Shooting blanks from the Christmas canon

christmas-carolers-1Everybody loves the Christmas classics: “Hark the Herald,” “White Christmas,” “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer.” But surely there are other songs that radio stations can play seven times a day.

There sure are. Every year, musicians around the world pen new songs they hope will become part of the Christmas canon. But it takes a certain special something to make a Christmas song stick to the psyche like cat fur on a candy cane.

Unfortunately, the following songs don’t have it.

Instead, these are some lesser-known Christmas songs that never quite took off.

Commie Christmas (1952)

Written and performed by Jerry Firestone under the name “Ivan the Bearable,” this novelty ditty suggests that the man in red actually is a Red. Firestone sings about Santa sharing the toys (property) with the children (socialist society) all over the world, thanks to the productivity of his happy elves (proletariat). It is believed to be the only Christmas song whose lyrics include the word “anarcho-syndicalist.”

Though Firestone was ostensibly promoting the merits of communism, he couldn’t hide the ideology’s more sinister side, as evidenced in these lyrics:

He sees you when you’re working
He sees you when you’re shirking
He sees when you’ve been good or bad
Heck, he sees every little thing, comrade.

Not surprisingly, most radio stations refused to air Ivan the Bearable. The song did not go unnoticed, however, and Firestone was eventually called before the House Un-American Activities Committee, where he claimed he was “just funnin’.”

Santa’s Atomic Sled (1956)

Another Christmas song that attempted to tap into the zeitgeist, this time by a band called The Neutrons. It tells of how atomic energy saves Christmas by powering Santa’s sled. Sample lyric:

See the children’s wild elation
When they feel that radiation
What a vision!
Nuclear fission!
Santa’s Atomic Sled

The punchline of the song is “now you know why Rudolph glows.” Even by 1956 standards this was a groaner. The song reached No. 72 on the charts for a week in December then disappeared. Trivia: That’s Jimmy Page on the sleigh bell.

Ennui d’Noël (1968)

Perhaps one of the bleakest Christmas songs of all time. It was written and performed by French lothario/crooner Jacques Breieillel, who was reportedly drunk at the time of recording, having just been dumped by his underage Polish girlfriend after she discovered that Breieillel had been secretly showering.

In “Ennui d’Noël,” Breieillel sings/mumbles about “Jack Frost ripping out my heart” and “Christmas lights cannot shine through the pitch black bitterness of my soul,” all of this accompanied only by an untuned piano. The song ends with Breieillel hacking on a cigarette as he contemplates fashioning the Christmas tree garland into a noose. Instead, he ends by singing, “Mais, peut-être pas. C’est Noël, non?” Too little too late.

The song remains a holiday favourite in France.

Philip Glass’s “Yuletide No. 7” (1983)

This 10-minute instrumental by the avant-garde American composer goes “doodle deedle deedle, doodle deedle deedle, doodle deedle deedle” for about two minutes, and then “deedle deedle doodle, deedle deedle doodle” for another three. Then it repeats. Virtually never played on radio, the song recently resurfaced after it was revealed that it was used as a torture technique by the CIA.

“Do They Gnaw at Christmas? (Feed the Squirrels)” (1999)

A rip-off in so many ways and, what’s worse, not even particularly timely. Coming a good forty years after The Chipmunks had their annoying novelty Christmas hit and fifteen years after the original Band Aid, The Ferrets were three “rodents” named Stanley, Teddy, and Allan who sang in chirpy voices. Unlike The Chipmunks, however, The Ferrets sang about social issues, in this case about showing kindness to squirrels at Christmas.

If that weren’t strange enough, the B side of “Do They Gnaw at Christmas” was entitled “Weasel Overcome.”

Was it sincere? A parody? Or just plain bad? Most critics agree it was the latter, although no worse a travesty than Band Aid 20 and 30.

Taken from Don’t Everyone Jump at Once, which, let’s be honest, probably won’t arrive in time for Christmas but makes a lovely New Year’s present.


