So it’s almost December and as expected, I’ve totally out-Christmas-ed myself already. It may be only two weeks since I was claiming to love all Christmas songs (with the sole exception of O Come All Ye Faithful) but all that’s a distant, mulled wine-soaked memory. I’ve come to realise there are LOADS festive tunes that I completely loathe. So much so I’ve decided to write a whole blog post about it (not a very original idea, I know, but the whole thing’s been going round my head for so long it’s become necessary for the sake of catharsis).
So here is my Christmas Top Ten Of Hate (honestly, Chris de Burgh, I just don’t know where I’d be without you).
10. Is This Christmas? – The Wombats
As far as I know, neither The Kinks nor Pulp ever produced a song which wittily dissects the typical British Christmas. This is a shame, since instead all we get is this, which is truly dire. Listening to this song is like sitting in a student union bar with a group of techy lads who consider themselves to be sharp and cynical (they would have gone into observational comedy but believed their A-levels to be too good). Nothing they say about Christmas is funny – stuff like “why is Back To The Future on all the time?” and “Isn’t it mad how overdrawn we get?” – yet you have to laugh, otherwise they’ll just assume you’re too stupid to understand their hilarious yet bitter take on life. It is awful.
9. Once in Royal David’s City – trad. / not arsed to look it up
The main issue I have with this one comes with the lines “Christian children all must be / mild, obedient, good as he”. As a child – and, as I considered myself back then, a Christian child – I found this deeply unfair. I’ll try to be good, sure, but I’m seriously expected to be as good as Jesus? Isn’t that, you know, sort of pushing it? What’s more, if it really was such a perfectly normal expectation, why was it that everyone thought Jesus was so ace? If the average Christian child – not similarly blessed with son-of-God, supernatural powers – could be just as mild, obedient and good, wasn’t he or she in some way better? For me, this song always touches on that ongoing sense of injustice you have as a child (you know, the one that’s based on the fact that deep down you know adults are a bit shit). As an adult, and a parent, I now find this request that children sodding well behave themselves, slipped into a song that’s supposed to be about the birth of Christ, especially manipulative. Hell, even I don’t tend to go that far with my kids.
Also, this “and he leads his children on / to the place where he is gone” – what’s that all about? It always sounded deeply sinister to me, in a Pied Piper sort of way, but on reflection it’s probably just lazy rhyming (you seem to get a lot of that in carols. That, and messing about with syntax in order to make things sound better, on the assumption that no one will notice it’s grammatically incorrect because it’s all meant to sound “old” anyhow).
8. I wish it could be Christmas every day – Wizzard
I suspect that deep down, everyone wonders why this song exists given that we already have Slade’s Merry Christmas Everybody. To be fair, the two songs were released at the same time (1973), but each band must have know what the other was doing. They could have come to some sort of special festive glam rock arrangement, but no. So we’ve ended up with both of them. Slade’s song is better because it feels – sort of – sincere, at least during the shouty “It’s Chriiiiist-maaas!” bit. The same isn’t true for the Wizzard song. If you watch the video it’s clear that Roy Wood hated those children (and possibly also himself). The children seem to know it – they look scared out of their minds, miming desperately on those instruments as though their lives depend on it. It’s like It’s A Small World does the frozen part of Dante’s Inferno. Horrifying, with or without the sound switched on.
7. Step into Christmas – Elton John
“Welcome to my Christmas song” sings Elton right at the start of this cold, miserable invitation to “step into Christmas” (don’t worry, folks, “the admission’s free”! Except it isn’t). Perhaps I’ve missed the clever-clever, Laurence Sterne-inspired self-reflexivity of the piece, but to essentially introduce a new offering as your “Christmas song” seems to me a bit much. Be cynical, sure, but making it that obvious is surely verging on rude.
6. Do they know it’s Christmas? – Band Aid 20
I probably shouldn’t include this because it’s for charity. To be fair, I’m not including the first Band Aid because it was well-meaning and they wouldn’t have had two decades in which to get worldwide feedback on the lyrics. I’m not including the second one, either, because no one really remembers that anyhow (or perhaps, like me, they sort of do, but decide that since it featured Big Fun and Sonia, it can’t be all that important). But twenty years on surely everyone knew how patronizing, colonialist and culturally and geographically ignorant the whole thing was. This is a song that persuaded me and millions of other kids growing up in the 1980s that the whole of Africa did not have snow or rivers during localized famines, and that “they” didn’t know something they either did know or which was irrelevant to their cultural background anyhow. Perhaps the ends justify the means, I don’t know. But Band Aid 20 made it even w0orse. I don’t know how much money you make for people by being filmed looking suitably sad as they watch their children die. I can’t help thinking there are better ways to achieve similar ends.
