THE BEST OF HUW
BBC Radio 1 DJ Huw Stephens is no Grinch: Here he gets “jolly and jingly” with a banging holiday mix, featuring Kanye, Run DMC, and—of course—Mariah Carey.
You’d expect me to do a Christmas playlist for this time of year, right? Well, you’re bang on right. Call me Mr. Predictable, but it is the most wonderful time of the year—the fire is blazing and the turkey is getting fat. And when it comes to festive music, I count myself a big fan. The more jingle bells, distant “ho ho ho’s,” and sugar-coated lyrics the better, if you ask me. I love a good old-fashioned crackly Christmas record. I’m talking vinyl, with a stained sleeve and a few scratches here and there to make you think about where the wax has been. A WAV file for Christmas just isn’t the same. So you’ll find me digging for festive tunes in the middle of July, in the hope of finding something jolly and jingly. Don’t get me wrong—I don’t get all DJ Shadow about this, checking barcodes and labels for rarities. I just like a seasonal song to play in December. So for this issue’s playlist, kick back and let the festive raps wash over you, let the Christmas cheer make you feel good, and get inspired by the old-skool beauties given a fresh lease of life. And have a wonderful time, whatever you do.
KANYE WEST – “CHRISTMAS IN HARLEM”
Imagine spending Christmas with Kanye! Only Kim will know what this is actually like from now on, the lucky so and so. Hearing Kanye rapping about hot chocolate and eggnog is a real treat, and a Christmas gift in itself. Here’s hoping you find Yeezus in the bottom of your stocking on Christmas day. This version with Big Sean & Pusha T joining in is next level.
COLDCUT – “COLDCUT’S CHRISTMAS BREAKS”
I’ve included this belter by England’s Coldcut in case you need to do some breakdancing this Christmas time. I love this one, its choppy beats and festive film clips stuck together by the whiff of mince pies and turkey coming from the kitchen.
EAST 17 – “STAY ANOTHER DAY (FRANK EDDIE REMIX)”
This was a huge holiday hit in the U.K., which is kind of weird because Christmas isn’t mentioned once. In the video, sadly defunct boyband East 17 (kind of like New Kids on the Block if you had bad eyesight) are wearing white puffer jackets and it’s snowing. Other than that, it’s a sad song about splitting up with a girl. But this remix gives it a little footwerk vibe and makes it a party starter!
MARIAH CAREY – “ALL I WANT FOR CHRSITMAS IS YOU”
RUN DMC - CHRISTMAS IN HOLLIS
Stone cold classic! There is little better than a Christmas rap track, and this is the best of all time. Or that could be The Waitresses (keep reading), but this is up there. My favourite Christmas rap album is Christmas on Death Row on, yup, Death Row records, with loads of contributions from Snoop Dogg and Tha Dogg Pound.
THE WAITRESSES - CHRISTMAS WRAPPING
One of the best. It offers up a realistic take on this time of year, admitting that it can be tiring and lonely, but also it finished with a brilliant ending. A bit like a festive rom-com in four and a half minutes, this bouncy number makes you feel like you’re in the local store buying last- minute cranberries with the Ohio band. You’re lucky I didn’t include the Spice Girls version in here.
SUFJAN STEVENS - CHRISTMAS UNICORN
Here’s a man who really loves Chrsitmas. So much so, Sufjan has released a couple of Christmas box sets packed with so many songs about the most wonderful time of the year and all that comes with it, it takes an entire 12 months to listen to all the songs enclosed. Here, in a live recording, he explains his thinking while writing his festive tunes. Bow down and learn from the master.
LOW - JUST LIKE CHRISTMAS
Your indie friend is listening to this right now, whilst gazing out the window at the leaves and snow on the ground, hoping you’ll ring him. You have a choice; either pick up the phone, drop him a text and say hello, or leave him be. The first option seems like the nice thing to do, but wait: It might be best to leave him alone. He’s listening to one of the loveliest, most subtle and gorgeous songs of all time, by Minnesota’s Low. Maybe leave him be. He might thank you.
LINDSTRØM - LITTLE DRUMMER BOY
When I picked this up at the wonderful Rough Trade record shop (with a new branch just opened in New York), I couldn’t believe my eyes. Norway’s premier magical minimal techno dude had made his own version of the traditional classic. As warped, majestic and warm as you’d hope it to be, this 45-minute belter is the perfect soundtrack to wrapping those presents.
THE XX - LAST CHRISTMAS
Playing this in BBC Radio 1’s Live Lounge, the wonderful xx really pulled this out of the, erm, sack. What I love about The xx is that their lyrics are truly beautiful, personal and intimate. But they can find beauty in the slightest detail. A moment, a whisper, a flicker of an eyelid. That’s why this works, I think; they see the beauty in Wham’s Christmas classic, and give it their own minimal, electronic twist, evoking December in a snowy, lonely London. Beautiful.