- 21 Dec 18
It's Christmas Time, There's No Need To Be Afraid...Or Is There? Pat Carty, pictured above with several of his showbiz pals, uncorks a bottle of wine, settles in front of his gramophone, and braces himself for a walk on the festive wild side – which includes several classics, a few dodgy efforts, and one or two outright turkeys.
During the Commonwealth of England, famed party animal and good time merchant Oliver Cromwell prohibited all celebrations of the Christmas holiday, including the singing of Christmas songs, for lo, they were pagan and sinful. Perhaps that mean bastard wasn’t all bad. No such luck in our age of reason. Let us open our account of all things yule with a few of the best – and end with a twist in this tale of Christmas excess.
Santa Claus Is Coming To Town – Bruce Springsteen
Springsteen and The E-Street Band could do a live arrangement of an accountancy report and it would still rock, so no surprise that this is a charmer. “Clarence, you been rehearsing real hard, so Santa’ll bring you a new saxophone?” The Greatest live act the planet has ever known sound like they’re arsing around and having a good time, and you will too. It could be one of those great rockers hidden away on The River by the time the lads are finished pummelling it. They don’t call him The Boss for a laugh. One of the better ones.
Fairytale of New York – The Pogues Featuring Kirsty MacColl
Two down and outs are locked up for the crime of being locked, the conversation between them that turns increasingly vicious. The late, great Kirsty McColl excoriates Shane with the blistering lines: “You scumbag, you maggot, you cheap, lousy, faggot” (perhaps a reference to his all-round uselessness as a piece of kindling?). The controversy over this line doesn’t bear thinking about. That a pair of drunken Irish in 80s New York are capable of using homophobic language should be axiomatic. Still though, the song can’t be faulted, and the fact that you’ve already heard it half a million times, yet not formed a posse intent on stringing MacGowan up, only proves that. My houseboy, Ramon, played it at one of our celebrity barbecues in July because, as he says himself “you can listen to a classic all year round, boss!” but Ramon is a hopeless idiot.
Merry Christmas Everybody – Slade
IT’S CHRISSSSSTTTMASSSS!!!! A song of such infectious joy that it resulted in a personal loss of trouser in McGowan’s Of Phibsboro one joyous Noël past. The one for drunkenly throwing your arms around whoever happens to be beside you at the Christmas do, even if it’s that insufferable bastard from human resources, and giving it some Noddy at the top of your voice. When he receives his annual royalty statement, the one that could sort out national infrastructure problems, around the first of March, Mr Holder will raise a glass of something ridiculously expensive to you too, probably.
Do They Know It’s Christmas? – Band Aid
Ah, the Eighties. I say there wasn’t a tin of hair product – take a step back, Phil Collins - to be had for love nor money that day the great and the good (and the shite) got together to record this. You can’t argue with a good cause, although if I can be a right arsehole from the get-go there’s rarely snow in Africa, especially in December, as it’s their springtime. Hark at the video again and guffaw at the state of the lot of them, with Geldof rockin’ the “I really do lay in a manger, as there was no crib for a bed” look. The production is as dated as a Duran Duran album, but fair play, it did some good. Just don’t mention Band Aid II.
Last Christmas – Wham!
Talking of famine relief, did you know Wham! donated all their proceeds from ‘Last Christmas’ to this worthy cause? George Michael was famously a thoroughly decent skin, and he knew how to roll one and all! Mind you, his pining for Andrew’s Missus in the video is fooling no one. A brilliantly constructed song from a genuinely gifted songwriter - even the Crazy fucking Frog couldn’t ruin it completely, although it was a close run thing - it’s no wonder it lodged in every ear it ever got near.
Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) – U2
Recorded during a sound check in Glasgow, in July 1987, as the world fell at their feet, this one is also for a good cause – it’s on the A Very Special Christmas album which benefitted the Special Olympics – so it would take an awful bastard to slag it off. Well cometh the hour, cometh the man! Actually, it does sound like the ‘2 are having a bit of a laugh here, there’s a nicely rambunctious one take we’ve-had-a-few-Chardonnays-so-let’s-give-this-a-whack feel about it, and you can almost hear Bono grinning about how absurd his life has become. “Laughing” Larry plays his arse off, as usual, but he’s not grinning, Larry doesn’t do grins.
Christmas Jingle – The Greedies
Let’s stay local. When Philo sings about ‘Wishing You A Merry Christmas’ you just know he has his eye on the nearest good looking female. He just can’t keep that innate lasciviousness out of his voice. You know what kind of ornamental balls he wants to hang off your tree and let jingle-jangle; he’s all about decking the halls – your love halls! Steve Jones is on this too, but we all know who the real Sex Pistol was: Philip Parris Lynott. Ola!
