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Spy fidelity or Bond does dubstep? Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014) ~ Review

January 21, 2015

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Directed by: Matthew Vaughn
Starring: Colin Firth, Taron Egerton, Samuel L Jackson, Mark Strong, Michael Caine, Sophie Cookson, Sophia Boutella, Jack Davenport and Mark Hamill
Screenplay by: Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman
Country: UK/ US
Running time: 129 minutes
Certificate: 15 (UK)/ R (USA)
Released: January 29 (UK)/ February 13 (USA)

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More than once in Kingsman: The Secret Service the line ‘This isn’t that sort of spy movie’ is uttered, and it’s true – this isn’t quite like any spy movie you’ll have experienced.

Taking the post-modern smarts and stylish violence that has become helmer Matthew Vaughn’s trademark and blending them like a potent, expensive cocktail with the formula, beats and mores of old fashioned cinematic espionage adventures – you know, the ones that Jason Bourne and co. are supposed to have made redundant – could have gone very wrong, but in the hands of this particular hot Brit director, it all turns out kingly, indeed.

In an adventure that sees Colin Firth’s debonair yet ace man of action attempt to recruit into his independent espionage organisation ‘Eggsy’, a young, failed Marine lifted straight out of crime-addled Sarf Lahndan (impressive newcomer Taron Egerton), the irresistibly old-school cool, English gent hero-type and all his accoutrements (bespoke tailoring, umbrellas, specs, polite clipped tones and dignity at all costs) is wryly, finely allowed to collide with Eggsy’s jobless, joyriding, ne’er-do-well outlook, appearance, accent and cultural tics. Much fun is had as Firth adeptly decks Eggsy’s foes in a Millwall pub and the latter puts toff boys to shame during a brains-and-brawn-testing training regime, while together they forge a thoroughly charismatic master and apprentice act.

With knowing nods to everything from The Avengers to The Ipcress File (surely Michael Caine’s casting as the spy chief is no coincidence), Kingsman has much fun in honouring the (mostly British) spy-fi traditions, while its script – following Kick-Ass (2010), another loose comic book adaptation by Vaughn and regular collaborator Jane Goldman – wilfully sends up all those megalomaniac-themed Bond plots in the shape of lisping villain Samuel L Jackson’s barmy scheme directed from a mountainous HQ. At one point it even references them in the dialogue.

As noted though, those not versed in Bond lore and John Steed, but coming to the party via the likes of Vaughn’s Kick-Ass and Layer Cake (2006), won’t be disappointed either. The comedic violence and gore is all in check, while the tight plotting and eye-popping visuals rarely relent. A word of warning, mind you: the pacing’s properly breathless, so much so your eyes may tire at points from all the flash, crash, bang and wallop.

But, for those feeling a little left out in the cold by Daniel Craig’s somewhat sombre 007 era, Kingsman offers more than an antidote. An urgent, clever, rollicking homage to the over-the-top Bond of old, while also a heady bourbon-like swig of something we’ve never really tasted before. Chin-chin.

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Playlist, Listen my friends! ~ January 2015

January 5, 2015

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In the words of Moby Grape… listen, my friends! Yes, it’s the (hopefully) monthly playlist presented by George’s Journal just for you good people.

There may be one or two classics to be found here dotted in among different tunes you’re unfamiliar with or have never heard before – or, of course, you may’ve heard them all before. All the same, why not sit back, listen away and enjoy…

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CLICK on the song titles to hear them

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Perry Como ~ Papa Loves Mambo (1954)¹

The Small Faces ~ Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake/ Afterglow (Of Your Love) (1968)

Julie Felix ~ Ding Dong, The Witch Is Dead (1968)

Joe Cocker ~ With A Little Help From My Friends (1969)²

Sarah Vaughan ~ And I Love Him (1969)

Marvin Gaye ~ Yesterday (1970)

Keith Mansfield ~ Theme from Grandstand (1975)

Cher and Gregg Allman ~ Love Me (1977)

The Sugarhill Gang ~ Rapper’s Delight (1979)³

The Four Bucketeers ~ The Bucket Of Water Song (1980)4

New Order ~ Bizarre Love Triangle (1986)

Pet Shop Boys ~ Into The Night (1987)5

Alan Silvestri ~ The Future (Hill Valley, 2015) (1989)¹

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¹ From the soundtrack of Back To The Future Part II (1989), which – as every Internet surfer with a pulse now knows – is partly set in the future year of, er, 2015

² As performed by the one, the only ‘Sheffield Soul Shouter’ at Woodstock in August ’69; it scaled the top of the UK charts the previous year and later, of course, would go on to become the theme to The Wonder Years (1988-93). Cocker died late last month at the age of 70

³ The first hip-hop record ever to break the top 40 of the US Billboard Hot 100 (#36), it’s based on Bernard Edwards’ magnificent bass line from Chic’s Good Times (1979)

4 The UK chart hit (#26) inspired by the bucket-water-throwing antics on ITV’s legendary Saturday morning kids’ magazine show Tiswas (1974-82) and performed by its hosts Chris Tarrant, Sally James, Bob Carolgees and John Gorman

5 The tune whose remix was unmistakeably used as the theme to the Beeb’s Sunday teatime fashion-dedicated The Clothes Show (1988-96)

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Retro Crimbo 2014: George’s Journal’s official top 40 tinseled tunes (20-1)

December 24, 2014

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Angelic anthemists? They’re the glam rock gods who conquered Christmas 1973 with their incredibly enduring Holiday hit, but is Slade’s festive classic top of the pops and this chart’s numero uno…?

So then, my merry mates, following hot on the reindeer-hooved-heels, of yesterday’s post detailing the first half of George’s Journal’s Christmas tune chart countdown, here is… yes, that’s right, the concluding half. Again, admittedly there are few rarities here, but there may be one or two surprises – in short, these are merely this blog’s top 20 favourite/ greatest seasonal songs ever to be released.

Just one thing, though, please don’t shoot the messenger, this is just a festive, frolicsome exercise of fun. Oh, all right, you can throw a snowball my way if you have to. Even better, though, you could pour me a snowball. Or some eggnog. Or some mulled wine. Or…

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20. The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year ~
Andy Williams (1963)

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What? The Christmas song as a jingle, you might say; the effort specially written to open the legendary US TV special The Andy Williams Christmas Show back in ’63

Well? That voice deliciously delivering those lyrics like a knife spreading syrup and then soaring up like a balloon to reach those high notes… ah yes, it could only be Andy Williams’ original (and unquestionably definitive) version of this most celebratory and – sure, in a silly and super clichéd way, but hey – seasonal of Crimbo tunes.

Wow? It was only commercially released as one of several songs on 1963’s The Andy Williams Christmas Album and then never as a stand-alone single – until 44 years later when it hit #21 on the UK charts thanks to heavy exposure in a Marks & Spencer TV ad

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19. Blue Christmas ~ Elvis Presley (1957)

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What? Elvis’s always welcome blues-at-the-yuletide hit, detailing a lovelorn soul’s far from most wonderful time of the year

Well? Who needs three kings when you can have The King himself doing his thing, shuffling and shambling his way in trademark fashion through this complete and utter Christmas classic? Recorded at the height of his early career for inclusion on a festive-themed LP and not released as a single for another seven years (when it promptly made it to #11 in the UK), this isn’t just a fun blues-tinged country tune, but always works as something of an antidote to all the saccharine, cheesy, cowbell-fixated pop and, yes, glam rock of the season – you know, if you’re starting to tire of it all (heaven forbid).

