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.

Lili Päivärinta – Heart To Heart

“It’s like the producers went to the nostalgia store on Christmas Eve, and found that it’s sold out of all the stuff that people actually like.”

Tim: Charity Christmas single for you today, but not the ‘poor people have nothing at Christmas’ type you might be expecting.

Tim: Now, I don’t quite get this. I mean, as a song it’s fine, hits the regular pop beats and everything, but I’m not entirely sure where the lyrics are coming from, or who they’re aimed at. Because sure, the video makes it quite sure it’s Lil singing (off 80s duo Lili & Susie, incidentally).

Tom: Which explains why my first thought was: “this sounds like it’s out of the 80s, but not in a good way”. It’s like the producers went to the nostalgia store on Christmas Eve, and found that it’s sold out of all the stuff that people actually like — so now they’re left with wrapping up hard-pan stereo mix and some synth pads that never came back into fashion, and hoping that everyone’s good enough to fake their reaction when they open it on Christmas morning.

Tim: Hmm. Tad harsh, perhaps, but okay, let’s go with it.

Tom: And as for those lyrics: well, they’re generic love lyrics, surely?

Tim: Yes, except that given it’s a dog charity, is she singing to her dog? I mean, I’m all for that, because I know people have strong relationships with their dogs. But then ‘Heart To Heart’ implies a reciprocal arrangement, so…is Lili playing the part of a dog? That’s absolutely fine, I’ve no problems with that at all – hell, it’d almost certainly be an improvement on the Cats movie – but a bit weird for a Christmas single.

Tom: Maybe they were the only things left in the shop as well.

Tim: Maybe, yeah, or maybe I’m just over-analysing this a bit. That doesn’t sound like me, though.

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.


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.

KEiiNO – Storbyjul

“I think they fixed That Song. I wouldn’t have believed it.”

Tim: It’s a cover. Press play.

Tom: Amazing. I think… I think they fixed That Song. I wouldn’t have believed it.

Tim: And that there confirms for me that the only problem I had with the original was with the lyrics. As for what these lyrics are, well, I’ve absolutely no idea how you translate “boys of the NYPD choir’ into Norwegian, but I’m not sure it matters, as I’m guessing this is a very loose translation.

Tom: Thankfully. You’re right, though: the main problem with the original is the words. Yes, originally they were interesting and subversive — slurs aside, it was a different time, etc etc — but now they’re just a depressing excuse for people at holiday parties to claim it’s “just a song” as they shout “scumbag”, or worse, at the people in the office they don’t like.

Probably a bit too specific, that, but never mind.

That said, I’m pretty sure the meaning is still there: even with my non-existent Norwegian, I can tell you that the duet of insults is still there. But in Norwegian, well, I can’t really tell.

Tim: Melodically it’s great; the energy’s all there once it gets going for the second verse; the joiking is, as ever, potentially off-putting if you don’t like it, but I’ve no issue.

Tom: And that solo trumpet really works too!

Tim: I really like this, a lot more than I thought I would. Well done KEiiNO, you’ve managed what I thought was impossible – a decent version of That Song.

Klara Hammarström – Riding Home For Christmas

“Clip clop clip clop.”

Tim: Can’t have riding without hoof noises, Tom.

Tim: Clip clop, clip clop. I mean, I’ve no idea why anybody would want to ride long distance on a horse (or maybe she’s borrowed a reindeer) at this time of year, it’s bloody freezing, but then I guess at least it avoids confusion with that godawful Chris Rea song. Clip clop.

Tom: See, for once I actually don’t find that annoying: they’re low enough in the mix that they don’t seem strange to me.

Tim: I think my favourite moment in here is when it drops any pretence whatsoever of being a normal song (which, let’s be honest, it could just about claim to be in the verses) and goes ALL IN with jingle bells for the chorus, because who are we really kidding? She’s Christmassy, the target’s Christmassy, the song’s Christmassy, EVERYTHING’S CHRISTMASSY, and all the better for it.

Tom: Agh, see, it’s the opposite exact for me: there is just too much jingling. When I say the verses of this sound like Christina Aguilera’s Beautiful, I mean it as a compliment to both voice and composition. And the chorus is great, too.

There’s a lot to like here, but it’s drowned out: by jingle bells for me, by hoof noises for you.

Tim: Clip clop, clip clop.

Arvingarna – Låt Oss Skänka Hopp


Tim: Time for another Christmas number, which will score precisely 0 on your ‘likely to join the British Christmas music collection’, but I doubt you’ll have a problem with that, as it’s CHRISTMAS DANSBAND!

Tim: Nice amount of fun, that, isn’t it?

Tom: That’s certainly the most Christmassy introduction that I’ve heard in a while.

Tim: For once, I’m very glad it’s in foreign, because the title translates to ‘Let’s Give Hope’ and it’s in the ‘yes Christmas is great but let’s not forget about the people who aren’t so happy’, and yes I know we need to think about them and I know they deserve charity but sometimes I just want to listen to happy fun Christmas music without being reminded of that, and the music for this doesn’t even slightly fit with that message.

Tom: …are you sure? This sounds very Charity Single to me. I can see imagine a montage of Swedish celebrities belting this out one line at a time. I mean, I can’t imagine it, I don’t think I know any Swedish celebrities, but you know what I mean.

