On music at Christmas.

Don’t get too down in the dumps, it will all soon be over. I’m not talking about Brexit, and certainly not the other thing, but instead a befoulment of the senses that keeps coming back, again and again and again; like a boomerang made of shit – the music. The music at Christmas. God almighty is it awful: there’s a reason why I’ve written about it more than once. Even the ‘good’ Christmas songs are harrowing at best and redeemed only slightly because they don’t sound quite as uncomfortable as a drill going through bone. I’d like to say you could count the number of genuinely great Christmas songs on one hand but that would realistically only apply if it was the hand of a blind, nervous, knife sharpener. We’ve had almost nothing but this background fog of aural silage since the end of November, but like I say it will soon be over for another year.

Perhaps I’m exaggerating. The Phil Spector Christmas record is uniformly pretty solid and I’ve always been quietly fond of that Shakin’ Stevens song, but beyond that I’m starting to struggle. I’ve heard (we’ve all heard) the Slade offering so often that I can now only describe it as fucking horrendous, and that goes for those by Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen and Chris Rea. Some blowjob hipster will always try to explain how good ‘Fairytale of New York’ is but if anything that’s the most overrated and therefore extra distressing of the lot: just because it’s Irish doesn’t automatically make it untouchable, if anything it’s got too much fiddly-dee and not a lot else. Granted, I’m not in such a foul mood to declare Mariah’s little glitterball of a festive cracker a total write off but it is getting a little more tiresome with each year. Reinforcing the notion that no cow is sacred when it comes to Christmas, I can easily identify the worst present I bought Wifey this year: ‘A Holly Dolly Christmas’, an album so bad it has almost undermined the decades of goodwill she has worked so hard to accumulate, and a collection of songs akin to the very worst strains of medieval torture. Still, it’s Dolly Parton so I’ll forgive her; just don’t do it again.

Somewhat predictably the best moments of music I’ve encountered this Christmas have had nothing to do with Santa, Jesus or Dolly. Amongst my stocking treats this year was Harry Style’s second album (yes, read that again if you want) which I requested (no, it wasn’t a mistake) mainly because he’s turned out to be far less annoying than I expected him to be and also because the song ‘Adore You’ is pretty much perfect pop to me. I also got given Elton John’s autobiography and am easing myself into him, sorry, the book, safe in the knowledge that he is a wondrously unique pop star with a musically legacy that is not far off being bullet proof. You would never hear me saying I was his greatest fan but I have a huge respect for him, and the dozen plus albums of his that I own represents a genuine fondness for his greatest gear (not including ‘Step Into Christmas’, which is almost atrocious).

Moving up the ladder a couple of rungs I watched two documentaries on Boxing Day which proved to be the cherries on the cake. The first was on The Bee Gees, who are, or rather were, a bloody good act; or as a good chum of mine put it simply: ‘class’. There were many touching moments and it was iced off with plenty of musical highlights, the best being a brief discussion on the merits of ‘Nights on Broadway’ which is the peak of their mountain for me. It is such an awesome song, constructed with funk, soul and golden breath, the fraternal choir hitting a peak in the middle eight as their voices slide alongside each other and then break away again to let Barry do his falsetto thing while the whole mass of the rest struts off into the distance. They had many moments of excellence after that but never came quite as close again. I am also extremely happy any time I hear (brace yourself if the Harry Styles bit surprised you) ‘Woman In Love’ by Barbara Streisand or ‘Heartbreaker’ by Dionne Warwick – both up there with the Gibb’s best work. I would like ‘Chain Reaction’ more if it wasn’t being butchered by Diana Ross, who is easily the most unsatisfactory soul ‘great’ of her generation.

The second documentary was really just the end of one, and it focused on the last years of Elvis; the Vegas show, the slow death, trapped prematurely in his twilight years, knowing he wouldn’t last long but not knowing how long exactly that might be. His was a life sped up for him against his wishes and then left trying to keep the kingdom together and failing miserably. Or did he fail, as so many suggest? It may have seemed crass, tasteless and idiotic but I am very, very fond of Elvis’ Vegas years. True, as the pounds piled up poor Elvis looked more and more desperate but you must remember that even in 1973 he still had it – that certain aura that truly no performer before or after him can claim to have had. He may have been a caged lion but he was still a bloody lion and watching him perform ‘You Gave Me A Mountain’ live from Hawaii in that year is enough to put your faith back in his kind of roar. Even with a vast backing band it was Presley who took the show to the people and he could deliver over anything on a good day. And though he really was a very sizeable unit by 1977 he could still create a deep, wounded growl in songs like ‘Hurt’, which is about as pained a bit of singing as I could care to name, and having been reminded of this it’s been floating around in my head (along with ‘Nights On Broadway’ and ‘Adore You’) for the last three days, the chief benefit of which has been to completely shut out all the Christmas crap that has been ringing out thoughtlessly, non-stop. Anyway, Christmas music is all very well in small doses (except not very well at all), but you deserve better and so I wish you a prosperous 2021 in your musical exploration and digestion; because even Covid can’t spoil that joy. Unless you catch it, of course; and I wouldn’t ever wish for that to happen.

G B Hewitt. 29.12.2020

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