The ‘C’ word 2021: This year’s best and worst Christmas songs

It’s that time of year again and James Spearing has once more volunteered to subject himself to the horrors that await in the end of December charts. The maniac.

It’s optimistically been titled ‘best and worst’ but ‘worst and less worse’ might be more accurate this year.

So think of it as Picky Bastard public service to you – we listen so you don’t have to. Look, we’re skint alright this is the only gift you’re getting from us.

Merry Christmas, you bastards.

Ed Sheeran & Elton John – ‘Merry Christmas

Let’s begin with one of this year’s biggies. On paper this is a car crash. Not that you can have a car crash on paper. Anyway, ahead of what you might expect to be a reputation-cementing final world tour ever, Elton seems only intent on trashing said reputation in 2021 with dubious ‘album’ The Lockdown Sessions and now by tainting his classic Christmas hit ‘Step Into Christmas’. And Ed Sheeran? Well he’s Ed Sheeran. Surprisingly this song isn’t quite the easy target I was expecting. It has all the key ingredients of a Christmas hit including bells both tubular and sleigh, a catchy chorus, a choir and platitudinous messages of good will. Expect to be hearing this one every year, forever.

Vince Guaraldi Trio – ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas

Ok nothing new here but a snazzy vinyl reissue of this seems to have become an annual tradition. It was high time I actually listened to the thing. And it’s very much what you’d expect – well known seasonal tunes in an instrumental jazz piano standard style. Listening to it without the visual context of the Charlie Brown animation though, it does lose something. A present you don’t hate from a relative, but one which may require some feigned excitement and gratitude upon receipt.

Gary Barlow – ‘The Dream of Christmas

I feel I shouldn’t take his name in vain at this time of the celebration of his birth, but Christ. If you were still looking for an easy target, my word is this it. Ok, I admit I came nowhere near to listening to the whole thing (I could take no more after two songs) but I’m confident it cannot get any better. The title track is several keys too high for Gary’s voice to cope with and its meandering melody only adds to the disorientating sound. The duet with with Sheridan Smith, ‘How Christmas Is Supposed To Be’, is designed to soundtrack Boxing Day furniture sales adverts.

Billy Nomates – ‘Christmas Is For Lovers, Ghosts and Children

This doesn’t have the same rage as her tunes like ‘No’ and ‘Heels’, but it comes with the same trademark non-conforming spirit. ‘What I’m hearing / what I’m seeing / doesn’t add up to the season I’m feeling’ sings a thoughtful Billy. This is no anti-Christmas song, but one that recognises that it doesn’t feel the same, or mean the same to everyone and it can be a difficult time of year. Such sentiments will resonate with many.

Various Artists – ‘It’s A Cool, Cool Christmas

Another reissue, this charity compilation album (supporting Warchild) makes it to vinyl for the first time this year, and has many an act a PBs reader will not only recognise, but perhaps also be a big fan of. Everyone from The Flaming Lips to Snow Patrol to Belle and Sebastian makes an appearance. In very music press language it’s described as ‘the definitive indie Christmas album’. As clichéd as that may sound, it may just be true. There are some hugely inventive interpretations on here and it’s well worth your time.

The Lathums – ‘Krampus

The Lathums have had a good year with their debut album going straight to number one. Due to the scars to my eardrums left by the likes of The Fratellis and Razorlight, I have a deep aversion to this brand of mid-00s indie revivalism and therefore the band has so far avoided PB scrutiny. I have no clue what this song is supposed to be about. Is the Krampus meant to be a metaphor for COVID? And I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry at the lyric ’cause we live in Wigan / where the carolers will be singing’. Odd.

Sigrid – ‘Home To You (This Christmas)

This is a reworking of a Sigrid song from a few years back. And by reworking I mean she’s replaced ‘but there’s a place by the sea and that’s my town’ with ‘but there’s a place where the snow is all around’. Plus a piano bit that sounds a bit like ‘Jingle Bells’. The result is a lifeless sub-Adele ballad. Sigrid’s clean, upbeat pop seems made for a Christmas hit but on this song she’s made totally the wrong choice.

Jimmy Fallon (feat. Ariana Grande & Megan Thee Stallion) – ‘Masked Christmas

Erm. Not sure where to begin on this one. Let’s say well intentioned but poorly executed. The Boxing Day ham-fisted vaccination message you can’t argue with but why oh why make us listen to something so trite and sonically offensive. Maybe don’t ‘kiss everybody’ until you’ve had that booster eh Megan?

George Ezra – ‘Come On Home For Christmas

I read the title and immediately thought, ‘can someone come up with an even slightly original concept for a Christmas song?’. The video and songwriting do little to innovate either. It’s almost as if an ‘Amazon Original’ is produced for zero artistic purpose and entirely to generate what even the baby Jesus would describe as a bum load of cash.

Norah Jones – ‘I Dream of Christmas

Norah’s innate inoffensiveness serves her well amongst the turds in this list. The languid chorus has more in common with The Style Council’s ‘Long Hot Summer’ than any other Christmas song. She’s definitely focusing more on the dream and less on the Christmas. I have to say I admire how she doesn’t fall into any of the traps that catch others out. I’d be happy to listen to this any time of year if it wasn’t for the lyrics.

James Arthur – ‘Christmas Bells

He sounds like he sings without moving his mouth so I can barely make out the words. I looked up the lyrics. He compares his broken heart to torn wrapping paper. You’re going to have to try harder than that to get her back mate.

ABBA – ‘Little Things

No.

Words by James Spearing​

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