5) Band Aid 30 – Do They Know It’s Christmas?
Yes, I know the most recent (and, surely last?) outing of the Band Aid franchise has already had a kicking. But it’s Christmas, and there’s always more to go around!
It’s proper bad, isn’t it? I mean, leaving aside the argument that it’s patronising, hackneyed, and actually does more harm than good, the biggest problem for me is it’s so fucking dreary. For its myriad faults, at least the original had some enthusiasm, some gusto, the sense that this raggle-taggle band of 80s popsters could actually do some good in the world. And to give Band Aid 20 a modicum of credit, it did try and update the format a little with some new-fangled ‘rapping’ from Dizzee Rascal.
But this version is so drab and depressing, a smug marketing exercise for artists that think it will help their career in some intangible way. Well, it won’t. Just look at the sadness in Bono’s eyes. His famous line used to be a high point of the song: provocative and heartfelt, it was the closest the song ever got to humility. But its replacement – “Tonight we’re reaching out and touching you” – is awful, betraying the embarrassing, creepy paternalism that is the real heart of the song.
Go and donate money to the Ebola Crisis Fund. Don’t listen to the track.
4) Carol of the Bells – Mykola Leontovych
To be clear, I’ve got absolutely nothing against this wonderful piece of music in general. But as a Christmas song? To my mind, it fails to meet the ‘festive spirit’ part of the brief, instead going a slightly different direction towards ‘absolutely horrifying’.
I like to imagine it came about when a lyricist got a commission to write a lovely Christmas carol – “Hark! How the bells all seem to say, ‘Throw cares away’!” – but the composer was accidentally tasked with scoring the bloody chase scene for a horror movie. “Minor key, creepy Ukranian folk tune, piercing treble melody, stabbing counter-harmony! I’m onto a winner here! Wait… what?”
For people of a certain age, the song also inspires the residual feeling that you should be running back to your abandoned home to set up traps in order to ward off Joe Pesci and the other one whilst your Mom drives home with Uncle Buck and his polka band (I didn’t pay much attention to movies as a child). But I think the song is scary however you hear it. I can’t listen without ending up singing, “Christmas is here, bringing good cheer, run for your life, RUN FOR YOUR LIFE, YOU’RE GOING TO DIE!!!”
3) Paul McCartney –Wonderful Christmas Time
This is the song that typifies everything that was mediocre, wet, and grasping about post-Beatles McCartney. Whilst Lennon sang ‘War is Over’ and played with the juxtaposition between festive goodwill and the fact that for the rest of the year we bomb the shit out of each other, Paul took the slightly less challenging route of bibbling cliché after God-awful cliché over a horrible synth organ.
Full disclosure, I actually wrote the first paragraph without even listening to the song. Imagine my horror when I clicked the YouTube link to find it’s almost four minutes long. FOUR MINUTES! Oh, it’s so shit. “The word is out / About the town / To lift a glass / And don’t look down.” Meaningless drivel. And the ‘Ding Dong Ding Dong Ding Dong’ bit – it’s so lazy and trite and forced-smile desperate.
If you were actually having such a wonderful Christmas time, Paul, you wouldn’t need to tell us so Goddam much. Turn off the synth and go back to your Nut Roast.
2) All I Want for Christmas is You – Mariah Carey & Justin Bieber
Where to begin? There’s so much about this song to make the skin crawl that it’s almost impossible to watch the video without averting or in some way covering your eyes. It doesn’t just demonstrate everything that’s wrong with the commercialisation of Christmas and the shallow nature of pop music; I think in a way this song represents everything wrong with Western society and spells our inevitable doom.
Okay, first things first. It’s unbelievably crass that some record exec should have decided to re-record what was already a relatively iffy song in order to milk the pocket money of Tweenies who don’t know any better. Crass, but unsurprising. Not content with that, some bright spark also realised they could use the entire music video as an embedded advertisement for a range of products designed to milk the hard-earned money from the Tweenies’ parents. Again, sad, but sadly not shocking.
What really gets me though is poor Mariah. She’s not someone I often feel sympathy for, but just look into her eyes when she’s doing the sexy-Santa-outfit take-me-up-against-the-wall pout. It’s true despair. She was 41 when this video was made and she’s singing ‘All I Want for Christmas is You’ to an 18-year old bellend for whom every fucking day is Christmas and who wasn’t even born when her career was at its peak.
I don’t actually blame Bieber for being such an objectionable shit – how could he be otherwise? But Mariah – she knows she’s at the end of the giddy popstar rollercoaster, and she’s feeling queezy. The industry has chewed her up and spat her out into a ghastly plastic sleigh whilst all about her pre-pubescent Beliebers prance in a frenzied capitalist dreamscape. I imagine ‘Carol of the Bells’ was playing in her head throughout the entire filming process. Sheer horror.
1) Fairytale of New York – Ronan Keating & Moya Brennan
Controversially, the same song tops both of my lists, the greatness of the former version making this piece-of-shit, sterile, soft-focus, lump-of-coal-in-your-stocking all the more contemptible by comparison.
Oh, it makes me angry.
The sheer temerity (I’m typing in falsetto, if you’re wondering), the breathtaking arrogance of attempting to cover this song makes my brain just give up and start eating itself.
“Hi, Mona? This is Ronan. Yeah, listen, you know that song ‘Fairytale of New York’? I don’t think that anyone out there has ever really nailed it. I think the iconic version is still to be recorded – and I think we should be the ones to do it!”
So, what did they do? Well, they polished it up, bathed it in reverb, took out the lilting rhythms of some of the best Irish musicians in the world, and made it a pop song. Keating sings the intro pitch-perfectly, rather than singing it how it should be sung (i.e. pissed out of your mind, swaying wildly with a bottle of whisky in hand). Brennan worsens things by singing the verses in a twee, bouncy pixie-warble, thus dissipating any sense of urgency, danger, or anger from the song. And then, horror upon horror upon stomach-turning horror, Ronan re-enters doing an impression (falsetto again) of Shane McGowan.
The bastards. The utter bastards. And the thing is, they knew what they were doing. They thought the world needed a sanitised version of the song: they thought Christmas would be better served if they changed the line “you scumbag, you maggot, you cheap, lousy faggot” to “you’re cheap and you’re haggard.”
It’s an unforgivable crime against music and pisses on the grave a music legend. Everyone involved in the making of this abomination should be ashamed to call themselves a musician.