Getting The Sound Of Christmas Songs
Though they’re often derided, Christmas songs are a bit of a guilty pleasure. Come on- you know that The Pogues (at least) bring a smile to your face when you hear it at this time of year.
What if you fancy making a Christmas song of your very own? Surely, by studying some of the most popular examples, we might be able to ‘reverse engineer’ then to some extent, and use this knowledge to create the ultimate festive song….
Here are some of the most enduring of Christmas songs, and some tips on how to create some of their signature sounds.
The Pogues – ‘Fairytale of New York’
This song is arguably one of the few Christmas songs that is recognised as a great song in its own right. If you had to pin down its most notable sonic elements, what would you say that they were?
Personally, I’d be inclined to say that the lush piano sections and folky accordions are the defining sounds within ‘Fairytale’. If you want to really get it right, you’ll need to have a great piano sound. This means either recording an acoustic piano well, or having a great recreation.
Any piano from Roland that includes SuperNATURAL sound technology should do a great job, as will the excellent Nord Stage 2 EX Stage Piano – HP76.
The Darkness – ‘Christmas Time’
The Darkness’s contribution to the world of Christmas songs was, as you might expect, a tribute to some of the classic rock songs of Christmases past, and also very tongue in cheek…
To achieve their classic rock sound, they used quite a few classic Gibson guitars. Lead singer Justin Hawkins favours the Gibson Les Paul, especially the Gibson Les Paul Custom in Alpine white as well as a Gibson 2016 J 200 Jumbo. For those who can’t stretch to the budget of the Gibson, you’ll be happy to know Epiphone also produce a Les Paul Custom PRO in Alpine White, which is more wallet friendly.
Paul McCartney – ‘Wonderful Christmas Time’
Okay, this might well be one of the most derided Christmas songs of all time, but it’s still one of the most enduring. Plus, the cheesiness is perfect fit for Christmas itself when you think about it…
Its most distinctive sonic element is without question the synth chord stabs. These were provided by a Prophet synth. There are plenty of synths that are up to the job of recreating it, however. Check out the MiniNova or the Volca Keys for a really inexpensive way of achieving this kind of sound.
Beach Boys – ‘Little Saint Nick’
The Beach Boys ditched the sun, sea and surf temporarily, to create a classic Christmas song. The defining sonic element is (surprise, surprise) the incredible vocals and close harmonies.
How do you achieve this without a band full of amazing vocalists? It’s difficult, but you can get a very good approximation using the BOSS VE-8 Acoustic Singer Vocal and Guitar Effects Processor. This offers up a range of very natural harmonies and studio-quality vocal processing with ambience effects, and chromatic pitch correction and a dedicated guitar input so you can use it in both live and studio scenarios.
All you need now is Brian Wilson’s genius song writing and arrangement…. :-/
Slade – ‘Merry Christmas Everybody’
Slade’s entry into the Christmas song annals is another surprisingly well thought of track (in the UK at least). When Noddy belts out ‘it’s Chriiiiist-maaaas!!!’, it has become like an alarm to signify the beginning of the festive season.
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Other than Noddy’s inimitable pipes, there are some great guitar tones at work in the track. Though Dave ‘Super Yob’ Hill favoured extravagant, over-the-top, custom-built guitars, Noddy was often seen with a classic Fender Telecaster when performing this song.
Study these elements wisely, add some jingle bells, and maybe 2014 will be your year… 😉