we check out his sole festive one, from 2011?

Tom: I cannot believe he doesn’t do a Christmas cover every year. Surely he’d rake it in at the ski resorts?

Tim: You’d think so, but apparently not. By the way, make sure you watch this through to the end before reading ahead, spoilers and all that.

Tim: RING-A-LING DONG DING, YES.

Tom: Good heavens, that manages to fall into “catchy” and “awful” at the same time. I’m not sure what else I was expecting from him.

Tim: And there’s a number of things to mention. First, hell of a twist that his (Santa’s?) girlfriend is the Easter Bunny, who’s apparently called Sally, WOAH.

Tom: His incredibly Austrian pronunciation of “fertile deep green valley” in the first verse.

Tim: Also excellent. Third, then: “all my only, every penny, I’ve been spending on Kilkenny” is a very odd lyric, because as far as I can tell the only Kilkenny that makes sense is a beer made by Guinness that’s largely popular in Australia and Canada.

Tom: Plus, to be a pedant, it’s “Kilkennies”, which is stranger still because a) it’s perfectly valid as a mass noun and b) that means it doesn’t rhyme as well?

Tim: I…I don’t know. But fourth, and most importantly, is a thing I don’t often say: that is a genuinely lovely key change. Normally I’m just “YES IT’S GREAT”, but here it’s different: it’s understated, it comes out of nowhere, and it give the song a quick “ooh, that was nice” feeling.

Tom: I actually had to go back and check that there really was a key change. If a key change happens in a forest and… never mind.

Tim: Yes, never mind. Because all in all, taking that into account and everything else: bloody marvellous song, I’ll have a Kilkenny.

Nause feat. Rebecca & Fiona – Can’t Erase

“PROPER BANGER.”

Tim: It’s been three years since we featured Rebecca & Fiona, and even longer than that since we featured Nause, but both are apparently still going strong, and seemingly wanting to get any thought of Christmas out of your mind with this PROPER BANGER.

Tom: A bold claim, Tim.

Tom: Huh, you’re right. That’s a really, really good dance track.

Tim: And why they didn’t leave leave in a drawer for a few months I’ve no idea, because (a) that’s a great dance track but (b) which sensible person wants to dance to this less than two weeks before Christmas?

Yes, parties happen, but the playlists are (or at least should be) entirely made up of Christmas songs or, especially come New Year’s Eve, tracks that each and every single person in the room knows. However good a dance track it is (and be in no doubt, I think this is brilliant), it shouldn’t be out now. Or am I wrong?

Tom: I think there is still a place for things like this: clubs don’t switch their playlists too much, other than occasional dance remixes of All I Want For Christmas. And in summer, the market for tracks like this is saturated. It stands out.

Tim: Hmm, yeah, I’d not thought of that. Fair point.

Tom: I like it. In an era of Spotify playlists and long-tail playback, I think this can still work.

Cast of High School Musical: The Musical: The Series – Born To Be Brave

“YES I KNOW BUT BEAR WITH ME”

Tim: YES I KNOW BUT BEAR WITH ME so some got excited for The Mandalorian, others for Falcon & Winter Soldier, but me, nope. Well, maybe a bit. But the main thing at the Disney+ launch for me? Easy. High School Musical: The Musical: The Series. Obviously.

Tom: Obviously. I don’t have any of the background required to understand what’s going on in it, but I’m glad you’re enjoying it.

Tim: Happily, the series has ended up so far being really, really good – incredibly funny, touching storylines and, to top it all off, great music. For example:

Tim: So, ignore the context, and try and tell me that wouldn’t sound amazing coming out of Demi Lovato, Little Mix, or any other strong female artist. And you can’t, can you? Because it’s brilliant.

Tom: It’s very much the Disney Channel style of pop, aimed both at teenagers and their parents. In that context, yes, it’s pretty good.

Tim: The lyrics are strong, inspirational, right down in ‘get out there and do it’ territory.

Tom: I guess? Although “like my phone’s navigation was turned off” is a genuinely appalling lyric, because it sounds clunky at first listen and then makes no sense when you stop to think about it. But I understand what they’re going for. And rhyming ‘throne’ with ‘kingdom’ is questionable at best. And that chanted middle eight is awful. And “castles in the sky” is a term for unrealistic dreams that will never be achieved, so that doesn’t really work either.