Tom Waits & The Blind Boys Of Alabama – Go Tell It On The Mountain
They do things differently in Central Europe. On the night of the fifth of December, Krampusnacht as the locals call it, a wicked hairy devil – Krampus - takes to the streets, doling out the coal, and a life haunted by psychological trauma, to bad children. He’s also never been seen in a room with Tom Waits, so we can’t completely rule out that possibility that they’re one and the same. We can at least be sure their strangled, glass-eating howls are identical. The Blind Boys lay down a sweet bed of harmony only for Waits to stomp all over it in a pair of shitty boots. When he roars at you to “Go Tell It On The Mountain”, you don’t even hang around to find out what ”it” is, you fuck off, at top speed, to the nearest hill, and then you keep going.
Little Drummer Boy/Peace On Earth – David Bowie & Bing Crosby
Whatever about the singing on this, which is great - that Bowie fella could croon a tune - what the hell is going on in the video? A man from another time answers the door to a googly-eyed looper from another planet; they crack a few beyond-hopeless gags, and then start singing together? Bing wasn’t well or long for this world - Bowie’s wasn’t even from this world - so we can only imagine what he made of the Dame. Bowie, who apparently only togged out as his Ma was a Crosby fan, was involved in some crazy, sexy, freaky, freaky scenes back in the seventies, but this is pretty far out.
Santa Claus Go Straight To The Ghetto – James Brown
Before his records became a series of UHHS! and YEAHS! – and all the better for it they are too – the Godfather recorded this message song back in 1968. Just like a Leonard Cohen recording of ‘Baby Shark’ would still sound like Leonard Cohen, JB can’t keep the groove out of the grooves, as this punchy number attests. In fairness to Brown, he put his money where his mouth was at the end of that year, and, dressed as Mr Claus, handed out thousands of gift certificates to the poor. That’s in stark contrast to that lonely night during the eighties when, high on a near-lethal amount of angel dust, he stuck a lemon where the sun doesn’t shine, and put himself in the oven for three hours at a brisk 180 degrees ‘cause his washing machine convinced him he was a turkey. Hang on, that might have been me.
Back Door Santa – Clarence Carter
Keeping it funky, as the great Daniel O'Donnell always replies when I enquire after his health, this is funkier than a prawn and onion sandwich left in the back of a car on a hot day. “I ain’t like old St. Nick, he don’t come but once a year!” Clarence – who would go on to have a “massive” hit with the single entendre of ‘Strokin’!’ - drops in on a few close, personal friends while their menfolk are away about their business. By the way, he’s talking about the actual back door of the gaffs, rather than any kind of corporeal point of ingress, not that there would be anything wrong with that either. For as my mentor and friend Samuel J. Snort, Esq. loves to remind me over his own particularly potent strain of eggnog, “All are equal to my third eye, Patrick!”
Santa Claus Is Back In Town – Elvis Presley
Keeping It Sexy – the working title of Red Hurley’s as yet unreleased funk/lovers rock masterpiece - you can’t do a list like this without including the King himself, Mr Elvis Aaron Presley. Thing start gently enough, The Jordanaires reminding us what time of the year it is, before the Big E goes off like a sexual hand grenade, letting all those in range know, in no uncertain terms, that Santa is back and it’s not just chimneys he’s interested in going down. “Got no sleigh with reindeer, no sack on my back, you’re gonna see me comin’, in a big black Cadillac!” he howls, like a seaman – yes, I said it! – on a 24-hour pass with only one thing on his mind. Take that Charles Dickens, you tedious hack! This record also sports a killer piano solo, which, try as you might, you won’t find anywhere in A Christmas Carol, except maybe from Rowlf in the (vastly superior) Muppet version.
Christmas Time (Don’t Let The Bells End) – The Darkness
It’s easy to imagine Justin Hawkins resplendently reclined on some leopard skin chaise longue, relaxing in his civilian clothes, which for him consist of white leather, lightning bolt-streaked pantaloons, platform shoes with actual mice in the see-through heel, and the kind of jerkin last seen on Robert Dudley, 1st Earl Of Leicester. The quill in his delicate hand ticks at a list – naughty, never nice – detailing the components essential to the fashioning of an epoch-defining Christmas record. Children? Check. Sleigh bells? Check. Double entendres that would make Kenneth Williams’ eyes pop out? Yes, of course. But what makes this record a heart-breaking work of staggering genius is, perhaps, the robot that comes in halfway through. I asked Hawkins – a showbiz pal – about this. “We wanted to hammer home the Bells End refrain and we predicted, correctly I’m sure, that if a robot says it, future civilisations will appreciate the sentiment!” The man is a beacon of reason in an age riddled with doubt. As it will surely say on his headstone, one sad day in the future, you don’t get many of them to the pound.
