Thursday, January 01, 2015

Happy New Year (contents may be different to those advertised)

Many of you might have read my diatribe against the Christmas song. I spent Christmas in the United Kingdom (which is barely united these days and actually a queendom, but whatever). I was confronted by plenty of Christmas songs during this trip. The UK (or 'U'Q as it should be called) is somewhat obsessed with Christmas songs. As a conglomerate of countries, we lap them up. I always assumed the US gets more obsessed with Christmas than we do, but in terms of the songs about the season, the UK is barely short of insane.

Every artists is compelled (possibly by law, I haven't checked) to release a Christmas song (or even album). It is, after all, the spiritual home of Sir Cliff Richard, the so-called Peter Pan/Dorian Gray of pop. A performer so apparently wholesome he could be called the Anti-Ozzy.

Cliff's last album was a croc.
There are some bands in the 'U'Q who find their career leads them down a path where they become known as Christmas bands and people forget anything they do or did that was not Christmas related. The archetype here is Slade, who are now only known for their Christmas hits, despite a previously extensive career outside of December. But then the step from big-chorused, glitter-fuelled glam rock to sing-along, tinsel-covered Christmas pop is not a big one.

So growing up, I heard a lot of these festive songs and learned to despise their near-manic cheerfulness. It doesn't help that my mum loves them all, especially if they are by the aforementioned Mr Richard, and loved to play them constantly in the run-up to the day itself.

Slade are not ashamed of their Christmas band status.
Not even slightly. Youcan try to make them ashamed
but they won't hear of it.

I missed Christmas Eve in the office, but apparently the office manager played Christmas songs all day. It's hearing things like that that make you realise why so many people go berserk in the workplace taking out a few colleagues with them. It was especially prevalent in the US post office, hence the expression "going postal" to mean to take a gun into work and decorate the place with your colleagues' innards. When you are delivering packages all year round it must feel like every day is Christmas, so you can understand it.

I was, however, in the office for New Year's Eve, and as a treat, the office manager promised to play New Year's songs for the last 2 hours of the workday. I was not looking forward to it.

I had assumed New Year's songs are like Christmas songs, although none came to mind. I spent the day trying to only think about work and secretly polishing my M16 assault rifle.

But I needn't have worried. New Year's songs are not the relentlessly chirpy songs that Christmas brings, they are an altogether different breed. They are far from chirpy, they are depressing. Which is great. I love depressing songs. Nothing makes me happier than a song about impending planetary doom or not getting over the fling from 17 years ago.

New Year's songs have lyrics like "So this is the new year / And I have no resolutions / For self assigned penance / For problems with easy solutions" – Death Cab For Cutie ("The New Year") and "What's another year for someone who's lost everything that he owns " - Johnny Logan ("What's another year"). Awesome.

Even Auld Lang Syne, the song traditionally sung at New Year's, especially in the UK, is basically a song remembering how great things use to be. In fact, the original poem by Robert Burns is about old love gone very cold. Remember that then 2015 decides to sod off and leave you all alone  in about a years time.

Abba did so much work in the 1970s to make people
aware of the plight of turkeys at Christmas time.
"But, hang on," people usually blurt out at this point in my rant, "what about 'Happy New Year,' by Abba." Well it certainly sounds like an upbeat song, but it isn't really. If Abba are the kings and queens of anything it might be making bouncy songs out of less than upbeat themes. For a classic example see "Waterloo" which is a very bouncy song but is basically equating love to one of the most famous battlefield defeats in European history.

Likewise, I defy you to get hold of the lyrics to "Happy New Year" (they're here), read them aloud as if it were a poem and tell me that is a happy song. For a highlight see: "Seems to me now / That the dreams we had before / Are all dead, nothing more / Than confetti on the floor."

So, in summary, this last month, I have learnt (a) of the existence of the genre of New Year's songs, (b) M16s are a lot heavier than they seem in the movies, and (c) I might have a secret soft spot for Abba.

The culmination of this paean has to be some classic Scandinavian on Scandinavian action, perfectly illustrating why Abba's lyrics are often simply in the wrong genre

So, anyway, Happy New Year! And you can take that any way you want.

PS as a bonus, here's the first draft of my New Year's song...

As the rockets shoot up,
My heart shoots down.
There are 20,000 people,
but you're not around.

Its the end of the year.
Another year without you.

There's a Chinese lantern,
Caught by the breeze,
Lost in the sky,
A dying light in the freeze.

Its the end of the year.
Another year without you.

And although I made up my mind,
This would be the year,
The year I'd pull through.
When you wish upon a million exploding stars,
There's no chance,
That any of your wishes will come true.

Its the end of the year.
A send off with a cheer
But it's the start of a year...
Another year without you.