Sappy Christmas songs are awful - except this one
Scott Hudson, For the Argus Leade
December 23, 2015
It’s pretty obvious to say that I’m not the most sentimental guy, especially when it comes to music. I find most songs that are written to elicit emotion to be nothing more than trite, overwrought drivel, usually delivered by the worst types of bands and vocalists.
John Lennon and Yoko Ono wrote "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)". (Photo: publicity photo)
This is especially true with Christmas songs. It’s not cheaper prices that has led me to shop online for most of my Christmas gifts. It’s the music that keeps me out of stores. I’d love to spend an entire holiday season without hearing the likes of Mariah Carey, Wham, Paul McCartney and Michael Buble.
Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. Chuck Berry’s “Run Rudolph Run” is a classic, as are other, more rocking Christmas songs by Elvis Presley, Bruce Springsteen, Slade and the Kinks. Phil Spector’s classic Christmas album always gets a spin at some point in December, and I’ve also put together a handful of Live Ledge punk rock Christmas shows over the years.
There’s really only one song of this type that captures my heart, though. It’s one that I’ll always crank up the volume no matter where I’m at. At the right moment, I may even have to shed a tear or two.
The song in question is John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)”, and there are many reasons why this song elicits a bit of emotion. It is obviously one of Lennon’s great pop melodies, but as Caryn Rose recently wrote for Bitter Empire, it’s “first and foremost, a protest song. ... It was John wrapping a serious message inside a more palatable wrapper.”
Yet it really wasn’t until many years later that this 1971 single truly placed itself in my ever-growing list of essential and influential favorites. Like millions of Americans, I learned about Lennon’s Dec. 8, 1980, murder while watching “Monday Night Football.” Even 35 years later, it seems strange that I received the news from Howard Cosell.
Since our family had recently purchased a brand-new piece of equipment called a “videocassette recorder” (at a price of more than $1,000 and a weight close to 30 pounds), over the next few days I taped every Lennon-oriented item. Tape after tape was filled with interviews, retrospectives, national news and even local news reports. Already a Beatles fanatic anyway, I marveled at the old footage I had never seen before.
Over the course of the next few weeks, a handful of songs began eliciting emotional responses. “Imagine” was an obvious one, of course, but “In My Life” quickly jumped to the top spot. The combination of that song’s theme of childhood nostalgia and the fact that it wasn’t an overplayed old hit made it the “theme” of this tragedy.
But “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” is the other song that will always remind me of the era. Obviously, one reason is because Lennon’s murder happened during the holiday season. This was a song that I’d hear anyway throughout the month of December, but to have the creator of this song gunned down on the streets of New York just added to the tragedy.
It’s also the song that most accurately reflects Lennon’s post-Beatles life. It’s his most successful collaboration with his unfairly criticized wife, and Spector’s re-creation of his famed “wall of sound” was stronger than what he had earlier brought to the “Give Peace a Chance” single and the “Imagine” album.
It also reflected his political beliefs that first became known with “Give Peace a Chance” and were sustained throughout the rest of his life. It’s this simple stance that ultimately led to FBI investigations and deportation hearings.
Now, 44 years later, this song and its message are as important as ever. School shootings, ISIS, civil wars and a contentious presidential campaign have led to nothing but anger, phony “War on Christmas” news stories and even more violence. So as you celebrate this holiday season leading into the new year, take this line of the song to heart — “Let’s hope it’s a good one, without any fears.”