Christmas songs that you may have forgotten, from 'My Christmas Tree' by The Supremes to 'December' by Earth, Wind and Fire

It’s the season for Slade and Wham! to jam up the airwaves until we've got Christmas coming out of our ears. Why not revisit these neglected festive tracks

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The Independent Culture

THE SUPREMES "My Christmas Tree"
Merry Christmas – 1965

After they scored five consecutive US chart-toppers in 1964, Motown founder Berry Gordy Jr. moved the trio, led by his protégée Diana Ross, into the lucrative cabaret circuit. Indeed, The Supremes at the Copa live album, issued on the same 1965 day as their Merry Christmas collection, easily outsold it at the time – despite the latter including "My Christmas Tree", an original composition by Jimmy Webb, then a fledgling writer at Jobete Music, the publishing arm of Motown. 

THE WHO "Christmas"
Tommy – 1969

Despite its pivotal place in the rock opera composed by Who guitarist Pete Townshend, its inclusion on a Tommy vinyl EP issued in 1970, and its memorable conceptualisation in the 1975 Ken Russell movie starring the band’s frontman, Roger Daltrey, in the title role, "Christmas" never gets any airplay. Blame "the eternal grave" lyric and the programmers who can’t get past "Pinball Wizard", "I’m Free" and "See Me, Feel Me".

THE RESIDENTS "Santa Dog"
1972 – reissued in 1978

More conceptual artists than musicians, the San Francisco collective have consistently protected their anonymity by hiding behind the Cryptic Corporation, performing avant garde shows in a succession of disguises, and eschewing interviews. They had the gumption to send this deranged debut release – supposedly by four different bands – to Richard Nixon and Frank Zappa, one of their few reference points. The missing link between Captain Beefheart and The Simpsons, whose creator, Matt Groening, is a huge admirer. Uneasy, unsettling listening.

THE ROLLING STONES "Winter"
Goats Head Soup – 1973

"Paint It Black", "Sympathy for the Devil" and "Gimme Shelter" have made the Stones so synonymous with the dark side that it’s hard to fathom that Mick Jagger composed this sublime ballad – complete with "Christmas trees" mention. It was recorded in Jamaica and included on the No 1 album Goats Head Soup. Keith Richards didn’t even show up for the session, leaving Mick Taylor to double-track the  slide and lead guitar parts that have made it a cult classic – though "Angie" still gets all the airplay. 

THE DAMNED "There Ain’t No Sanity Clause"
1980

The first British punk group to release a single and an album, to tour the US and to split up, they returned with a vengeance in 1979, scored three consecutive hits with "Love Song", "Smash It Up" and "I Just Can’t Be Happy Today" and made the charts with Machine Gun Etiquette and The Black Album before striking out with this Marx Brothers homage in December 1980. They’re still fronted by vampire vocalist Dave Vanian, aided and abetted by goofy guitarist and co-founder Captain Sensible, whose solo career included the One Christmas Catalogue EP in 1984. 

 

FRANK ZAPPA Xmas Values
Civilization Phaze III – 1994

More musique concrète than the Sgt. Pepper’s-bothering We’re Only in It for the Money that made the Top 30 on both sides of the Atlantic in 1968 and helped to establish the maverick leader of the Mothers of Invention, this album was the first of 30 – count them – posthumous releases. It charted in Germany but is a million miles removed from the proto-jazz fusion of "Peaches En Regalia" from his 1969 Hot Rats album, beloved of broadcasters Danny Baker and Marc Riley.

CHICAGO "Child’s Prayer" 
Chicago XXV: The Christmas Album – 1998

Having started out as an ambitious, all-conquering rock’n’roll band who released three double studio albums and a quadruple vinyl live set between April 1969 and October 1971, the septet – led by pianist, songwriter and singer Robert Lamm – became AOR superstars in 1976 with "If You Leave Me Now", penned and voiced by bassist Peter Cetera. His departure a decade later accentuated a drift towards power ballads and obvious commercial moves like three Christmas collections. Buyer beware!

AMERICA "Christmas In California"
Holiday Harmony – 2002

By the time Dewey Bunnell, the composer of "A Horse with No Name", "Ventura Highway" and "Tin Man", and Gerry Beckley ("I Need You", "Sister Golden Hair"), made this superior soft rock Christmas album, Dan Peek, the US expat with whom they had co-founded America, had been gone 25 years. Not to worry – with the help of Andrew Gold, the vocal duo proved they could still create magic.

MANIC STREET PREACHERS "The Ghost of Christmas"
2007

Another act not usually associated with the season to be jolly, James Dean Bradfield, Sean Moore and Nicky Wire released this Seventies-referencing Wizzard pastiche as a free download five years ago – but you’re more likely to hear their frontman busk his way through "Last Christmas". Bradfield’s live rendition of the Wham! perennial is included on the 2003 collection Lipstick Traces (A Secret History of Manic Street Preachers).

EARTH, WIND & FIRE "December"
Holiday – 2014

British oddball John Otway may be trying to gatecrash the yuletide charts with the OK Father Christmas download EP, but it’s the "Boogie Wonderland" merchants who could really set the cat amongst the pigeons with an album that’s equal measures standards, carols and originals riffing on their seminal floor-fillers "Happy Feelin" ("Happy Seasons") and "September" ("December", inevitably). Ho ho ho!

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