Shane Mac’s “Fairytale” and our Top 30 Christmas songs

Rest in Peace, Kirsty McColl and Shane MacGown. Thank you for “Fairytale”

By Dai Bando published 12/20/2021 (updated 11/30/2023)

There are five new additions to my annual “Greatest Christmas Songs” list, now thirty songs in total! This is disconcerting, since my original raison d’être was the claim that there are only about ten good Christmas songs. Then ten became fifteen, then twenty-five, and now thirty.

So, I appear to be wr…wr… challenged, in my original belief.

We lost some wonderful performers from the list post-Covid, notably Paddy Moloney of the Chieftains, Nanci Griffith, Sinead O’Connor and only yesterday, the legendary Shane MacGowan Rest in Peace and thank you for the music.

Below is the list, updated with new hymns, traditional carols and Christmas pop songs.

30. “Simple Gifts” performed by YoYo Ma and Alison Krauss

“Simple Gifts” is special to me because it was performed at my daughter’s annual school holiday concert, called “Lumina”. The senior girls would sing in candlelight procession entering a building packed with smartly dressed parents and grandparents – none wearing face-masks, because this would’ve appeared nutters ten years ago. Ah, the carefree days of 2011!

“Simple Gifts” was written in 1848. The lyrics are:

“’Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free
’Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.”

Finding ourselves “in the place just right.” What could be a more wonderful Christmas gift than that?

On this recording, Yo Yo Ma contributes his masterful cello playing while Alison Krauss adds her typically sublime vocals. Such an extraordinary ode to simplicity!

A Christmas Quiz:

“Simple Gifts” was written in 1848 by:
A. Barbeque Bob
B. Shaker Elder Joseph Brackett
C. Bumblebee Slim

29. Auld Lang Syne” performed by Johnny Cunningham and Susan McKeown

I find New Years as much a spiritual time as Christmas, perhaps even more-so. This version of Robert Burns “Auld Land Syne” includes both Burns’ original Scottish melody, as well as the familiar Guy Lombardo update. “We’ll tak a cup of kindness yet” – how beautiful! I was fortunate to see the late Johnny Cunningham and Irish singer Susan McKeown perform together at a small garden concert some years ago – a treasured memory. Rest in Peace, Johnny. Slàinte Susan!

28. “I’m Gonna Lasso Santa Claus” performed by Brenda Lee

I first heard this novelty when it was featured in the 1988 film The Accidental Tourist, with actress Geena Davis singing these goofy lyrics while baking Christmas cookies. At the amazing age of nine (!), Brenda Lee recorded “Lasso Santa Claus” – two full years before recording her better-known hit “Rockin Around the Christmas Tree.” The only younger performer on my list here is probably “Cindy-Lou Who” who sings backup on “Dah Who Doraze”, but since the Whos’ ages are measured in ‘dog years’, she was technically seventy-five.)

I love the musicianship on “Lasso”, notably Nashville legend Don Helms playing that tasty double-neck steel guitar (Helms played in Hank Williams band and recorded with Hank, Patsy Cline and Johnny Cash.)

I also I love the woke lyric:
“Then I’ll take his bags of toys and run
And bring to all the kids who don’t have none”

Hellsyeah, Brenda! Power to the people. Stick it to the man!

Read more: Shane Mac’s “Fairytale” and our Top 30 Christmas songs

#27 “Snowfall” performed by Ahmad Jamal Trio

Written by husband-wife team of Claude and Ruth Thornhill, this song is perfect for your Christmas cocktail Jazz party. Your guests will ask, “Is this a bonus track from Charlie Brown’s Christmas?” And you can pour a martini and reply, “I should say not! This is a 1958 live performance by the Ahmad Jamal Trio !” (If in Glasgow, add “… ya clueless bawbag!”)

“Snowfall” has been recorded by Tony Bennet and Wes Montgomery, as well as “Enoch Light and the Light Brigade” and NRBQ (wouldn’t those two bands have been a great twin-bill live show?)

Ahmad Jamal’s evocative instrumental version is my favorite rendition of this tune. You can almost see the snowflakes falling – am I right?