Wow? In something of a musical joke, the backing singers on the track (the Jordanaires) deliberately sing pronounced neutral and septimal minor thirds, as opposed to major and just minor thirds. Why? Because the former are commonly appreciated as ‘blue(s) notes’

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18. Sleigh Ride ~ Arthur Fiedler
and the Boston Pops Orchestra (1949)

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What? The original light orchestral instrumental tour de force, as performed by the wonderfully named Boston Pops Orchestra under their legendary conductor Arthur Fiedler

Well? You know how it is, you’re chugging along in your pristine sleigh behind your steed chomping at the bit, looking all splendid in your Sunday best and no doubt (should you be of the female kind) your beautiful bonnet, but what tune to throw on to the sleigh’s CD player? Well, this has to be the only possible choice. Leroy Anderson’s oh-so sprightly and jubilantly jolly 1946-48-composed piece that was written exactly for that purpose. Even though he wrote it during an American heat-wave.

Wow? Film fans (from outside the US) may recognise the Boston Pops Orchestra name thanks to its association with movie composer extraordinaire John Williams – he was its conductor from 1979-95

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17. Peace On Earth/ Little Drummer Boy ~ Bing Crosby and David Bowie (1977)

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What? The jolly yuletide duet from Bing and Bowie, as featured in the former’s 1977 US TV special

Well? If any tune proves the miracle of Christmas, it’s this one. The White Christmas king and The Thin White Duke curiously combining to deliver a duet of a semi-seasonal medley that surprisingly isn’t a merry mess, but actually a festive highlight. It drips with charisma and, thanks to the quality of their voices, is even rather moving. And the daft banter, making the most of the pair’s incongruity, also works splendidly – one wonders whether this is still Duncan Jones’ (aka Zowie Bowie’s) favourite. Frankly, I suspect it is. The stuff of television history.

Wow? It was recorded in the autumn of ’77 in the UK, for Crosby’s final ever Christmas special – he died only weeks later in early October, just over a month before the show’s TV transmission

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16. In The Bleak Midwinter ~
Julie Andrews (1973)

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What? The marvellously moving Christmas carol performed by Mary Poppins herself for her ’73 seasonal special on US TV

Well? Really, you can keep your O Holy and Silent Nights and your Harks! and Royal David’s Cities, for this is by far and away my favourite traditional carol. And it’s sung angelically by the angelically-voiced Julie Andrews. Quite frankly, when performed properly this is such a beautiful piece (irrespective of whether you go on its religious message, which apparently is a little controversial among Biblical experts anyway), its melody just as mellifluous and melancholic in the hands of Ms Andrews as it is in those of Cambridge’s King’s College choir.

Wow? The writing of In The Bleak Midwinter is usually credited to either Gustav Holst (1906) or Howard Darke (1911), but these were the composers whom set to music the original text – the words themselves dating back to around 1870, being a poem sent in to the Victorian magazine Scribner’s Monthly by Christina Rosetti, sister of the far more famous pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rosetti

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15. Santa Claus Is Coming To Town ~
Fred Astaire (1970)

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What? Ginger Rogers’ other (dancing) half, in the guise of the North Pole’s answer to Postman Pat, delivers that age-old classic Crimbo track

Well? There are many very popular versions of this seasonal standard – not least those courtesy of Bing Crosby (1943), Frank Sinatra (1948) and The Jackson 5 (1970) – yet I just have to stump for this effort from Astaire. Sure, he doesn’t dance while he sings this, but he’s a Claymation character and starring in perhaps the greatest of all the great Rankin/Bass Claymation Christmas specials.

Wow? When John Frederick Coots and Haven Gillespie’s tune, having been rejected by many radio DJs as too silly to air, was first sung on Eddie Cantor’s NBC radio show in November 1934 it led to the shifting of 100,000 copies of sheet music and 30,000 records within just 24 hours. By Christmas the following year, it had sold 400,000 records.

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14. Last Christmas ~ Wham! (1984)
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What? Cheesy but more melancholic than cheery ’80s festive pop fest from one-time mega-band Wham!

Well? Easily the naffest entry in this Top 20 (er, probably), it’s been the slow-dance centre-piece of countless Christmas parties for the last 30 years. Yes, this combination of bouncy, synthy silliness and earworm-tastic pure pop is older than either Home Alone (1990) or Santa Claus: The Movie (1985). Much of its greatness, actually, lies in its video, in which the group while-away a Crimbo in an Alpine chalet like a bunch of smug yuppies. With all the hairspray applied on their bonces, it’s a wonder the whole place doesn’t go up when they throw all those logs on the fire.

Wow? Although enormously popular, Last Christmas didn’t make it to #1 in the UK, as it came out at the same time as Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas?. Instead, it hit a high of #2 (where it remained for 13 whole weeks), but made no money whatsoever – perhaps at George Michael’s instigation, whom was involved with Band Aid, the Whamsters agreed to waive any profits and donate it all to Band Aid’s Ethiopian famine appeal.

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13. Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas ~ Judy Garland (1944)
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What? The bittersweet Crimbo cracker, as first sung by Judy Garland in movie musical Meet Me In St. Louis (1944)

Well? One of the most popular of all seasonal standards  – in 2007, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) ranked it the third most performed yuletide tune over the previous five years – and arguably one of the very best, this original version surely tops every esteemed other. Written specifically for Garland’s film character by Hugh Martin (co-composer Ralph Blane apparently wasn’t actually involved), its melancholic melody simply melts the heart, especially when Garland hits those top notes. No wonder it became so popular with US servicemen in WWII – Garland’s wartime performance of it at the Hollywood Canteen apparently reduced troops to tears.

Wow? The song had never made it on to the main US Billboard Hot 100 chart until this month, when a version by UK singer Sam Smith hit #90

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12. Do You Hear What I Hear? ~
Whitney Houston (1987)

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What? Glorious gospel version of the mid-20th Century Christmas standard, recorded by Houston for the Special Olympics-profiting A Very Special Christmas album

Well? Sure, this is as unquestionably ’80s-tastic as Last Christmas (with all that synth and echoey percussion going on), but if you can excuse that then it’s surely impossible not to be stirred by the emotive power of Houston’s extraordinarily soulful delivery. What an enormous talent she was back then. If you yearn for an era when Eddie Murphy was the king of cinema comedy, when the seasonal TV schedules were crammed with Family Ties and Magnum, P.I. specials and when peeps substituted E.T. for the baby Jesus in church cribs, then this is the yuletide track for you.

Wow? The tune was composed in October 1962 by songwriting pair Gloria Shayne Baker (music) and Noël Regney (lyrics), despite their distaste for the commercialism of Christmas and its music, as an idealistic appeal for peace during the febrile climate of the Cuban Missile Crisis

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11. Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! ~ Vaughn Monroe (1962)
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What? Sensationally popular seasonal ballad to be heard over the closing credits of that oh-so merry movie Die Hard (1988)

Well? Yes, (maybe) contrary to popular belief it was this smooth, classic version of Jule Styne (music) and Sammy Cahn’s (lyric) legendary jolly wintry tune (which soon became a Christmas standard after Monroe’s original 1946 effort became a huge hit) and not Dean Martin’s hugely-radio-friendly 1959 take on it that closed the Bruce-Willis-besting-terrorists-actioner-to-end-all-actioners. Yippi-ki-yay, er, Mother Clauses!

