The sincerest form of flattery

The sincerest form of flattery


norman lebrecht

December 21, 2007

My recent book, The Life and Death of Classical Music, contains an analysis of the 20 worst classical records ever made. Colin Larkin (see press release below) has appended the 100 worst pop records to his outstanding and important Encyclopedia of Popular Music, which goes online from next week (see below once more).
Among Colin’s 100 worst are seven chilling Xmas albums. My list had room only for Kiri at Christmas, although a new compilation from Sony came tantalisingly close. Has there ever been a less festive track than Charlotte Church trilling Dong Dong Merrily on High with the London Symphony Orchestra? Or Bobby McFerrin’s Ave Maria? Or Josh Bell’s Ave Maria, with a ghostly background chorus? Oh look, and here’s Kiri again with Andre at the piano…
You’ve heard worse?
Tell me about it, right here. Lines are open til Midnight Mass.

The Christmas jingles we love to hate…
‘Once music publishers had heard the cash tills ringing there was no stopping them and since the 1950s things have been steadily declining into a bottomless pit of mediocrity that now asks the perennial question, what will be the Christmas number 1?’
No less than seven Christmas records have been included in music guru Colin Larkin’s 100 worst albums of all time, part of the Encyclopedia of Popular Music, the critically acclaimed 10-volume work now available ONLINE for the first time this December through the subscription website
And, for the launch of the new online edition, Colin has charted the rise (or fall) of the Christmas record on Oxford University Press’s own blog at
‘The celebration of Christmas in popular song must really be credited to the wise old men of Tin Pan Alley, USA; more specifically, the pre-Rock ‘n’ Roll market that existed in the mid-40s to the early 50s,’ says Colin. ‘Clearly there was a market for a ‘great’ Christmas single, but what the world would also learn, was that there was a market for terrible, wretched, awful, trite, saccharine-soaked, sentimentalist-nonsense, let-me-out-of-here rubbish.’
Colin looks at the all-time classic singles and albums (‘White Christmas’ by Bing Crosby and others, ‘The Christmas Song’ sung by Nat King Cole, and The Beach Boys’ Christmas Album) and also discusses his all-time turkeys (Shakin’ Stevens’ ‘Merry Christmas Everyone’, Chris de Burgh’s ‘A Spaceman Came Travelling’ and basically anything by Sir Cliff Richard).
‘It is well over 40 years since the Beach Boys and Phil Spector albums were released, and yet nobody has come near them for quality or sheer feel-good factor,’ says Colin. ‘Or is it simply that we have milked this Christmas cow dry and nothing will ever match the likes of the soothing comfort of Nat King Cole or Ella Fitzgerald at Christmas?’
And Colin’s greatest all-time Christmas song, ever, ever, ever? ‘Father Christmas’ by the Kinks, a 1977 single that never even made the charts, anywhere. Bah humbug!
Christmas culprits in Colin’s Larkins’ 100 worst albums of all time:
· Michael Bolton: This is the Time: The Christmas Album (Columbia 1996)
· Booker T. and the MGs: In the Christmas Spirit (Stax 1966)
· Father Abraham and the Smurfs: Merry Christmas with the Smurfs (Dureco 1983)
· Hanson: Snowed in for Christmas (Mercury 1997)
· New Kids on the Block: Merry, Merry Christmas (Columbia 1989)
· Lou Rawls: Merry Christmas Ho! Ho! Ho! (Capitol 1967)
· Jerry Jeff Walker: Christmas Gonzo Style (Rykodisc 1994)
For more details or to interview Colin Larkin, please contact Juliet Evans on 01865 353911 or email
Visit for background information and resources or join the mailing list at to receive regular updates.


  • Marko Velikonja says:

    I’ve got to think the 1999 Three Tenors Christmas show – available on both CD and DVD – must be a contender for worst Christmas album. To hear these fellows sing Jingle Bells, Sleigh Ride or Feliz Navidad (which sounds ridiculous when done by anyone other than Jose Feliciano) is just plain excruciating. To give credit where it’s due, though, I would say the best ever Christmas album (now available on DVD, but not a CD) might well be Pavarotti’s 1978 performance in Montreal’s Notre Dame basilica. Pavarotti as his best and on good behavior. It was a staple of U.S. public television programming for much of the 1980s and 1990s, and is certainly deserving of a revival.
    NL: I couldn’t agree more. Big Lucy’s Xmas show in Montreal was sensational.

  • Huw Belling says:

    Mr. Lebrecht
    Speaking of Christmas with Kiri, have you heard her recent collaboration with the welsh tonmeister Karl Jenkins, who wrote ‘four or five, or something, I don’t know’ songs on his new cd ‘Kiri sings Karl’?
    My personal favorite is Allegrettango, which re-invents Beethoven 7 for the post Vanessa Mae era. Never has the Kiwi Canary’s ‘matchless indifference’ been so successfully multitracked. ‘It’s never been done before’ says Jenkins.