Remember when you were so nonchalant about the inevitability of Christmas privilege? Time off work for the holiday season, a few messy coke sessions with colleagues, maybe a boozy catch up with an old friend? Going out and about, buying your bourgeois real (dead) Christmas tree? Remember how you hated all that cornball Christmas muzak piped into the department stores: Slade, Wizard, Macca’s “Wonderful Christmastime,” The Waitresses’ “Christmas Wrapping,” Nat King Cole’s “Christmas Song”?
Then along came Covid and Christmas was gone. You, my friend, were in lockdown. As each post-2020 festive season rolls into town, so will the new variants of Covid. The smart set decrees that it’s best we all hole up for the holidays and hide from disease and death. The only seasonal song you’ll be singing from here on out is “Jail Guitar Doors” by The Clash.
I tend to associate Christmas music with the records I received as gifts when I was a kid. Let’s go back to 1978 (a very good year for moptop Scousers with scotch in their coke). I was eleven years old. For Christmas I received A Collection of Beatles and The Shadows’ 20 Golden Greats. This was like being taken up by the mothership and being shown the holy grail. What more does a preteen need? The Beatles’s Oldies (But Goldies) was the only compilation released while all four ex-Fabs were still alive. For my LSD (pounds, shilling and pence), it’s still the essential collection. And it’s kind of cool that it stops in 1966. As for The Shadows’ 20 Golden Greats, if there’s more proof that Cliff Richards’s backing group invented psychedelia and God, I don’t know where you’d find it.
On to Christmas 1979. It was great: the BBC showed all the Beatles’ films on TV for quite possibly the first time since their original releases. On the other hand, some well-meaning bad auntie gave me the soundtrack to Grease, and, worse still, Pink Floyd’s The Wall, that twenty-six-hour moan marathon by head dumbo and friend of Julian Assange Roger Waters, a concept album about being a thick rock star. Unmerry Christmas and an unhappy new year.
Christmas 1980, however, was a killer. I don’t remember scoring any cool record, but I do remember going down to the record shop in late December and coming back home with the two-record set of Unicorn and A Beard of Stars (1969-70) by Tyrannosaurus Rex. These were cosmic groover Marc Bolan’s last two outings of pre-fame magickal otherness before the teens ripped him to shreds and fried his mojo. Bolan had only died three years before I bought the record. By 1980, his corpse was already a has-been.
Stuff was starting to get real. Underneath the tree in 1981 was Totale’s Turns, the Fall’s ultra-lo-fi, shamanic, mostly live album, recorded in northern British workingmen’s clubs. Oddly, perhaps, the Fall recorded enough Christmas songs over the years to make up a double album. One of these is “No Xmas For John Quays” on the aforementioned Totale’s Turns. For those not in the know, “John Quays” is a play on the word “junkies.” Its lyrics seem to list what a drug fiend might use on a solo-Xmas binge: cigarettes, undefined powders, headache tablets, etc.
In 1985, when the rest of the world was bouncing up and down to Band Aid’s “Feed the World,” I received a copy of the accompanying book. Appalled, I announced to my parents that there was no way in the world I was accepting this gift. I would be taking it back to the shop and exchanging it for cash to buy some actual, righteous Rock ’n’ Roll. Taken aback by my lack of virtue, my parents sighed wearily, said good luck with that (sarcastically) and probably thought that I would be taught a valuable moral lesson by an upstanding record shop assistant.
To be fair to my ungrateful and uncharitable self, this probably wasn’t the worst place that the money from Bob Geldof’s well-meaning cause ended up. A few days after Christmas, I exchanged the Band Aid souvenir for a copy of Iggy and The Stooges’ semi-bootleg I’m Sick Of You on Bomp! Records. (I still have it.) No one has bought me a record for Christmas since.
This article was originally published in The Spectator’s December 2021 World edition.