dinsdag 24 december 2013
The Kinks: Father Christmas b/w Prince Of The Punk (UK: Arista, Arista 153, 1977)
In the 1970s, rock bands started to write original Christmas songs instead of recording covers of classic Christmas songs. These songs would later turn into Christmas classic themselves. Everybody knows songs like Slade's 'Merry Xmas Everybody', 'Lonely This Christmas' by Mud or 'Wonderful Christmas Time' by Paul McCartney. One of the best of the original Christmas rock songs was released for Christmas 1977, the year punk broke.
The band that recorded the song was not one of the many punk bands that had sprung up all over the UK, despite the fact that the song reflected the attitude and music of punk quite well. It was a band that was big in the sixties, and had been an inspiration, because of their raw guitar sound and their energetic and hectic live shows, for the many bands being started in garages all over the US in the second half of the 1960s, bands that in turn were an inspiration for the 1970s British punk bands. Most 1970s rock Christmas song were musically rock, but their message and lyrics did not really differ that much of the Christmas standards of the past – the songs were merry, expressing the joy and fun that Christmas is supposed to bring, or were full of melancholy, longing to be with loved ones or thinking about friends lost somewhere along the way.
This song was different. It told the story of young kids who don't want Father Christmas to give them toys for Christmas, as they have no use for it – they needed money, or if not money, than at least a machine gun 'so they can scare all kids on the streets'. The lyrics were written by Ray Davies, singer / guitar player of The Kinks, a song writer known for his ability to write striking observations of the social climate of the day. He did that in the sixties, in songs like 'A Well Respected Man', 'Mr. Pleasant', 'Dedicated Follower Of Fashion' and 'David Watts' (later brilliantly covered by The Jam, in a way The Kinks of the late 1970s). He had not lost his talent to write a biting social commentary by the mid-1970s, as the song 'Father Christmas' proves.
The band already started working on the song in 1976 while recording their 1977 album 'Sleepwalker' at Konk Studios in Hornsey, London, but did not complete it, and continued working on it when they recorded the follow up of 'Sleepwalker', 1978 album 'Misfits'. The song was finished in October 1977, just in time to have it released as a single late November 1977, not only in the UK, but also in other European countries like Germany and The Netherlands.
The song was uptempo and aggressive, despite the typical Christmas bells and other Christmas sounds. The story told is that of a young kid who believed in Santa Claus, although knowing that in fact his dad was Santa Claus, to keep his stockings being filled with presents. When he is grown up, he becomes a Father Christmas himself, but the kids he meets on the street are of a different kind than he was as a kid. They don't have any respect for Father Christmas, don't care about his presents, toys that they can't use and demand from him, violently (even knocking poor old Rudolph to the floor), the only thing they really need: money. He can keep the toys, to give those 'to the little rich boys'.
And then the song takes a turn, because these boys may behave like little criminals, there is another side to it. They need the money as their father is without a job and can't feed his family. They need bread, to feed the hungry mouth of their little brothers and sisters. These boys are not nice (not at all, they want the machine gun to scare the other kids), but they are not only perpetrator, but also victim – victim of a world in which some people have so much that they can afford to give their children a Steve Austin outfit (aka the bionic man aka the six million dollar man), a cuddly toy, a jigsaw or monopoly money, while others can't even give their children bread.
Then, in a break, we, the listeners, are addressed directly: 'have yourself a merry merry christmas, have yourself a good time, but remember the kids who got nothin', while you're drinkin' down your wine'.
For those who still did not get the message of the song, this will definitely do the job. 1977 was not a nice year, and this was not a nice message, but if you really want to give Christmas some meaning, it's something you should not close your eyes to. You better try to do something about it, when you are lucky enough to buy toys for your kids, instead of not even able to buy them bread.
The B-side was not a Christmas song, but the title “Prince Of The Punks” sets also the scene for this song very firmly in 1977. The UK version of the single came in cartoon style artwork, portraying the story told in the lyrics. Despite the fact that 'Father Christmas' is now considered one of the classic Christmas rock songs, it did not chart in 1977 – not in the UK and not in the USA.
The song has been covered several times, and it is no coincidence that the covers were mostly by punk bands or hard rock bands, like for example by Green Day, Warrant and Bowling For Soup, and, most recently, this year, Bad Religion, who released their cover of 'Father Christmas' on a one sided 7” (on Epitaph Records) and The Old Firm Casuals who covered the song on their split Christmas 7” with Evil Conduct (on Randale Records). Bad Religion kept it simple, and recorded it with the basic band setup of guitar, bass and drums. The Old Firm Casuals added piano and bells, and gave it a little bit more of a Christmas feeling.
The original version of The Kinks stood the test of time very well, and still stands out as one of the best Christmas rock songs ever. Not surpringly so, knowing how many great songs The Kinks have recorded.
Listen to the song here: Youtube