This is rather late since Christmas technically starts on September in this Christmas-anxious country of ours. But since Christmas technically starts soon after the feast of Christ the King in the equally Christmas-anxious Roman Catholic calendar, this still is rather early. We haven’t even gone through Halloween yet.
I used to have a neighbor, Kuya Tato, who asks his wife Ate Edna to put up the Christmas tree and Christmas lights right on the evening of November 1, and Ate Edna does exactly as told, joyfully. God I miss that couple, and their kids. They never complained about my music, usually played in full blast, with me occasionally howling along or stomping. And they used to have their house-help Marilyn yell at me through the laundry patio whenever I’d put on disco in the turntable, “Lakasan mo pa!”.
So, in so far as carols are concerned, I joyfully present here my top ten favorites, not necessarily numbered according to rank:
1. Happy Holidays – The Gunther Kallman Choir
2. Count Your Blessings (Instead Of Sheep) – The Ray Conniff Singers
3. Happy Christmas (War Is Over) – John Lennon
4. Feed The World – Live Aid
5. Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas – Judy Garland
6. Emmanuel [that one that goes, Isang dalaga’y maglilihi, batang lalaki ang sanggol. I think it’s the Jesuits who wrote it. They always write the best church songs].
7. Awit ng Paghahangad [this is sung every Advent and Lent, in the church I usually go to, The Parish of Sta. Teresita, because evidently, it is a song of anticipation. The Jesuits must have written it too.]
8. Lo! How A Rose E’er Blooming – Jennifer Cavilleri’s kids choir in Love Story, or the Charlotte Church version
9. Sa Paskong Darating – Celeste Legaspi
10. Ang Pasko Ay Sumapit – The Sta. Teresita Parish Choir
Those are carols. Carols. I do not intend to write about carols. Call this an optional prelude to the article proper.
* * *
This is the article.
And these, ranked accordingly, are yours truly’s top ten favorite Christmas songs, not the traditional carols, but songs that give me that comfy Christmas feeling whenever I hear or sing them:
10. These Days – Nico (from The Royal Tenenbaums Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
Seeing the film over at Megamall on its last screening day was unforgettable. I had with me a cup of coffee and a Bunwich. The strains of an instrumental version of Hey Jude opening the film filled the almost empty theatre. I did not want the afternoon to end, but of course it had to. I immediately hunted for an original copy of the film about three months after that. Not satisfied, I thereafter hunted for the soundtrack. I was able to get hold of one from Tower Makati at least more than a year after seeing the film. When I got the soundtrack, I rarely watched the film anymore. I realized then that it’s the music that got me hooked.
These Days is a contemplative song, and very much like an auld lang syne, actually. It goes I’ve been out walking, I don’t do too much talking these days… These days I seem to think a lot about the things that I forgot to do, and all the times I had the chance to. It is one of the songs that I’d play in a loop whenever I take my annual two-week long December ‘writing’ leave, so to me it has become synonymous to Christmas, as Christmas to me has become synonymous to writing, and self-evaluation.
9. 1979 – The Smashing Pumpkins (from Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness)
As teenagers, me, my brother, and my cousin Aizel had this annual Christmas eve ritual of walking the streets of our neighborhood to go to the then only convenience store in the area, the 7-11 at the corner of Maceda and Dapitan. The ritual had to end when Aizel moved out from us sometime in 1993.
Around 1995, when Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness came out, 1979 was the song I instantly resonated with, falling in love so easily with its infectious beat, and its anthemic lyrics. It’s an ode to youth. And seeing its video, I am always reminded of my off-to-7-11 Christmas ritual with my brother and cousin. We never shoplifted or destroyed merchandise like the kids in the video. We were just together. Three kids together on Christmas eve, walking the cold, deserted, Sampaloc streets.
Whatever did we buy in 7-11? Slurpees. My brother would mix his flavors, Aizel would imitate and repent afterwards, while I’d stick with my plain Coke flavor. They would tease me why I didn’t just buy a Gulp.
8. Flowers In December – Mazzy Star (from Among My Swan)
Yeah, well, this song just pops in my head whenever I start seeing poinsettias. I’m afraid that’s all there is to it.
But come to think of it, the album opens with Disappear, which is heavy on echoing guitars and chimes and bells. A good record to put on should one be feeling torchy, or should one be carrying the torch, through the December breeze.
7. Bizaare Love Triangle [Extended Dance Mix] – New Order (from International)
Nanay always asks me to put on something happy and danceable on Christmas day. She doesn’t appreciate it much when I’d play And Out Come The Wolves, or Insomniac, which I all consider as slam-danceable. So I compromise with her with Joy Division or New Order. She prefers New Order because of this radio-friendly song.
The thing is, when the album gets to this song, I’d start pressing the repeat button repeatedly so that you don’t get to hear the rest of the album anymore. I can’t help it, the song’s crazy, it has this power over me! Now factor in that the version in the album is extended, almost seven minutes, you cannot really blame Nanay for complaining “Hanggang ngayon ba hindi pa rin tapos yan?”, though she had been grooving along with it at the start.
Then I would continue the compromise with Madonna records. Everyone happy.
