Please stop going on about ‘problematic’ Christmas songs

Another season of Fairytale argy-bargy would be too much to bear

Please shut up about Fairytale of New York. Please shut up about Do They Know it’s Christmas? What’s that? Apparently, I now need to tell you to shut up about Baby, it’s Cold Outside. Shut up, shut up, shut up!

Tis the season for fraught discourse about Christmas songs. It never used to be thus. Nobody worried about Nat “King” Cole noting that folks were “dressed up like Eskimos” in The Christmas Song. No contemporaneous equivalent of that edgelord English actor declared he would refuse to substitute ‘Inuit” when gathered round the family piano. In this sense, at least, Christmas was less exhausting.

You won’t need to be reminded of the disputes around the Pogues’ warhorse. The arguments about the use of an offensive epithet for homosexual – the one that rhymes with “maggot’ – go through the same cycle each year. Someone objects. Someone makes the preposterous argument that Shane is “actually” using a euphemism for a lazy person. Right-wing blowhards announce they will be blasting the uncensored version out their windows at supposed snowflakes (which is seasonal, at least). Shut up! Would you all shut up! 

So you aren’t shutting up? You have now moved on to the observation that there is not nor has there ever been an “NYPD choir”. Oh, please don’t drag out that transparent man-in-the-pub baloney about it being slang for the warbling drunks in the city jail. Why won’t you shut up? Why won’t you leave me in peace?

Shane McGowan portrait by William Feuer

The arguments about Do They Know It’s Christmas? are, if anything, even more tiring. It is not that the lyrics aren’t appalling. Of course they’re appalling. But this is not news. On initial release it was widely understood the song was useless, but we decided to let it pass as it was in a good cause. (The argument about whether or not it really was a “good cause” belongs in a different, less facetious column.) The only remarkable thing about the record itself is Trevor Horn’s booming, none-more-1984 production. The notion that, deep into the 21st century, someone would bother to pull apart the platitudinous doggerel would have seemed absurd. Next, they’ll be telling Adam Ant that rid-i-cule really is something to be scared of.   

The dispute around Baby, It’s Cold Outside is a tad more esoteric. Written as far back as 1944, Frank Loesser’s tune lived a largely peaceful life until, around 10 years ago, now well past retirement age, it began attracting negative publicity for its alleged allusions to the drugging of cocktails. You will recall this as the duet in which a man uses the inclemency of the weather as an excuse to keep a visiting woman in his living room. Objections to the line “what’s in this drink?” have caused the tune to be banned, unbanned and banned again throughout the last decade. The suggestion of spiking does lend a sinister tone, but, taking the period in mind, we must surely conclude …

Now, I’m doing it. Shut up, me! Shut up, shut up, shut up!

Lord, spare us from annual discourse on seasonal pop songs. There is probably no escape, but we should, perhaps, find a new, deserving tune to rag on. We need not clarify why Gary Glitter’s Another Rock ‘n’ Roll Christmas is already a goner. Cliff’s Mistletoe and Wine is too fragile to bother with. Slade’s Merry Xmas Everyone is, in contrast, so monumental it would break any shoulder pressed against it.

There is plenty of material to complain about here. Let’s get stuck in. Another season of Fairytale argy-bargy would be too much to bear.

Top: Kincasslagh in Donegal, home of Daniel O’Donnell, singer of many a good Christmas song.

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