About rossmurray1

I'm Canadian so I pronounce it "Aboot." No, I don't! I don't know any Canadian who says "aboot." Damnable lies! But I do know this Canadian is all about humour (with a U) and satire. Come by. I don't bite, or as we Canadians say, "beet."
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41 Responses to Shooting blanks from the Christmas canon

  1. Paul says:

    All to say that it is always darkest just before it goes completely black.

  2. The Cutter says:

    None of these could possibly be worse than “Wonderful Christmastime.”

  3. R. Todd says:

    I’m a bit of a fan of Weird Al’s “The night Santa went crazy”. Although, some of those songs you described sound right up my alley. If only they would put together a compilation of those songs.. where’s Time/Life when you need them (cue up Ryan Stiles and Collin Mochrie).

  4. How have i never heard of any of these songs? They cant be as bad about the boy buying shoes for his dying mother. Good Lord thats uplifting holiday stuff.

  5. markbialczak says:

    I think you are the first critic to write about any of these Ross, and maybe the last! Although Bill at Evil Squirrel’s Nest has to find out about Feed the Squirrels if he hasn’t heard of them yet.

  6. Perennial Christmas classic is a tough category to crack. Just ask Black Sabbath. They’ve been around a long time and their War Pig’s Christmas hasn’t caught on yet.

    I’m wondering where the Jimmy Page reference came from. Were you aware that, before Led Zep, he was a respected studio musician? Have you ever heard Shrily Bassey’s Goldfinger? That’s Page on guitar. He’s on some Herman’s Hermits recordings as well.

  7. Ned's Blog says:

    You had me at “Jack Frost ripping out my heart.” I must get this song and learn to sing it in French. I already have an out-of-tune piano. It will be the best Christmas Eve ever!

    • rossmurray1 says:

      Be sure not to bathe for three days prior.

      • Ned's Blog says:

        We’re savages here; we don’t even have a bidet.

      • pinklightsabre says:

        Having just learned that it’s best to wash your hair only 2-3 times a week I’m trying that, and giving my hair a chance to adjust and not overcompensate with grease production. I’m in that overcompensation period still, though. But it does just what I want it to simply by running my fingers through it and pulling it back. It moves like a part now. Is that why they call it a part?

        • rossmurray1 says:

          Me too! Exactly this. My hair after shampooing takes on a distinctive Moe look without product. Two, three days au naturel is all the hair gell I need. Plus, every time I don’t shampoo, I feel like I’m sticking it to Big Cosmetic. Not shaving has the same appeal.

          But enough girl talk…

  8. pinklightsabre says:

    I was glad for growing up in an artistic family, with MoMA and Dada. Your Philip Glass made me think of that for some reason. I have a bad photo of the nativity scene I might roll out this season, too. These are all splendid in different ways. The French guy with the noose, all of it.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      Well, what’s Christmas music for if not triggering nostalgia? Deedle-deedle-doodle.
      I watched Grand Budapest Hotel last night. It was so wonderfully self-conscious. Some people hate that, but I don’t mind it when art winks at me.

  9. I just went to iTunes to buy Commie Christmas…it isn’t there! This is a capitalist crime. I demand, the market demands, that Commie Christmas be available on iTunes!

  10. kerbey says:

    You’ve made me dislike the French now.

  11. Elyse says:

    I”d never heard “Grandma” until a couple of years ago. I still love it. Of course my family hits me whenever I play it

    I’m going to try your playlist.

  12. pjoy93 says:

    Late to the party, but you’ve nudged an old memory. My Dad played this every year (on a 78 rpm album). Anyway, I was surprised to find it– I think the flip side was “I yust go nuts at Christmas.”

  13. List of X says:

    I’ve never heard of either of these songs, but that might just be because I barely know any Christmas songs, because I change the radio station whenever a Christmas song comes on. It’s not that I hate Christmas, it’s just I don’t listen to Bing Crosby (or whoever) or childrens songs, or that kind of retro music 11 months of the year voluntarily, so I don’t make December an exception either.

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