Run Rudolph Run – Chuck Berry
A good wheeze is to take a song you’ve already written and shoehorn in something festive and wait for the bob to rain down upon you. If you know Berry’s masterpiece ‘Little Queenie’ then you know this one too, because it’s the same tune, albeit with new lyrics involving the red nosed freak, electric guitars, dolls that wet themselves and freeways. Special mention goes to the version recorded by Keith Richards – one of the world’s leading “snow” experts, surely – as his first solo single, which probably seemed like a great idea in a hotel room at four in the morning in 1978. To call it ramshackle would be to insult huts made of twigs. It still manages to rock though, despite the fact that it threatens to fall apart at any moment, and the guitar solo is a thing of precise and intricate beauty, worthy of Segovia. Yes, I’ve had a few drinks, why do you ask?
River – Joni Mitchell
A few drinks one instantly regrets when this comes on, for it carries an air of almost overwhelming sadness. Joni’s stuck in California for Christmas, where it doesn’t snow. Love has broken down, she made her man cry, and she longs for a river to skate away on. Christ almighty, Joni! No wonder the album’s called Blue! Even the blast of ‘Jingle Bells’ that opens and closes this cri de coeur is played in a minor key. Genius.
Daddy Won’t Be Home Again For Christmas – Merle Haggard
Oh God! Oh Jesus! What are you trying to do to me?!? Merle might be off fighting in a war, stuck in jail (again) or just sick in some alley, but whatever the predicament he’s mired in, he’s not gong to make it home for the holidays. He’s sending a cheque but even if he was there, he’s now too thin to play the part of Santa! I’m of the opinion that Merle Haggard never made a bad record, but this one would have you fixing the hose to the exhaust pipe before the final verse. Quick! A blast of Christmas cheer, and swiftly!
Happy Xmas (War Is Over) – John Lennon
This rolls along in a perfectly pleasant manner until the chorus kicks in. Now, Yoko Ono may be a conceptual artist of considerable merit but the one thing she is not, is a singer. If she had even one note in her head, then that note would have the loneliest Christmas of us all. In the spirit of this admirable age of equality, let’s just blame them both. I’ll fight anyone outside a pub of his or her choosing – now that’s Christmas! – if they dare claim John Lennon improved with age. I’m more of a Paul man myself, but his Christmas record is, if anything, even more awful.
I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus – The Ronettes
You could take anything off A Christmas Gift To You From Phil Spector – a genius of a producer, a monkey shite fight of a human being – ‘cause the whole thing is brilliant, but Ronnie’s on this one, and she sang ‘Be My Baby’, one of the greatest records of all time. The lyric brings up pleasant memories too, for I remember seeing my own mother kissing Santa Claus under the…hold on, my Da wasn’t missing a leg! He didn’t have a beard either, or blond hair! Jesus Christ, that was Kasper, our Norwegian lodger! Ma!
Everyday Will Be Like A Holiday – William Bell
You can consult with our learned friends from the firm of AC & DC, who’ll refer you to the celebrated case of ‘Mistress v Christmas’. Throw a few sleigh bells on the front of anything - that makes it a Christmas record. William Bell doesn’t mention the season by name either, but he does pray that his baby will make it home for “a holiday”. Is he talking about St. Patrick’s Day, or the Feast of the Assumption? I refer you the earlier bell exhibit. Not only is this my favourite Christmas record, it’s one of my favourite records full stop. The gorgeous opening guitar lick, the horns, and Bell’s voice, letting you in on his pain, tempered by hope.
... And lest we forget...
The ‘Born To Roast’ EP – Hot Press & The Silent Knights
“Everyone else seems to have recorded their Christmas singles in July,” Niall Stokes recalls. “We were already guzzling the Christmas drinks that were being delivered to the Hot Press office by the trolley-load, when we recorded this coruscating Christmas classic, released in 1978 – a Top 20 hit, as it transpired. On ‘Gobble Gobble Hey!’ – infamously featured on The Late Late Show – we nodded to The Ramones. ‘Christmas In the Cookhouse’ was more a classic rocker. But it was the poignant tale of a turkey who loses her loved one on Christmas Eve that brought tears to the eyes of a nation. “Turkeys like us/ Baby we were born to roast,” Dermot Stokes concludes and in an admirable moment of restraint, the RTE Orchestra does not join us on strings. *Born To Roast is available on iTunes and Spotify. And selling for $160 on Discogs. Fuck off, no one’s messin’. It is.
Cor, blimey! It's a christmas miracle. There are a few copies of this masterpiece available for purchase.
That’ll do, I can’t take much more, but at least I managed to avoid Cliff Richard – “children singing Christian rhyme” indeed! I’m off to finish this bottle, listen to The Chieftains’ Bells Of Dublin, and try to sort my life out. As Clement Clarke Moore once memorably put it, Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!