Did you know Last Christmas used to be called Stephen’s Day Is a Bit Sh*t?
Wham, Shaky v Noddy, Chris Rea v traffic: Patrick Freyne analyses some Christmas classics
Wham’s Last Christmas video: my template for what successful adulthood looked like when I was a child
This week I have undertaken a critical analysis of some of my favourite Christmas songs.
Last Christmas by Wham
Wham’s Last Christmas video was my template for what successful adulthood looked like when I was a small child. Yes, as I may have mentioned before, my imagined adulthood would involve me, George Michael, Andrew Ridgeley, our friends Pepsi and Shirley and “unidentified George Michael love interest” gathering at a ski lodge where we would glower at each other over a sumptuous feast as we contemplated romantic betrayal. I couldn’t imagine a better way to spend an evening when I was a pompous eight-year-old.
“Last Christmas I gave you my heart but the very next day you gave it away,” sang George in the song that was titled Stephen’s Day Is a Bit Shit until Ridgeley suggested that, instead of “pioneering the St Stephen’s Day song” (as George Michael had passionately argued), they should instead add jingle bells and focus on the more lucrative Christmas part. Ridgeley couldn’t play an instrument, but he knew how to wear tight white shorts and, clearly, how to make Christmas gold.
Merry Christmas Everyone by Shakin’ Stevens vs Merry Christmas Everybody by Slade
These songs are arch rivals. Merry Christmas Everyone is sung by the 1950s throwback Shakin’ Stevens as he extols the virtues of Christmas while riding around with Santa in a horse-drawn sleigh and having snowball fights with children. Merry Christmas Everybody, meanwhile, is growled by the glam Fraggle Noddy Holder, from Slade, as he asserts that “every” Santa is a drunk and that granny likes “rock’n’rollin’ with the best”. Do you relate more to “everyone” or to “everybody”? Which do you think speaks more directly to you? What you say now says a lot about you as a person and has huge consequences for your future health and wellbeing. Sadly, I can’t give you more details because you’re not a subscriber.
Happy Xmas (War Is Over) by John Lennon
One of a series of holiday songs Lennon wrote featuring unlikely political sentiments, Happy Xmas (War Is Over) joins Merry Easter (Abolish Parking Fines in Regional Urban Centres) and Have a Great Halloween (Brexit Means Brexit) in the Lennon canon. The slightly inaccurate refrain goes “War is over, if you want it”, which might have been more plausible if it wasn’t coming from a multimillionaire who apparently cofounded a record label as a tax dodge and whose politics can best be described as “very vague”. In fairness, though light on policy detail, this is a great song. Nowadays, however, most mainstream broadcasters must add an extra verse in which a red-faced man screams about how war is actually good for the economy, for balance, like.
All I Want for Christmas Is You by Mariah Carey
In the first video for All I Want for Christmas Is You, Mariah Carey cavorts with Santa Claus and a shivering dog with antlers while chillingly suggesting that she doesn’t want a lot for Christmas – no presents, no snow, no Christmas tree – all she wants for Christmas is “you”. Yes, your complete person is all Mariah Carey desires. Just that. And given the candy-cane clockwork soldiers who surround her jaunty gyrations in her even more recent video for the song, I suspect it’s a plural “you”. This is a tuneful declaration of war on the entire human race that’s been misunderstood and turned into a Christmas hit by jingle-hungry radio DJs.
Mariah, imperiously grooving before her ice palace (see video), has of course just rolled with it, sublimating her lust for conquest into melody and royalty cheques. All I Want for Christmas Is You is also famous as the final Christmas hit. It was released in 1993, and there have been no lasting Christmas hits since then (unless you include Stay Another Day, by East 17, which only counts because it features jingle bells and the video sees the band all dressed in snow onesies, like toddlers). Aurally speaking, we’re locked in a perpetual Christmas past, our jinglicious glory days behind us.
Driving Home for Christmas by Chris Rea
Driving Home for Christmas by Chris Rea is mainly a song about traffic congestion. Listening to Chris’s gruff rumble, it really does feel like the “for Christmas” was added as a sort of afterthought to temper the singer’s palpable frustration as he copes with being “top to toe in tailbacks” with “red lights all around”. In the final edit, “I take a look at the driver next to me, I hate his fucking face” was changed, in the spirit of seasonal conviviality, to “I take a look at the driver next to me, he’s just the same”. I think it’s my favourite Christmas song because I am often in traffic. If you listen carefully you’ll hear that there’s no “t” in Chrismas the way Chris sings it.
A Spaceman Came Travelling by Chris de Burgh
Speaking of Chrismas, in a Spaceman Came Travelling Chris de Burgh suggests that baby Jesus was a space alien who went “la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la”, which is a pretty reductive take on 2,000 years of Christian theology that I thought would have warranted some sort of ban, at least back in holy Ireland of the 1970s. It was not banned. The church hierarchy clearly felt it was a fair enough interpretation of scripture. Buoyed by de Burgh’s throaty bellow, I promptly lost my faith but gained a love of 1970s modular synths and dubious metaphors.
Mistletoe and Wine by Cliff Richard
“A child is a king, the carollers sing,” Cliff warbles, coming dangerously close to referencing the “J” word in his wholesome evocation of Christmas cheer. In general, we don’t like things to be too Jesusy in our melodic celebrations of Christmastime. Even Chris de Burgh basically implied that He was just ET from the film ET or possibly Baby Yoda. And if Jesus turned up in Driving Home for Christmas Chris Rea would just scream at Him while overtaking Him on the inside lane. Indeed, if you were to go by the title of Cliff’s Christmastime stomper Mistletoe and Wine you might think he was going to sing about boozy snogging, but he in fact sings about kindness and goodwill to all men as he riles up a snowy choir and a child chorister. Look at him there in the video, going buck wild in the snow, swaying aggressively for Christ. The man’s a legend.
Santa Baby by Eartha Kitt
There is a subset of people who are sexually attracted to Christmas. This is the song for them, a song in which Eartha Kitt seductively enumerates all the many things she would like to receive from her “lover” Santa Claus. Of course, in those days it was perfectly reasonable for someone to be erotically enthralled by the hirsute hierophant’s yuletide largess and paternalistic “dad bod”. Nowadays, to retain the interests of Generation Z, Santa Claus is completely ripped and has a whole Instagram channel in which he posts videos of himself working out and drinking horrible smoothies.