Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Apart from the two absolute classics in the canon - Nat "King" Cole's "The Christmas Song (written by Mel Tormé!) and Donny Hathaway's "This Christmas" - my next three favorite holiday songs all have but a tenuous link to December 25th; two have the word "Christmas" in their titles, but none of the trio are about Christmas. One of them, Wham!'s "Last Christmas," I discoursed upon earlier this week.

The first of the remaining two is "Fairytale of New York," by the Pogues featuring Kirsty MacColl. It's the finest moment of Shane MacGowan's crew of merry men, on which they reign themselves in to take on the tale of a relationship. You know this isn't your traditional holiday fare when you hear the first line: "It was Christmas Eve, babe, in the drunk tank... ." No sleigh bells to be found here, just trad Irish folk instrumentation, with MacGowan's vocals intertwining perfectly with MacColl's (she was always his finest foil - R.I.P., Kirsty). "Fairytale" goes from nice to nasty to nice in the space of 4:35, and ultimately is a (!) heartwarming record, immensely more emotionally satisfying than a thousand renditions of "White Christmas."

And then there's the all-time-classic hand-me-the-Stoli-and-nembutal Christmas record, Prince's "Another Lonely Christmas." As the Purple One goes through the song's verses, it sounds to be a "why'd you leave, baby?" record, a standard theme done uniquely by Prince, 'cause (back in '84 at least) he's not capable of doing otherwise. But then, in the last verse, he throws a hard left straight into your solar plexus: the reason that "every Christmas night for seven years now" he's been drinking banana daquiris 'till he's blind is because his girl didn't leave him - at least not in the traditional sense; she died. Also features the greatest guitar solo ever in a holiday record, and a typically Princean freak-out coda. Added bonus: "Another" was half of one of the greatest 12" singles of all time, the b-side to the extended version of Purple Rain's fourth single, "I Would Die 4 U." And by "extended," I mean it goes from 2:48 (in its single edit) to over 10 minutes, and you know it's not just looped up; it's Prince and the Revolution jamming the fuck outta the song. "Another" is a towering triumph of sadness, and superbly counterpoints phony seasonal sentiment like a Ginsu knife through butter.

Christmas downloads will remain online until the end of the year. Coming soon: the best New Year's Eve single ever (it's not by Guy Lombardo), and Bob Geldof's reminder that nothing goes better with the holidays than guilt.

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