My ultimate ’80s playlist (part 2)

As promised, I’m back with the second and – at least for now – final part of my ultimate ’80s playlist! Think of this as “Side B” of the mix tape!

Songs from childhood tend to stick in the mind, and even now I’ll occasionally stumble across a song that I haven’t heard in decades – yet still find I can remember the lyrics. If only my memory was that good for other things! For me, songs that were popular here in the UK in the ’80s and into the ’90s play on the radio in faded memories of childhood and burgeoning adolescence; the soundtrack to forgotten car rides and the school bus, as well as rainy days stuck indoors with the radio for company.

Almost every popular musical trend builds on what came before, and that’s certainly true of music in this era. The guitar-driven rock & roll of the ’50s and ’60s gave way to more experimental music and broader instrumentation in the latter part of the ’60s and into the ’70s, and the development of synthesisers and electronic instruments gave some bands and artists in the ’80s a distinctive, modern sound. But many acts still retained a guitarist, bassist, and drummer at the core, even while they were happy to experiment with a broader range of instruments.

It’s time to rock out again!

The ’80s also saw the rise to popularity of entirely new genres of music – particularly hip-hop and rap. As had happened decades earlier with the blues, this musical style of African-American origin exploded in popularity around the world, and even when artists weren’t jumping headfirst into the genre, the influence of these new genres grew and could be felt in many different popular tracks by the end of the decade.

Musical taste is perhaps the single most subjective and personal thing there is! Even among fans of the same artist or band, individuals will disagree over which song is the best. Sometimes you can’t quite put your finger on what it is that makes a song enjoyable or not. All of my picks for this playlist are tracks I’m happy to listen to over and over again, but if you don’t agree that’s okay! We all like different songs for different reasons, and I doubt any two people would ever put together the same collection of tracks.

Just like last time, all of the songs below are embedded YouTube videos, and availability may vary by country. If you can’t listen to one or more of the songs below for some reason, I daresay most will be available to stream elsewhere.

Track 1:
Jessie’s Girl – Rick Springfield (1981)

Rick Springfield had been a semi-successful musician in his native Australia in the late ’60s and early ’70s before transitioning to acting. By 1981 he’d had a handful of television appearances – including in a guest-starring role on the pilot of Battlestar Galactica – before signing on with soap opera General Hospital. That same year, Springfield recorded the album Working Class Dog, from which Jessie’s Girl was the lead single.

Springfield would deservingly win a Grammy for Jessie’s Girl, and though the song took a few weeks, it eventually reached the number-one spot in the United States. Jessie’s Girl is a mid-tempo rock song about unrequited love, and is almost certainly Rick Springfield’s best-remembered hit.

Track 2:
Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes – Paul Simon (1986)

What I’m really saying with this inclusion is that you should listen to the entirety of Paul Simon’s 1986 South African-inspired album Graceland! That album was the first I ever bought on CD for myself shortly after getting a CD player. Paul Simon went to South Africa to work and record with black musicians at a time when the apartheid regime was trying to prevent any African music being heard. Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes is perhaps the one track on Graceland which best showcases Ladysmith Black Mambazo – Simon’s main South African musical collaborators.

Graceland was a controversial album at the time because of Simon’s decision to break the boycott of apartheid South Africa. But the way in which he brought black African music to mainstream attention, working around the oppressive regime, I think more than makes up for that. Graceland is one of a very small number of albums I can think of where every single track is worth a listen. It’s a beautifully-crafted record, undoubtedly Paul Simon’s best work. And Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes is a fantastic song.

Track 3:
Walk This Way – Run DMC ft. Aerosmith (1986)

A decade after its original release, hip-hop group Run DMC chose to cover Aerosmith’s hit single Walk This Way. Lead singer Steve Tyler and guitarist Joe Perry returned to perform with the group, and Walk This Way became far bigger and more memorable than it had ever been in its original incarnation.

Rock and hip-hop don’t always make for natural bedfellows, yet Walk This Way just works. The bassline and beat of the original song flow perfectly into Run DMC’s style of hip-hop. The song helped relaunch Aerosmith’s flagging career, too. But for me, Walk This Way is symbolic of people from very different backgrounds coming together.