Actually, no, I’ve talked myself out of it now, the lyrics are awful.

Tim: Oh, they’re fine. The music is big, powerful ‘listen to what I’m saying’ stuff; the production is flawless; basically, this song is, as a piece of pop music, absolutely top notch. I love it.

Saturday Flashback: U2 & Mary J. Blige – One

“Are you on glue?”

Tim: I know it’s not Christmassy, but there’s something that needs clearing up. On Wednesday you made a claim that the Johnny Cash version of this song is “now the definitive version of the song”, to which my only response is: are you on glue?

Tom: Harsh. Admittedly that’s arguably much more true for “Hurt” than it is for “One” — because Nine Inch Nails were never what you could call a truly mainstream act, and Trent Renzor literally said “that song isn’t mine any more”. But I don’t think it’s a statement than can be dismissed automatically.

Tim: Even if you want to claim that it’s more notable than U2’s original version (which is laughable enough in itself), had you forgotten this?

Tim: Now, if you’ve recently developed a love for country music without telling me, that’s fine, you’re allowed to prefer an album track off a covers album.

Tom: Hold on hold on hold on. We’re both coming at this from very different angles. American III isn’t just “a covers album”, it’s one of Johnny Cash’s American Recordings series.

Tim: Hmm, maybe fair – but firstly, it still wasn’t released as a single, unlike a few others, and secondly (and more relevantly): you’re letting your emotions in here. Sure, it’s important to you, but please, don’t try to claim that it’s more notable or more definitive than either the original or this, which truly is an incredible collaboration. Figures alone show that much: this charted higher around the world (in the UK, for example, it was kept off the top spot only by Crazy by Gnarls Barkley), sold better, got a standing ovation when it was initially performed at U2’s New York gig. But you don’t need figures to show why it’s the case: it keeps Bono’s great initial vocals and adds on Mary J. Blige’s outstanding ones, with a phenomenal level of emotion. They work together and sound flawless.

Tom: I have, as far as I can recall, never heard this version of One. Ever. That is, no doubt, just as surprising to you as your dismissal of American IV is to me. And because I’m used to the other versions, I just don’t agree with you. I agree that the vocals are brilliant, but I think this is too… well, it’s too “pop music”, everything’s turned up too much, you’ve got that godawful thing where a studio single tries to sound like a live performance, with bits of what should be on-stage improv baked into the track.

Like Adam Lambert’s cover of Believe, U2’s “One” is an excellent track to perform on stage. Cash’s version is a better studio single.

Tim: Hmm, I’m still really not persuaded. But again, check the figures: if we’ve a definitive version of a song, it’s the one most people, if not everybody, thinks of when they think of the song. And hell, I’m not arguing that about this one. I’m just saying it absolutely isn’t Johnny Cash’s one. There’s just no competition. None at all.

Tom: So I did go and check the figures, and you’re right there: the order, in terms of Spotify’s slightly-rickety popularity ranking, goes U2’s original, then Cash, then this version. So, yes, I’ll grant you: Cash’s “One” is not the definitive version. But I don’t think U2’s is either.

Tim: And that’s okay.

Tusse Chiza – Rain

“It’s a winner’s single, of course it’s good.”

Tim: The debut episode of a new X Factor show went out on British TV last week, and was beaten in the ratings by, erm, a political talk show aimed solely at under 30s. Idol in Sweden, though, is still going strong, still producing many recognisable names.

Tom: That’s what you’d expect from Sweden, I guess: they’re still where a huge amount of pop music is coming from. If anywhere is still going to have an Idol franchise, it’ll be there.

Tim: Here’s the winner of series 19, as crowned last weekend.

Tim: That right there is an excellent blend of 2019 music, with the vocal samples at the start and then dotted throughout, and good old-fashioned power balladry (and indeed some excellent steadicam shots).

Tom: And again, that’s what you’d expect from Sweden. Not entirely convinced by the song itself, mind: all the component parts are there but I can’t remember any of it afterwards.

Tim: Strong voice, as you’d expect from an Idol winner, top production, and…oh, you know what? It’s a winner’s single, of course it’s good.

Tom: I’m not entirely convinced by that voice, it sounds like he’s straining in a couple of places, but then it’s a live performance on an incredibly stressful night. If he can belt that out under those conditions, he’ll be absolutely fine.

