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If you’ve tired of hearing “Jingle Bells,” “Let It Snow,” “Santa Baby” and any other number of Christmas classics, then it’s time to expand your holiday playlist. From Darlene Love to Dead or Alive to ABBA, this is an alternative playlist (and one all-consuming classic) that’s sure to get you in the mood this festive season.
In an ever so slightly twisted parallel universe, it would have been Harvard drop-out Cristina Monet reigning as the Queen of Pop instead of Madonna. Opening with the unsuspecting innocence of music from a ballerina jewellery box, dreams are soon shattered like a fallen snow globe, with the sheer relentlessness of the singer’s deadpan distress. Pairing together emotionally numb despair with celebration as if they’re one in the same, Cristina’s cautionary Christmas tale must make most people think they’ve gotten off lightly. Dumped by her lover, abandoned by superficial friends, and dirt broke to boot, she at least has the comfort of a cactus plant serving as a Christmas tree, decorated by earrings she only has because she forgot to pawn them. The idea of Christmas as a wasteland of hopelessness and tragic memories is thrillingly assembled with nothing but the most grim punk trimmings money can’t buy. “Things Fall Apart” couldn’t be any more crushing if it were a tank running over a bunch of kids’ Christmas presents — in front of them.
Originally to be sung by girl-group The Ronettes, vocal duties were soon handed over to Love when only she could handle the necessary vocals. Taken from the legendary Phil Spector holiday album A Christmas Gift for You, the record was a who’s who of 1960s pop in more ways than one, with this very song featuring none other than Cher on backing vocals. Indeed, the “Believe” singer’s own vocals were so loud in comparison to the other backing singers that she had to stand two steps behind them. (She can clearly still be heard.) There have been many cover versions (including one by Mariah Carey in the 1990s when she could still sing), but armed with Spector’s “Wall of Sound” production, Darlene Love’s version simply cannot be matched.
Frothing at the mouth as ever (whether that is through his trademark lyrical vitriol or botched collagen lip injections), Pete Burns’ catty vocal delivery nurses several wounds, mostly that his long-gone lover isn’t coming home for Christmas. “Big Surprise! Everyone’s got laughter in their eyes, but I’ve got tears in mine,” Burns laments. The 2000 remix is bursting with chin-up determination to see it through, with the usurping strings and galloping dance beat soothing the brittle subject matter in a blizzard of pathos, all the while maintaining Burns’ impeccably ghastly aesthetic to pride-restoring effect.
On an album consumed by nuclear war and nuclear families, a haunting Christmas lullaby was probably on the lighter end of the scale for ABBA at the time. Taken from their final LP The Visitors, this soft ballad falls on top of the sound of either a ticking clock or knives sharpening — given that this is their “divorce album” (both couples had split up), it’s hard to tell.