Christmas songs are horrible. Even songs that used to be pretty good, like Fairytale of New York become horrible slabs of sentimental dribble after they’ve been repeated ad tedium year after year. In fact Fairytale of New York is one of the worst because it has just enough non-mainstream credibility virtue of its hard-drinking, punk-generation protagonists Shane MacGowan and Kirsty MacColl that it sneaks up on you from the left as well as hitting you straight on. It’s the Christmas song all your cool mates who hate Christmas songs think is all right, which wouldn’t be a problem except absolutely all of them do, and so does everyone else.
Now I love Christmas as much as anyone. I love getting presents, getting drunk and eating too much. I love the cynical, cash-register kerching! of Wizzard’s I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day (although I doubt I’d be able to sustain it if I lived in a place where it was being broadcast 24/7 by grasping commercial scumbags trying to sell me stuff) and I’m sentimental enough to believe that Christmas is a time for togetherness and family. But being dedicatedly nonreligious and half-arsedly anti-capitalist, the emphasis for me is on family, or at least small groups of people close to me. New Year is the time for big, expansive expressions of love for humanity, Christmas is about feeling cosy and at home. I’m selfish at Christmas and I only want to share it with those close to me. The Christmas song, on the other hand, is a unifying or, to look at it more negatively, a homogenising force, and this makes them annoying for me. They treat Christmas like a football game.
In Japan, Christmas is something else entirely. It’s a commercial festival, foisted on the Japanese by department stores and Kentucky Fried Chicken, and it’s centred more around Christmas Eve than Christmas Day, with the emphasis on young couples rather than families. Basically, Christmas to the Japanese is a kind of shit Valentine’s Day — this is why the majority of the most popular Christmas songs in Japan are love songs (Merry Christmas Everyone by Slade isn’t a personal favourite, but I can see it’s appeal. For Japanese couples, however, it would be way too hard-rocking and portrays a way too alien, Anglocentric ideal of what Christmas stands for).
Somewhere in amongst all these musical Christmas ideals, there’s also the idea of the indie Christmas song. In the 90s, when I were a young lad, indie Christmas records were a minor tradition, and there’s still something about the idea that appeals to me. The intimacy of them taps into the cosy and familial sensations that the season still gives me, combining the sense of togetherness with the inherent selfishness that it goes hand in hand with.
Which brings me to Miila’s (of “…and The Geeks” fame) cover of Eartha Kitt’s 1950s classic Santa Baby. It’s a song that addresses Santa like a wealthy sugardaddy, being both acquisitive in its demands for gifts while at the same time seductively sexual, although Miila replaces Kitt’s smouldering sultriness with the recalcitrance of a snotty punk teenager. The minimal fuzz-guitar-and-drum-machine arrangement is sparsely decorated by some sleighbells tossed insolently over the intro (as if someone had said, “It’s still not Christmassy enough. Stick some fuckin’ bells on it!” rather like how East 17’s suicide ballad Stay Another Day somehow accrued bells just in time for Christmas), but there’s still a warmth to the rough-edged garage rock production. It’s also funny, which is something that too many Christmas songs miss in their rush to make us, you know, feeeeeeeeel stuff. Most importantly, in amongst the cascade of same old same old that the supermarkets, TVs and department stores shower you with, Miila’s Santa baby is a Christmas gift you can hug tight and feel is yours alone.