The devil has the best tunes? Perhaps. But the music of angels can be damn fine too. So, here is a Christmas soundtrack splicing some of my favourite gospel tracks with songs in which the devil pops up (most of which derive, of course, from the blues/gospel tradition). For the music of the angels I could easily have created a whole soundtrack simply of Mahalia Jackson songs, but I have restricted myself to just two, which open and close the list. The final track is her version of Silent Night, a carol that has little depth or emotion and one that I usually disdain. It is a measure of Jackson’s brilliance that she transforms it somehow into a work of hair-tingling beauty. Amazing Grace has become something of a cliché. But stripped down, it can be a very moving hymn. I have chosen here the Judy Collins version; not, perhaps, as emotionally resonant as when sung by Mahalia Jackson or Aretha Franklin, but the clarity of Collins’ voice gives it a different dimension. And for anyone who knows of The Rivers of Babylon only through the execrable Boney M, here is the original Melodians’ version. As for the devil’s tunes, I could have as easily filled the list with Robert Johnson tracks as I could have with Mahalia Jackson songs, but I have settled on just one; not one of his more celebrated tracks, such as Hellhound on my Trail, but one of my favourites, Preaching Blues (Up Jumped the Devil).
So, enjoy. And Merry Christmas all!