Episode 8 – Christmas Songs
Welcome, welcome to a Christmas edition of New Wave Beat. I am your host, Jason D’Orazio! Before we go into some new wave Christmas songs, let’s talk about some recent news…
0:00 – New Wave News
5:31 – New Wave Christmas Songs
New Wave News
Elvis Costello’s Voiceover Role
Elvis Costello is having a busy year, and he is going to be starring in an animated series on Amazon’s streaming service. It is called “Pete the Cat”, which is based off the books of the same name. Costello sings the theme song and voices the titular cat’s father. What’s also cool is that his real-life wife voices his character’s wife. Elvis Costello talked about the new role with People Magazine, mentioning that his kids saw a sneak peek of the 1st episode. He also talked about how his father was also a musician and once shared a bill with the Beatles just as the band was breaking out. “Pete the Cat” is out December 26.
Squeeze in 2017
Salon recently posted an article about the great year Squeeze had in 2017. For instance, they released the critically-acclaimed album “The Knowledge”, and they wrapped up a tour to support it. The Cleveland-based writer of the article reviewed one of their concerts in nearby Akron. Tilbrook and Difford have known each other for about 45 years now, and that translated into great chemistry onstage. The addition of other musicians on tour, including the singer of electronic band Dirty Vegas, added to Tilbrook and Difford’s strengths. The result: an energizing and effective show. Finally, the article contained a brief, positive review of their latest album. Good for Squeeze!
In an earlier episode I talked about the musical “Our House”, based off of new wave act Madness’ songs. Well now the Go-Gos will have some of their material featured in a new romantic comedy musical called “Head Over Heels”. It will have a brief run in San Francisco before going Broadway. I would love to hear how songs like “We Got the Beat,” “Vacation,” “Our Lips Are Sealed” and of course “Head Over Heels” sound when given the Broadway treatment. The musical is the brainchild of Tony-award winning Jeff Whitty, who wrote the book at Avenue Q was based off of.
Billy Idol on the Voice
The finale of the singing competition show the Voice recently aired. In it, contestant Chloe Kohanski and Billy Idol performed a rousing duet of “White Wedding”. They were trading lines very well, and Steve Stevens rocked on at the guitar. Turns out Kohanski won the competition! News outlet San Francisco Gate jokingly said that the rendition of “White Wedding” was a “Red Wedding” for the other 3 finalists. Granted, she has a very good voice, but I think that the great song selection didn’t hurt either. Interestingly enough she was one of the contestants that country singer Blake Shelton mentored.
New Tears for Fears Video
Tears for Fears recently released a new video for the song “I Love You But I’m Lost”. The video was shot in a lounge called “Dirty Laundry” in Los Angeles. I was not crazy about the video as the narrative was kind of slow in it, and the band is only shown in an old, out-of-context photo, but the song itself has a catchy, dancy-vibe to it and is also full of lush instrumentation. In speaking with CelebMix Orzabal explained that the song is about the idea or ideal of someone who is impossible to pin down. “I Love You But I’m Lost” is part of Tears for Fears’ recent greatest-hits release, and is the 1st new music from them since 2004.
Once in a Lifetime
Music news outlet Diffuser had an article about the song “Once in a Lifetime” by the Talking Heads. It mentioned that back in 2000 lead singer David Byrne told NPR that the song is about middle-class suburban men, and how they are on autopilot, get a job, house, and family and never really asked themselves “How did I get here?”. Diffuser then discussed some of the mashups and remixes that the song has been through over the years, including links to over a dozen incarnations of the songs are samples from it. This includes the recent viral mashup with President Trump footage.
Blondie Meets Archie
For those of who who have been waiting for a Blondie/Archie crossover, you have hit the mother lode: In the Archie Comics universe the band the Archies (consisting of Archie, Jughead, and others) will be meeting Blondie on March 28. Unfortunately details are currently scarce regarding what will happen plotwise, but according to AV Club Blondie takes the reins of the band’s first recording session. It sounds interesting to say the least. Does Archie develop a crush on Deborah Harry? Inquiring minds want to know! The Archies have already met indie-rockers Chvrches classic rockers the Monkees. Artist Joe Eisma for one is pretty excited to have the Blondie crossover.
