Sunday, December 24, 2006

"Father Christmas" / The Kinks

The Kinks have never been big on sugary sentiment, so of course if they were going to do a Christmas song it would have to be something with a thrashing beat and a scathing shot of social commentary. Their one Yuletide song, "Father Christmas" -- a 1977 single that's now included as a bonus track on the reissue of their 1978 album Misfits -- has all that, but it also features a characteristic Ray Davies sorrow for a world's that gone downhill.

The basic scenario: The narrator wistfully remembers childhood Christmases when he believed in Santa Claus, even though he knew it was his dad behind it all; but now, a grownup, he's working as a department store Santa and geting mugged by a cynical pack of street urchins. That's the chorus, the sneering Cockney chant of those little punks: "Father Christmas, give us some money / Don't mess around with those silly toys / We'll beat you up if you don't hand it over / We want your bread so don't make us annoyed / Give all the toys to the rich little boys."

Just for good measure, Ray throws in a note of class conflict, too. And while he's at it, he'll take a swipe at the crass marketing of childhood: "Don't give my brother a Steve Austin outfit / Don't give my sister a cuddly toy / Don't want no jigsaw or monopoly money / All we want is the real McCoy." The kids go on to explain to Father Christmas what they really want -- a job for their dads . . . and maybe a machine gun so they can terrorize their neighborhoods. Sure, Ray sympathizes with their tight economic fix, but he's also repelled by the street violence poverty breeds. Talk about Dickensian Christmases -- this is the real spirit of Charles Dickens.

It could be a downer, but it's such an exuberant rocker you can't help but sing along, and pound your fist while you're at it. I heard this over the PA in a crowded Urban Outfitters store a few days ago, and besides my delight (and astonishment) at hearing a relatively obscure Kinks song broadcast, I felt immediately zapped by the goofy energy of it. The sweet angel-chime tinkling of a glockenspiel is swept aside by Dave Davies's shrewdly snarling guitar riffs, slicing aggressively through the mix; there's a great snappy drumbeat, and Ray's voice punches out that chorus with gusto.

When he gets to the last verse, his God-bless-us-every-one send-off is surprisingly heartfelt: "Have yourself a merry merry Christmas / Have yourself a good time / But remember the kids who got nothin' / While you're drinking down your wine." Not exactly a feel-good ending. But who expected that from the Kinks?


emms said...

I finally got to hear this song the other day, after I received my 2 Kinks box sets (The RCA Years - 6 Discs, and The Arista Years - 7 Discs.) The "Misfits" album is part of the Arista Years collection. I don't have anything to add to your review, Holly-- you said it for me, better than I could have. What a uniquely KinKy song this is! I recently came back to the KinKdom, drawn in by Ray Davies' solo album "Other Peoples' Lives", which was released early this year.
The fact that you have highlighted this song, which is a bonus track off the remastered SACD series, gives me a chance to tell everyone out there who has missed out on part or all of KinKdom to grab these box sets ASAP! They have wonderful liner notes and photos, with much good information about what was happening at the time the albums were originally created. They also include many fine bonus tracks, such as Father Christmas, which you will enjoy with as much delight as you would welcome a hoped-for holiday gift.

Happy Holidays to all, and God Save the Kinks!!!

Complicated Life said...

Once again, Ms. Holly, you're spot on in your commentary. When Father Christmas first came out, I was so proud that The Kinks were the first to record an anti-Christmas Christmas song. But as I mellowed with age, I realized that Ray had written a song about what Christmas had come to mean to many in our modern age. BTW, OK-Go (the group with that catchy video using the exercise machines) have covered Father Christmas and it's being used in the soundtrack (and TV commercial) for the movie "Unaccompanied Minors".

Have a Merry Christmas, Ms. Holly!

Anonymous said...

Have you heard the short interview with OK Go's lead singer on it RP? It's on UTube now. To answer the first two questions he simply repeats, KINKS! KINKS! So sweet. But yeah, they don't really highlight anything new in the song. But at least they highlight the song. And you too!