‘Tis the season, and so I asked Polari writers to tell me what their favourite seasonal song is and why. Yes, I called it Christmas in the title. I was brought up as an atheist – which made two old women from the local church look at me with pity and sadness when they came to my door to talk about the Lord – but I like the word. So to Christmas, the Winter Solstice, Hanukkah, Chrismukkah, Surfing Season … alright, I made that last one up. Anyway …
A Silent Night With You, Tori Amos
This song is equal parts hope and melancholy, and I think that fits the mood at the end of year rather than the happy-skippy-jumpy claptrap that dulls the mind and the senses. It’s like Lennon’s Happy Christmas (War is Over) that way – even though I can’t stand that song. It’s a bit soppy, too, and it makes me feel warm inside. It’s Tori Amos at her best and brightest.
The Power of Love, Frankie Goes to Hollywood
The first time I heard the opening lyric, “I’ll protect you from the Hooded Claw, keep the vampires from your door”, I was sold. This track has one of the most beautiful melodies ever written and the production is flawless; sparse yet grand and never overbearing. The sincerity of Holly Johnson’s delivery keeps the song from grandiloquence and shapes it into something that is noble, exemplifying all that is good and genuine about the season.
Christmas (baby please come home), Darlene Love
My favourite Christmas song is ‘Christmas (baby please come home)’ by Darlene Love. I’d love to say it’s because it was a Phil Spector classic, or because it evokes a sense of joy and melancholy simultaneously or something musically pretentious. The truth is, it’s the opening song in the movie Gremlins which in itself is one of my favourite Christmas movies of all time (paging Dr Freud).
Clementine, the Living Fashion Doll:
Santa Clause Is Coming To Town, Phil Spector’s The Crystals
It encapsulates the mid-sixties consumer merchandise boom and optimism in one hair-sprayed, glittery, mini-skirted retro futuristic rush. Its like staring at a disco ball without your contacts, or getting blasted with high pressure glitter. Gets you excited yet empty inside, thus a Christmas classic.
O Little Town of Bethlehem, Traditional
… Or anything with archaic pronouns like ye and thou in – those old-fashioned carols remind me of idyllic school assemblies in the 1970s – the mild religious brainwashing didn’t “take” obviously, but those sedate songs are still a lot nicer than the giddy, poppy Christmas songs that all the shops play nowadays (Slade, I am thinking of you).
River, Joni Mitchell
It’s a reminder that Christmas shouldn’t always be cheerful, and is possibly the only song to ever make ‘Jingle Bells’ sound melancholic. It’s the perfect antidote to the usual saccharin holiday cheer that’s forced up on us!
River, Sarah McLachlan
I heard Sarah McLachlan’s cover of ‘River’ first before I heard Joni’s. That always ruins an original for me. It’s like seeing the movie before you read the book. But I’ve always been a huge Sarah McLachlan fan and her Wintersong album has to be the best Christmas record I’ve ever heard. I love the sense of longing and sadness that it evokes. It strokes upon the gloominess always woven into all the warmth and happiness of the season.
The Little Drummer Boy, written by Katherine Kennington Davis in 1941
Who could fail to respond to such a classic lyric as ‘Pa Rum Pum Pum Pum’? From Bing Crosby to Justin Bieber (mmm, Bieber!) it has proved irresistible.
My Little Drum, Vince Guaraldi Trio
The soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas is probably the one and only Christmas album I never tire of. I could play this thing in the dead heat of summer and feel the chill of winter. There’s something about Vince Guaraldi’s cool jazz arrangement of ‘Little Drummer Boy’ though. Like most of the album, it greatly benefits from the children’s choir, which ads an appropriate coldness that flows over the piano tones like a snow-filled wind. Brrrr
Gay’s the Word:
Fairytale of New York, The Pogues and Kirsty McColl
It is simply the best Christmas song ever, oh, and it’s the only Christmas song that contains the line “you cheap lousy faggot”.
I Have a Little Dreidel, Traditional
In school when I was a child (in the US), we had Christmas pageants every year, complete with singing and someone dressed up as Santa Claus. As a Jewish child, I felt quite left out of all this – not least when Christian classmates announced that they didn’t like Jews because Jews had killed Christ! But I was pleased when my school included a Hanukkah song in the line-up for those pageants. I felt a little less outside the holiday celebrations then. I’d go with the dreidel one, because it signaled a new, growing awareness of multiculturalism in the US.
This Christmas, Donny Hathaway
I discovered this song later in my life so it was a godsend. It was played constantly for years at my favorite ever job. It’s soulful and warm.
Mr. Hanky the Christmas Poo, Cowboy Timmy
Because everyone needs something to believe in when the Santa myth is exposed.
Happy New Year, ABBA
More a post Christmas song… But few can deny that this well timed, melancholic aftertaste of the Christmas celebrations is the embodiment of a tonne of left over turkey filling the fridge and the fallen pine needles in the carpet and in your bare feet, “may we all have our hopes, our will to try, if we don’t we might as well lay down and die”. Cheery stuff to remind you that there is just 358 shopping days until Christmas! But that’s the joy of it. After a month of goodwill to all this song brings you back to normality saying It’s actually ok to feel sad, “dragging on, feet of clay” – love it.