Saturday, December 19, 2015

My Musical Advent Calendar

"Father Christmas" / The Kinks

Sorry. I forgot to open the door on my advent calendar yesterday -- too caught up in the big buzz in Kinkdom. Last night in London, Dave and Ray Davies sang together on stage for the first time in nearly 20 years.  And if you've been following the soap opera of the Davies' brothers lifelong love-hate relationship -- well, you'll know this is major news indeed.

So really, there was no other holiday song I could write about today...

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, some scathing social commentary, AND -- if we're lucky -- a Ray Davies sigh of sorrow for a world's that gone downhill.

Well, this 1977 single has all that. 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 -- no Miracle on 34th Street nonsense here -- he's getting mugged by a pack of street urchins.

That's the infectious 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." (I can attest: This is an absurdly satisfying thing to sing aloud with a pack of other people.)

Next, Ray takes down the commercialization of Christmas, with all its crass marketing targeted at  kids: "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."

And for these left-behind kids, the "real McCoy" is  . . . a job for their dads. (Remember 1977 in England? Labor strikes, protests, riots...)  Aw, gee -- but before we can feel too self-righteous, Ray adds, "But if you've got one I'll have a machine gun / So I can scare all the kids on the street." He may sympathize with their poverty, 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 with its goofy energy. 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?

* Note: NOT Stone Cold Steve Austin, the wrestler-turned-actor, but the bionic superhero played by Lee Majors in the Six Million Dollar Man TV series, which was still on the air in 1977.


Richard Goldman said...


Mister Pleasant said...

After hearing Elton John's "Step Into Christmas" for the first time in probably 30 years, I had to cleanse my palate. And this was the song I chose to reset it. I have always heard a bit of the early Who in this one. Definitely a gift from Mr. Davies at a time when the Xmas single was about to die.

Happy New Year!

Holly A Hughes said...

Thanks, friends. Good to hear from you again, Mister Pleasant!