Hark the Herald Tribune Sings

by Kieran Healy on December 21, 2004

It’s Christmas here at Crooked Timber, though this does not mean we are “Republicans”:http://www.slate.com/id/2111014/#red. I can’t hope to match Maria’s “instant-classic Christmas post”:https://www.crookedtimber.org/archives/001013.html from last year — for one thing, it’s harder to stir up the ole Christmas cheer in the “Sonoran Desert”:http://www.branimirphoto.ca/gallery/arizona/sonoran_desert.html than the “Champs Elysees”:http://travel.guardian.co.uk/gallery/image/0,8564,-10304117908,00.html. But it’s not impossible. Last year we had a thread about the “Most Annoying Christmas Songs”:https://www.crookedtimber.org/archives/000943.html, and my feeling is that being down on Christmas music is so over.[1] Here instead are four Christmas songs I like. Besides being songs for the season, they are all songs for two voices in conversation — or argument.

Baby It’s Cold Outside.
An oldie and a goodie, despite the slight date-rape overtones of the whole thing. “The neighbors might think / … Say what’s in this drink.” Um, yes. I sometimes imagine the deleted verse that goes

Please let me out — But baby it’s cold out there
I’m going to shout — No help to be had out there
I’m using my Mace — I’m blinded! It hurts! My eyes!
Now open that door — I’ll crawl there right now, on the floor

And so on. Nevertheless, I’m still very partial to the “Dinah Shore”:http://www.museum.tv/archives/etv/S/htmlS/shoredinah/shoredinah.htm version. The Dean Martin one is pretty good, too, though appropriately enough he has a whole chorus in the bachelor pad with him.

Quoi, Ma Voisine, Es-Tu Fachée?
I know the English version of this song, called *Neighbor, Neighbor*. It appears on Jane Sibbery’s live album “Child: Music for the Christmas Season”:http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B000005JD9/kieranhealysw-20/ref=nosim/, which incidentally is easily in the running for Best Christmas Album Ever. The song is about two people on the way to see the newborn Jesus, though one of them is considerably less impressed with the details of the birth than the other, and more alert to some of the oddities of its circumstances. The live version has the lines

#1: Hey — hey — you said she was a Virgin and then you said she had a husband …
#2: There are many unexplained miracles in this happening —
#1: But —
#2: You shouldn’t be focusing on the husband at this time

Watchman Tell Us of the Night.
This one is a bit more serious. It was written in 1825. It is best heard at Midnight Mass in a darkened church sung in call-and-response fashion by two male voices, one at the altar and the other entering from outside, ideally with a lantern or other light. And if that doesn’t send a shiver down your spine, well, bugger off.

Fairytale of New York.
All together now! In your best drunk-off-yer-arse voices! “So haaapy Christmus, Oy luv ya baaaby… I can see a batter time… when all our dreams come true… ” _Fairytale of New York_ is, objectively speaking, simply the best Christmas song ever written. The fact that it is ideally suited to small groups of maudlin Irish guys thousands of miles from home is only one of its many, many virtues. It also, I believe, occupies a sociologically sigificant spot in Irish extended-family Christmas singalongs. When I was growing up (in the 1970s), these events were cherished by children as the time when you could hear elderly relatives wearing “Pioneer pins”:http://www.pioneertotal.ie/ cheerfully admit to using prostitutes (during mandatory renditions of _The Boxer_). These days relatives of all ages get to belt out “You’re an auld slut on junk” and “You scumbag, you maggot, you cheap lousy faggot,” etc, late in the evening.

fn1. Along with the expression “So over,” I imagine.



girly 12.21.04 at 6:30 am

Maria’s “girly” post? I still remember that beginning with the all-time worst sentence on Crooked Timber. Seems like it has relevance for the recent discussion about women and blogs.


