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The festive music minefield

'Tis the season to gorge on a calorific feast of orgiastic proportions and bombard the mind, body and soul with endless sensory luxuries.

Blockbuster films, TV specials, pantomimes, office parties – and the inevitable after effects – are par for the course at Christmas. This is what we work all year for, isn't it? We owe it to ourselves.

But have you given a thought to the peculiar array of music we hear around this time of year? I happen to enjoy a lot of Christmas music, and I certainly enter into the spirit of things on my radio shows. But to say it's not all good might be the understatement of the century.

I wouldn't want to criticise the altruistic ideals of the various charity records that slog it out for recognition and sales, especially in a time of austerity and growing divisions between rich and poor. From Band Aid to the Military Wives, the good intent is there even if the music isn't the height of visionary achievement. I will, however, say "Bah humbug" to Scrooge Cowell and his evil elves as he cajoles the public into buying yet more half-witted X Factor drivel on his own label.

Today almost everyone rises to the challenge of penning a Christmas song, and there are some half-decent tunes to be had if you search around. So when you hear those sleigh bells, major chords and winsome, seasonal lyrics, grab that tatty Santa hat, pull on your snowflake jumper, pour another glass of rocket-fuel and sing along - It'll be another 12 months before you get the licence to act this way again.

Vic Galloway presents on BBC Radio Scotland on Monday, 8.05-10pm (repeated Friday, 10pm-midnight), www.bbc.co.uk/radioscotland. His Christmas Special with a live set from Olympic Swimmers is broadcast tomorrow. Contact Vic at www.twitter.com/vicgalloway and www.vicgalloway.com

DOING IT FOR THE KIDS

The festive season is best savoured as a child, full of naive longing and wide-eyed hope – and the cynical old music industry has certainly catered to them, with joyless cash-ins from Bob the Builder, Mr Blobby and the Teletubbies. This trend dates back over half a century, however, with the first record by The Chipmunks appearing in 1958. Remember, of course, that these inaugural years of pop music also gave us such festive phenomena as The Singing Nun just a decade later.

CHRISTMAS NO.1

Ah yes, the Christmas No 1 ... Much coveted and much maligned in equal measure. Boy and girl bands tend to do well, as you might imagine. Be thankful if you manage to side-step Westlife's I Have A Dream this year, although East 17's Stay Another Day has aged slightly better. And let's not forget that the Spice Girls had three Christmas No 1 singles, coming second only to The Beatles' four in the UK. When Cowell and co aren't ruining it for everyone, the hallowed spot also seems to allow such anomalies as The Flying Pickets' Only You or Gary Jules's Mad World to slip through to the top the hit parade when, at other times of the year, they'd have no chance. And is there another time of year that could possibly warrant such ubiquitous airplay for glam rock chancers such as Slade and Mud? I think not.

CLASSICS

There are some genuinely worthy festive record, with The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl's Fairytale Of New York topping many lists. I for one never tire of hearing it, alongside my well-worn copies of James Brown's Funky Christmas, A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector, and the saccharine-sweet Wonderful Christmas Time by Paul McCartney, a guilty pleasure if ever there was one.

INDY

In more recent years, Scotland's own Frightened Rabbit and Glasvegas have contributed to the festive canon with satisfying results, while acclaimed indie icons such as Sufjan Stevens, The White Stripes and Billy Childish have also managed to inject some cool into Yule.

SENTIMENTAL

The self-indulgent, tearful, sentimental side of Christmas is more than pandered to as well. It's an annual excuse to spin Elvis Presley's sublime Blue Christmas – or Wham's hilarious Last Christmas – while weeping into your mulled wine. Many will run for cover when the mummified Cliff Richard pipes up on the barf-inducing Mistletoe And Wine and Saviour's Day.

NOVELTY

Novelty records and Christmas go hand in hand, and while some make you chuckle, others make you lose faith in all humanity. For every A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector, there's a Bo Selecta: Proper Crimbo. When we're not having a knees-up, or being conned by the toy-manufacturers, there is always room for a childish snigger at single-entendre ditties such as The Darkness's Christmas Time (Don't Let The Bells End) or Chef from South Park singing Chocolate Salty Balls. nor should we forget the timeless classic Ernie (The Fastest Milkman In The West) by Benny Hill.

ALTERNATIVE

Is there an alternative to all this? Do we really want one? Well, punk rock likes to have a go. The Ramones' Merry Christmas (I Don't Want To Fight Tonight) is up there with any of their buzzsaw anthems; San Diego rock'n'soul crew Rocket From The Crypt tried their best with Cancel Christmas; anarcho-punk iconoclasts Crass released Merry Crassmas; and Los Angeles hardcore outfit FEAR infamously and rather abruptly announced F*** Christmas!, a song guaranteed to spoil any party, and so one which deserves a commendation unto itself.

OLD FACES

This year sees the return of has-beens such as Rod Stewart, Backstreet Boys, and John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, all attempting an assault on the Top 10 and our senses of taste and decency.

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