Saturday, December 01, 2012

 

Advent Countdown – Ten Seasonal Songs of Magic, Money and Nuclear War

Waking much too early on the First of December, I’ve spent the morning in seasonal mood for the first day of Advent with a selection of festive songs – and, impossibly, aiming to list a full ten that won’t make me gag! So I racked my brain (nearly a Ringo Starr song, though not a Christmassy one) for the likes of Paul Simon, George Harrison, Kate Bush, Tom Robinson, Gerry Rafferty, the Pet Shop Boys and Timbuk 3 for songs of magic, money worries and total thermonuclear destruction at Christmas. The usual suspects, then. And what else do you spot…?

Paul Simon – Getting Ready for Christmas Day

You might expect Simon and Garfunkel’s famously jolly 7 O’Clock News/Silent Night, but in the last couple of weeks I’ve mostly been listening to Paul’s most recent album, So Beautiful or So What, and while the title track is by far the best on it, I have to admit I enjoyed the stomping beat and sharp, bluesy guitar work of Paul’s song of Christmas worries in modern America that it quite put me in the mood for more Christmas songs. I’ve only found the video this morning, and that’s quite witty, too.
From early in November to the last week of December
I got money matters weighing me down
Well the music may be merry but it’s only temporary
I know Santa Claus is coming to town
George Harrison – Ding Dong, Ding Dong

Oh, I love George, and I can only assume this was a comeback at people who grumbled he only wrote deep and meaningful lyrics. Or that he wanted a minor seasonal hit. So why not get your new year in early and, ideally, watch the video, which is a lot of fun and has pirates, silly hats and George naked? What more could you want? Look, it’s better than Paul’s Wonderful Christmastime (though the redoubtable Mr Hickey, who spray-paints his beard white every December, has a brilliant defence of it), or that endlessly replayed dirge from John and Yoko. Has Ringo done one (checks. Oh, Jesus! Is that where Annie Lennox got the idea)?
Ring out the old, ring in the new
Ring out the old, ring in the new
(that’s half the lyrics already)
Kate Bush – December Will Be Magic Again

Oscar Wilde! Dropping down in my parachute! Coming to sparkle the dark up (I’m not doing a good job of covering the muck up)! Hurrah for twinkly Kate! Though the live version I’ve linked to’s OK, it’s worth looking for the proper ethereal studio one with her own backing vocals. All right, I’m strangely enjoying this Christmas lark, as long as it stays batshit-crazy.
December will be magic again
Take a husky to the ice
While Bing Crosby sings White Christmas… He makes you feel nice
December will be magic again
Old Saint Nicholas up the chimney
Just a-popping up in my memory
Tom Robinson – Merrily Up On High

Can I give a daytime TV link that Kate had a hit with Peter Gabriel and Tom wrote this (and a couple of minor hits) with Peter? It’s from Tom’s most depressed album, North by Northwest, with lots of early ’80s electronic instrumentation rather than his early punk sound. But don’t worry – this one’s lively and sounds like he’s having much more fun than the rest of it. That’s why I love it, because otherwise the lyrics wouldn’t be so funny. Discovering Tom in my teens, this festive epic of seasonal nuclear devastation was my favourite very ’80s Christmas song.
Let’s all party –
War has started
Let’s forget about days gone by
We won’t see another year like it
So drink your dinner tonight:
It's no use to face the future
Count to twenty –
Close your eyes
This year, next year
Thermonuclear
Merrily up on high!
Gerry Rafferty – Winter’s Come

Another mournfully seasonal song from the ’80s (tears, broken heart) and from my favourite Gerry Rafferty album, the utterly gorgeous North and South. Like most of the album, this is achingly beautiful, with its icy pipes as wintry a sound as you’re likely to hear. And though thinking of Christmas songs that don’t set my teeth on edge is starting to become a bit of a struggle, it’s cheering to see today that Gerry’s just been given a memorial street in his old home (shipyard) town.
Winter’s come – another year, another season begun
Every day brings a long cold lonely night
Pet Shop Boys – It Doesn’t Often Snow At Christmas

Slightly bad timing with this one – though not from the ’80s this time – released as a Christmas single just as the country was buried in blizzards. Oh well. The chorus is jolly and upbeat and the nearest to a Christmas love song I can put up with. And as well as making Bing Crosby! an exclamation, it still finds time to bitch about Christmas never being as good as it should be, so that’s all right. But, Neil… I thought you were a Doctor Who fan?
Christmas is not all it’s cracked up to be
Families fighting around a plastic tree
Nothing on the TV that you’d want to see…
Timbuk 3 – All I Want For Christmas (Is World Peace)

And back to the ’80s one last time for Timbuk 3, who I liked a lot ever since hearing their rationale for putting a nice piece of ass on the cover of their first album, Greetings From Timbuk 3, to sell more copies (look it up). I can’t say this is really my favourite of theirs – tragically, I still like toys with guns (particularly gun-sticks), and Tom’s similar message was much funnier – but their hearts are in the right place and, if you sing in an American accent, in amidst The Message the first verse closes on a spectacularly terrible pun. And I love those.
Transformers, superheroes
Thundercats in cast iron clothes
Rocket fingers, laser eyes
Cannon mouths and missile toes

All right, I know I promised ten songs, but that’s seven that I actually like and yet I’m already losing the will to live. And it’s still the morning of December 1st. That bodes well, doesn’t it, boys and girls?

I have a terrible feeling I may prefer to listen to some of the more stately old hymns and carols. Richard will be appalled and my Mum delighted – that can’t be right! I shall have to compile a more blasphemous Advent countdown later to restore the balance…

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