I own an album called Golden Throats which is a compiliation of actors singing famous songs like Sebastian Cabot speaking “It Ain’t Me babe” and William Shatner overacting mindboggling to “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”, Mae West’s gentrified orgasmic “Twist And Shout” and Jack Webb speaking “Try A Little Tenderness”. And now we can add Bob Dylan to the list. With all due respect to Contributing Editor Michael Nessing, and only three songs in, Dylan is funning us -he can’t be serious.
A coupla caveats here. Firstly, all proceeds from Dylan’s seasonal album Christmas In the Heart are going to charities such as “Feeding America” and many others. And second, Dylan is a Grandpa and a family man big time from what I hear (and I hear: my friend Dede Smith was close to his late mother and Dede tells me Dylan was a very caring son who showed up all the time). So he probably the process by singing to his Grandkids.
BUT this is a bad idea. Maybe as “Here Comes Santa Claus” can be taken as an easy sweet nothing, a cute take with Holiday chorus like on every Spend Christmas With Andy Williams you’ve ever seen. All that’s missing is the knitted sweater and chestnuts. Perhaps there is nothing left to add to this song though I’ve heard it a coupla billion of times though it’s the first time I’ve really caught “Let’s give thanks to the Lord above…”. However, it really, really, really sucks. “Winter Wonderland” with sleigh bells ringing and chick background singers holding his hand all the way and Dylan giving it an “aw shucks” cheerfulness that is plainly revolting.
I can forgive both of those songs as a sort of Golden Throats don’t take it all so seriously but Dylan has been known to cover a song or two. “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” is one of three greatest secular Christmas songs of all times. Here is how it goes and in order:
Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) – Darlene Love
Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas – Judy Garland
Merry Christmas (War IS Over If you Want It – John Lennon
At least “Merry Little christmas” Dylan needed to give a bravura vocal performance, he needed to add something, he needed to reach inwards. During the movie Meet Me In St. Louis, Judy sings it to her sister while worrying about family members fighting overseas. The writer Hugh Martin initially included darker lyrics including “Have yourself a merry little Christmas, it may be your last, next year we may all be living in the past”. Dylan, in two fine albums from the eighties, World Gone Wrong and Good As I’ve Been To You, took on American folk music, stuff like “Frankie And Johnny” and “Froggies Come ‘Acourtin'”. He didn’t simply Dylanize them -he rethought them and gave them the attention they deserved. Even on Self Portrait -covering the Everly Brothers, he gave serious versions of the songs. This “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” is awful. He doesn’t even try to sing it and he certainly doesn’t begin to think it through, any undercurrent Hugh Martin gave -stuff that should be catnip to an artist like Dylan, something he could’ve have transformed out of decades of schmaltz and he just sleepwalks through it. No, it isn’t awful. It’s nothing. It doesn’t exist.
We have a word for this stuff where I come from: rip off. Your turn, Nessing.
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