Tim: It is jaunty, it is upbeat, and I love it.

Saturday Flashback: Ida Corr – Christmas Time

“Let us love, let us live, let us heal the broken heart.”

Tim: As necessitated by December, it’s Christmas Christmas Christmas for the flashbacks, and here’s one from 2016. We never featured it at the time as her label originally only uploaded the first 90 seconds to YouTube, but fortunately, it’s all there now. How fun!

Tom: Mm. I’m not so sure about ‘fun’.

Tim: Let’s face it, Tom: Britain right now is kind of garbage. This bloody election, which initially I was actually excited for, has turned into such a festering dungheap that my preferred outcome would be everybody losing and the whole country being governed by Miss Jenn off High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, who is absolutely my favourite person in the world right now.

Tom: If our reader is wondering, then no, I couldn’t be bothered to Google that reference.

Tim: However, as Ida points out: it’s Christmas time, it’s around. Let us love, let us live, let us heal the broken heart. It’s time to forgive, and get a brand new start. And right now, I’m very up for that. The fact that this message has been brought to us by a fairly decent dance pop track with all the jingles of festivity just adds to that. Let’s feel good.

Tom: I think you’re being overly generous there: I woke up for the middle eight, but other than that, this just seems rather dull. It’s repetitive both within each chorus, and over the whole track — and yes, that can be a good thing, but in this case it’s mostly just putting me to sleep.

That’s not the Ida’s fault: she’s performing it perfectly well. I even tried bumping the playback speed up to 1.25x — it was an improvement, but it’s still just think it’s, well, a bit of a boring song.

Little Mix – One I’ve Been Missing

“Certainly more mopey than any Christmas song ought to be.”

Tim: There is precisely one question that needs to be asked about any Little Mix Christmas song: is it as good as the absolutely outstanding, 10 out of 10, Christmas version of Love Me Like You?

Tim: No. But obviously, it could never be – that song is one of the best Christmas songs of the decade.

Tom: I actually can’t tell how many layers of irony you’re using there.

Tim: Quite honestly, none at all, I love it. As to whether it’s any good on its own: hmm. It doesn’t quite venture into ‘dirge’ territory, but it is certainly more mopey than any Christmas song ought to be.

Tom: Now, see, I disagree there. I’ve got a very direct comparison here: Mud’s Lonely This Christmas. For two reasons: yes, it’s a mopey Christmas song, but also, it literally ends with the same notes of Jingle Bells!

Tim: Hmm, maybe, but that one has mopey lyrics as well, so at least the mood fits. Here, though, we’ve a lyrically happy and upbeat song. Take the line “I need to show you how much I love you” – like, if that’s the case, put some effort in! And then there’s the line “now that I have you here” – celebrate it! These lyrics deserve to have similarly upbeat instrumentation and vocals – not to be sung along as a tedious ballad, with whiny backing vocals at the end. Basically: do what you’re singing, and sound like you’re having fun.

Tom: That’s fair. But the fans will love it, no doubt.

Robbie Williams – Time For Change


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.

Saara Aalto – Every Christmas Day

“We’re a good twenty seconds in and it’s kind of OH NO WAIT HERE WE GO”

Tim: Alright then: the lights are up, my festive Lego sets are out, so let’s get Christmas going! First up, we’ve an EP from the one and only Saara Aalto, with a song written by the one and only Kylie Minogue. Yes, you read that right.

Tom: I’ve decided that I’ve got a different challenge this year, Tim, because admittedly my usual bleak and bah-humbug outlook doesn’t go well. Instead, I’m looking for just one song that could join The Pantheon of Christmas Songs: one that will still be on a Christmas compilation album in 10 years’ time. If, indeed, Christmas album compliations are still a thing by 2030.

I think there’s only been one song we’ve talked about here, in all the years, that might be there: Kelly Clarkson’s Underneath the Tree.

Tim: “This sounds a bit quiet,” you’re thinking. “We’ve a track written by Kylie, performed by Saara, and there’s nothing much happening,” you’re muttering. “We’re a good twenty seconds in and it’s kind of OH NO WAIT HERE WE GO,” you exclaim in delight, involuntarily moving your body left and right in time with the beat that’s suddenly appeared, sounding exactly as it should do.

Tom: I’m going to assume you’re talking to our reader, there, because all I got, sadly, was a “yes, that sounds like Kylie”. To be fair, that is a strong compliment: there is a lot to like about this song! Almost all Christmas tracks are cheap churned-out cash-ins and this really doesn’t feel like that. Change the lyrics a bit, remove a bit of the jingle, this could be a decent pop track any time of the year.

Tim: Now, I’ll accept there’s every chance I was predisposed to like this purely based on the names involved, but I’ve a feeling this is roughly exactly what a good Christmas dance pop tune should sound like – nothing too BANGING or THUMPING but still with a heavy amount of life to it, and lots of twinkly notes and a few sleight bells to get across the festivity. Lyrics that really keep wanging on about Christmas, sung in Saara’s lovely voice, and what else can you ask for in a Christmas song?

Tom: It’s a strong start to the month, Tim, I’ll give you that. I worry that it’s all downhill from here, but — for once, this year — I’m actually going to allow myself a little bit of hope.