New Wave Christmas Songs
With the news discussed, let’s now go over some new wave Christmas songs from the early-to-mid ‘80s. When I was doing my research for this episode, what I realized is that most of the original new wave Christmas songs have a tinge of melancholy to them, whereas I would venture that the songs are happier in other genres. Not a bad thing, but an interesting finding in my book. Without further ado, let’s start the list…
Squeeze – Christmas Day
Let’s start of with the track “Christmas Day” by Squeeze. I spoke about Squeeze briefly last week when discussing their track “Tempted”. “Christmas Day” came out a couple of years before “Tempted”, in late 1979. It was a non-album single that unfortunately failed to chart. The song begins with a half-melancholy, half-ominous piano, and segues into a harp. Then comes Tilbrook’s as-usual terrific vocals. In the choruses, the keyboards do a progressive lowering in pitch that in my opinion creates some good anxiety to the song. Naturally, the end of the song has sleigh bells. Overall, the melody of “Christmas Day”, and even the lyrics to some degree, are representative of the Squeeze sound at the turn of the ‘80s. The lyrics are essentially a modern re-telling of the birth of Jesus Christ. Instead of horseback, Mary and Joseph drive to motel after motel but there were no vacancies in the area. They eventually find a seedy motel instead of a stable, and later Mary gives birth to Jesus, complete with modern stand-ins for the shepherds. There are other references to Christmas too: for example, the band asks where would be Christmas be without laurel and holly, and light on a pine tree. I must say, the video for “Christmas Day” is a little incongruous with Mary and Joseph looking forlorn with a stuffed donkey, which segues into shots of the band playing in front of a dance party. The placement of a computer shows that it is indeed a modern retelling of Jesus’ birth.
Pretenders – 2000 Miles
2000 Miles by the Pretenders is the next song on our list. We talked a little about the Pretenders’ background in an earlier episode, so I will jump right into the song. “2000 Miles” was released in late 1983 in advance of their album “Learning to Crawl”. A gentle 6-note guitar riff introduces the song to the audience, and it repeats throughout. While there is not a lot of variety in the melody, what is present is very good and induces a nice calm. As usual, singer Chrissie Hynde sings this one great, with enough variety in her vocal inflections to make the song quite interesting. You can hear the longing in her voice for distant or lost love in this one. Unlike most of the entries in my list, there are no bells in the song, which is a welcome change. The lyrics sound like they are about a husband who is either far away for a long time, or perhaps even passed away. Hynde implies he will be back at Christmas, but perhaps that is in spirit form. The words go on to say that it must be Christmastime because people are singing, perhaps Christmas carols, and that it is getting colder day-by-day. The video has Hynde dressed in a Salvation Army uniform in a snowy locale. It doesn’t quite match the wistful theme of the song, as it features things like a guy gleefully skiing. I think the Pretenders are not proud of the video from what I have read. But still, the song itself is great.
Siouxsie and the Banshees – Israel
A more unorthodox entry in my Christmas list is “Israel” by Siouxsie and the Banshees. This band debuted in 1978 and was rooted in punk, but sounded more arty, conflicted, and melodic.”Israel” was a standalone single in late 1980, making it the earliest entry in our Christmas list. It took me a while to realize that “Israel” has somewhat of a Christmas theme to it. Yes, there are Christmas, religious, and winter references throughout; for example words like “will they sing happy Noel”, “turning water into wine”, and “orphans in the snow”. Like several of the other songs I am going over today, along with a lot of other Siouxsie and the Banshees songs. the theme is definitely dark. I think this song is about not accepting authority at face value. Lyrics like “cheap wrappings of lies Keep your hearts alive with a song from inside” hint at this interpretation. The melody has a proto-goth feel to it, thanks to a funeral-like keyboard and lead singer Siouxsie Sioux’s brooding vocals. Her rendition of words in a certain way, for example, Israel-i-al-i-al, remind me of fellow new waver Adam Ant. The bass guitar and drums are really good and add to the atmosphere. The video for “Israel”, being an early one, is solely of the band performing the song. Frontwoman Siouxsie Sioux is decked out in a goth style, with a black shirt with the Star of David on it. Siouxsie and the Banshees would have some minor hits in the United States in the ‘80s and early ‘90s.