#26 Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel (traditional)

I’ve seen it written that this hymn has an “undeniably spooky quality to it” and I can’t disagree. The music is set in a minor key, and the lyric speaks of “mourning in lonely exile”, a mention of a ransom, and who is this mal hombre Emmanuel, anyway? Listen to the eerie church organ in this recording by The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge. I almost expect to see the camera pan to reveal Vincent Price playing!

In the Book of Isaiah, the prophesied messiah is called Emmanuel, which means means “God is with us.” I like that. It’s exactly where God oughta be.

Original titled “Veni Veni Emmanuel” this dates back to the twelfth century, and as we all know, the good Christians of 12th century really had their shit together when it came to producing beautiful hymns, majestic cathedrals and bloody crusades.

The darkness in this song, described as “mingled joy and sorrow performed in a minor key”, agrees with Christmas in the age of Covid. Yet the song reminds us, God is with us.

More about this song at America: The Jesuit Review

25. “2000 Miles” – The Pretenders (1983)

A beautiful Christmas song by Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders, written for the band’s founding guitarist James Honeyman-Scott who died 1983 at 25 years old, the year the song was written. (Robbie McIntosh replaced him and plays magnificent lead here.) Chrissie’s vocals and Robbie’s guitars create a holiday masterpiece that’s full of both melancholy and hope.

“And these frozen and silent nights
Sometimes in a dream
You appear
Outside under the purple sky
Diamonds in the snow

Chrissie’s heartfelt lyrics remind me of Pablo Nurado’s poem about death, grief and ultimately living, The Dead Woman:

“Forgive me If you are not living
If you, beloved, my love,
If you have died
All the leaves will fall on my breast
It will rain on my soul all night, all day
My feet will want to march
to where you are sleeping
But I shall go on living”

24. The Wexford Carol (traditional)

This is one of the oldest carols, originating from County Wexford, Ireland. The recording is from The Chieftains “Bells of Dublin” LP which I consider indispensable for holiday gatherings.

We recently lost Paddy Moloney and Nanci Griffith who perform on this track from The Bells of Dublin. They were each great ambassadors of their particular brands of folk music. Rest in Peace.

23.“River” – Joni Mitchell (1971)

One my very favorite performers from the ‘60s, Joni Mitchell wrote this heartbreaking song which first appeared on her classic album ‘Blue’. I love “River, “from the ‘jingle bells’ piano intro to Joni’s lyric “I wish I had a river I could skate away on.” Who hasn’t wished for this during this Covid winter?

22. Jingle Bells (with “Batman smells” verse)

“Jingle Bells” was written by James Lord Pierpont in 1857. I believe Pierpont’s song is best appreciated when performed by frozen-mitten wearing kids singing at the top of their lungs, and adding the “Batman smells” verse.
What 5th grade boy hasn’t sung “jingle bells, batman smells” while huddled in the wintry schoolyard with his pal Tommy, lusting after Mrs. Fouch – the only teacher at St. Peters who wasn’t a nun. (OK, maybe that was just me and Tommy Tanner, but you get the idea.)
The first version of the Batman Smells verse surfaced in the 1966 Christmas season when the Batman TV show (with Adam West – the greatest Batman) was becoming a massive hit. “Batman Smells” was further glorified by Bart Simpson in “The Simpsons Christmas Special,” in December of 1989. Lisa Simpson was undoubtably wishing for a river she could skate away on.

21. “Greensleeves” (traditional)

I fell in love with this song at the afternoon matinee showing of “How the West Was Won” at the the Warwick Cinema, back when and a box of popcorn cost 50 cents and the longer movies such as this one had “Intermissions.” In the 1962 movie, Debbie Reynolds sings “A Home in the Meadow,” which was essentially the music of “Greensleeves” with American frontier lyrics added by Tin Pan Alley songman Sammy Cahn. What’s that got to do with Christmas? As Yukon Cornelius might say, “Nuthin!” But read on!

The original “Lady Greensleeves” was an English folk song dating back to 1580. There is a some belief that the ballad was actually composed by Henry the VIII who was an accomplished musician before he got fat and nasty. (He was said to be a wiz on the tennis court, too – imagine that!) Now, at that time in England, to label a woman “green sleeves” was meant to suggest she was prone to enjoying a roll around in the grass (getting green stains on her… well, you get the idea.) So this song was a 16th century “I’m too sexy for my shirt.”