Track 4:
We Didn’t Start The Fire – Billy Joel (1989)

There aren’t many songs I can think of that are lyrically similar to Billy Joel’s 1989 hit We Didn’t Start The Fire. Joel uses the song to run through a series of historical events, beginning with Harry Truman’s 1948 election win and ending with the Tiananmen Square protests that happened earlier in 1989. If he’d waited a few more weeks he could’ve included the fall of the Berlin Wall!

Billy Joel has an eclectic mix of styles in his back catalogue, from pop-rock tracks like Uptown Girl to slower pieces like Piano Man. We Didn’t Start The Fire is very much in the first category, but it’s also a unique track insofar as I really can’t think of any others quite like it. The fast-paced lyrics cover many of the important events of the preceding four decades in less than five minutes.

Track 5:
Glory Days – Bruce Springsteen (1984)

I didn’t really appreciate Glory Days until I got a little older. The song, included on Springsteen’s 1984 album Born in the USA, recounts a man reminiscing about his early life and how the “glory days” of some of his high school friends came to an abrupt end. We all look at the past with rose-tinted glasses sometimes, and I think there’s something very relatable about Glory Days as a result.

Bruce Springsteen is another artist who’s made an eclectic mix of records over the years! Though best-remembered for albums like Born in the USA and his output in the ’70s and ’80s, one of my favourites is his folk-inspired 2006 album We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions! But to get back on topic, Glory Days is a fantastic song, with a happy, up-tempo sound that stands in contrast to its bittersweet lyrics.

Track 6:
Heaven – Bryan Adams (1985)

Heaven is an absolutely beautiful song that showcases Canadian singer-songwriter Bryan Adams’ distinctive voice. It’s been covered multiple times – including a piano version that was popular here in the UK in the early 2000s – but the original slow-tempo pop-rock version remains the best.

The song was co-written by Adams and his writing partner Jim Vallance in 1983, after Adams had been on tour with the rock band Journey. The love song’s lyrics are very sweet, and fit the music perfectly. It would go on to top the charts in the United States and become a worldwide hit.

Track 7:
Walking on Sunshine – Katrina and the Waves (1985)

Is there a better feel-good, get-up-and-dance song than Walking on Sunshine? If there is I haven’t heard it! The song was recorded in the UK, and it was here where the band found its greatest success. I’d always assumed Walking on Sunshine had been a number-one chart-topper, at least here in the UK, but it actually peaked at a lowly number eight in the charts on its original 1985 release.

It isn’t unfair to say that Walking on Sunshine’s popularity has grown over the past thirty years, though. It’s often included on compilation albums, on television, and even in advertisements – making Katrina and the Waves a decent amount of money in royalties, no doubt!

Track 8:
Enola Gay – Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (1980)

A powerful anti-nuclear song with a distinctive sound, Enola Gay was the right song for a moment in time. Going very heavy on keyboard and synthesiser sounds, Enola Gay is, in some respects, the embodiment of early-80s synth-pop. That sound and style has, for many folks, defined what they consider to be “typical ’80s music,” helped no doubt by modern depictions of the decade tending to favour that kind of sound as a way of setting the scene.

Enola Gay was banned by some radio and television stations in the UK as it was considered a “gay anthem,” perhaps because of the word “gay” in its title. Interestingly, there really isn’t much evidence that the song became a big hit in the gay community in the UK at the time, so this is just another example of the homophobic media establishment overreacting and failing to understand what was going on! The title is, of course, a reference to the aircraft named “Enola Gay” which dropped the first ever atomic bomb in 1945.

Track 9:
Goody Two Shoes – Adam Ant (1982)

After a series of hits with his band, Adam and the Ants, in the late ’70s and early ’80s, Goody Two Shoes was Adam Ant’s first solo record. If the names weren’t confusing enough, several of his bandmates from Adam and the Ants joined in for the recording of the song – and it was even erroneously attributed to the band in some areas upon its 1982 release.

The up-tempo new wave pop song is very much in line with Adam and the Ants’ earlier singles, but there’s something about the track that elevates it and makes it – in my considered opinion, at least – his best work to date.

Track 10:
Never Gonna Give You Up – Rick Astley (1987)

Years before anyone conceived of the idea of “Rick-rolling,” some of us were enjoying Rick Astley’s 1987 chart-topper on its own merits! Never Gonna Give You Up was the best-selling single of that year here in the UK. I later rediscovered it on an ’80s compilation album sometime around the turn of the millennium, and it was giving me the nostalgic feels even then!