Wow? Following Monroe’s five-week Billboard Hot 100-topping effort of ’46, an incredible cacophony of artists have had a crack at letting it snow (er, letting it snow, letting snow), including in more recent years The Wurzels, Jewel, Mika, Seth MacFarlane, The Marshall Tucker Band, Twisted Sisted and The Polyphonic Spree

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10. Do They Know It’s Christmas? ~
Band Aid (1984)

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What? Original, utterly unavoidable charity-raising monolithic mega single performed by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure’s mid-’80s mulletted pop collective. And Status Quo.

Well? It has its detractors (and, following its third redo in 30 years, maybe rightly so this year), but I’ll always maintain that there was something fundamentally admirable about the first Band Aid project and something rather magical about it too – all those hair-lacquered popsters back then were somehow less cynical and genuinely more workaday yet more starry than today’s. Plus, many loathe it and few actually seem to like it (maybe even including Sir Bob), but I’ve always thought the song itself is better than all that, its Ure-produced synthy goodness a victim of over-exposure for obvious reasons. Sorry, folks, but almost every time I properly give it a listen, it still gets me.

Wow? Boy George was harrangued into taking part by Geldof despite waking with an über-hangover in New York City the morning of the recording. Eventually, after being repeatedly woken up by Geldof’s phone calls, he was persuaded to get on a plane and fly to London. He arrived after everybody else had left to record his contribution – and got through it thanks to some serious hair of the dog from a local off-licence.

Read more on the making, result and legacy of Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas? here

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9. I Believe In Father Christmas ~
Greg Lake (1975)

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What? One third of prog rock godly trio Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s assertion that he believes in St. Nick despite trying to demystify the yuletide in one foul swoop, which hit #2 in the UK

Well? If any Crimbo pop effort is underrated, then it has to be this one. Lake’s somewhat spoilsport intention to produce a tune that would criticise the modern yuletide and all its commercialism in fact turned out to be a beguiling acoustic-guitar-driven paean to the true meaning of Christmas (peace and goodwill to all men and all that). Smartly and marvellously, it incorporates between its verses that awesome, oh-so seasonal seeming (if actually non-festive) classical suite that’s Sergei Prokofiev’s Troika from the Soivet film Lieutenant Kijé (1934).

Wow? Unusually, to the say least, for a Christmas record, its video – shot in the Sinai Desert and Qumran in the West Bank – features footage from the Vietnam War (including even air strikes), presumably to drive home the song’s message of loss of innocence and the importance of warmth, forgiveness and acceptance

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8. Fairytale Of New York ~
The Pogues featuring Kirsty McColl (1987)

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What? The utterly unique folk festive hit from the Celtic punksters and guest vocalist Kirsty MacColl

Well? By turns, down-at-heel and downright rude (listen to those lyrics charting an argument between faded lovers after years of drink- and drug-addiction), irresistibly swinging (that cèilidh-friendly melody is so danceable) and genuinely grandiose (the piano intro, strings, harp and horns give the whole thing a fairy-tale-like resplendence), this is an unusual modern pop standard that also happens to be a terrific off-kilter Christmas classic

Wow? Although it hit #2 on the UK charts on original release, Fairytale Of New York’s popularity has grown enormously in recent years, having charted within the UK Top 20 for each of the last 10 Christmases and within the Top 10 on the last three of those occasions – it’s also apparently the most played Christmas song on UK radio of the 21st Century. As to the video, yes, that is Matt Dillon (friend of Pogues’ lead singer Shane MacGowan) playing the police officer at the start, but no, in fact no NYPD Choir exists.

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7. Step Into Christmas ~ Elton John (1973)
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What? Reg The Dwight’s entry in the Christmas ditty canon, partly an imitation of the Phil Spector-produced ‘Wall of Sound’ Christmas records of the early ’60s

Well? Given it was produced by Elton John at the height of his quality output in the early to mid-’70s, Step Into Christmas is an often oddly overlooked seasonal song. It’s no Crimbo oddity, though. With its glam rock associations (check out Elton in those enormous bins and even more enormous platforms), it’s a swaggering, tumbling party tune – indeed, wordsmith Bernie Taupin’s lyrics suggest the yuletide’s a big party to which we’re all invited as ‘the admission’s free’, especially the lines “Welcome to my Christmas song” and “So hop on to your turntable and step into Christmas with me”. And did I mention that repetitive guitar riff? Boy, is it infectious.

Wow? Again, maybe surprisingly, it only hit a high of #24 on the UK charts on its original release in late ’73 – mind you, there were two more rather big Christmas singles released that year…

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6. I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday ~ Wizzard (1973)
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What? … And here’s the first of them: the unforgettably, simply superb glam rock foot-stomper from Roy Wood’s Wizzard

Well? It doesn’t get much more glam than this – just look at the state of the band in that video; they look like The Village People dressed for the circus. Formerly of The Move and a founder member of ELO, of course, Wood ensures the tune runs the full glam gamut, with its marvellous melody that crashes along backed by saxophones, big percussion, daft sound effects and the contribution (“OK, you lot, take it!”) of Birmingham’s Stockland Green Bilateral School’s First Year choir – billed on the single’s sleeve as ‘Miss Snob and Class 3C’ – whom were coached down from the Midlands to London to record their vocals during the autumn half-term holiday.

Wow? Despite its huge popularity (it’s never charted lower than #46 in the UK in the last eight Christmases), the song scaled no higher than #4 when first released, where it remained for four weeks in December ’73 and into January ’74

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5. Walking In The Air ~ Aled Jones (1985)
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What? Then cherubic 14-year-old choirboy Aled Jones’ version of the tune that forms the centre-piece of the classic Christmas animation The Snowman (1982)

Well? An unquestionably atmospheric, wintry wonderful, nay magical orchestral piece (first conceived actually by The Snowman’s composer Howard Blake back in 1975), which in the mid-’80s took Britain by storm; for many, it was quite unlike anything else to be heard at Christmas – or at any other point of the year. Quite rightly, the timeless tune also did the business for its record label (Stiff Records – yes, that’s right, Stiff Records), mixing it with the pap pop and heavy metal of the day by climbing to a high of #5 in the UK charts that winter.

Wow? The version of the Walking In The Air that appears in The Snowman was recorded at least three years earlier and didn’t even feature Jones’ voice; instead boy soprano Peter Auty had been enlisted. Jones’ involvement with the song only came about because retailer Toys “R” Us requested use of the song for a Christmas TV ad campaign, by which time Auty’s voice had broken.

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4. Merry Xmas Everybody ~ Slade (1973)
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What? Completely and utterly unavoidable classic Crimbo glam rock hit from the West Midlands foursome – Band Aid aside, perhaps the ultimate Christmas UK #1

Well? Overplayed, oversaturated, overstated and overblown… all these adjectives could be levelled at Slade’s defining tune and in some ways fairly; in others not at all. Merry Xmas Everybody achieved enormous popularity on first release and remains hugely popular now because it’s a simply great rock song. Less campy and silly, actually, than, say, Wizzard’s effort, it features a rather haunting melody driven along by a heavy bass line and topped off by Noddy Holder’s irresistible vocals, making the listener, as he does, curiously nostalgic for an old-fashioned working class Christmas.

Wow? Holder has referred to this song as his pension fund; that may not be an exaggeration. It debuted at #1 (a rare achievement at the time) in December ’73 and remained there for five weeks, but that only tells half the story. Within its first week of release, it had sold 350,000 copies and, to sate demand at one point, Polydor Records had to have 250,000 copies shipped over from Los Angeles and apparently had 30,000 a day coming in from Germany, where they were being pressed. It has charted every Christmas since 2007 and, in total, is estimated to have sold in excess of 1.2 million copies.

