Please stop going on about ‘problematic’ Christmas songs

Donald Clarke: Another season of Fairytale argy-bargy would be too much to bear

Singers in 1984 Do they know it’s Christmas. Photograph:  Steve Hurrell/Redferns

Singers in 1984 Do they know it’s Christmas. Photograph: Steve Hurrell/Redferns

 

Please shut up about Fairytale of New York. Please shut up about Do They Know it’s Christmas? What’s that? Apparently, I now need to tell you to shut up about Baby, it’s Cold Outside. Shut up, shut up, shut up!

Tis the season for fraught discourse about Christmas songs. It never used to be thus. Nobody worried about Nat “King” Cole noting that folks were “dressed up like Eskimos” in The Christmas Song. No contemporaneous equivalent of that edgelord English actor declared he would refuse to substitute ‘Inuit” when gathered round the family piano. In this sense, at least, Christmas was less exhausting.

The arguments about Do They Know It’s Christmas? are, if anything, even more tiring

You won’t need to be reminded of the disputes around the Pogues’ warhorse. The arguments about the use of an offensive epithet for homosexual – the one that rhymes with “maggot’ – go through the same cycle each year. Someone objects. Someone makes the preposterous argument that Shane is “actually” using a euphemism for a lazy person. Right-wing blowhards announce they will be blasting the uncensored version out their windows at supposed snowflakes (which is seasonal, at least). Shut up! Would you all shut up! 

So you aren’t shutting up? You have now moved on to the observation that there is not nor has there ever been an “NYPD choir”. Oh, please don’t drag out that transparent man-in-the-pub baloney about it being slang for the warbling drunks in the city jail. Why won’t you shut up? Why won’t you leave me in peace?

The arguments about Do They Know It’s Christmas? are, if anything, even more tiring. It is not that the lyrics aren’t appalling. Of course they’re appalling. But this is not news. On initial release it was widely understood the song was useless, but we decided to let it pass as it was in a good cause. (The argument about whether or not it really was a “good cause” belongs in a different, less facetious column.) The only remarkable thing about the record itself is Trevor Horn’s booming, none-more-1984 production. The notion that, deep into the 21st century, someone would bother to pull apart the platitudinous doggerel would have seemed absurd. Next, they’ll be telling Adam Ant that rid-i-cule really is something to be scared of.

Yet every year someone sets out to inform us that “rain or rivers” do “flow” in Africa. A piece in the International Business Times from 2017 went to town on the clumsy hyperbole and gimcrack synecdoche. “The line ‘There won’t be snow in Africa this Christmas time’ seems to ignore the fact that mountains and areas of high elevation in Africa regularly become blanketed in the white stuff,” the article explained. There will be more such revelations on social media over the next four weeks. We don’t need to hear this. We have always known this. Anyone dumb enough not to grasp the awfulness of the words will probably be incapable of making their way through even a sentence of your post outlining the meteorological characteristics of Kilimanjaro.

Happy Xmas (War is Over) is a definitive work from the former Beatle’s period of imperial sanctimony

The dispute around Baby, It’s Cold Outside is a tad more esoteric. Written as far back as 1944, Frank Loesser’s tune lived a largely peaceful life until, around 10 years ago, now well passed retirement age, it began attracting negative publicity for its alleged allusions to the drugging of cocktails. You will recall this as the duet in which a man uses the inclemency of the weather as an excuse to keep a visiting woman in his living room. Objections to the line “what’s in this drink?” have caused the tune to be banned, unbanned and banned again throughout the last decade. The suggestion of spiking does lend a sinister tone, but, taking the period in mind, we must surely conclude ...

Now, I’m doing it. Shut up, me! Shut up, shut up, shut up!

Lord, spare us from annual discourse on seasonal pop songs. There is probably no escape, but we should, perhaps, find a new, deserving tune to rag on. We need not clarify why Gary Glitter’s Another Rock ‘n’ Roll Christmas is already a goner. Cliff’s Mistletoe and Wine is too fragile to bother with. Slade’s Merry Xmas Everyone is, in contrast, so monumental it would break any shoulder pressed against it. 

No, the time has surely come to call out the pompous clatter of inanities that is John Lennon’s Happy Xmas (War is Over). Follow-up to the perennially fatuous Imagine, the song is a definitive work from the former Beatle’s period of imperial sanctimony. Nothing is better calculated to depress the run-up to the festive season than overhearing those dreary opening lines while filling in your docket at Argos. “So this is Christmas and what have you done?” I don’t know, John. Lived my uninteresting life. Kept my head dry in the rain. What exactly was I supposed to be doing?

There is plenty of material to complain about here. Let’s get stuck in. Another season of Fairytale argy-bargy would be too much to bear.    

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.