We can’t talk about Never Gonna Give You Up without acknowledging the “Rick-rolling” phenomenon. How did that get started? It’s one of those incredibly random internet jokes that people all over the world share. It doesn’t make any sense – but then again it doesn’t have to. It’s harmless fun, and gave a great song a new lease on life in the new millennium. Never Gonna Give You Up recently surpassed one billion views on YouTube!

Bonus Track:
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan Theme – James Horner (1982)

Though arguably not as “classic” as The Original Series theme or the theme from The Motion Picture which would be repurposed for The Next Generation, James Horner’s first ever film score was fantastic. The main theme for The Wrath of Khan incorporates parts of The Original Series theme, but takes things in a completely different direction. It’s an adventurous, inspiring piece of music – that takes a dark twist right at the end.

So that’s it for now!

This was the second part of my ultimate ’80s playlist. Soon I’ll move on to the 1990s, so I hope you’ll stay tuned for that. For me this has been a fun nostalgia trip! Maybe you think so too, or maybe you’ve discovered a brand-new song you hadn’t heard before. Either way, I hope you enjoyed this look back at some of my favourite songs from the 1980s.

All songs on the playlist above are the copyright of their respective record company, studio, distributor, composer, artist, etc. All videos courtesy of YouTube. Videos are merely embedded here, and are not hosted by Crazy Uncle Dennis. For copyright claims, please contact YouTube directly. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

My ultimate ’80s playlist (part 1)

I think all of us have an affinity for the music we grew up with; tracks that play on the radio in faded memories of childhood and adolescence. In this short series of posts I’m going to put together a playlist of some of my favourite tracks from the 1980s and 1990s – the music of my youth.

I remember my parents being adamant that the eighties was “the worst ever decade for music,” preferring instead the likes of Elvis, The Rolling Stones, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Beatles, and other mainstays from the late fifties and early sixties. Again, we all have an affinity for the music of our youth! But for me, there are some great tracks from the decade. The music of the ’80s is more varied than the stereotypical synthesiser-driven pop or New Wave that many folks associate it with. Though it’s certainly true that the decade saw pioneers of electronic music, the picture is a lot more complex than that simplistic portrayal.

I made you guys a mix tape!

My taste in music can be quite varied too. Sometimes I’m happy with a modern chart-topper, others I want to delve into hard rock or mid-century bluegrass. My ultimate ’80s playlist is likewise an eclectic mix – and might include a track or two that you didn’t know were released during the decade!

The tracks below are all YouTube videos, and I know that in some countries (like Germany, for example) complicated copyright laws may prevent you from watching all of them. However, I daresay you’ll be able to find all ten on your music streaming platform of choice.

With all that out of the way, let’s get started! I hope you’re ready to rock out!

Track 1:
For Your Eyes Only – Sheena Easton (1981)

The theme song for 1981 James Bond film For Your Eyes Only had the difficult task of incorporating a somewhat clumsily-worded phrase into a pop song, but it actually worked really well! Sheena Easton, who sung the track, was an up-and-comer at the time, with an album already under her belt and a worldwide number-one hit. For Your Eyes Only is a slow track that plays well with the film’s romantic sub-plot; Bond films always see the debonair spy chasing at least one woman!

Maybe For Your Eyes Only wouldn’t make everyone’s list, but I like it – and not just because I like the film it’s from!

Track 2:
Jump – Van Halen (1983)

Jump is almost certainly Van Halen’s best-known hit – at least here in the UK. The up-tempo rock song would go on to be a worldwide hit, entering the top ten in no fewer than eleven countries, including much of western Europe. Jump was the lead single from Van Halen’s album 1984, but was actually released in December 1983! 1984 would also include the hits Panama and I’ll Wait. But Jump was by far the most successful single the album produced, and it’s also a somewhat unique track with its heavy keyboard and synthesiser sound which contrasts with Van Halen’s guitar-driven rock.

Songwriter and guitarist Eddie Van Halen sadly passed away in 2020.

Track 3:
Lifeline – Spandau Ballet (1982)

Few bands are as synonymous with the ’80s for me as Spandau Ballet. At the forefront of the New Romantic wave of pop music in the UK, Spandau Ballet’s hits all have a distinct early ’80s flair that couldn’t come from any other moment in British popular music. Lifeline has to be my favourite Spandau Ballet song. It has a strong synth-heavy beat that encourages dancing (or in my case, tapping my foot gently!)

