You’ve probably heard a song off an album – you’ve heard the album, maybe a few times, but it’s just kind of washed over you, not really made much of an impression – you hear a song, maybe on the radio, maybe some random or curated playlist, and you go. ‘Wow! What a great song!’ And then you realise it’s from that album, the one that washed over you.
That’s what singles were for. Still are for, since they’re still released, though it’s not quite the same.
I just had that experience with Radiohead. Kid A never made much of an impact on me, but when I turned BBC 6 Music on tonight, a killer track was playing. Steve Lamacq back-announced it. He was playing the whole album, and the track was ‘The National Anthem.’ I knew Kid A had a track of that name, but it had never really got to me. But there, now, tonight, it was just amazing.
A similar, if inverted, effect is when the album is so good that it kind of drowns out a brillant single. I can only think of one example of that at the moment. If you cast your mind back (assuming it goes that far) to when The Jam released ‘The Eton Rifles,’ it was an incredible song.
But Setting Sons is such a good album that I hardly notice ‘The Eton Rifles’ on it.
Anyway. Singles. Yes.
Christmas is the time of year when the devil doesn’t have all the best tunes. The other side gets some of them too.
I love Christmas songs. Not all of them. of course, but many. And that includes some of the Christmas carols. A full choir singing ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing,’ or ‘Oh Come All Ye Faithful’? I’m there.
The best Christmas songs, though, do belong to the — let’s say — secular side of things. I have a hierarchy of my personal favourites. Things move around a bit, and very occasionally new ones arrive; and you won’t be surprised to learn that ‘Fairytale of New York’ remains unassailable in the top spot.
One of my other favourites is Greg Lake’s 1975 hit, ‘I Believe in Father Christmas.’ Now, if you haven’t listened to the words too closely — written, I’m surprised to discover, by Peter Sinfield, of whom I had barely heard before researching this — you might think it’s a simple celebration of Christmas, set to a jaunty tune, much like Slade’s ‘Merry Xmas Everybody,’ from a couple of years earlier (and every year since). It’s not, though. It’s much darker and more interesting than that:
They sold me a dream of Christmas
They sold me a Silent Night
They told me a fairy story
Till I believed in the Israelite
And that closing couplet:
Hallelujah, Noel, be it Heaven or hell
The Christmas we get we deserve
Lake and Sinfield have argued that it’s not anti-religious or atheistic. Well, you can have your interpretation, guys. I know what I think.
I mainly wrote this because I’ve wanted to use the line I’ve stolen as a title for years. And I’ll leave you with the wishes the song provides:
I wish you a hopeful Christmas
I wish you a brave New Year
I think we’re all going to need some hope and some bravery in 2020.