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3. Happy Xmas (War Is Over) ~
John & Yoko/ Plastic Ono Band (1971)

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What? The former Fab’s fabulous anti-war anthem cunningly wrapped up as a Christmas pop song, which worked its magic in the UK, making it to #4 in 1972’s festive charts

Well? This tune, conceived and produced in more or less the same era as Imagine, is very much of the same principle, giving musical voice to the late ’60s peace movement’s ideals – or to paraphrase Lennon: putting his political message across with a little honey. Musically, it’s rhythmically lilting, almost like a lullaby with mandolin-like riffs, but builds verse-on-verse and opens up majestically in the chorus with the Harlem Community Choir (and, yes, the Plastic Ono Band) chipping in. Meanwhile, an engaging end-of-year reflective, could-you-have-done-more? underscore is to be heard in Lennon’s vocals (“And so this is Christmas/ And what have you done?”) before getting to the point at the end (“War is over / If you want it”).

Wow? May Pang, the woman with whom Lennon had an affair during his ‘Lost Weekend’ period in the mid-’70s, sings backing vocals; at the time she was actually working as Lennon and Ono’s personal assistant

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2. The Christmas Song (Merry
Christmas To You)
~ Nat King Cole (1961)

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What? Commonly subtitled – and known to millions by its opening line – ‘Chestnuts roasting on an open fire’, it’s Bob Wells and Mel Tormé’s 1944-written, pretty much perfect festive phenomenon

Well? As smooth as (ahem) the smoothest silk Christmas stocking, as rich as the richest brandy-filled Christmas pudding and as satisfying, after all the presents have been opened, as the Christmas wrapping paper always is… well, for the pet cat, Cole’s definitive ’61 version (with his deep, sonorous tones, that sublime orchestration and that stereophonic sound) of the near definitive Christmas song is pretty much as good as it gets this time of year. And, yes, I mean as good as anything gets this time of year.

Wow? Perhaps the most iconic ingredient of The Christmas Song is its lyrics, but according to writer Tormé they were never intended as such; they were actually notes he jotted down merely to get him in the mood for writing the song on a blistering hot summer’s day (‘Chestnuts roasting… Jack Frost nipping… Yuletide carols… Folks dressed up like Eskimos’). Apparently, just 40 minutes later, every word of the song was written.

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1. White Christmas ~ Bing Crosby (1947)
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What? It is, and could only be, Bing singing the one and only White Christmas – it is the biggest selling song of all-time, after all

Why? This is the definitive Christmas song, no question. Although, it’s not actually the first version, which was recorded in May 1942; this 1947 version effectively replaced that one as the ‘original’, owing to the former’s master copy becoming damaged due to being overplayed. Accompanied by the Trotter Orchestra and the Darby Singers, Crosby’s deep, smooth, perfect delivery of the lyrics which, like the music, drip with nostalgia and melancholy, ensured the tune became hugely popular during the war-ravaged 1940s and then, well, forever after.

Wow? Covered a ludicrous number of times by countless different artists, White Christmas is definitely the biggest selling song ever (estimates put the number at around 100 million copies), but Crosby’s version is also the biggest selling single ever (having shifted around 50 million copies). However, for its first few weeks on release, it was outperformed on the US charts by Be Careful, It’s My Heart, another song from Holiday Inn (1942), the film in which it originally featured. Moreover, it had been initially planned that Crosby’s co-star in the movie Marjorie Reynolds would sing the song alone and not as a duet with him, which was how the scene (which effectively constitutes the song’s ‘video’) eventually played out. Ah, just how different history – and all our Christmases – could have been…

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Retro Crimbo 2014: George’s Journal’s official top 40 tinseled tunes (40-21)

December 22, 2014

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Three cool cats: or maybe three yule rats – it surely comes as absolutely no surprise that Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. all appear on this chart rundown, but exactly where…?

On reading this post’s title, it may have occurred to those visitors to this blog more regular than others that it’s already offered several Christmas-related songs in a seasonal playlist – and I could try to argue that this one is completely and utterly different, but let’s be honest, it really isn’t – so why not we just agree that it’s the yuletide and, thus, I’m offering you all, each and every one of you, an extra lashing of Crimbo tune goodness?

There is a specific focus in this post, though. Unlike many of my playlists of the past – including the seasonal ones – this rundown isn’t likely to feature many a rarity; practically all of you will surely recognise every tune it contains. For this is a post entirely dedicated to nostalgia and whimsy. Yes, in the spirit of the UK’s annual Christmas singles chart, this is George’s Journal‘s version, peeps; my top 40 countdown of my favourite/ greatest seasonal songs of all-time.

So, without further ado, let’s get the first half of the the rundown underway… hand Tony Blackburn his microphone, give Pan’s People their ‘ten-minute-call’ and cue CCS’s take on Whole Lotta Love – with cowbells, of course. A whole lotta cowbell…

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40. A Spaceman Came Travelling ~
Eela Craig (1976)

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What? Austrian prog rockers’ cover of, yes, Chris de Burgh’s song released the same year that reimagined Christ’s birth as a close encounter of the third kind

Well? Always a decent tune (although it’s not easy to admit ‘de Blurgh’ actually ever came up with one), for me this has a substantial edge over the original owing to its synthy touches, guitar solo, crazy soprano notes and the general ethereal, mystical feel

Wow? de Burgh’s version didn’t actually chart in the UK until 1986 – when it hit a high of #40 and remained on the chart for five weeks

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39. Do You Know How Christmas
Trees Are Grown?
~ Nina (1969)

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What? John Barry and Hal David-penned ditty for the 1969 Christmas-set Bond spectacular On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

Well? Lyrically as sickly sweet as an entire Terry’s Chocolate Orange consumed before Christmas Day turkey it may be, but a charming tune with an infectiously appealing melody it is too. It actually features in the above flick while the hero’s being pursued across a Swiss ski resort’s town square by potential killers, thus acting as a finely effective counterpoint to the scene’s action.

Wow? The singer, billed during her career simply as ‘Nina’, is actually a Baroness, her first husband having been the Danish-Dutch Baron Frederik van Pallandt, whom in the ’90s was shot dead possibly due to his many years’ involvement with a drug trafficking ring. During the early ’70s, Nina dated Clifford Irving, the author whom notoriously attempted to fake a Howard Hughes autobiography.

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38. Another Bloomin’ Christmas ~
Mel Smith (1991)

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What? The song that features as the centre-piece to the UK Channel 4 adaptation (1991) of Raymond Briggs’ Father Christmas children’s book

Well? Accompanied, as it is, by the terrific animation in its sequence from the 30-minute TV special, this is always a festive delight; however, to listen to it on its own, one realises Mel Smith’s delivery (just like his vocal performance throughout Father Christmas) really is bloomin’ marvellous

Wow? Best recalled as the comedian partner to Griff Rhys Jones (with whom he also appeared, as well as alongside Rowan Atkinson and Pamela Stephenson, in the early ’80s’ groundbreaking sketch show Not The Nine O’Clock News), Smith went on to become a successful comedy film director, helming the likes of The Tall Guy (1991) and Bean (1997). Sadly, he died in summer 2013, aged just 60.