The band’s name is derived from Spandau – a district of Berlin which housed a famous prison.

Track 4:
End of the Line – Traveling Wilburys (1988)

The Traveling Wilburys were a supergroup! Comprising ex-Beatle George Harrison, Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, and Electric Light Orchestra’s Jeff Lynne, the band’s first album was released in 1988. Tragically Roy Orbison would pass away shortly afterwards, and the group’s second album wouldn’t be the same without him. But End of the Line, their biggest hit, features Orbison’s distinctive voice alongside the rest of the group.

End of the Line is a gentle song, one with a beat that mimics a train ride – a metaphor for life that the song embraces.

Track 5:
Dead Ringer for Love – Meat Loaf & Cher (1981)

Often credited to Meat Loaf alone, this wonderful duet also stars Cher alongside the rock singer. The fast-paced rock song is great fun, depicting two strangers in a bar who get the hots for one another.

Meat Loaf never seemed to get as much love in his native United States as he did over here in the UK, where he’s held up as one of the great rock stars of the era. When I was at school a friend went to see Meat Loaf live – prompting no small amount of jealousy on my part!

Track 6:
Hip To Be Square – Huey Lewis and the News (1986)

Long before American Psycho featured Huey Lewis and the News, the band was already riding high! Hip to be Square is one of those just feel-good, up-tempo tracks that rock and pop outfits in the ’80s made their bread-and-butter. Though songwriter and bandleader Huey Lewis would deny it was intended this way, the song became somewhat of an anthem for “squares” – a slang term for someone uptight, studious, and somewhat out-of-touch with modern trends and fashions.

However it was meant, Hip to be Square became an icon of the mid-80s, and the scene featuring it in 2000 film American Psycho reintroduced the hit to a new generation of listeners.

Track 7:
The Twentieth Century Is Almost Over – The Highwaymen (1985)

The second supergroup to make the playlist, the Highwaymen are representing the country music genre! Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, and Waylon Jennings teamed up in 1985 to put together an album, and though The Twentieth Century Is Almost Over wasn’t released as a single, to me it’s the standout track. I’ve always had a soft spot for country music, and that probably started with songs like this one. The genre never really broke into the mainstream over here in a big way, though there have been occasional country music hits.

As the ’80s wore on, more folks began to look forward to the millennium. And this song kind of epitomises the mood in the final years of the twentieth century – a nostalgic look back, wondering where all the time went.

Track 8:
Bette Davis Eyes – Kim Carnes (1981)

The best-selling record of 1981 in the United States, and Kim Carnes’ biggest ever hit in the UK, Bette Davis Eyes – a reference to the actress from the “golden age” of Hollywood – is a mellow New Wave song. Carnes has a unique, somewhat raspy voice that cuts through the arrangement to highlight the lyrics.

I have a distinct memory of cruising around Cape Town with this song on the radio; one of those youthful memories that sticks in the mind for reasons unknown!

Track 9:
Livin’ on a Prayer – Bon Jovi (1986)

Livin’ on a Prayer is an absolutely iconic rock ballad from Bon Jovi’s heyday. It wasn’t the band’s first hit, but it was the first to shoot to the top of the charts around the world and made the hard rockers a household name. It regularly places at or near the top of lists of the best rock songs of all time – and it’s hard to disagree!

I have been known, on more than one occasion, to sing along to Livin’ on a Prayer after a few too many beers! Not something I can do these days (I quit drinking, it interferes with medication – and god knows I take enough of that) but it’s fun to reminisce!

Track 10:
Right Here Waiting – Richard Marx (1989)

This love song is now slightly tinged with sadness for me, knowing that Richard Marx and his wife – for whom he wrote the song – ended up divorcing a few years ago. But the song is beautiful – and often mis-titled! It’s Right Here Waiting, not “right here waiting for you!” Marx wrote the song at a time when his new wife, actress Cynthia Rhodes, was out of the country shooting a film.

Right Here Waiting is the kind of sweet ballad that I think we all need to listen to from time to time.