Ray 12.21.04 at 8:47 am

Ah, but now those elderly relatives can sing the version recorded by that nice Ronan Keating. “…You scum bag
You maggot
You’re cheap & you’re haggard…”


ciarán 12.21.04 at 10:43 am

Christy Moore also sang a version of FTNY. While it wasn’t the world-historical spectacle (not to be too histrionic) of Kirsty McColl and the Pogues, it was worth the listen. That said, McColl and the Pogues are definitely more successful at bringing the not-so-latent maudlin streak out in any self-respecting Irish person.

Ronan Keating, on the other hand, generally induces a very different sort of streak.


paul lawson 12.21.04 at 11:23 am

Ah, Keiran, you court trouble out there in the desert. (Must be the Route 66 madness.)

But, you’re right, a rescue of the better aspects of the season is overdue.

How about the office party version of ‘Silent Night’, late-ish, when the sales(uh)persons punch the “Christ!..” rather harder than the “…the saviour was born.”

And ‘Faith of Our Fathers’ is an all-purpose–to preview the lack of hope and charity soon to be exhibited in the annual family fight.

What about a Xmas version of that ‘Langer’ song you pointed us to earlier in the year?

(We have an opening batsman in the Boxing Day Test, who, since, is only called ‘Justin’.)

You have amused. Illuminated. And provoked. Lots of ‘singing syrup’ to you.


Richard Bellamy 12.21.04 at 12:00 pm

And for our Jewish friends, who I understand will be celebrating Hannukah on the 25th this year:


You must remember this,
A bris is still a bris,
A chai is just a chai.
Pastrami still belongs on rye,
As time goes by.

With holidays in view,
A Jew is still a Jew,
On that you can rely.
No matter if we eat tofu
As time goes by.

Old shtetl customs, never out of date.
All those potatoes someone has to grate.
One flame in the window,
keep counting till there’s eight
To light the winter sky.

In the Bronx or in the Mission,
It’s still the same tradition,
That no one can deny.
We roam, but we recall our birthright,
As time goes by.

Dreidels and chocolate, never out of date.
Ancient Semitic glories to relate.
Blue-and-white giftwrap, ain’t this country great,
And festive chazerai!

It’s still the same old Torah,
It’s still the same menorah,
We’ve latkes still to fry.
December’s when I feel most Jewish,
As time goes by.


Russell Arben Fox 12.21.04 at 1:02 pm

Kieran, regarding “Baby It’s Cold Outside”–the definitive version has to be Barry Manilow’s duet with K.T. Oslin. Not the greatest vocals in the world, but I figure you can only go two ways with this song, if you don’t want to just toss it off as a little ditty (and you don’t want to make it thoroughly sexual, which as you note gets creepy considering the lyrics): you can either play it thoroughly drunk (the Dean Martin version), or go over the top with a bunch swinging banter. Manilow and Oslin do the latter, and it’s a riot. (If Manilow purring “It’s not a couch, pudding-pop, it’s a love-seat” doesn’t crack you up, I don’t know what will.)


sarah 12.21.04 at 3:39 pm

“Watchmen Tell Us of the Night” is a good darkened-cathedral-at-midnight pick. That said, I prefer a nice dirgey version of “O Come O Come Emmanuel” myself. With the descant (of course).


Jared 12.21.04 at 3:58 pm

‘Tis the year for Ray Charles: he did a duet of “Baby it’s Cold Outside” with Betty Carter, which is excellent. Or is that too classy for this bunch?


Another Damned Medievalist 12.21.04 at 4:48 pm

I seem to rremember a version of “Baby it’s cold outside” done by Tom Jones and Kirsty McColl on one of Jools Holland’s New Year’s specials. Could that be right?


Katherine 12.21.04 at 5:09 pm

I would just like to report, as someone who sang all the lame chanukah songs in elementary school, from “Dreidel dreidel dreidel” to “Light the candles” to every possible rhyming couplet of “horah” and “menorah”–Jewish religious music is actually beautiful, much prettier IMO than the music at the various Catholic and white mainline Protestant churches I attended growing up. I was shocked to find this out.

