Sunday, April 18, 2021

A Scrooge’s guide to cringe-free Christmas songs

Let me be clear from the outset: I am not anti-Christmas. I love family get-togethers with plenty of liquid lubricant and festive cheer. What does get my goat, though, is the crass commercialism of the whole thing — but mostly it is the ‘special Christmas songs’ and constant carols that begin far too early… be they the choral type or such wince-inducing attempts like the ‘BellEnds.’ Plus, I am fed up hearing Slade and want to throttle the ‘Mistletoe and Wine’ composer…no more please!

Fortunately, my wife has come to accept that I am a miserable old git and has ditched the traditional stuff and, while I’m in the room at least, we have reached a compromise…the only Christmas ‘songs’ allowed are those that appear on the Merry Axemas – A Guitar Christmas and Merry Axemas Volume 2 CDs (both instrumentals) with selected excerpts from We Wish You A Metal Xmas and a Head Banging New Year.

The Merry Axemas CDs came as a result of my obsession with collecting every track that Deep Purple guitarist Steve Morse ever appears on (and that is a huge amount) and so I bought the first with the thought that it was just for completeness. I did listen to it and Morse (plus other towering talents of the guitar) changed my perception of the saccharine songs as the likes of Kenny Wayne Shepherd (‘Rudolph’), Steve Vai (‘Christmas Time’) , Jeff Beck (‘Amazing Grace’) and Alex Lifeson (‘The Drummer Boy’) poured originality and rhythm into jaded classics.

Volume 2 followed and similar treats from Steve Luthaker (‘Christmas Song’), Neal Schon (‘Emmanuel’), Zakk Wylde(‘White Christmas’) and Robin Trower (‘Bethlehem’) delivered an equally diverse but, vitally, listenable versions of the Christmas songs I had come to dread. The other CD that found its way into my collection was driven by the appearance therein of (you guessed) Steve Morse, but other favourites of mine also featured Ronnie James Dio, Alice Cooper, Lemmy, Billy Gibbons, and the list goes on.

However, it is the previously nauseating song, ‘Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer’ that stood out: Ratt frontman Stephen Pearcy does a brilliant job on the vocals and Tracii Guns supplies the tasty guitar….I certainly didn’t see that one coming! And who could resist Lemmy and Billy Gibbons hamming and rocking it up on ‘Run Rudolph Run’? Give them a try even if you do enjoy the originals…these are just much, much better although the dirge that Ronnie contributed isn’t played.

So, just like Scrooge who was visited by the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future and then came to accept the niceties of the festive period, I have been visited by three wise CDs and now welcome these interpretations of Christmas music into my home. However, I still refuse to listen to any others though and remain determined never again to hear those execrable Christmas specials that I once endured. So, if you’re a ‘Bah-Humbugger’ like me or even if you actually like the damn things, treat yourself to carols and songs with guitar wizardry as standard and make Christmas a lot more endurable and enjoyable.

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Tom Dixon
North East born, South West domiciled music lover - mainly heavy rock & blues but not averse to other genres. I'm fortunate to have retired early & I can now take full advantage of the 40+ years I have spent collecting, listening, watching & playing (badly) & have enjoyed researching how blues in particular has shaped the music we know & love today. Now if only I could get my Strat & Musicman to sound in reality how they do in my head!

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