Bonus Track:
The Imperial March – John Williams (1980)

Though we consider The Imperial March – a.k.a. Darth Vader’s Theme – to be inseparable from Star Wars, the brilliantly-composed tune only arrived in 1980 when The Empire Strikes Back premiered. It’s not unfair to say that few pieces of music – from the world of film, classical music, or pop – have become so iconic. Even non-Star Wars fans know it!

The intimidating piece of music has been used to signal the arrival of Darth Vader ever since.

So that’s it for now!

But stay tuned, I’ll be following this up with a second part soon. I find that, for a variety of reasons, I listen to less music these days than I ever used to. But once in a while it’s nice to go on a nostalgia trip like this; music can bring out emotions that even film and television fail to reach.

Part 2 will be coming soon, and then I think we’ll move on to the ’90s! Happy listening!

All songs on the playlist above are the copyright of their respective record company, studio, distributor, composer, artist, etc. All videos courtesy of YouTube. Videos are merely embedded here, and are not hosted by Crazy Uncle Dennis. For copyright claims, please contact YouTube directly. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

A festive playlist to get you in the holiday spirit!

Last year in the run-up to Christmas, I put together a list of films and television specials to enjoy over the holidays. If you missed it, you can find that list by clicking or tapping here. As part of the festive season this year, I thought it could be fun to listen to a few Christmas songs together.

I’ll hold up my hands right now and say I’m an unashamed collector of Christmas albums. Having initially started with cassettes and CDs, my collection is now digital, consisting of MP3s – I have yet to fully make the transition to music streaming! Practically every Christmas album I own has at least one track worth listening to, but many modern ones consists of the same handful of “traditional holiday favourites,” and artists, in an attempt to distinguish their version from the myriad others, have a tendency to over-sing some of these great Christmas tunes.

This playlist entirely consists of YouTube videos, and for copyright/legal reasons, I can’t be 100% certain that every track will be available in your country. I know in Germany, for example, there are stricter copyright requirements that often block music on YouTube. If any of the tracks are unavailable, don’t despair. I daresay you can find them on your streaming platform of choice.

Without further ado, let’s jump into the list!

Number 1:
Merry Xmas Everybody – Slade (1973)

In 1973, when British rock band Slade were at the height of their success, they released Merry Xmas Everybody. It would go on to be their best-remembered hit – as well as their final UK number one.

Though arguably eclipsed in recent years by Fairytale of New York (which we’ll look at in a moment) Slade’s Merry Xmas Everybody was, for a long time, the most-played and most-loved Christmas song in the UK, and still routinely appears on Christmas compilations and playlists.

Noddy Holder, Slade’s lead singer, has often told the story of how peculiar it was recording the music video in New York in the summer of 1973 – one of the hottest summers on record at the time. The fake snow and festive tone of the song completely clashed with the band’s surroundings, yet the simple video has become iconic – as has Holder’s semi-screamed line “it’s Christmas!”

Number 2:
Christmas Time (Don’t Let The Bells End) – The Darkness (2003)

Seventeen years after Christmas Time (Don’t Let the Bells End) missed out on the Christmas number one spot, I’m still mad! It was locked in a close race to the coveted spot at the top of the UK charts against, of all things, Mad World (from the Donnie Darko soundtrack). It was the first new Christmas-themed song that was any good that I’d heard in years, and I bought it on CD in the hopes of helping the band top the charts that Christmas.

The Darkness are otherwise known as a one-hit wonder for the 2003 song I Believe in a Thing Called Love and for winning several Brit awards the following year. Christmas Time (Don’t Let the Bells End) seemed to have rapidly faded into obscurity after missing out in 2003; disappearing as quickly as The Darkness themselves. But recent years have seen the song receive a renewed appreciation at this time of year, and it now gets played regularly in December. It may have taken a while, but the song has become a modern-day Christmas favourite.

Number 3:
You Make It Feel Like Christmas – Gwen Stefani feat. Blake Shelton (2017)

I don’t follow the ins and outs of celebrity gossip, nor do I watch reality television. But even I couldn’t avoid hearing the drama that emerged from The Voice when it became public knowledge that judges Gwen Stefani and Blake Shelton had become a couple. After a couple of years of dating, Shelton – better known for his career in country music – joined Stefani on the lead track from her Christmas album.

The result was a great song; a cute duet by a couple very much in love. It’s since become a feature on my festive playlist; a blend of country, rock, and pop stylings in a single, truly enjoyable up-tempo hit.

