Tuesday, December 2, 2008

An "Unbeatleble"* Christmastime

Mix 95 has been rocking Christmas tuneage for three weeks now, showing all who tune in that holiday playlists are as repetitive and predictable as those of the rest of the year. But instead of the latest smashes from T.I and/or Li'l Wayne, our ears are treated to "Do They Know It's Christmas?", the Chipmunks, that goddamn song about the shoes, and several hundred versions of "O Holy Night", the holiday equivalent to "The Star Spangled Banner" for vocalists worldwide. I even saw Patti Smith do a version live.

The assumption that anyone who's ever entered a recording studio has cut at least one yuletide number is not too ridiculous. There's David Bowie with Bing Crosby, Destiny's Child, U2, Bruce Springsteen, Faith Hill, Jim Croce, and lest we forget the Brit-pop clusterfuck of the previous paragraph.

Also, a couple former Beatles.

Paul McCartney's "Wonderful Christmastime" and John Lennon's "Happy Xmas (War is Over)" pervade the airwaves this time o' year. Neither is a great song. One is universally derided--to the point where even its notoriously self-loving creator has disowned it. The other is considered a brave, moving song of hope. I'll let you guess which is which, if you promise to think real hard. It's amazing that those guys couldn't even do Christmas songs without inspiring the same old weary choir to sing their older, wearier choruses that continue to dog each man's legacy.

"Wonderful Christmastime"--now, what's the official party line on Macca? Trite, cutesy, shallow, fluffy, utterly without edge. A walking, talking, thumbs-upping Family Circus panel. Well, let it be known that the only "party line" I've ever toed had Allison Wolfe in it. It's fucked, but brother James won't get his due as one of the most brilliant song crafters ever to grace any planet till he's composed his last melody. And even then some smartass will say Lennon died better.

"Happy Xmas"--Lennon, on the other hand, was worshipped during his life as a passionate vessel of peace, love, life and harrassing Harry Nilsson. The non-conspiracy that ended his time on Earth served further to elevate him to modern-day sainthood, as death is so wont to retroactively color the events of any life in the most agreeably profound hues.

But, just as McCartney wins the battles of "Who wrote the better Beatles songs?" and "Who had the better post-Beatles albums?", so he bests his former partner-in-crime here. Which is still like being the tallest Oompa Loompa. But the reasons he comes out ahead are strong.

--No pretentious hooey. "So this is Christmas/And what have you done?" Confronting the listener into some kinda-sorta soul-searching at what is intended to be a celebratory season? Unexpected! "War is over/If you want it". No it very fucking well is not. The people have the power all right; they're called, "the people in power".

--No children singing. Macca mentions a "choir of children sing(ing) their song" but he wasn't dense enough to toss a gaggle of off-key dirt merchants on the song. As far as Lennon, well, I see that Pat Benatar's "We Belong" taught him nothing. I understand that song was recorded four years after his death, but that's still no excuse.

--Celine Dion never covered "Wonderful Christmastime". Also blessing us with their versions of "So This Is Xmas"--NSync and Maroon 5.

--Dipset "interpreted" Paul's chorus for "Dipset Xmas Time". De La Soul sampled the song. Hip hop rides with Macca.

--Much is made of the galling simplicity of so many Macca lyrics, but what then is "A very merry Christmas/And a happy New Year/Let's hope it's a good one/Without any fear"? That Wham song about getting diddled around on the day after Christmas has better words.

In the end, Elton destroys both songs anyway. Dude made "merry" a one-syllable word.

*(Don't blame me for "unbeatleble"; Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth actually used that word to describe the band's catalog in the "Top 100 Beatles Songs" issue of Uncut. As if the fact "Things We Said Today" didn't make the list wasn't hard enough to stomach.)

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