Having toured since her teens, Katie Harkin‘s reputation as an in-demand multi-instrumentalist has seen her pass through thirty countries whilst writing and releasing three critically acclaimed records with her own band Sky Larkin. Her work garnered the attention of friends and fellow former Leeds dwellers Wild Beasts, with whom she worked across their Smother tour, and reverberated across the pond to urgent cult trio Sleater-Kinney, who recruited her as a touring member upon their triumphant return to the live stage. Most recently, Harkin has performed across North America with Jenn Wasner of Wye Oak‘s solo project, Flock of Dimes and across the UK with Low. Now, (as she unveils her debut solo project) the collaborator steps out as the singular, her new setup giving further platform to her idiosyncratic, muscular guitar-playing and revealing a body of work that is equally propelled by a life on the move and anchored by her romance for the North of England.
Intended as a tonic for anyone who has already worn their holiday playlist thin, or is looking for some songs to surreptitiously slip into a Christmas party playlist, here’s a list of songs with sleigh bells that aren’t Christmas songs.
Full disclosure: I have the utmost respect for sleigh bells. I had the pleasure of playing in Low’s Christmas band when I supported them last year in some of Britain’s most beautiful and reverberant cathedral venues. I got to sling the bells for them, and I found you cannot move a muscle without jingling while they’re on your person, making them the most difficult instrument I’ve ever performed live!
The Replacements — “Kiss Me on the Bus (2008 Remastered Version)”
This is the tune that first got me thinking about this trope. The jingle bells ring out over this joyous plea of a song, built on the universal foundations of love and transportation. “Your tongue, your transfer, your hand, your answer.”
Snoop Dogg, Daz Dillinger — “Gin And Juice (feat. Dat Nigga Daz)”
No, really! Took me a while to clock these jingles, which are more drifting Cali haze than sparkling snowfall.
The Stooges — “I Wanna Be Your Dog”
Another song where the bells hide in plain sight. They kick in after the initial feedback howl, sitting like high-frequency static alongside the piano’s chime, as ominous as encroaching winter darkness.
Prince — “Come”
An 11-minute jingle-jammer which leads to Prince asking, “Can I fuck you, baby?” Another gift from the man who never needed mistletoe.
Eric B & Rakim — “Microphone Fiend”
Eric B. & Rakim sampled Average White Band’s “School Boy Crush” on this track. The sleigh bells bop like a lazy hi-hat, with a groove as deep as an Alaskan snowdrift.
The Beach Boys — “I Can Hear Music”
You could choose countless Brian Wilson productions for this playlist, but in this track, the sleigh bells are the glistening cherry on top of his synaesthetic love trip. “The sound of the city, baby, seems to disappear. I can hear music, sweet sweet music, whenever you touch me, baby, whenever you’re near.”
Shuggie Otis — “Strawberry Letter 23”
When that hook gives way to the through-the-looking-glass instrumental, the bells might not be Christmassy, but they sure are magical.
Tears for Fears — “Brian Wilson Said”
A devotional to Mr Wilson himself, the Fears indeed “make it more than merry.” The song starts as a mountaintop monument to the Beach Boy, then skis down the other side to a winter wonderland that sounds more Joni than Brian.
Wu-Tang Clan — “Careful (Click Click)”
Well, maybe “something in the slum went rum-pum-pum-pum” makes this kind of a Christmas song, but the RZA’s chilling chopped bells over “bang bang” are no Silent Night.
Karriem Riggins — “Other Side of the Track”
These lyrical bells are addictive, sitting at the end of a phrase where a vocal sample might more commonly be found. Sing it, bells!
R.E.M. — “At My Most Beautiful”
Another Beach Boys homage. When this next generation of Great American Songwriters tackle the bells, they’re simultaneously repurposed and transcendent.
Cassius Clay — “Stand By Me”
As jovial as they get, these sleigh bells just won’t quit, sticking around for a whole track that just can’t quit you.
Miles Davis — “Black Satin”
Maybe the only song on this list in which the bells are performed as a solo instrument, this vital recording sees Miles wielding and successfully taming this wildest of percussion.
The Ramones — “Sheena Is A Punk Rocker”
The bells ring out over, “Punk, Punk! A Punk Rocker!” the audio gravy on top of the feast.