The song was released in the UK, but failed to chart. The best performance it managed worldwide (according to Wikipedia) was in Canada, reaching the number two spot in 2017. Regardless, it’s a great tune that should be on everyone’s festive playlist!

Number 4:
I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday – Wizzard (1973)

Slade’s Merry Xmas Everybody – that we looked at above – beat Wizzard to the Christmas number one spot in 1973; a great year for Christmas songs here in the UK, apparently! Roy Wood, formerly of the band Electric Light Orchestra, founded Wizzard in 1972. This song would be their only major hit, and has been replayed at Christmas in the UK ever since.

The song was re-recorded in 1981, after it was discovered the original master tapes had been lost. As a result there are two versions of the song out there, each featuring a different children’s choir accompanying Wood’s glam rock band.

As a kid this was one of my favourite Christmas tunes, and I have fond memories of getting the record out to play on my dad’s old turntable as we decorated the Christmas tree and as the big day approached. Perhaps my parents didn’t appreciate that – but I did!

Number 5:
Fairytale of New York – The Pogues feat. Kirsty MacColl (1987)

The song regularly called “Britain’s favourite Christmas song” could hardly be absent from this playlist! Fairytale of New York is an odd, bloody-minded choice for that title, as it tells the story of a dysfunctional couple having a truly awful Christmas in New York. However, something about the track resonated with a lot of people, and in 2020 it’s not unfair to call it The Pogues’ best-known song.

Christmas is a wonderful time of the year for many people, but as Fairytale of New York reminds us, that isn’t the case for everyone. The song touches on homelessness, domestic abuse, and brings home to everyone who hears it that the world isn’t just Christmas parties and waiting for Santa. Is that a grown-up take, or just being “edgy” for the sake of it? Whatever you may think, the haunting folk-rock melody is beautiful.

Number 6:
Once in Royal David’s City – Mary Chapin Carpenter (2008)

An understated, country-style version of this Christmas carol is oddly timeless. Mary Chapin Carpenter has released a number of great albums over the years, and is one of my favourite artists of the genre, so I was thrilled to learn she was releasing a Christmas album in 2008. However, the album itself was rather mediocre aside from this song and one other (The Longest Night of the Year).

A diamond in the rough, then. Once in Royal David’s City wasn’t released as a single, as indeed none of the songs from Come Darkness, Come Light were. It’s the standout track of the album for me, though, and the arrangement suits Carpenter’s vocals perfectly.

Number 7:
Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree – The Baseballs (2012)

German rock n’ roll outfit The Baseballs rose to fame by releasing 50s-style covers of contemporary pop songs, and by 2012 were ready to put their unique spin on Christmas songs. Their entire Christmas album is well worth a listen, jam-packed with great covers. But if I had to pick just one, the one which works best with their style is Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.

I’d been a fan of The Baseballs since their first album in 2009, and had the good fortune to see them play live once. They’re one of the few bands I’ve seen that were just as good live as they are on record!

Number 8:
Merry Christmas Everyone – Shakin’ Stevens (1985)

1985’s Christmas number one has become a classic, a frequent presence on playlists and compilations at this time of year. Originally planned to be released for the 1984 Christmas season, having been recorded that year, Stevens and record label Epic opted to delay Merry Christmas Everyone by an entire year to avoid clashing with Do They Know It’s Christmas? – the charity single by Band Aid.

When it finally released, the Welsh singer took the charts by storm, and the song was no worse for having had to wait. I once sang this song at a karaoke night – after a little too much to drink! It’s probably fair to say Stevens’ original version is better, though!

Number 9:
Christmas Tree Farm – Taylor Swift (2019)

Having been a big Taylor Swift fan during her country days, I’d fallen out of love with the superstar after she made her move to pop. Her pop albums have been – in my opinion – rather bland and uninspired, so I wasn’t particularly interested in learning she was releasing a Christmas single last year. But I should’ve been! Christmas Tree Farm is touching and deeply personal – as much of her work is. It’s a great song, and when I booted up my Christmas playlist this year, I was glad to see it return.

The song recounts Swift’s early life growing up on a Christmas tree farm, and has a unique charm. Christmas is a time for nostalgia and remembering childhood, and that’s exactly what the track is about. Though one of her least-successful singles in terms of chart performance, I’m happy to have added Christmas Tree Farm to my festive playlist, and I’m sure to be listening to it at Christmas for many years to come.

