The Dad Website’s Top 5 Christmas tunes
Christmas songs. They evoke a sense of warmth and nostalgia. But it’s not “Jingle Bells”, “Little Drummer Boy” or “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” – or even the ubiquitous modern-day standard that is Mariah’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You” – that we’re talking about here.
While there are universal, love-is-the-same-in-every-language tunes like José Feliciano’s “Feliz Navidad” that Australians can absorb, Christmas Down Under remains something of an oxymoron, given the snow-coated ‘Happy Holiday’ flicks we were brought up with. America’s reality ain’t ours.
Hot, dry, dusty and battling the elements, it’s perhaps no surprise, then, that many of our best Christmas tunes go against the traditional grain (check out country duo Bill Boyd’s ode to Cyclone Tracy on Christmas Eve, 1974, Santa Never Made it into Darwin).
These five tracks are no exception. Broaching drunkenness, incarceration, second (and third, and fourth) chances, war, atheism and death, they’re tough on the inside; gorgeous on the outside; tunes for the world-weary and the loving, two contrasting characteristics that make us better fathers, and parents.
1. Fairytale of New York The Pogues & Kirsty MacColl
OK, so it’s not exactly wholesome family fare – “You scumbag, you maggot, you cheap lousy faggot” – but this tune of changeable rhythm and emotion is as human a Christmas ‘carol’ as they come. A grand, drunken singalong that retains its value the whole year ‘round.
2. How to Make Gravy Paul Kelly
PK has penned many, many songs that hit the heart like a sledgehammer but this tune, a nod to the incarcerated during a time of family, is arguably his most effective. The gravy recipe is genuine, too – Kelly learned it from his first father-in-law.
3. White Wine in the Sun Tim Minchin
There’s a fair bit about the world’s woes packed into the lyrics here, but it’s the track’s simple, poetic refrain – “I’ll be seeing my dad; my brothers and sisters, my gran and my mum; they’ll be drinking white wine in the sun” – that enamours this tune of a non-Christmas person begrudgingly celebrating on December 25, to so many.
4. Merry Xmas (War is Over) John Lennon
One of the few albums my dad bought while I was growing up was a Lennon best-of on cassette, which was a constant on the long drives to my parents’ hometown of Ouyen to visit our grandparents at Christmas time. The tape ended up chewed in the deck, irreparably, as we approached Ouyen in Christmas 1994 – the last time I accompanied the family the long trip (I turned 18 and had my own car the next year). Timeless tune.
5. Save What You Can The Triffids
From the opening (Well, it doesn’t look much like we’ll see the new year) to the final line (If you don’t get caught, then steal it all / Steal it ALL!), this is a sweet, drifting elegy on the inevitability of death by one of Australia’s greatest ever bands (overseas viewers, check out 1985’s Born Sandy Devotional as an introduction); made all the more poignant by Triffids frontman David McComb’s death in 1999.