Among other things, Christmas is a great time for being maudlin and suicidal. If your Christmas depression isn’t sufficiently aggravated by rampant commercialism and insincere offers of Good Will Toward Men, there’s always some miserable Christmas song playing in a public place to add a pang to your holidays. To facilitate your seasonal affective disorder, we have identified five of the most down-bringing.
Shake Me I Rattle (Squeeze Me I Cry), Marion Worth. This 1963 hit was designed to jerk tears, but we wonder if its creators knew just how far they were going. The singer, wandering a snowy street at Yuletide, sees a little girl mooning over a doll in a store window, and recalls when she was a girl and wanted the same doll, but was “just a penny shy,” and so presumably spent Christmas heartbroken. She goes into the shop and buys the girl the doll, a rash act clearly prompted by her own childhood trauma. Can even the child’s gratitude, which is not recorded, overcome her festering sorrow? Isn’t a plastic doll that rattles and cries really a pathetic substitute for the absent love that sent both the apparently unaccompanied child and the strangely impulsive singer into the streets when they should have been home with family and friends, if in fact they have any? These questions have haunted us for years.
Silent Night/7 o’clock News, Simon & Garfunkel. In this thuddingly coarse attempt at relevance, Paul and Art sing the old hymn angelically while a news commentator recounts horrific 60s headlines of war, death, and political turmoil (“Lenny Bruce died of what was believed to be an overdose of narcotics,” “the nurses were found stabbed and strangled in their Chicago apartments,” etc). Take that, Perry Como!
Do They Know It’s Christmas?, Band Aid. It was always horrible (“Tonight thank God it’s them instead of you” — really makes ya think!), but the years since this pioneering bit of pop star self-importance surfaced have rendered it even more intolerable. For one thing, it seems even less cool now for a bunch of white people to tell us that Africa is a place “where nothing ever grows.” Also, if you’re into “vintage” synth sounds, this will cure you right quick. Bonus depressor: if you were around in 1984, you might have had hair like this.
All Through The Night, Lou Reed. Oh boy, it’s an experimental binaural New York Christmas party with Lou Reed and his drug-addicted friends! “Christmas comes only once a year/why can’t anybody shed just one tear/for things that don’t happen all through the night?” Come back on New Year’s Eve, when the bearded old man wearing last year’s banner dies of an overdose. For a mellower Xmas bringdown, see Reed’s “Christmas in February.”
Happy Christmas/War is Over, Celine Dion and Gloria Estefan. Face it: this song was never very good — it sounds suspiciously like an old Jamaica tourism jingle, and the grim, hectoring tone is very hard to take, especially from rich hippies (“And what have you done?” We had a bed-in, asshole). Still, it was John and Yoko and Phil Spector, so we went along with the gag. But hand it over to Celine Dion, Gloria Estefan, and a heavily made-up children’s choir, and it’s reduced to utter crap, especially around 2:30 when Celine starts to get jiggy with it. This version makes us hate not only Christmas, but also peace on earth and music.
BONUS! Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Father Christmas. “They sold me a dream of Christmas/They sold me a Silent Night.” But all ELP really got was rock stardom and this chance to tell their teenage male fans that it’s all bullshit, with musical quotes from Prokofiev’s Lieutenant Kije Suite to prove that they’re cultured. We get the Christmas songs we deserve!