Number 10:
The First Noel – John Denver (1990)

One of my favourite artists sings one of my favourite Christmas carols. What could be better than that? Taken from his third (and final) Christmas album, Denver’s take on The First Noel is beautiful.

The song wasn’t released as a single, simply as one track among thirteen on the album, but it’s one of my favourites from Christmas, Like a Lullaby. There have been some great covers of The First Noel over the years, but this version is understated, slow, and keeps it simple. Denver doesn’t overcomplicate the tune with excessive instrumentation or by trying to over-stress every note. It’s just a sweet version of a classic carol.

Number 11:
Little Town – Amy Grant (1983)

If John Denver’s The First Noel was an understated version of a classic, American contemporary Christian artist Amy Grant’s adaptation of the Christmas carol O Little Town of Bethlehem is the complete opposite! The carol is given a faster tempo, modern instruments, and a pop makeover, transforming it almost entirely into something new. Yet it retains the original lyrics in an odd blend of styles, but one that truly works.

This version of the classic carol was originally recorded by British singer Cliff Richard – more on him in a moment. His version is decent, but for my money Grant’s version just has something more that elevates it, and makes it a truly enjoyable listen. As someone who isn’t religious, I wouldn’t seek out a musician like Amy Grant at any other time of year. But Little Town has been a part of my Christmas playlist for decades, and I always enjoy it.

Number 12:
Mistletoe and Wine – Cliff Richard (1988)

Mistletoe and Wine gets an unfairly bad rap, in my opinion, as does Sir Cliff Richard himself. There’s nothing wrong with this orchestral-pop song, which Richard adapted for Christmas in 1988. It would go on to be the first of three consecutive Christmas number ones for the singer; he also topped the charts with Band Aid II in 1989, and again as a solo artist with Saviour’s Day in 1990.

It’s become popular in recent years for folks to look down their noses at Sir Cliff and his middle-of-the-road, inoffensive style of pop music. I don’t really know why, because he’s had some great records over the years. When it comes to Christmas, it would be remiss not to include Mistletoe and Wine – or any of his other Christmassy singles.

So that’s it. An eclectic mix, I’m sure you’ll agree. And neither a Wham! nor a Mariah Carey in sight! One of the things I enjoy most about this time of year is the music, and there are many more songs and albums I could have talked about here. This playlist was already growing long, though, so we’ll have to settle for twelve! Maybe next Christmas I’ll add a few more.

2020 has been a crap year, and it’s years like this where Christmas time matters all the more to a lot of folks. Take some time to unwind if you can. For me, listening to Christmas music – both lifelong favourites and brand-new classics – is a great way to do that. Hopefully some of these songs will be to your taste too.

There’s more Christmas-themed content to come before we get to the big day, so stay tuned!

All songs on the playlist above are the copyright of their respective record company, studio, distributor, composer, etc. All videos courtesy of YouTube. Videos are merely embedded here, and are not hosted on Crazy Uncle Dennis. For copyright claims, please contact YouTube directly. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Trekkin’ – a number one hit!

Here in the UK, we have a long tradition of supporting what are politely termed “novelty” songs. That is, songs which are just plain silly. We’ve seen number one successes for such titles as John Kettley (Is A Weatherman), Ernie (The Fastest Milkman in the West), and the dreaded Crazy Frog… which still gets stuck in my head sometimes! There was also a successful campaign a few years ago to get hard rock band Rage Against The Machine a Christmas number one hit to protest the success of televised talent shows like X Factor and Pop Idol. And more recently there was a charity song called I Love Sausage Rolls, which was a parody of the song I Love Rock n’ Roll.

So you’ll believe me, then, when I tell you that there was a novelty song about Star Trek that was a number one hit in 1987. You do believe me, right?

This was a real song. About a real weather presenter.

Star Trekkin’, by a band called The Firm, actually has an interesting story behind it – at least according to the people who created the song. In the early 1980s, The Firm had been a one-hit wonder with another novelty song, but hadn’t made any new music for several years. One of the musicians was involved in an English Civil War re-enactment, and while sitting around the campfire dressed up as a Roundhead or Cavalier, overheard another member of the re-enactment society strumming an old song but reworking it to include a couple of lines from Star Trek – “there’s Klingons on the starboard bow” and “it’s life, Jim, but not as we know it”.