The Waitresses – Christmas Wrapping
Next up is “Christmas Wrapping” by two-hit wonders the Waitresses. The Waitresses formed in Akron, home of Devo, and were fronted by vocalist Patty Donahue.”Christmas Wrapping was recorded and put on a holiday compilation before their debut album. After a Christmas-sounding beginning to the song, with the ubiquitous sleigh bells, a danceable guitar track starts playing. The drums soon join in to create a track that is a little influenced by Chic or even early rap in my opinion. The subtle keyboards also add good flavor to the song. The chorus has a short-but-good horn track to it as well. While Donahue isn’t quite in “Bah humbug” territory, she just wants the holiday to go by without fanfare. Donahue half-sings, half-raps the lyrics, and does it with an air of resignation, kind of like she knows the narrator will be overwhelmed by Christmas despite her efforts. The narrator endures holiday setbacks, like finding only scrawny turkeys. But her fortune reverses toward the end of the narrative as the singer meets her year-long crush in a grocery store, laughing and bonding because they both forgot the cranberry sauce. That puts her back in the holiday spirit. I like this song because it encapsulates the mad rush that people go through in the run-up to Christmas. Allegedly the song reflects the attitude some of the band members had about Christmas. The Waitresses would have a hit the following year with “I Know What Boys Like”, but that is unfortunately all the chart success they would have.
Wham! – Last Christmas
The penultimate song in our new wave Christmas list is none other than Wham’s “Last Christmas”. Wham consists of singer George Michael and instrumentalist Andrew Ridgeley. Their debut album in 193 did ok, but they hit it big with “Make It Big”. A little after that they released a double single including “Last Christmas”. The main synth that echoes through much of the song sounds a little sad, which makes total sense given the song’s theme. Like many other Christmas songs, there are sleigh bells. The lyrics, presumably sung in the lead-up to Christmas, speak of a breakup suffered by the singer around Christmas of last year. In the present, the singer is still suffering the sting, but wants desperately to move on. It is implied his efforts are in vain with the lyric “Maybe next year I’ll give it to someone special”. George Michael captures the heartache superbly in his vocals. The picturesque video takes place at a ski resort. In it, time jumps between 2 Christmas seasons a year apart. In the later one, Michael is reminiscing about the time spent at the resort in the previous one with his now ex-girlfriend, who ironically is now going out with a character played by bandmate Ridgeley. This is arguably the 2nd biggest Christmas song from the ‘80s, and it hit #2 in the Christmas charts in 1984. “Last Christmas” has been covered quite a bit by other pop artists, but in this case there ain’t nothing like the real thing.
Band Aid – Do They Know It’s Christmas?
Let’s conclude our Christmas retrospective with the biggie ‘80s Christmas song: “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”. Bob Geldof of the Boomtown Rats, and Midge Ure of Ultravox were saddened by reports of famine in Ethiopia. In response, they got some of the hottest talent, including new wave artists like Simon LeBon and Boy George, to form a supergroup called Band Aid to release a charity Christmas single in late 1984. And that is the genesis of “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” The melody is majestic and fits the Christmas theme well. The song starts and continues with bells and drums, giving it that holiday feel. At a little past the 2-minute mark starts the part of the melody that identifies the song for most people. There is a vocalist change every couple of lines, but it is not distracting in my opinion. Instead, it showcases the talent that the ‘80s had to offer. The lyrics speak out to the industrialized world, speaking of the “world of dread and fear” and “clanging chimes of doom” in Ethiopia and Africa. There is a lyrical misstep in my opinion: the line “well tonight thank God it’s them instead of you.” Well, why is it anyone? The song ends with a call by many of the vocalists to “feed the world” and them asking if the Ethiopians know it is Christmastime. Geldof, Midge Ure and Band Aid raised $24 million dollars (1984 dollars) to go toward famine relief. “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” was the #1 Christmas song that year, beating out Wham’s “Last Christmas”. The song was redone several times with different artists, raising more money for charitable causes.
And that’s a wrap (no pun intended) on Christmas, new wave-style. Thank you for listening today, and have a merry christmas or happy holiday from New Wave Beat.