5. Last Christmas – Wham!
I consider myself to be a pretty naive person. Even so, back when this song was released – in 1984, when I was nine – I thought it was a cynical, money-grabbing ruse and not a particularly good song, either (although for some reason, I didn’t think this about other Wham! songs). And yet it has become something of a classic, this ridiculous tale of someone who, last Christmas, gave his heart to someone who, one assumes, he knew not to be “special” (given that that’s his new means of self-protection – “I’ll give it to someone special”. Why on earth didn’t he think of that earlier? Or if he did, doesn’t it cross his mind that if you can mistakenly find someone special once, you can do it again with someone else?).
I actually remember the precise point at which I thought “this is just cynical bollocks”. It was in the changing rooms after PE, the day after the video had been shown on Top Of The Pops, and one of the girls had just been told off for pretending to be Shirlie Holliman in the Christmas chalet rather than getting dressed. That’s when I reached a judgement on Wham!’s Last Christmas which has stayed with me to this day. And the fact that I remember utter rubbish like this rather than things that genuinely matter is the reason why … Well, I forget.
4. Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer – Elmo and Patsy
“Grandma got run over by a reindeer / Walking home from our house Christmas Eve / You can say there’s no such thing as Santa / But as for me and grandpa, we believe”. This is my dad’s favourite Christmas song ever. Just writing down those lyrics made me smile because he can’t listen to them without ending up in hysterics. Funnily enough, his mum – my grandma – hates it, which then makes my dad like it all the more. He’s like a naughty kid (he even owns a cuddly reindeer which sings the opening lyrics when you press on its hoof).
To be honest, I do find this song vaguely amusing, too, yet also really bloody disturbing. It’s all pretty graphic – drunk grandma walking out in the snow to meet her doom, only to be discovered the next morning with “incriminating Claus marks on her back”. On one level it’s a misogynist’s festive fantasy. Grandma is portrayed as a miserable killjoy whose death enables poor Grandpa to do liberated, suitably blokey activities – “drinking beer and playing cards with cousin Mel”. I can’t for the life of me imagine a song in which the sexes are reversed – Grandpa Got Run Over By A Reindeer just doesn’t sound as funny, and that in itself is worrying. But yeah, it makes my dad laugh. I suppose that’s something.
3. The Virgin Mary Had A Baby Boy – trad./whatever
“Knabon naskis virgulino / Knabon naskis virgulino / Knabon naskis virgulino / Kaj si nomis lin Jesuo. Li venis al la gloro / Li venis al la glora lando / Li venis al la gloro / Li venis al la glora land. Ho jes credanto! Ho jes credanto! / Li venis al la gloro / Li venis al la glora lando.”
That, off the top of my head (and probably with plenty of misspellings), is the Esperanto version of The Virgin Mary Had A Baby Boy. I have a GCSE in Esperanto. It is not very useful. Even if more people spoke Esperanto it would not be very useful because the only thing I can remember – the only thing! – is that bloody song. I couldn’t ask a fellow Esperanto-speaker (should one exist) what his or her name was or where the toilets were. But I could sing them this. I don’t know why my mind works in this way, but it does.**
I am not a Beatles fan (embarrassingly enough, I seriously prefer listening to The Monkees). But if I was – and if I was also a misogynist, and the kind of person who believes that male genius can be ruined by the pernicious influence of attractive yet creatively mediocre women – I’d use these songs as evidence. Thankfully I’m none of these things, so I just don’t like these songs because they’re annoying.
1. Santa Baby – Kylie, Sugababes, Eartha Kitt, Pussycat Dolls, Mae West, basically any grown woman who is deigning to sing this awful, awful excuse for a song.
It is a long time since I listened to this in full. It is on Now That’s What I Call Christmas (Kylie’s version), but I skip over it (I also run, screaming, from shops if it ever starts playing). From what I remember it’s sung in a cutesy baby voice by an adult who nevertheless describes herself as having “been an awful good girl” (shudder). Said lickle girl-woman expects Santa to bring her lots of expensive, status symbol gifts as a reward for her not having shagged anyone all year (“think of all the fun I’ve missed” blah blah blah). From what I remember Santa isn’t literally offered a blow-job in return for all these yachts and sables, but I feel it is implied. And I wouldn’t object – I’ve done worse for less – but it seems deeply inappropriate if at the same time you’re trying to sound as though you are a five-year-old flicking through the Hamley’s catalogue.
Chris Moyles does not like Santa Baby. This is a song which, briefly, put me on the same wavelength as Chris sodding Moyles.
Now of course I am interested in what annoys everyone else. Unless it is A Spaceman Came Travelling, still the Best Christmas Song Ever (if that is on your list, you just don’t “get” Christmas).
* By “banned”, I don’t literally mean banned. “Universally disapproved of” didn’t work as well for a blog title.
** I also remember all of the words to the dodgy spoken bit of the Johnny Mathis song When A Child Is Born (“And all of this happens because the world is waiting, waiting for one child, black? white? yellow? no one knows, but a child who will grow up to …” etc. etc. ). Again, no idea why.