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37. A Winter’s Tale ~ David Essex (1982)

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What? Somewhat cheesy ballad of lost love from the Silver Dream Racer himself that peaked just one spot shy of the UK charts’ summit in January ’83

Well? Cheesy it may be, but this nicely melancholic melody rarely fails to get under the skin (or at least mine); unsurprising perhaps, given it was written by pop music supremo Mike Batt and lyricist extraordinaire Tim Rice. The flaring guitar bits may be unnecessary, but the oboe opening and its repetition throughout is lovely to say the least.

Wow? Among his many screen performances, David Essex starred as a passenger on the notorious nuclear-powered charabanc in cult disaster movie spoof The Big Bus (1976)

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36. Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) ~ Darlene Love (1963)

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What? Phil Spector-produced, Motown-esque ballad performed by Ms Love every Crimbo on David Letterman’s US chat show and memorably to be heard over the opening titles of the seasonally-set Gremlins (1984) and in a scene from Goodfellas (1990)

Well? A true perennial of the American Christmas season thanks to the Letterman connection, it’s now fairly crossed over as a global festive favourite owing to its quality – those heartfelt vocals, that ‘Wall of Sound’ production and that rumbling rhythm that drives the whole thing along. So many Christmas tunes are ear-worms, but this is one you don’t mind being on the brain for days on end.

Wow? When originally recorded back in ’63, Spector felt it such a good tune he had Darlene Love record a non-seasonal version entitled Johnny (Baby Please Come Home); it didn’t see the light of day until 1977, though, when eventually released as the B-side to Love’s single Lord, If You’’re A Woman

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35. Santa Baby ~ Eartha Kitt
with Henri Rene & His Orchestra (1953)

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What? Catwoman herself’s slinkily sexy Christmas list-cum-love letter to St. Nick, a US top 10 smash for the equally slinkily sexy Ms Kitt on its release

Well? Covered by everyone from Kylie to Mariah and Madonna to Miss Piggy, it’s an evergreen erstwhile novelty tune, of course, but Eartha’s version is the definitive one, her shaping of those lyrics ensuring she’s suggesting Santa should come hither with her mouth rather than her eyes. And to listen to those clever lyrics is always a pleasure – this is basically the Crimbo equivalent of Marilyn Monroe’s Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend (1953). Sort of.

Wow? Aged 81, Eartha Kitt died in 2008 – on Christmas Day

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34. Lonely This Christmas ~
Mud (1974)

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What? Elvis-slow-ballad take-off that powered to the top of the UK’s festive chart in the mid-’70s

Well? At best an homage, at worst a spoof, Lonely This Christmas is nonetheless a silly-but-fun ballad from the Tiger-Feeters with Les Gray’s memorable Presley impersonation; one of the more unusual – and finer – exponents of the glam rock era and always a staple of the season in shopping centres up and down the nation that, whenever played, always has a habit of growing on you

Wow? It was written by Mick Chapman (with then writing partner Nicky Chinn), whom together with Chinn wrote 19 UK Top 40 hits between 1973 and ’74 for artists including Mud, Sweet, Suzi Quatro and Smokie, then later co-wrote Toni Basil’s Mickey (1982), Pat Benatar’s Love Is A Battlefield (1983) and Tina Turner’s The Best (1988)

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33. Ding Dong, Ding Dong ~
George Harrison (1974)

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What? The ‘Quiet’ Beatle’s attempt to crash the Glam Rock-ification of Crimbo in the early to mid-’70s

Well? It may not be up there with Lennon or Macca’s best merrily tinged tunes, but this effort from The Georgester remains a more-than-likeable song driven by his trademark heavy bass line and decorated by its bell-related inferences and effects. Warning: if you’re yet to hear it for the first time, you may well be humming it for days afterwards.

Wow? The video was filmed in the extensive gardens of Harrison’s long-time, post-Fabs home, the Oxfordshire pile Friar Park. The song’s lyric ‘Ring out the old, ring in the new / Ring out the false, ring in the true’ is actually lifted directly from a carving erected in the gardens – among many other eccentric things – by the former owner, Victorian lawyer and microscopist Sir Frank Crisp.

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32. In Dulci Jubilo ~ Mike Oldfield (1975)

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What? The Tubular Bells supremo’s jolly take on the traditional European carol variously known as In Dulci Jubilo (In Sweet Rejoicing) and Good Christian Men Rejoice that rather marvellously hit #4 in the UK charts in January ’76

Well? A layered instrumental of acoustic and electric guitars, piano, synthesizer, recorders, kortholt, snare drum and tambourine, Oldfield’s rendition of the tune that’s so old it dates back to the Middle Ages may be idiosyncratic, but it’s also distinctly dignified as it delivers that upbeat, unforgettable melody. In short, it festively warms the heart.

Wow? Legend has it that In Dulci Jubilo’s original text, a combination of Medieval German and Latin, was the work of German mystic Heinrich Seuse in 1328 – whom took the words down after he heard angels sing them and he joined them for a boogie. Nice.

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31. Christmas Children ~
David Collings, Richard Beaumont
and Karen Scargill (1970)

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What? The song from Scrooge (1970), the movie musical adaptation of A Christmas Carol, sung by Bob Cratchitt and two of his children as they press their noses to the glass of a shop window

Well? A wonderfully atmospheric jingly Crimbo tune this one, featuring infectious toy- and food-themed, aspirational lyrics delivered with almost almost eerie portent by Collings

Wow? Composer of the song (and all of Scrooge’s songs, in fact) Brit Leslie Bricusse (co-)wrote hits for an assortment of artists, many of them film-related, including Goldfinger (1964) for Shirley Bassey, You Only Live Twice (1967) for Nancy Sinatra and, rather bizarrely, Can You Read My Mind? for Maureen McGovern, a task that saw him add lyrics to John Williams’ Love Theme from Superman: The Movie (1978)

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30. It Feels Like Christmas ~
Jerry Nelson (1992)

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What? The Ghost of Christmas Present’s welcoming of Michael Caine’s Scrooge to all the wonders of the big merry morning itself in The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

Well? Another ditty from a Dickens adaptation and it’s a stonker. Sure, the sequence in which it features is fabulously festive and crammed full of cuddly furry creatures (all Muppet cats miaowing and crows cooing) and Michael Caine doing a comedy cockney-walkabout dance but, don’t doubt it, the tune itself is an infectious melody and its lyrics spell out the very spirit of Crimbo itself.

Wow? In Jim Henson’s universe, Jerry Nelson, whom sadly died two years ago, also performed (including the voices of) the characters Count Von Count, Mr Snuffleupagus, Dr Julius Strangepork, Lew Zealand, Robin the Frog and Gobo Fraggle. He also provided the vocals of Electric Mayhem’s lead singer Floyd Pepper.

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29. Pipes Of Peace ~ Paul McCartney (1983)

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What? The first of two entries on this chart from Macca, his anti-war hit whose memorable video was this autumn ripped off by Sainsbo’s to flog chocolate. Or something.

Well? In spite of lacking any reference to this time of year at all, a rarity for this countdown to say the least, this is one of McCartney’s most effective post-Beatles efforts; less perky and punchy, more sleek and mature than many of his melodies, its subtle synthy touches and tabla-tastic credentials help the love-not-war message go down as smoothly as that sherry left out for Santa.

