Hard News by Russell Brown


Music: The year the second-greatest Christmas song beat the greatest to number one

So I read the news stories about Mariah Carey's 'All I Want for Christmas Is You' breaking streaming records and I thought what does that even sound like? So, dear reader, I added one more to the 155 million views of the song on YouTube and found out.

It actually starts really badly with some dreadful trilling and caterwauling – but then the chorus kicks in and it turns out to basically be a 60s girl group number with a beat straight from some kind of 70s glam pop like you'd hear on Top of the Pops, were it actually the 70s. It might have been better had Phil Spector actually produced it, but now I have listened to this very well-known song, I think it's okay, and not actually what I expected.

But it did get me thinking about a particular genre of Christmas song, and more particularly, this brilliant song from 1973:

Remarkably, 'I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day' was denied the Christmas No.1 spot in that year by Slade's 'Merry Christmas Everybody':

Personally, I'd switch them around. But I believe it cannot be denied that this was was golden era of Christmas songs.

If you've lived through Christmas in Britain, you'll know what an important cultural tradition the Christmas No.1 is – albeit one ruined in recent years by shitting awful cack from TV talent quests. The list stretching back to the birth of the charts in 1952 is actually quite interesting and includes both memorable hits and songs you'd love to forget.

In 2015, the winner of X Factor is well off the pace and the race has been between Justin Beiber and the NHS Choir. Frankly, Bieber doesn't need it and NHS staff could do with the morale boost. Bieber will probably be declared the winner in a few hours. I blame the Tories.


For some proper Christmas morning goodness, let me commend to you Strut Records' Souful Christmas Special, a vinyl-only mix of yule tunes that does not suck. Thanks to Jen Ferguson for the heads-up.

VF Mix: Strut Records' Soulful Christmas Special by The Vinyl Factory on Mixcloud


I'm pretty excited about my musical January, just quietly. Not least because it sees the return of the DJ I enjoyed more than any other in 2015. John Morales' mid-year gig at Society & Nook was just a lovely affair and there were folks even older than me (I know, I know) dancing to his beautiful disco.

Morales apparently didn't even see daylight that time – he arrived on the evening of the gig and was on the red-eye to Australia hours later – but this time will be very different. Murry Sweetpants has put together a lineup at Mantells, the indoor-outdoor function space that overlooks Westhaven marina.

Shipshape with John Morales, 3pm-11pm on Sunday January 17, will also feature Frank Booker, Murray Cammick and others. Tickets (earlybirds are still open) are available here, but guess what, groovers? I have a double pass to give away. Click the email icon at the bottom of this post and send me a message with "Morales" as the subject line. I'll draw it tomorrow and it can be someone's Christmas present.

Meanwhile, download this:

As noted in late-breaking news last week, the horrible collapse of Echo Festival has been rescued somewhat by other promoters picking up some of the headline acts – including Jamie Xx, who brings his In Colour tour to the St James on Monday, January 11.

If it's anything like his Glastonbury 2015 set, it'll be bliss:

And then, in a completely different vein, on January 28, Gillian Welch returns for her first show here in more than a decade, at the Civic in Auckland:

Now, just months after accepting a Lifetime Songwriting Achievement Award from the Americana Music Association in Nashville, Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings bring their show back to New Zealand featuring a set that’s likely to include well-chosen covers by Bob Dylan, Bill Monroe, Ryan Adams and Woody Guthrie that fit perfectly alongside their own beautifully crafted songs.

And of course, a few days later, there's Laneway 2016, with Beach House, Grimes and another very welcome Echo refugee, Courtney Barnett. But I'll write that up in more detail in a later music post. Note that if you're coming to town for Laneway, Fat Freddy's Drop play Ascension Wine Estate in Matakana on the Saturday (Sunday's show at Cable Bay winery on Waiheke is already sold out).

A little further out, into March, you may wish to make a note that the creators of two of my favourite albums of the year, Anthonie Tonnon and Nadia Reid, are teaming up with Darren Hanlon for a "urban folk" tour which will stretch from Okarito to Auckland. The concept sounds great:

Three widely acclaimed songwriters from New Zealand and Australia will team up this coming March for an urban folk tour of New Zealand. The trio will play together and alone - flipping a coin to decide the set order. They will perform folk songs which have been written largely out of sight of pastoral scenes, and instead in bedrooms beside motorways, in old warehouses waiting for demolition, or in crowded restaurant kitchens between orders. They will also play some select versions of favourite urban folk touchstones, by writers such as Billy Bragg, The Magnetic Fields, or Courtney Barnett.


Showing an impeccable disregard for conventional commercial wisdom, The Conjurors have released a new video for the title track of their EP, Hints. There's a tui and and for some reason the bass player vomits.

Matthew fails to explain what it's all about to Cheese on Toast.

With much greater dignity (well it wouldn't he hard, would it?) Jay Clarkson has debuted a nice new website for her music, including her latest album, Spur, which is on Zelle Records, a New Zealand music label running out of Austria.


So this came up:

And its true! Fela's catalogue, in high-quality digital formats, there for $US9 an album (nb: but not actually for streaming). This would surely be a starter for Bandcamp's new buy-the-whole-catalogue-for-one-price feature.

This reminds me that there's a lot I don't know is there on Bandcamp. I use it fairly frequently, for the file quality and the better return to artists, but I almost never go in the front door and have a look around.

Does anybody else have some hot tips for back-catalogue on Bandcamp? Do share.


And finally, this popped up in my Facebook feed today and it's just joyous.  Joe Strummer in 2002, singing 'White Man in Hammersmith Palais' with the help of a crowd that knows every word ...

Merry Christmas everyone!


The Hard News Friday Music Post is kindly sponsored by:

The Audio Consultant

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