"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?