Of the three best Christmas songs of all time (secular division, no “Good King Wenceslas” here) two of them were written by Jewish people and all three are about absence. “White Christmas” is a dream of a condition that doesn’t exist, “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” is a cry of the heart to absent loved ones, and “ Christmas (Baby Please come Home)” is a plea to make up not answered in the confines of the song (Though every time Letterman hugs Darlene it kinda is)
All of these songs are about Christmas as a tangible reason for a return to a common good. Here is the original first verse of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”:
“Have yourself a merry little Christmas
It may be your last
Next year we may all be living in the past
Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Pop that champagne cork
Next year we may all be living in New York
No good times like the olden days
Happy golden days of yore
Faithful friends who were dear to us
Will be near to us no more
But at least we all will be together
If the Lord allows
From now on, we’ll have to muddle through somehow
So have yourself a merry little Christmas now”
Bummer right, but is it any surprise that the saddest songs make the greatest of Christmas songs? My fave three goes Judy, Bing, Darlene, and best three flips Bing for Judy. Bing has a powerful but underplayed voice, it is a baritone that doesn’t blurt it seems to burr, it buries itself deep and therein lies its barely concealed worriedness. There is something so finite about “may your days be merry and bright”, it places an end to the happiness, a closing down somewhere not so far away. I mean, we all know we’re going to die and sooner rather than later, so how is our salvation tied to our imminent demise in such a close knitted bundle helpful to a song of joy?
What I am claiming, about all three songs, is they are death songs. It dreams of something that doesn’t exist and then ties the dream to our death. Good? More. Brilliant because it is instant nostalgia, we are missing what we are hearing, and dreaming of it happening as it happens.
“Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” is a deeper death song, it is the hope of the hope, a dirge with only the slightest glimmer of hope, thinking back to the days of yore, and if the fates allow (geez –right?) plus the best line in all three songs “we’ll have to muddle through somehow”. I always thought this song happened while everyone was off to war, but apparently I made that up. No, all that is happening is Daddy is moving em to New York and Judy is singing it to her kid sister and NOBODY IS HAPPY.
“Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” is by Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry along with Phil Spector,, but cmon, get real, this is Spector and it is a gift to the world, a heartbreaker of such monumental proportions that even U2 couldn’t over play it.
Oh, and if I had another Christmas song, a # 4? “Merry Xmas (War Is Over if You Want It)” a song of so much hope and so so much poignancy it wrenches you to listen to it.
Merry Christmas John, Merry Christmas Yoko
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