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Friday, 19 December 2008

Hallelujah


If there were a more appropriate Christmas no 1 I can’t think of it. I personally prefer the Jeff Buckley version, closely followed by Len’s and then Anthony and the Johnsons. I can’t get it out of my head. And is it just me but what’s happened to the other Christmas songs: have they been banished by this stunner. Not even “Fairytale in New York”, or Slade’s “Merry Christmas” are being played. Which is a bit of a shame. Because for me, at least, the Christmas single is possibly the most apposite manifestation of the season.

Greg Lake’s "I believe in Father Christmas" is a hugely bitter sweet offering – with its anger at the disappointment, the broken promises and child like innocence. The bitterness of the lyrics contrast with the triumphalism of the orchestration, it’s that which creates the excitement. Wham’s “Last Christmas” is redolent with yearning for a love lost at a time that should be full of love, joy and belonging. I think it is great.

Of course Cohen’s Hallelujah has nothing to do with Christmas, but nor has the Gloria from Handel’s "Messiah" , but no one would dare stop performing it because of that. The trouble with many Christmas songs is that they’re too trite and worse still too infantile. I remember, with a sense of collective embarrassment for my generation, Dora Bryan’s “ All I want for Christmas is a Beatle”, based on “All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth”. It was exploitative, climbing on the” Fab Four” Bandwagon, but it was so childish. A real contradiction – a song aimed at the teen market but with lyrics of a four year old. Mind you we teenagers in 1963/64 were not that adult.

I don’t class songs which bring up to date the Christmas theme as proper Christmas tunes. So “Rocking around the Christmas Tree” and “Rockin’ Robin”, don’t ,for me, count. Nor does Shakin Stevens “Merry Christmas Everybody” and many other, although I have a soft spot fro Mud’s “Lonely this Christmas”. Lennon’s “Merry Christmas (War is Over)” is one of those song which would have been best left unwritten.

So where in the pantheon of Christmas hits sits Wizzard’s “I Wish it could be Christmas Everyday”? Near the top I expect– it’s such a good tune and wonderfully up beat. But my favourite has to be Jona Lewie’s “Stop the Cavalry” – which was never intended as a Christmas song.

Christmas is the appearance of hope in the midst of darkness, cold and hardship. And the recognition that from now on all has changed. T.S. Elliot’s “The Journey of the Magi” sums that up wonderfully

“A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter….
……..were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.”

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