Inspired by what he’d heard, he asked his fellow re-enactor if he’d be willing to record his version of the tune, and he did. It took some time, but eventually the band found out who “wrote” the lines that had been included in the song, and after making a number of changes, recorded their own version. The members of the band came back together for the song, and each of them recorded a line in the style of one of five Star Trek characters – Spock, Uhura, Kirk, McCoy, and Scotty. It was actually the wife of one of the bandmates who voiced Uhura.

The song was – perhaps understandably – rejected by several record labels. According to the story they took one look at it and turned it down hard. But the members of The Firm were convinced they had a winner, and at their own expense funded an initial release of 500 copies – the source I have says they were on vinyl, but it seems more likely to me they would have used cassettes in 1987 to make recordings cheaply. That’s a bit of a mystery. But we’re off-topic.

The cover.

After sending a number of the copies to radio stations in the UK, the song blew up. The first week it was released it peaked at a lowly 74 in the music charts, but soon rocketed up all the way to the coveted number one spot. It’s hard to think back nowadays, but until a few years ago the music singles chart was a much bigger deal than it is today, especially here in the UK. Having a number one hit was an astounding achievement for a group of amateurs!

But the saga wasn’t over. A number one hit meant that the band would need to appear on Top of the Pops – a weekly television show where the chart-toppers of the week were performed live (or lip-synced). The Firm felt that appearing in person would “ruin” Star Trekkin’ – seeing the people behind the silly, repetitive hit would rob it of its humour. So they decided to produce a music video… in less than a week!

After attempts to create a video with puppets were shot down by the high cost and length of time required, the band hired an independent animation studio – which was really just a handful of students – to make a claymotion video to accompany the song. The resulting video was completed with just hours to spare, and was shown on that week’s Top of the Pops as planned.

The bridge of the Enterprise in the music video.

The video adds to the song’s weirdness. The characters are made from potatoes with claymotion mouths, there are aliens made from papier-mâché, and at one point the Enterprise appears to be made of sausages and pizza. The whole thing is completely bizarre, and has to be seen to be believed. Yet despite the amateurish way it was thrown together, Star Trekkin’ was a number one hit, and among some British Trekkies, retains a cult status even today, some 33 years later.

The song consists of a few lines from Star Trek – or misattributed to it by the writers.

Here they are:
“There’s Klingons on the starboard bow.” – Uhura
“It’s life, Jim, but not as we know it.” – Spock
“It’s worse than that, he’s dead Jim!” – Dr McCoy
“We come in peace… shoot to kill, men!” – Kirk
“I cannae change the laws of physics!” – Scotty

The line sung by “Spock” in the song is one frequently believed to have been spoken in the series, but that isn’t actually the case. In fact, it’s possible that the song itself is the reason why the line in that form is so often attributed to Spock (though that seems like a circular argument!) The voices are actually done very well – all of them (except maybe Uhura) sound like reasonable approximations of the characters, and it’s clear they put effort in to get their voices to sound that way! Other than those five lines, there’s the refrain “Star Trekkin’ across the universe!” And that’s it really. The song repeats those same lines, getting faster and faster until it ends. It’s wacky, unique, and kind of catchy.

Spock, as you probably never saw him before.

I remember owning Star Trekkin’ on cassette, and when I was on the bus going to school I’d keep the volume on my walkman low so that no one nearby would overhear and make fun of me! It isn’t the kind of song that I want to listen to all the time, of course – it can get annoying to say the least – but when I’m in the mood for some light-hearted Star Trek-themed weirdness, I’ll find the video on YouTube (or the mp3 on my PC, because you know I bought it for a second time in the digital era) and give it a listen.

Star Trek has been parodied and paid homage to on many occasions since the 1960s, including in song. But Star Trekkin’ has to be one of the strangest examples out there. It’s well worth a listen for any Trekkie who hasn’t heard it, and while I don’t promise you’ll enjoy it as a piece of music, you might just crack a smile. You can find the music video below. Enjoy!

The song Star Trekkin’ is the copyright of The Firm, and rights may be held by Bark Records, Bush Ranger Music, and/or Orchard Enterprises. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.