Tis’ the Season


Jakob Fisher, cartoonist

Read the festive review of holiday songs that will leave you questioning why anyone says “Happy Holidays.”

Jakob Fisher, Editorial Cartoonist

November is long over, and it is now socially acceptable to blast your favorite Christmas tunes. Now let me put my two cents in.

As with any season, there is no shortage of puzzling classics. It was hard wading through the meaningless fluff holiday songs with almost no storyline, but I am proud of the few I did find. Where once there was a list of 12, only five songs had enough of a story to make the list. As with most Christmas songs, they were made and thrown away the very next year. Few manage to actually achieve lasting power. The deeper I dug into my obscure heap of musical knowledge however, I began to notice a strange trend. Most of the songs I could think of were British. And they were all melancholy. Breakups, riots, straightup muggings; England, is there something you want to talk about? In fact there was only one American song that made the list (try and guess which one by the end).

“Merry Xmas Everybody” – Slade

One night while drinking at a local pub, lead singer Noddy Holder came up with an idea for a song that would turn out to be his band Slade’s biggest hit. What if he rewrote a song he had written six years prior into a Christmas single? Holder and bass player Jimmy Lea set to work crafting a song that would reflect the typical family Christmas. Specifically, Holder notes the line “Look to the future now, it’s only just begun,” as being a message of hope. “Economically, the country was up the creek. The miners had been on strike, along with the gravediggers, the bakers and almost everybody else. I think people wanted something to cheer them up – and so did I,” he said. Before they could record though, tragedy struck. Drum player Don Powel was badly injured in a car crash. “The doctors told us to get him playing drums again as soon as possible to boost his confidence. But he was suffering from short-term memory loss – he could remember our old songs, but not the new ones. So, instead of recording live, we built up ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’ layer by layer,” Holder explained. Despite the difficulties, listeners must have resonated because it became an instant classic selling over 300,000 copies on the first day of release, becoming Britain’s fastest selling record ever. There is an extra layer of heart to this song that makes it more than just a Christmas song. It really is a classic.

“Jingle Hell” – Christopher Lee

Let us take a moment to talk about someone I consider to be the coolest person to ever live, Sir Christopher Frank Cardini Lee. Some may know him as Count Dooku from the “Star Wars” prequels, Sauruman from “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, or even one of the 10 times he played Dracula. But Lee had much more than that to his name. Before the age of 25, he had witnessed the last public execution by guillotine, fought Nazis in North Africa, and had been promoted to Winston Churchill’s elite Special Operations Executive (informally called The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare). Most of his missions in the Ministry are still classified to this day. At 25, he decided to try acting. Over the next 63, Lee achieved five world records and international acclaim but he had always had one regret. He had always wanted to be an opera singer. So, being an avid metal head (because, of course, he was) he found a way to live his dream. “Jingle Hell” is one of Lee’s several heavy metal Christmas singles and the only one to make the Billboard charts. Making him the oldest person to have a charting hit, at the age of 91. Two years before his death, Lee had broken yet another record. It is definitely a novelty more than it is an artistic piece, but this time it was the singer who made the song.

“Father Christmas” – The Kinks

Cynical is one way to describe this song. Our character had grown up loving Santa Claus even though it was clearly his dad. So when he grew up, he became a department store Santa only to be mugged by a gang of kids. They said, “Father Christmas, give us some money, Don’t mess around with those silly toys.” The assailants say he should give the toys to the “little rich boys” because all they need is the money. Surprisingly, our character seems cool with it only asking that Santa gives his dad a job and a machine gun “if you’ve got one.” You know, to scare away the random punks that could attack him in the future. The song ends with a message reminding people to be mindful of the kids who have nothing during the holidays. As Christmas songs go, this one is in a league of its own. Songwriter Ray Davies is famous for a signature wit and satire that few musicians can replicate. I think it really shines in this song. There is no other artist I can think of that could create a song about Santa being mugged and have it become a holiday classic.

“Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” – Elmo and Patsy

Infamous in a way, this song has somehow become a holiday staple despite ranking near the top of many of the worst Christmas songs lists. It is hard to believe it was first recorded in 1979. The song was originally written by Randy Brooks, and covered by his friend Doctor Elmo Shropshire DVM. and then wife Patsy Trigg when they heard him perform it live. Bizarre is one word, dark is another. There is no joke. Grandma is dead. The rest of the song is everyone coping with her death. “It’s not Christmas without Grandma, All the family’s dressed in black, And we just can’t help but wonder, Should we open up her gifts, Or send them back (send them back).” In 2000 they released an animated special of the same name based on the song and co-written by Shopshire. The special sees grandma taken to the North Pole where she loses her memories. Once she is returned, her medical problem is used to file a lawsuit against Santa Claus which ultimately fails. What has Dr. Elmo done since? He’s kept himself busy running in the National Senior Games, even winning a few gold medals for his age group. I can’t bring myself to hate this song as much as everyone else seems to. It is just too crazy to take seriously.

“I Believe in Father Christmas” – Greg Lake

This song was my first thought when it comes to depressing Christmas songs. Released in August; singer, songwriter, and guitarist Greg Lake had some… interesting observations about the nature of Christmas. Lake and co-writer Pete Sinfield were playing with a guitar riff he liked but could not find the right words for. In a moment of inspiration, Lake realized the tune to Jingle Bells fit perfectly over his piece. Why not make it a Christmas song! From there, they wrote a lovely song about the hypocrisy of the season and the brainwashing that we put children through. Not where I would have gone, but okay. Despite the harshness of the message, Greg Lake has gone on record as saying he does in fact believe in Father Christmas. “I find it appalling when people say it’s politically incorrect to talk about Christmas, you’ve got to talk about ‘The Holiday Season.’ Christmas was a time of family warmth and love. There was a feeling of forgiveness, acceptance. And I do believe in Father Christmas.” It is not an anti-Christmas song like it was thought, but instead a sad look a reality of the season. Knowing how much it meant to Lake just makes it all the more disheartening.

Oh boy. It was hard wading through all those Christmas songs. To find anything that was not just another forgettable fluff song or boring history lesson was one of the hardest things I have ever done. I would even venture to say that there is an oversaturation of meaninglessness. Which is why it was so surprising that the British songs were rooted in such depressing subject matter. As for the American song, if it was as obvious as I think it is, was Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer. Like I said, I cannot hate that song but it definitely has no purpose compared to the others. In the end though there are thousands of Christmas songs to listen to. Which means there are innumerable options. Happy holidays, and may your playlist be full of cheer.