Fast forward to 1865 when Christian hymn writer William Chatterton Dix thought it prudent to remove the randy “greens sleeves” reference altogether and rename the song “What Child Is This?”- a question that can indeed follow a roll in the grass, I suppose.

I love Greensleeves best without any lyrics – either played unadorned on acoustic guitar or the orchestral version by Ralph Vaughan Williams. And thank you Debbie Reynolds, mostly for giving us Carrie Fisher. What child was that one!

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‘Song Of The Avatars’ Resurrects Guitarist Robbie Basho’s Lost Recordings

Basho helped invent the playing style known as American primitive, but his music was nearly forgotten after his death. Then a few years ago, a trove of never-before-heard recordings suddenly surfaced.

By Joel Rose

A few years ago, filmmaker Liam Barker was at work on the film that would become his 2015 documentary Voice of the Eagle: The Enigma of Robbie Basho. Barker’s subject was the late guitarist who (along with figures like John Fahey and Leo Kottke) helped invent the acoustic style known as American primitive, and he kept hearing about a collection of the artist’s personal recordings that had seemingly been lost after his death in 1986. That’s how the director found himself in a ramshackle house in South Carolina, surrounded by stacks of old newspaper and animal excrement.


“When I went there, it was kind of like something out of a horror film,” Barker says. “It was like, you know, unbelievable filth all around.”

But to his amazement, Barker found exactly what he was looking for: box after box of magnetic reel-to-reel tapes, still sealed. “Miraculously, some of these recordings sound like they were recorded yesterday,” he says.

Now, the personal recordings stashed in those boxes are being released for the first time in a five-disc set called Song of the AvatarsThe Lost Master Tapes. [ . . . ]

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Sandy Sarjeant’s Go-Go Dancing Moves

By Pam
Ever since my last post about go-go dancing, I’ve been trying to find out if there were any notable women who made a name for themselves performing this 60s form of dance. After all, it’s one of my time travel fantasy jobs. One such name that I uncovered is Sandy Sarjeant.Sandy’s name may not ring a bell to most Americans, but in Europe during the sixties, she was one of the most famous go-go dancers to ever shake her tail feather on television.

Sandy enjoyed a lucrative go-go or mod dancing career on two music shows: the UK’s Ready, Steady, Go! and a German program called Beat Club. From what I saw on YouTube, male fans certainly remember her fondly and she was the cream of the British mod scene. Known as “Crazy Legs Sandy”, she apparently invented her own moves which were tough for the other girls to emulate (not that it didn’t stop me from trying to copy her in the privacy of my home.) But info about her bio is very scant on the Internet. Her other claims to fame were that she released a catchy single called “Can’t Stop the Want” and she married British keyboardist Ian McLagan from the band Small Faces in 1968. (She starred in the music video for their hit Itchykoo Park.)
After that, the trail goes cold. How Sandy got her start dancing remains a mystery, as does anything that happened to her after 1972 (she did have a child and divorced McLagan.[ . . . ]
She was one skinny looking chick, but how could you not be when this was your profession all day long?

Source: Go Retro

Watch Myles O’Reilly’s “A City Under Quiet Lights”

The team behind Cork’s premiere fireside-folk festival, ‘Quiet Lights’, is very excited to present to the world the digital release of ‘A City Under Quiet Lights’.

Filmed over the course of 2021’s festival, A City Under Quiet Lights traces an outline of Cork City through performances by Lisa O’Neill, Joshua Burnside & Laura Quirke, Niamh Regan, Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh, Kate Ellis & Caimin Gilmore, Junior Brother and Rachael Lavelle.

The film, shot and directed by Myles O’Reilly, captures intimate, one-song performances by the artists in iconic spots all over Cork City, such as the a romp at the Shandon Bells, a flurry in Triskel Christchurch and a Lee-side song just under the Shaky Bridge.

A City Under Quiet Lights premiered at 2022’s Cork International Film Festival, screening again as part of a one-on-one installation during this year’s Sounds From A Safe Harbour.

Finding its way to the digital realm, this release paves the way for the reveal of another, as of yet unseen second Quiet Lights film that will be finding its way to the public soon!