Wow? This was Macca’s first and only solo UK #1 (for two weeks), following one with Wings (1977’s Mull Of Kintyre), one with Stevie Wonder (1982’s Ebony And Ivory) and 17 with The Beatles

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28. Stop The Cavalry ~ Jona Lewie (1980)

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What? Curious ‘festive’ protest song that was a hit right around Europe in December 1980, including in the UK where it made it to #3 in the charts

Well? Not quite a one-hit-wonder for the marvellously monikered Jona Lewie (there’s that other one of his where he goes on about always being in the kitchen at parties), but to say Stop The Cavalry’s unusual and idiosyncratic for a Christmas song’s putting it mildly. Essentially about the suffering of a sort of ‘eternal soldier’ (with references in the lyrics to Winston Churchill and nuclear fallout; while the video is, Pipes Of Peace-like, set in WWI trenches), it smartly and terrifically adapts a theme from Hugo Alfvén’s Swedish Rhapsody No. 1, while other moments are reminiscent of Mozart’s Rondo in D Major, K382, all making for a marvellous melody.

Wow? Apparently, another version released a year later by Lewie’s label Stiff Records, and performed by the Welsh mens’ choir Gwalia Singers and backed by the Cory Band, has become one of the most requested songs on US radio at Christmastime. I know, I’d never heard it before either.

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27. December Will Be Magic Again ~
Kate Bush (1979)

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What? Kate The Great’s one-off contribution to the Crimbo pop pantheon, which she debuted on a BBC Christmas special in ’79 (see above video) and released a year later where it hit a high of #29 in the UK

Well? Lyrically nothing to write home about, with bits about falling snow and Bing Crosby’s White Christmas making ‘people feel nice’, this is The Bushter in near-full-on Wuthering Heights mode, though, her piano picking out an oh-so hummable, tumbling melody, her voice seeking out those unexpected top notes and cowbells taking centre-stage in a bridge section that Christopher Walken would die for

Wow? An alternative version featuring bongos and slide-whistles (yes, really) exists – its  video, which sees a red-clad, barefoot Ms Bush cavorting in a big red chair, has to be experienced to make every December magic

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26. O Holy Night ~ Mario Lanza (1950-52)

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What? Awesome rendition of the classic carol from the mid-20th Century’s ‘most famous tenor in the world’

Well? For me, the definitive version of this essential festive musical offering (although, rather wonderfully, a 1916 version recorded by Lanza’s idol Enrico Caruso is still in print), the marvellous Mario’s voice soars and swoops majestically through this always most operatic and exquisitely dramatic of carols. Sheer class.

Wow? Possessed of such a powerful voice, Lanza is said to have lived a similarly tempestuous life; the legendary Hollywood columnist Hedda Hopper once wrote of him: ‘his smile, which was as big as his voice, was matched with the habits of a tiger cub, impossible to housebreak’

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25. Baby, It’s Cold Outside ~
Sammy Davis, Jr. and Carmen McRae (1957)

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What? Guys And Dolls composer Frank Loesser’s 1944-written big band standard which, over the last decade, has became a seasonal standard on both sides of the Atlantic, here performed by Sammy and Carmen for their duets album Boy Meets Girl

Well? Always a playful boy-and-girl-leave-party-so-boy-might-persuade-girl-to-shag duet, this version (recorded by arguably the greatest two vocalists ever to have done so) ups the playful factor terrifically, with Davis riffing around the lyrics, in particular, before joining McRae for the rousing finish. Delightful.

Wow? As mentioned, originally the tune had nothing whatsoever to do with Christmas, first performed, as it was, by Loesser and his wife Lynn Garland at a housewarming party (sort of smartly indicating that the evening was drawing to a close and the time for guests to leave was approaching); apparently, she was appalled when he sold it to MGM as she considered it ‘their song’ – she may have relented, though, when it won the Best Original Song Oscar after appearing in Neptune’s Daughter (1949)

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24. Winter Wonderland ~
Dean Martin (1959)

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What? Dino’s definitive version of the, again, originally non-festive ditty, but which is now surely one of the season’s most popular songs

Well? Recorded for his A Winter Romance album, Martin’s take on the timeless standard is seemingly effortlessly smooth – like you’re gliding over the snow in a sleigh with the super crooner yourself. And then he’d probably crack out the whisky causing the sleigh to crash into a snowdrift, but don’t doubt it, for a full two minutes there, it’d be pure bliss.

Wow? Committed to record now by more than 200 different artists, it was written way back in 1934 by composer Felix Bernard and lyricist Richard Smith – the latter apparently contributing the words while he was in a sanatorium suffering from tuberculosis

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23. Silent Night ~ Frank Sinatra (1957)

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What? Possibly the daddy of all traditional carols from surely the daddy of all voices, as featured on his A Jolly Christmas From Frank Sinatra album and backed by the Ralph Brewster Singers

Well? Frank at his mellow best here, delivering Franz Xaver Gruber and Joseph Mohr’s carol with effective, lightly lilting understatement, giving the impression the outstanding beauty of the lullaby-like melody is doing all the heavy lifting. But don’t believe it for a second.

Wow? Stille Nachte, Heilige Nachte (or Silent Night) was written for and first performed by its composers at an 1818 Christmas Eve mass in the Austrian village of Oberndorf – only it seems it was written and performed that first time in comparatively fast 6/8 time and may even have been intended as a tune to dance to. It was classed as ‘intangible cultural heritage’ by UNESCO in 2011.

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22. Once Upon A Long Ago ~
Paul McCartney (1987)

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What? The second of Macca’s two tinsel-friendly tunes on my chart, a Linda-McCartney-on-keyboards- and, yes, Nigel-Kennedy-on-violin-featuring anthem to the whimsy of childhood and (sort of) Christmas

Well? Easily one of his finest tracks of the ’80s (certainly up there with, say, 1984’s No More Lonely Nights), this is far from mere power pop with an indulgent echoey guitar solo, as it features a really rather delicious melancholic melody – as do so many of the former Fabs’ best ditties – and some keen sax playing from Stan Sulzmann and very effective fiddling from Kennedy

Wow? Hitting a high of #10 in the UK (Macca’s last top 10-hitter here), the song – along with Beautiful Night (1997) – had been conceived as a tune for the soundtrack of fairy-tale-esque fantasy flick The Princess Bride (1987) only to be rejected by its makers, so McCartney released it for the Christmas market instead

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21. Abigail’s Song ~
Katherine Jenkins (2010)

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What? Doctor Who composer Murray Gold’s elegiacal hymn from the show’s 2010 Christmas special, written for and sung by its guest star, the classical diva/ not-a-real-opera-singer Katherine Jenkins

Well? A mellifluous concoction that, at times, seems to float on air like dancing snowflakes and, at others, rises to a crescendo thanks to the fine backing from the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and the power of La Jenkins’ voice. That man Murray Gold has composed some truly terrific music for Who, no question (I Am The Doctor, anyone?), but this beautiful, irresistible offering really is something else.

Wow? Like this episode of Doctor Who, four of the show’s five preceding Christmas specials featured songs specially written by Gold; however, The Stowaway (the song that appeared in 2007’s Voyage Of The Damned) was performed by jazz singer Yamit Mamo and not that episode’s guest star – even though it was Kylie Minogue

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And if that’s not enough for you – or, rather, if you can take any more – watch this space, for faster than it takes an (admittedly) tubby Santa to descend your chimney, the conclusion of George’s Journal’s Christmas song chart will be hitting you like a mince pie in the eye. Er, yes…

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Retro Crimbo 2014: White Christmas at 60 ~ just like the one we’ve always known

December 20, 2014

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Snow, snow, it won’t be long before we’re all there with snow: Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, Danny Kaye and Vera-Ellen in detail from a ‘snow effect’-treated poster for White Christmas

Even the most ardent of Christmas and advent experts – or, for that matter, the most clued-up of film fans – might not recognise October 14 1954 as a seminal date in the history of the modern yuletide. But it arguably is. For, it was on that day, some weeks before that year’s seasonal festivities admittedly, that one of the greatest, most enduring, most enjoyable and most significant Christmas movies of all-time was released, White Christmas.

