Thursday, December 18, 2008

GMVW # 50: "Seasons Greetings"

Gem Music Video of the Week # 50: Seasons Greetings
Song: Father Christmas by The Kinks
(Songwriter: Ray Davies)
December 18, 2008

Season’s Greetings!

A few weeks ago, The Who were paid tribute to at the 31st Annual Kennedy Center Honors (the show will broadcast on CBS December 30th).  They were the first band to receive this prestigious award (several other recipients this year include Barbara Streisand and Morgan Freeman).  In an interview with the Washington Post prior to the event, Pete Townshend admitted that the prize was stirring up some complicated feelings:  “We’d never been heard,” he said, referring to his British working class roots.  “So we created our own language, which was rock ‘n’ roll.  And this honor is the establishment saying, ‘We hear you.’  And that’s a strange thing, because if they can hear us, maybe we don’t need to do this anymore.  It’s like somebody saying to Tupac Shakur, ‘Ah, I understand what you’re saying.’  Well, you’re not supposed to understand what he’s saying.  You’re supposed to be (expletive) scarred!”

OK….but since this week’s Gem is aimed at the spirit of the season, what does any of the above have to do with Christmas?

Well, despite many attempts, rock music has only produced a handful of great Christmas songs and Townshend’s recent comments pretty much explain the dilemma the genre has with writing them.  Sure rock singers can belt out a great cover version of an old standard: Elvis Presley singing ‘Blue Christmas’; Bob Seger’s version of ‘Little Drummer Boy’; Bruce Springsteen’s overplayed cover of ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’; The Pretenders with ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’; or David Bowie singing ‘Silent Night’ with Bing Crosby.  Yet, when it comes to orchestrating original compositions many rock musicians struggle to connect with the core meaning of Christmas, and as a result most of their efforts fail to gain an enthusiastic audience.  I believe this is actually a struggle for musicians of all music genres, but where many of the other genres can get away with writing songs that celebrate the pomp and circumstance that surround Christmas, rock music cannot. Tradition and mainstream acceptance are simply not in its genes.  If a Christmas rock song is going to make it, it has to: 1) Break establishment norms 2) Stay honest and true to the spirit of Christmas and 3) Get to the point.  For such a long-standing Christian celebration, this can be hard to pull off.

But it can occur. A year or two ago, in a family email exchange, Jen asked everyone what their favorite rock Christmas song was (in hindsight it may have been the seed that got me started with these weekly rantings/gems).  Several songs came to mind.  There was obviously John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s passionate Christmas song, ‘Happy Xmas War is Over’.  The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl’s ‘Fairytale of New York’ is a fantastic song, as is Band Aid with ‘Feed the World’.  But for me, there was no dispute.  The one song (this week’s Gem) that has been on the top of my list for some time now is ‘Father Christmas’ by The Kinks.  It succeeds at all 3 of the qualifications listed above with ease.  Part of what makes it so alluring is that it has a drive-home message (second to last stanza near the end of the song), when all music fades out (including the jingle bells), and Ray Davies is left to sing without accompaniment.  When a song has a good drive home message, it can find a way to rise to another level.  Even the Fools song ‘Life Sucks (then you die)’ pulls that off at the end (“People say that life is good, Give thanks for what you have, When all you have is nothin’, Nothin’ makes you glad”).  Another great thing about this week’s gem is how Davies appears to be portraying the antagonistic gang of kids as believing in Santa despite the anger they direct at him.  Well done.

Unfortunately the video quality is pretty poor, but the audio is just right (although a bit out of synch).  Below the ‘Father Christmas’ link are several other Christmas inspired links.  Below those are the lyrics to ‘Father Christmas’. 

Have a very Merry Christmas!

- Pete (and Nancy)

The Kinks ‘Father Christmas’ (lyrics way below)

Here are 2 links to the Christmas Carol movie which starred Albert Finny as Scrooge.  Both are of same song, ‘Thank You Very Much’ but at different parts of the movie.  The first is when Scrooge is still in hot water with the 3rd Spirit.  In this version, Scrooge thinks the crowd is thanking him but not sure why.  He is oblivious to the fact that he has just died in the not-to-distant Christmas future (it’s his casket they dance on), but the reason the crowd is thanking him is because they all owed him money (with compound interest!).  Of course, the crowd does not see Scrooge in this first link.  The second link is at the end of the movie, when Scrooge absolves them all of their debt to him.  This song is a favorite of Mom, Dad, Charlotte, and I.

The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl ‘Fairytale of New York

John Lennon and Yoko Ono ‘Happy Xmas War is Over’

Bob Seger’s version of Little Drummer Boy

Lyrics to The Kinks ‘Father Christmas’

When I was small I believed in santa claus
Though I knew it was my dad
And I would hang up my stocking at christmas
Open my presents and Id be glad

But the last time I played father christmas
I stood outside a department store
A gang of kids came over and mugged me
And knocked my reindeer to the floor

They said:
Father christmas, give us some money
Dont mess around with those silly toys.
Well beat you up if you dont hand it over
We want your bread so dont make us annoyed
Give all the toys to the little rich boys

Dont give my brother a steve austin outfit
Dont give my sister a cuddly toy
We dont want a jigsaw or monopoly money
We only want the real mccoy

Father christmas, give us some money
Well beat you up if you make us annoyed
Father christmas, give us some money
Dont mess around with those silly toys

But give my daddy a job cause he needs one
Hes got lots of mouths to feed
But if youve got one, Ill have a machine gun
So I can scare all the kids down the street

Father christmas, give us some money
We got no time for your silly toys
Well beat you up if you dont hand it over
Give all the toys to the little rich boys

Have yourself a merry merry Christmas
Have yourself a good time
But remember the kids who got nothin
While youre drinkin down your wine

Father christmas, give us some money
We got no time for your silly toys
Well beat you up if you dont hand it over
We want your bread, so dont make us annoyed
Give all the toys to the little rich boys


About the Video: Made for MTV type video

Video Rating: 2 (if I great live version could ever be found)

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