It’s Christmas Day. I’m quite looking forward to today. Despite the restrictions caused by the pandemic, this year is likely to be similar to previous years. Roo will go and see her Mum while I take Bruno out for a walk. I intend to treat myself and re listen to the Mark Lewisohn interview on the “Nothing Is Real” podcast. I’ve bought Roo some presents: some chocolates, a calendar full of holiday photos, a book about dogs, a book of photos of Bruno and a Dave Alvin CD. Sausages for lunch, phone call with John and my sister and binge watching some TV whilst eating mince pies and ice cream. Why can’t every day be Christmas Day?
As a child, my Christmas Days were similar to today. Presents, food and TV. There seems to be a point at which the people who enjoy Christmas the most changes from the children to the parents. From the age of about sixteen, when I was no longer in thrall to my parents and started to assert some independence, it seemed that I enjoyed Christmas Day less than my parents. Just as I wrote that, Bob Dylan sung “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” and that’s what happened. From about 1970 to 1991 I went “home” from Harlow for a week at Christmas and when Roo and I got together, she would spend two days with her parents and I would be “home” for two days. I did feel an increasing obligation to make Christmas special for my parents in the same way that they had made them special for me when I was young. My sister has about twenty photo albums full of photos from Christmas Day because each year I would take photos, get them developed, put them in a photo album, write
funny unfunny captions and present it to my Mum on her birthday which was January 7th.
One Christmas, I think it was 1973, I was so fed up with all the arguments between my parents that I accepted an invitation from a College friend of mine to spend four days over Christmas with him and his girlfriend in Stoke-On-Trent. I still feel guilty about not being with my parents on Christmas Day. On the other hand, it was an interesting insight into how other people spend Christmas. I had a lovely lunch with my friend’s girlfriend’s family in Hanley and then we drove to Congleton to my friend’s sister’s house where we spent the rest of the day eating, drinking and playing five card nap. There were probably a dozen people there, all very friendly and none of them asking me what the hell I was doing there (which was what I was thinking to myself). This was the same friend who loaned me his Bob Dylan cassettes over Christmas 1972. I lost touch about ten years later, much to my regret.
For five consecutive years after my parents died in 2000, Roo and I went away for the holiday week and possibly the best Christmas I’ve ever had was in Brixham with John and Helen where, despite our offers of help in the kitchen, John and I were packed off to the pub for a couple of hours before climbing a very steep hill for lunch, beer and games for the rest of the day.
Bob Dylan released this astonishing Christmas album in 2009 and all the profits from the sales were donated to Crisis in the UK, Feeding America in the USA and the World Food Program elsewhere. Between 1992 and 2017, he released thirteen albums, eight of which contained no original songs but covers of songs written many years previously. “World Gone Wrong” and “Good As I Been To You” contained folk blues songs. “Shadows In The night”, “Fallen Angels” and “Triplicate” (a triple album) contained songs from what is often called “The Great American Songbook”. “Christmas In The Heart” contains a mixture of carols, hymns and popular Christmas songs. It certainly took me by surprise when it was released but, seen in the context of his appreciation of musical history, it makes perfect sense. He was asked about critics who assumed that he recorded the songs with a huge dose of irony. He replied “Critics like that are on the outside looking in. They are definitely not fans or the audience that I play to. They would have no gut level understanding of me and my work, what I can and can’t do—the scope of it all. Even at this point in time they still don’t know what to make of me.” I think that’s a given – no one really knows what to make of Bob Dylan and that’s why he’s a genius.
I remember reading a review of this album which described it succinctly. It’s a very traditional Christmas album with regard to the choice of songs, the instrumentation, heavenly choirs and special effects. It just happens to have a very leftfield choice of lead singer.
In some of the songs, Bob Dylan sounds like the blues singer from the Mississippi Delta that he tried to sound like on his first eponymous album, released in 1962. Of course, people who don’t “get” Bob Dylan have always criticised his voice and as his voice has changed over the years, his reputation as a “Moaning Minnie” (as Ben’s Mum called him) has never gone away. His voice is different on all these albums: “Bob Dylan”, “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan”, “Highway 61 Revisited”, “Nashville Skyline”, “Before The Flood”, “Desire”, “Shot Of Love”, “Under The Red Sky”, “Oh Mercy”, “Modern Times”, “Triplicate” – every time a different voice and every time there’s someone out there saying it’s okay but I don’t like his voice. Whatever voice he uses, he’s one of the greatest singers of all time.
“Here Comes Santa Claus” is the opening song on the album and it’s excellent.
“Must Be Santa” is the highlight on the album with a very amusing video and a great performance.
To sum up, the best Christmas albums of all time are
- Christmas In The Heart by Bob Dylan
- A Very Rosie Christmas by Rosie Thomas
- A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector
- The Beach Boys Christmas Album
- Sweet Bells by Kate Rusby
Time for a mince pie. Happy Christmas.