Nowadays, of course, it’s almost unimaginable to contemplate a time when this marvellous musical concoction didn’t exist. Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, George Clooney’s aunt and that other girl whose name nobody remembers all in lustrous Technicolor, along with that irresistible big-band delivery of some of Irving Berlin’s best compositions. They’ve always been around, haven’t they? Ready to be unwrapped and thrown on each December 24th/ 25th-ish, like that latest Christmas jumper your second-step-cousin-thrice-removed gets you every year? Well, they weren’t around 60 years ago. Back then White Christmas was but a Christmas tree light-esque glint in imperious director Michael Curtiz’s eye, as he was busy corralling and – who knows? – maybe carolling all his troops into ship-shape to deliver not just one of the best ever festive musicals, but possibly one of the best ever musicals, period.

So, here we are then, peeps, the latest post in this year’s celebration of all things festive and retro at George’s Journal is a sentimental look back at the making, success, legacy and best bits of the one, the only White Christmas. In which case, go on then, Bing… take it away – no, don’t worry, David Bowie’s nowhere in sight…

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The origins and the song…

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The foundations of White Christmas lie in another hit Hollywood musical with a similar plot, Holiday Inn (1942), which starred Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire and featured songs written by tunesmith extraordinare Irving Berlin. It had been in Holiday Inn that Berlin’s song White Christmas had first appeared, going on to win the Oscar for Best Original Song and becoming a huge seasonal chart smash for crooner Crosby.

In fact, White Christmas the song is easily the biggest selling single of all-time – Crosby’s version having so far shifted in excess of 50 million copies. Moreover, it’s estimated that all versions of the song (including Bing’s) have sold over 125 million copies. It’s been recorded in several different languages, including Dutch, Yiddish, Japanese and even Swahili. Apparently, on writing it in January 1940, Berlin said immodestly to his musical secretary Helmy Kresa: ‘I want you to take down a song I wrote over the weekend. Not only is it the best song ever wrote, it’s the best song anybody ever wrote’.

Holiday Inn itself would eventually see its title borrowed by the worldwide mega-hotel chain that, yes, shares its name. However, less auspiciously, the movie is nowadays notorious for featuring a black-faced minstrel sequence which, for obvious reasons, is often cut during annual US TV broadcasts of the film at this time of year.

A decade or so on from Holiday Inn, Berlin and Crosby sought to repeat the trick they’d enjoyed with that flick and got behind another musical whose plot would be be loosely based on Inn’s – and whose climax would incorporate that (yes, even merely by then) enormously popular festive tune. This second movie would, of course, turn out to be White Christmas

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The casting and the production…

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Initially, the plan had been to reunite Crosby and Astaire for the leads in White Christmas, old army buddies-turned-variety performers Bob Wallace and Phil Davis, but somewhat oddly perhaps, Astaire didn’t like the script. As a ‘Plan B’, Donald O’Connor (whom two years before had hit pay-dirt opposite Gene Kelly in the rather similar Singin’ In The Rain) was offered the co-lead role, but when he had to drop out due to illness, Danny Kaye filled it – on the understanding he’d receive a $200,000 fee and 10 percent of the profits.

Financially speaking, the movie’s production was apparently split down the middle between Paramount on one side and Berlin and Crosby on the other.

Cast as the female leads, the Haynes sisters, were early ’50s hit singer Rosemary Clooney (yes, famously aunt of George) and actress and dancer Vera-Ellen (whom had starred in musicals opposite Fred Astaire and in 1949’s On The Town opposite Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra) – White Christmas would actually be Vera-Ellen’s penultimate film.

Notably, the cast was filled out by Academy Award-winner Dean Jagger as Major General Tom Waverly, the survival of whose Vermont winter resort drives the movie’s plot, and George Chakiris as a black-clad background dancer, whom would also win an Academy Award for his performance in West Side Story (1961).

Signed on to direct White Christmas was legendary Hungarian-born Hollywood helmer Michael Curtiz, whom had previously directed Casablanca (1942), The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), Angels With Dirty Faces (1935), Mildred Pierce (1941), Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) and Captain Blood (1935).

Filming principally took place between September and November 1953 and made use of the Paramount-developed VistaVision camera process, making White Christmas the first movie to do so. VistaVision was effectively an alternative to 20th Century-Fox’s CinemaScope, which had been launched in ’53, and could be said to be something of a forerunner to the IMAX system first employed in the ’70s.

Every one of White Christmas’s 16 songs were composed by Irving Berlin. Although, like the title tune, several of them weren’t originally written for the film. Vera-Ellen’s singing voice was dubbed by chanteuse Trudy Stevens, except for on Sisters, for which Clooney provided both vocals. Conversely, on the commercially released soundtrack album, Clooney didn’t appear as her record company would refuse to release her, thus her vocals on that were taken by Peggy Lee. Meanwhile, Crosby and Clooney’s ballad Count Your Blessings Instead Of Sleep was Oscar-nominated.

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The reception and the legacy…

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Theatrically released in the US on October 14 1954, White Christmas was a smash with the public from the very start. By the end of the year, it had pulled in $12 million domestically, making it the biggest flick at the box-office in 1954 (second-placed The Caine Mutiny pulled in only $8.7 million). By the end of its run (and accounting for the re-releases in years since), it grossed around $30 million in the US alone – that’s $263.4 million in today’s money.

The critics, though, were a bit sniffy. Legendary film reviewer for The New York Times Bosley Crowther concluded: “oddly enough, the confection is not so tasty as one might suppose. The flavoring is largely in the line-up and not in the output of the cooks. Everyone works hard at the business of singing, dancing and cracking jokes, but the stuff that they work with is minor”.

However, over the decades the critics appear to have lightened up somewhat – it presently holds a 76 percent ‘Tomatometer’ score of all critics and an 89 percent audience score on rottentomatoes.com. And its popularity with the punters has never been in doubt. A perennial fixture of the TV schedules this time of year – on both sides of the Atlantic – it also came fifth in a recent ‘top Christmas films’ poll of 2,000 movie fans by the UK Odeon cinema chain, with only It’s A Wonderful Life (1946), Home Alone (1990), The Snowman (1982) and the 1994 remake of 1937’s Miracle On 34th Street ahead of it.

Moreover, when White Christmas reached its 50th-anniversary 10 years ago, it was adapted into a stage musical premiering in San Francisco. A success, it toured the US provinces and appeared on Broadway at the Marquis Theatre for the 2008-09 winter season. In 2006 it crossed the pond, playing in several major regional theatres, and is now showing at the West End’s Dominion Theatre in a production starring Aled Jones and Strictly Come Dancing’s Tom Chambers.