Tim: Will he continue and get further success? Who knows. Right now, I’m enjoying listening to this.

Adam Lambert – Believe

“Who’d dare to cover Believe?”

Tom: Every time we talk about a song with a name like this, the same as an absolutely iconic track, I get a bit grumpy. Why would you release a song with the same name like that? Unless it’s actually a cover. And who’d dare to cover Believe?

Tom: Oh. He would. And really well.

Tim: Well, yeah, kind of. I mean, it’s hardly the honest to God banger that the original was, is it?

Tom: Okay, a bit of backstory: he performed this live at the Kennedy Center Honours a year ago, and brought Cher to tears. She later posted a tweet in her usual style about it.

Tim: Amazing.

Tom: Here’s what I reckon: Cher’s original is a better studio version.

Tim: Obviously.

Tom: This isn’t a Johnny Cash situation, where the new cover version is now the definitive version of the song. (Twice.) And honestly, I don’t think this needs to be a studio single: I think that live performance stands well on its own.

Tim: Okay, we’ll come back to that Johnny Cash claim in a bit, because…yeah, later. As for this, sure, that’s a good performance, if you like that sort of thing. I think I’m just too pro-banger to really get this. Just leaves me a bit ehh.

Tom: That said, without the single, I wouldn’t have heard the live version.

Robbie Williams – Time For Change

“THE DOG WINKED AT THE CAMERA, TOM.”

Tim: You might be thinking “you WHAT, mate?”; you might be thinking “eh, guess it had to happen eventually”; either way: Robbie’s done a Christmas album.

Tom: I noticed, thanks to all the advertising for it — and for his two-night Christmas special show at Wembley Arena. Fair play, though, if anyone can sell that out and put on a good show, it’s Robbie Williams.

Tim: A double album, to be precise, with one disc of covers and one of new tracks. Here’s one of the latter (with, advance warning: a couple of lines sung by kids in the pre-chorus).

Tom: That guitar introduction reminded me a lot of “Back for Good”, and I was optimistic for a while. And then…

Tim: And then THE DOG WINKED AT THE CAMERA, TOM. TWICE. What a good dog it is, hope it got a great present this year.

Tom: …well, yes, there’s that too.

Tim: Other stuff: yep, that’s a Robbie Williams Christmas song. He said he’s written it in the same vibe as I Believe In Father Christmas (love that one) and Happy Xmas (War Is Over), a mixture of melancholy and optimism, applicable particularly if things are a bit shit – he reckons it could be sung any year because there’s always “some sort of crisis”, but reckons this year it particularly applies to Britain. Maybe that’s true, maybe it isn’t (though, yeah, it is), but either way it’s a valid theme to sing about, so why not? And it’s a good song, as well.

Instruments, lyrics and, yep, kids: it’s all there and Christmassy. Quite catchy, memorable, all in all a pretty good track.

Tom: Agh, and this is where I disagree. It all goes wrong in the chorus for me: it’s just a plodding, funereal melody that’s been given a stereotypical wall-of-sound treatment to make it sound like it should be a Christmas song. And I know, yes, that’s the theme of it, it’s all spelled out, it’s just that ultimately I don’t like the result.

Tim: Oh, shame. Incidentally, those quotes above came of a ‘behind the scenes’ YouTube playlist he’s made discussing all the tracks; apparently this is the one that he really hopes hangs around year after year.

Tom: Ah, “joining the Pantheon of Christmas Songs”. I don’t hold out much hope. But then if Lennon’s dirge can manage it, maybe this can too.

Tim: Fingers crossed, then.

Saturday Flashback: Maroon 5 – Memories

“Ew.”

Tom: Do you remember the UK Eurovision selection process this year, Tim, when Jordan Clark sang Freaks?

Tim: I do, yes. Intensely.

Tom: We never talked about it here, but I do remember us both being grumpy that they’d just gone a crap version of Pachelbel’s Canon in D. Not just the chord progression, but the melody and everything.

Tim: I was further annoyed because, although the studio version was complete and total garbage, the staging around it made it not quite so bad.

Tom: And then I was even more annoyed, because the bloody song got stuck in my head, because of course it did, it’s Canon in D.

Tim: Of course.

Tim: Ew.

Tom: It’s like that, only more frustrating.

Tim: And with a video that’s just plain weird.