Friday, 16 December 2016

Don’t-Listen-To-That, Listen-To-This! (A Christmas Humbug Hit-list)

When the Titanic sank in 1912, it carried a substantial library, passengers for the use of.

Now let’s just suppose… What if the shelves of that library were stocked with the only copies in existence, of any book or publication in the world? What poetry, novels, songs, music and other what-have-you would you like to be sunk forever in that library? Which excrescences of art do you wish were most definitely not still with us IN ANY FORM, but were instead, justifiably rotting at the bottom of the Atlantic?

As it’s the festive season, allow me to nominate a few Yuletide offerings that really, really, need to go into that timewarp of non-existence- and some replacements....

1)       ‘Little Donkey’
It’s a Christmas carol, allegedly, about a donkey carrying Mary to Bethlehem. Never mind that there’s no mention in the Bible of a blasted donkey, or bells ringing out in Bethlehem. Eric Boswell’s 1959 chart hit has swum down the gutter of time to still be sung everywhere, and it even appears in modern hymn books. Never mind the thought that Mary is a refugee. She’s desperately trying to follow her troubled husband on a difficult path, because some high-flying policy wonk in Rome has decided that everyone needs to go to their hometown to be registered. This kind of unfeeling bureaucracy is straight out of ‘I, Daniel Blake’ for treating those at the bottom of the pile- but hey, let’s write a pretty song about and teach it to children. As a piece of popular supermarket musak, it passes. As a carol inviting us into the presence of the Almighty in worship? Sheer pap. Suffer it here...

Better alternative: Alison Krauss and Yoyo Ma, ‘The Wexford Carol’. Bliss. Go on, give it a listen.

2)       ‘Wonderful Christmas Time’ by Paul McCartney
As much a Christmas perennial as blocked drains, undercooked turkey and mud on the carpet, this 1979 dum-de-dum-repetitive earworm was dubbed ‘tasty’ by DJ Dave Lee Travis on his Wonderful Radio One breakfast show at its first release (Enough said). As bland as blotting paper and just as tasty. And this, from the man who gave us ‘Yesterday’? Lennon was right.

Better alternative: ‘Winter Song’ by Lindisfarne from their album ‘Nicely out of Tune’. This still sends shivers down the spine for its contemporary relevance. Listen to it sung live here at:

3)       ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’ by Bob Dylan
Let’s be specific. There’s nothing wrong with the song itself- just the shot-to-the-side-of-the-head treatment administered to it by our newly Nobel Prize-winner’s gravelly rendition. You can’t even find a version on Youtube, yes, it’s that bad. Dylan’s ‘Christmas in the Heart’ charity album has a few interesting pieces (especially the wild Tex-mex ‘Must Be Santa’ that references the Pogues, see:

… but Bob’s voice really isn’t suited for traditional carols- or come to think of it, anything that requires him to consistently hit the right note. Trust me, it’s very, very bad.

Better alternative: ‘God rest ye merry gentlemen’ by Annie Lennox from her album ‘A Christmas Cornucopia’. Superb rendition, no watering down of the lyrics, full of Eastern promise. The video is wonderfully dippy too.

4)       ‘Little Drummer Boy / Peace on Earth’ by David Bowie and Bing Crosby
Who dreamed this one up? Why did they record it? Who actually bought the thing? Why oh WHY does it still get played? It all sprang (allegedly) from the time that Bing was visiting Ingerland to record a Merrie Christmas Special in 1977. David was booked to perform a duet, singing Little Drummer Boy with the great man… and then backed off, whispering something about losing credibility with his fans. (This from the chap who gave us The Laughing Gnome.) Somebody in the production team cobbled together a weird Peace on Earth bit for David to sing and hopefully make the whole thing work… and this was the result. Yes, they sing all the right notes in the right order, and even join together in harmony for a little Bridge segment… but it all now seems very, very,   strange. Down into the Atlantic it goes…

Better alternative: the Cloverton version of ‘Hallelujah’ is a magnificent rewrite of Leonard Cohen’s biblical masterpiece. Here’s how to really reboot an original.

5. One in Royal David’s City
Overall, a pretty good carol- until we come to this verse:

And through all His wondrous childhood 
He would honour and obey, 
Love and watch the lowly mother 
In whose gentle arms He lay. 
Christian children all should be 
Mild, obedient, good as He.

Mild? What’s so good about being mild? Are we perchance, referencing ‘Gentle Jesus meek and mild’, Charles Wesley’s atrocity of a children’s song that pictured the Turner-over-of-tables as a pathetic milksop?

Gentle Jesus, meek and mild,
Look upon a little child
Pity my simplicity
Suffer me to come to thee

I’m torn two ways on this. ‘Christian children’ need to learn that being Good isn’t necessarily about being Mild. (Obedience can be over-rated, when you look at some parents.) That verse is all about encouraging children to conform in the worst possible way. On the other hand, the young Jesus managed to get himself lost in the big city for three whole days, as he began working out his personal identity and mission. Do we want our kids to copy that childhood? Bad idea.

Better alternativeJoy to the world by Isaac Watts, played here in bouncy fashion by Chris Tomlin:


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Any requests of subjects for future posts in 2016? No idea too stupid for consideration. And yes, I know I am a bad writer, so don't bother saying that unless you can write something better. But maybe there's a topic buzzing around in your head that you'd like to see covered... because I've got a keyboard here, it's loaded with letters, and I ain't afraid to use it.