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Julie Ege/ Jenny Hanley/ Anouska Hempel/ Joanna Lumley: James Bond’s Jingle Belles

December 10, 2014

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Talent…

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… These are the lovely ladies and gorgeous girls of eras gone by whose beauty, ability, electricity and all-round x-appeal deserve celebration and – ahem – salivation here at George’s Journal

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It’s December. It’s getting proper dark outside. And proper cold. But the big Crimbo is still two weeks off. And yet surely not one of us has been able to escape all the Holidays hooplah and hype, thus, getting in on the act, George Journal’s first big gift to every one of you this season is a pictorial tribute to a quartet – yes, that’s right, four fantastic fillies – from among master villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld’s ‘Angels of Death’ in the absolutely cracking Christmas-set Bond flick On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969). Oh yes. So, following (if not hot, but eventually) on the heels of both Angela Scoular and Catherine Schell’s inductions, the brilliant, beautiful and beasent-tastic Julie Ege, Jenny Hanley, Anouska Hempel and Joanna Lumley are verily the latest inductees into this blog’s Talent corner

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Name: Julie Ege

Nationality: Norwegian

Professions: Actress, author and model

Born: November 12 1943, Høyland, Rogaland, Norway (Died: April 28 2008, Oslo, Norway)

Known for: Playing sexiful glamour puss roles in bawdy British comedies such as the big-screen adaption (1971) of the Frankie Howerd-starring, Roman era-set sitcom Up Pompeii (1969-75), Percy’s Progress (1974) and The Amorous Milkman (1975), the Hammer horrors and adventures The Legend Of The 7 Golden Vampires (1974) and Creatures The World Forgot (1971) and, of course, playing the ‘Scandinavian Girl’ in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Initially a model, she competed in both the Miss Norway and Miss Universe (1962) competitions and was a Penthouse Pet (1967).

Strange but true: Before she died from breast cancer at just 64, Julie had for some time been working as a nurse

Peak of fitness: Revealing practically an entire half of her ample décolletage in her red, just-about-can-be-called dress in Up Pompeii

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Profile

Name: Jenny Hanley

Nationality: English

Professions: TV presenter, actress and model

Born: August 15 1947, Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire, England

Known for: From 1974-80, presenting ITV’s trendy answer to Blue Peter, kids’ magazine show Magpie (1968-80), in addition to cinema roles as the ‘Irish Girl’ in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), in Billy Wilder’s The Private Life Of Sherlock Holmes (1970), in sexy comedies Percy’s Progress (1974) and Alfie Darling (1976) and in the Hammer horror Scars Of Dracula (1970), in addition to appearances in TV dramas and comedies including The Persuaders! (1971-72), Man About The House (1973-76) and Return Of The Saint (1978-79)

Strange but true: Noted as the daughter of famed actress Dinah Sheridan, Jenny’s grandmother was, in fact, a top society photographer whom regularly took shots of Royal family members and launched the early modelling career of one Roger Moore

Peak of fitness: Putting Valerie Singleton and Lesley Judd very much in the shade as the female face of Magpie for much of the ’70s, in so doing making her a fantasy figure of adolescent boys’ dreams up and down the country

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Profile

Name: Anouska Hempel (born: Anne Geissler)

Nationality: New Zealander/ British

Professions: Actress, hotelier, interior designer and clothes designer

Born: December 13 1941, apparently at sea between Papau New Guinea and New Zealand

Known for: Starring in the Hammer horrors The Kiss Of The Vampire (1963) and Scars Of Dracula (1970) and the comedies The Magnificent Seven Deadly Sins (1971) and Tiffany Jones (1973), as well as Russ Meyer’s blaxpoitation effort Black Snake (1973) and roles in TV’s UFO (1970-71) and Space 1999 (1975-77). Eventually, she went on to become a highly successful boutique hotel, interior and clothes designer to British high society. Her character in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is often referred to as the ‘Australian Girl’.

Strange but true: Before she was born, Anouska’s father emigrated to New Zealand to become a sheep farmer; when she moved to the UK in the early ’60s, she reckons she only had £10 to her name

Peak of fitness: Taking lead duties as the fox-to-trot protagonist in Black Snake. Why? A little research will put you in the picture… although, if you live in Britain you’ll do well to actually see it – Anouska’s bought its UK rights so nobody can

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Profile

Name: Joanna Lamond Lumley

Nationality: English

Professions: Actress, model, writer, TV presenter and campaigner

Born: May 1 1946, Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir, India

Known for: A national institution in her native UK, mostly for playing bowl-bobbed action heroine Purdey in TV adventure drama The New Avengers (1976-77) and female Keith Richards equivalent Patsy Stone in sitcom Absolutely Fabulous (1992-2012), Joanna started out as a Swinging Sixties London model, often snapped by Brian Duffy. Other acting credits include, notably, alongside David McCallum in TV fantasy drama Sapphire & Steel (1979-82) and in the films The Satanic Rites Of Dracula (1973), Trail Of The Pink Panther (1982), Curse Of The Pink Panther (1983) and Shirley Valentine (1989). In recent years, she has fronted television travel and nature programmes and famously campaigned on behalf of retired Gurkha soldiers. Her role as the ‘English Girl’ in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was one of her very first.

Strange but true: Joanna ‘enjoyed’ a literal May-to-December romance in 1970, being married between those months that year to Jeremy Lloyd, co-creator of the BBC sitcoms Are You Being Served? (1972-85) and ’Allo, ’Allo (1982-92)

Peak of fitness: Kicking ass, taking names and looking sexy as hell as Purdey in every episode of The New Avengers

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Retro Crimbo 2014/ Playlist: Listen, my present wrapping peeps!

December 4, 2014

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In the words of Moby Grape… listen, my friends! Yes, it’s the (hopefully) monthly playlist presented by George’s Journal just for you good people.

There may be one or two classics to be found here dotted in among different tunes you’re unfamiliar with or never heard before – or, of course, you may’ve heard them all before. All the same, why not sit back, sip a glass of mulled wine, munch on a mince pie and listen away; for in the words of Noddy Holder, ittttttt’s… well, I’m sure you know what comes next…

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CLICK on the track titles to hear them

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Anthony Daniels ~ Christmas In The Stars (1980)¹

Rosemary Clooney ~ Count Your Blessings (Instead Of Sheep) (1954)²

Vel Mares ~ Jingle Bells

Dora Bryan ~ All I Want For Christmas Is A Beatle (1963)

The Supremes ~ Children’s Christmas Song (1965)

Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66 ~ The Christmas Song (1968)

Keenan Wynn ~ One Foot In Front Of The Other (1970)³

Mike Oldfield ~ In Dulci Jubilo (1976)

Julie Andrews ~ The Secret Of Christmas (1982)

The Two Ronnies ~ Alice In A Winter Wonderland (1984) 

Jon Anderson ~ 3 Ships (1985)

Bob Rivers ~ The Restroom Door Said ‘Gentlemen’ (1988)

John Denver and The Muppets ~ Medley:
Alfie, The Christmas Tree/ It’s In Everyone Of Us
(1979)4

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¹ The opening track on Meco (Domenico Monardo)’s legendary Star Wars-‘referencing’ disco pop novelty album Christmas In The Stars

² As featured on the soundtrack album of festive favourite flick White Christmas (1954), which this year celebrates its sixtieth anniversary

³ From Rankin/Bass’s classic Christmas stop-motion masterpiece Santa Claus Is Coming To Town

4 From the soundtrack album of the TV special John Denver And The Muppets: A Christmas Together; the song It’s In Everyone Of Us originally featured in the 1970s musical Time (which had to wait until 1986 to debut in the West End), yet fans of the box-office blockbusting, body-swap comedy classic that’s Big (1988) may too recognise it – curiously but wonderfully, it cropped up in that movie as the instrumental Visiting Home

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