I finally heard a song from the She & Him Christmas album tonight, and as I suspected I would, I enjoyed it as much as I enjoy their non-seasonal stuff. Which is to say, I didn’t.
I’d rather sit through a special two-hour Christmas concert featuring the Singing Dogs, than listen to Zooey Deschanel spastically rush her warbly way through the horny male aggressor’s lines of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” again. One listen was all it took to send that rendition to the number three position on my personal list of the worst Christmas songs ever.
Number one, of course, will probably always be “The Christmas Shoes,” by NewSong (or anyone else, for that matter). Notice how I didn’t provide a link, the way I did for the Dogs and Deschanel? That’s probably because I’m feeling the Christmas spirit, and just couldn’t bring myself to inflict the song on you. You’re welcome. This song is a shameless, manipulative, and cliched play on the listener’s emotions — one that’s horribly written, to boot.
Holding the second position is a song that I nevertheless listen to when it’s on, in spite of myself. The music is interesting and I like some of the vocals, but frankly, Do They Know It’s Christmas? ticks me off on general principle.
I’m not finding fault with the project itself; Bob Geldof had a huge heart, and it’s wonderful that Band Aid raised $14 million for famine relief in Ethiopia. Where I have a problem is in the way they did it — by putting the burden on their fans.
What did the musicians do, anyway? They showed up for a day, played a song, and partied. The whole world talked afterward about how generous they were, but what, exactly, did they give to the cause? It didn’t cost them anything to play a song written by someone else and sing less than a stanza each on average; what’s so magnanimous about donating the proceeds from that piddling effort? They didn’t exactly earn that money to begin with.
Consumers were the ones who put up the money; we bought the single in record-breaking quantities. We were the only ones with skin in the game. Band Aid didn’t raise $14 million; we did!
These guys were megastars in their day; probably any one of them could have donated $14 million on his own without blinking an eye. Face it — they were the one percent of their day, and they put the onus on the other 99.
I also have a huge problem with the way they went about putting said onus on us — they did it with what was essentially a huge guilt trip. It starts with the lyrics; I can’t think of any other Christmas song so lyrically dark. They really set the mood, caroling joyfully about things like dread, fear, “the bitter Sting of tears” and of course, the merrily “clanging chimes of doom.”
As if those weren’t the hap, hap, happiest topics ever, there’s also the sleeve for the original single release. It had such promise, considering its designer was Peter Blake, best known for the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band cover. It had the same collage-style approach, including mismatched pastes of various Victorian and Christmas images, evoking warm feelings of nostalgia — until you see the two starving Ethiopian children in the center. If that doesn’t make you feel like it’s the most wonderful time of the year, I don’t know what will.
But of course it wasn’t meant to bring on the warm-and-fuzzies; rather, it was a calculated attempt to shame the consumer into feeling responsible for a nature-made famine. As was the entire song. They might as well have included a Sally Struthers infomercial.
If you don’t believe me, go watch the video again. Fast forward to 1:22 and watch as Bono, the king of sanctimony, prepares to deliver his showstopper of a line — you know the one I’m talking about. Watch him wind up, revving his shoulders as he straightens himself to his full five and a half feet in anticipation. He’s almost orgasmic as they cut to his solo bombshell — come on and scream it with me; you know you remember it — “Well, tonight, thank God it’s them instead of you!”
Oh. My. God.
Is there anyone out there who doesn’t cringe when they hear that line? There’s been a lot of controversy surrounding it over the years, and to his credit, Bono allegedly asked Geldof to change the lyric because he didn’t feel comfortable with it. I’m not sure I believe that, though — not after watching him exhaust himself so when he delivered it in the video. I’m pretty sure he must have craved a cigarette after that performance.
The controversy is over whether the lyric is sarcastic or serious. Some people hear it and think, What a selfish thing to say! Others tell them not to be stupid; obviously it wasn’t meant to be taken at face value. I agree with that assessment, but I also tend to think that doesn’t necessarily make the line any more palatable. As sarcasm, it’s meant to make us feel bad for not being the ones who are starving. Either way, it’s a pretty rotten sentiment to have shoved down our throats.
And by the way, do I really need Boy George, the poster child for self-destructive hedonism, lecturing me on how to care for my fellow man? He couldn’t even be bothered with showing up on time for the recording! Apparently Geldof had to call George in New York, demanding he hop a Concorde in order to honor the commitment he had made the previous day to come to London for the recording.
So Boy George showed up 9-10 hours after everyone else had arrived and went directly into the sound booth, stopping only to make catty remarks about at least one of his fellow recording artists present. He wasn’t exactly throwing his arms around the world that Christmastime.
Not that it matters — according to one journalist, the event had pretty much turned into a bash by then. Wine was flowing and cocaine was lining up as these rich degenerates showed just how much they cared about putting their money to good use.
Four days later, on Nov. 29, 1984, the single was made available to an adoring public, who immediately sent it to the number 1 spot on the UK Singles Charts. By that time, presumably, the artists were off feeding their habits while their ditty asked the rest of us to feed the world.
I hope they all got coal in their stockings that year.