I’m all for elementary school students singing “O Come All Ye Faithful” in addition to execrable things like “Jingle Bell Rock”–as long as, in districts where there are good-sized Jewish populations, they are prepared to learn a little Hebrew. Or at least some songs about the smell of dumplings & peking duck from the restaurant kitchen & the gentle glow of the movie screen on Christmas day–no one dances the horah at chanukah, people.


BillG 12.21.04 at 5:53 pm

Chrissy Hinde’s ‘In a bleak midwinter’ on the Blind Boys of Alabama Christmas album.


Ken Houghton 12.21.04 at 6:32 pm

The Kinks’s “Father Xmas” has the right feel for this holiday season, along with perennial favorite “Christmas Wrapping.”

(Date rape “overtones”? CT goes understatement.)


Zackary Sholem Berger 12.21.04 at 7:52 pm

For those of you who have felt something missing in your lives, a Jewish version of “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” can be found here. Or at least until I get ashamed of it.


Zackary Sholem Berger 12.21.04 at 7:53 pm

For those of you who have felt something missing in your lives, a Jewish version of “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” can be found here. Or at least until I get ashamed of it.


Zackary Sholem Berger 12.21.04 at 7:53 pm

For those of you who have felt something missing in your lives, a Jewish version of “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” can be found here. Or at least until I get ashamed of it.


Zackary Sholem Berger 12.21.04 at 7:55 pm

Crap. Well, I’m ashamed already. Sorry about the multiple posts. Take away my Christmas presents if you like.


dsquared 12.21.04 at 9:16 pm

I seem to rremember a version of “Baby it’s cold outside” done by Tom Jones and Kirsty McColl on one of Jools Holland’s New Year’s specials.

Cerys Matthews, I think (he certainly recorded a version with her).

The only Christmas conversational duet I can think of, which I do quite like is “Christmas in Hollis” by Run DMC.


anon 12.21.04 at 9:45 pm


Tom Lehrer …

I’m spending Hannukah in Santa Monica,
Wearing sandals, lighting candles by the sea.
I spent Shavu’ot in East Saint Louis,
A charming spot, but clearly not the spot for me.

… and more.


Russell Arben Fox 12.21.04 at 10:07 pm

“Chrissy Hinde’s ‘In a bleak midwinter’ on the Blind Boys of Alabama Christmas album.”

Agreed, BillG; that’s a fabulous recording. It’s on my list.


doghouse riley 12.22.04 at 6:20 am

I gave up the fight about five years ago, bought a dozen cheesy CDs and take a small dose in early November, like an innoculation. The one unfortunate thing is that Slim Whitman doesn’t yodel on his.

My pick: Eddie C. Campbell’s Santa’s Messin’ With The Kid.


Maria 12.22.04 at 4:56 pm

ah, my girly post. funnily enough, this year when I was making the mince pies (approx. 100 of them and 300 christmas cookies, good me!), I had a most informative and enjoyable conversation about Mansfield Park with a wonderful friend – continuing the homemade mincemeat and Jane Austen trend.

And I became fully convinced that Fanny is not only not a drip, but quite possibly JA’s most interesting character and a beautifully illuminating exposition device to boot. But probably not half as good in the sack as Lizzie Bennett.

I was even nearly going to blog it, but the amount of Mother’s Ruin ingested means I’ve forgotten all the good bits in the meantime.

But to continue the theme further (and possibly invite permanent ire from the sisterhood), I am this minute ‘helping’/watching my Mum aka Mrs Bennett administer the almond icing to our Christmas cake. She wishes CT readers a happy chrimbo and also says, archly, ‘Such condescension!’


Anderson 12.22.04 at 10:19 pm

So, is the Petula Clark/Rod McKuen version of BICO beneath contempt? Because I like it. Petula’s tones of voice are splendid.


Joe S. 12.23.04 at 10:22 pm

What about the immortal “Xmas at Kmart” by Root Boy Slim and his Sex Change Band. (Echt!)

“I died and I knew I’d gone to heaven
‘Cause hell is Christmas in 7-11”

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