6. Time Bomb – Rancid (from And Out Come The Wolves)
As earlier said, Nanay, and our Christmas guests don’t really appreciate much the joy that is in punk records, specifically in And Out Come The Wolves. So whenever I popped the record in the cassette player, I had to beg with them to at least let me reach this song before I change records, on account that I refused to go fast-forward, or rewind my tapes.
Funny but half-way through the song, I’d always catch the unbelievers grooving along its ska beat. Some would even ask who’s singing. I’d joyfully show off to them the sleeves, with the mohawked guy slouching on the cover, as I put on their much anticipated Madonna numbers.
5. Brain Stew/Jaded – Green Day (from Insomniac)
I love New Year’s eve so much because, as a teenager, it is that one time of the year that I got to totally abuse the Sharp karaoke in the house, lining up all my punk, post-punk, and grunge tapes and playing all of them in full blast mono glory amidst the deafening Super Lolos and Diablos and Bawangs. There was no way anyone could complain, it’s New Year’s eve! Everyone’s making noise anyway! And since much of my catalogue was considered noise by the rest anyway, they better tolerate it on the grand eve of noises galore!
This is the song that I’d save all my vocal strength for. It is my all-time favorite Green Day song. And it is best sung during New Year’s eve actually with its apocalyptic lyrics. And when it’s on, I’d jump up and down you’d think the clock has struck midnight and I’m already on with the I-wanna-be-taller pamahiin.
4. (It’s The End Of The World As We Know It) I Feel Fine – REM (from The Best Of REM)
For the longest time, since I’ve started collecting records seriously, I’ve only had five Christmas albums (you cannot have enough, you know): We Wish You A Merry Christmas by The Ray Conniff Singers (which I had in all formats, vinyl, tape, and CD, being my oldest Christmas record), Christmas Sing-In (“happy holidays… teng-teng-teng… happy holidays…”) by The Gunther Kallman Choir, Dream A Dream by Charlotte Church, The Christmas Album by Frank Sinatra, and Pamasko Ng Mga Bituin by Celeste Legaspi and company.
This is the song that I used to open my Christmas playlists. I also played it during intervals between albums. I loved how its unique apocalyptic feel contrasts with the spirit of the nativity. And I loved how those who get to hear would ask me, “It’s the end of the world?” or “Ano daw? Gunaw?”.
3. Stay (Far Away, So Close) – U2 (from Zooropa)
Though alone, I still got to continue my nocturnal holiday walks even after my cousin had moved out from us, and my brother found it more fun to be hanging out with his legion of friends.
With its lyrics, three o’clock in the morning, it’s quiet and there’s no one around, just the bang and the clatter as an angel runs to ground, just the bang and the clatter as an angel hits the ground, it is the song I usually sing whenever I take such walks. It gets to have an even fuller feel when sung through the littered streets right after the fireworks and as everyone had come in to rest. And the fact that its video is shot in black and white, with wings and feathers alluding to the German film Far Away, So Close for which it is written I guess, all the more does the song embody the desolation of an early morning of a New Year’s day. This song, not New Year’s Day, is the true U2 New Year song.
2. Fake Plastic Trees – Radiohead (from The Bends)
There is no more miserable time to be carrying the torch for someone than through the Christmas season, when you’d go to simbang gabi and be sitting next to pairs and pairs of whispering and giggling and smooching lovers who make church-going their excuse for dating. Yet there is no better time too but the Christmas season to be comforted by a record so full of compassion, love through the bends. Such is the love that is in The Bends. I play it on Valentine’s too.
Some years ago, if I remember it right, some UK radio station made a poll for its listeners, asking them to vote for the saddest song they ever heard. This song, along with another personal fave China by Tori Amos, made the top ten. I also read somewhere that Thom Yorke reportedly cried while recording this song.
I never looked at Christmas trees the same way after I first heard Fake Plastic Trees. Of course, the song really has nothing to do with Christmas, like everything else in this list, and the plant described in the song is anything but a Christmas tree, actually. Still, this song is probably one of the best unwittingly Christmasy songs ever written, especially when one would take note of how artificiality has invaded the Christmas season through materialism. The persona in the song aches to be true, out of longing, and love.
I used to cry whenever I heard this song, Christmas or not. Not anymore. That is how I realized the power of the song. One needn’t be sad, or needy, or aching, to be in love with it – as I still am.
1. Twinkle – Tori Amos (from Boys For Pele)
There is this street that I used to walk on whenever I’d go to Sta. Teresita Parish for simbang gabi. It is wide, smooth, and lit golden on its every corner by tall, incandescent street lamps.
I walked through that street’s early morning Christmas fog singing this song most of the time, looking up ahead at the lamps, though they don’t twinkle. They are more interesting than the Christmas lights anyway. Their light rendered everything beautiful. Their light competed with the moon’s. Their light is warm –
as this plain piano-and-vocals song is, going boy so hard boy so hard but I know a girl twice as hard, quietly fierce in its love.
Oh, and it made me look at every parol differently too. Makes me want to think that just like Radiohead, Tori’s written a Christmas song without her even knowing it.
Alright then, that’s just about it. Listing honorable mentions would find you reading through this ‘til the feast of the Three Kings.
Merry Christmas, everyone!