The Weird, Wonderful World of British Christmas Music

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America and Britain: two countries whose superficial similarities (a common language, shared democratic ideals, a fondness for roasted meats) mask some pretty fundamental differences. And nowhere are these divisions more irreconcilable than in what constitutes holiday music.

It seems to me, America, that your holiday music falls into two camps: it's either 1950s crooning (Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby, et al.) or '90s R 'n' B-inflected "jingle bell" pop. But British Christmas music? Our golden age was the 1970s through the mid '80s, and despite the brave efforts of many recording artists since, we're sticking with it.

While some of the UK's finest festive cuts -- Wham's "Last Christmas",  Paul McCartney's "Wonderful Christmastime", Band Aid's "Do They Know It's Christmas" -- have made the journey across the Atlantic, I'm really not sure you all know how weird and wonderful the rest of the stuff my countrymen love to listen to in December really is. So, from glam rockers to dead snowmen and alien angels, here's a selection of our most beloved, bizarre curiosities for the festive season. Enjoy!

Jona Lewie - "Stop the Cavalry"

Discovering that none of my U.S. friends (I have some) had even heard of "Stop the Cavalry" was my rude awakening to the dearth of British holiday music on these shores . Legend holds that singer Jona Lewie never intended this anti-war anthem to be a holiday song, but its fate was sealed by sleigh bells, brass band interlude, lyrics about being "home for Christmas" and the fact he, uh, released it in December. Whatever the truth, it's a stone-cold classic with a cracking video of the kind they really don't make any more (i.e. set in the trenches of WWI).

Wizzard - "I Wish It Could be Christmas Every Day"


Just the cash-register sound at the start of this song by Birmingham glam rock outfit Wizzard is enough to make your average Brit start necking mulled wine, like a festive Pavlov's dog. "I Wish it Could Be Christmas Everyday" is so deeply embedded in our collective Christmas psyche that the usual rational observations like "this sounds dreadful" or "why does the school choir in the middle sound so Satanic?" don't really apply; they'd be akin to suddenly quibbling about the color choices in the Union Jack flag. Fact: the nightmarish video was filmed in the height of summer, which is probably why those kids look so miserable.

Slade - "Merry Xmas Everybody"

A.k.a. the other aggressor in the Great Christmas Wars of 1973. Slade is the other Birmingham glam rock band that beat Wizzard (above) to the coveted Christmas Number One spot in the U.K. charts that year, which doesn't necessarily mean it's any better per se (remember, concepts like "quality" lose all meaning here). That said, "Merry Xmas Everyone" still gets my seasonal vote -- it's more anthemic and lovable than its rival, and just makes me think of pogo-ing up and down at one of the many village Christmas discos that marred/enriched my childhood. Plus, how can you not love a band with a lead singer called Noddy Holder?

"Walking in the Air" from The Snowman

When it comes to beloved kids' holiday animations, America has A Charlie Brown Christmas but Britain has The Snowman: the wordless 1982 classic about friendship, imagination and awaking on Christmas morning to discover that  -- SPOILER -- your snowman pal  has died with the morning sun. (My own grandmother still loves to tell everyone how my five-year-old self, having just watched the devastating ending for the first time, tearfully proclaimed "Isn't it bloody awful?" to anybody who'd listen. #BritishChildhood.) "Walking in the Air" is the film's big show-stopper, and was even later released as a single in 1985 by a pubescent Welsh cherub called Aled Jones who, somewhat reassuringly, is still famous today (#UKCelebrities).

Chris de Burgh - "A Spaceman Came Traveling"

This song would be bizarre even if it wasn't a holiday tune -- as a Christmas anthem, it's downright bonkers. It's basically the musical equivalent of Ancient Aliens, with crooner Chris de Burgh (of "Lady in Red" fame, for it is he) re-telling the Nativity Story through a tin-foil lens, with the angel Gabriel as a friendly extra-terrestrial visiting Earth to herald the birth of Jesus. But who doesn't love a good hands-in-the-air "La La La" chorus? On a personal note, I always seem to be slightly drunk on festive sherry whenever I'm listening to this song, which I'd strongly recommend.

Mike Oldfield - "In Dulce Jubilo"

Yes, this is Mike Oldfield of Tubular Bells (i.e. "that music from The Exorcist) fame, providing the long-awaited meeting of Renaissance flutes and electric guitars. This delightful instrumental number is what the word "jaunty" was invented for -- and British or not, it will make you feel as festive as a snow-dusted robin wearing a holiday sweater on top of a Christmas tree.

E17 - "Stay Another Day"

As an example of those otherwise-summery songs that have clearly been drowned in sleigh bells and celestial choirs to hastily meet the Christmas release schedule, this slice of 1994 is one of the most obvious -- and all the more glorious for it. The song itself is piano-heavy nonsense, but the video is the real seasonal gift here: four mortified-looking Londoners with precision facial hair and gigantic winter jackets making endless "soulful" hand gestures, in what looks like the classic Windows 95 "Starfield" screensaver. As iconic as it is, my abiding memory of this song will always be of a girl in my middle school music class becoming incoherent with genuinely disbelieving rage when told that no, she could not choose this song as her "Christmas carol" for the holiday performance.

Listen to the author of this article share these weird holiday imports with her podcast co-hosts on The Cooler: