Note: This article originally appeared in December 2010. Rocks Off brought it back for all you grinches out there. Happy Festivus!
5. Steve Earle & Emmylou Harris, "Christmas In Washington" Steve Earle recounts how he felt while we were gearing up to (sort of, almost, kind of, not really) elect George W. Bush for the first time. He begs Woody Guthrie, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King and other defenders of the downtrodden to come back from the grave - we assume not as zombies -- and keep us safe from the union busters, the railroad barons and the warmongers who would spend the next eight years running roughshod over the Constitution.
Hmm... come to think of it, it might have been an easier job for some zombies. Earle's foreboding seems almost prophetic in hindsight, as Clinton was still president when he wrote the song, but then again it's not hard to prognosticate that Republicans will sell the country to corporations, persecute every minority without enough money to buy them off, and bomb the shit out of foreign brown people.
Even so, that makes Steve Earle one of the first to write a "we're all fucked" song in relation to that time period, so kudos for that.
4. Major Bill Smith & Nancy Nolte,
Major Bill Smith is thoroughly unhappy with Christmas, and by God, you are going to hear all about it. In addition to the not-at-all unusual complaint that Christmas grows more and more secular each year and less and less about the birth of Jesus, Major Smith also has problems with pollution, industrialization, commercialization, consumerism, drinking, partying, adultery, homosexuality, greed, the gaudiness of many Christmas decorations and "ill repute."
Indeed, Major Smith seems quite convinced that the Lord is up in Heaven almost suicidally depressed at the state of things down here, and he lists mankind's every perceived offense in three and a half minutes while someone, we assume Ms. Nolte, warbles "Silent Night" in the background.
Normally we're not ones to talk back to our fellow curmudgeons, but Jesus, Major White, there's still a lot of good stuff about Christmas too, don't you think? In fact, a lot of the stuff you listed, if you just gave it half a chance, you'd find out it wasn't so bad, particularly when combined all in one evening.
Oh, and "Xmas" isn't a way for non-believers to remove Christ's name from the holiday. You can at least put that complaint to bed.
3. Loretta Lynn, "Christmas Without Daddy" This one actually wasn't as depressing as we thought it would be. Looking at the title, we figured Daddy was dead, but no, he's not, he's just gone. Which leads to the inevitable question: where the hell is Daddy? Is he at war? Is he stuck on the road trying to make it home? Or is he just one of those dads who left one day and never came back?
We suppose it doesn't matter. Whichever option you pick, you're still left with a little girl needlessly hanging Daddy's stocking by the fire and a little boy who will soon find out that Santa, like God, has kind of a spotty prayer-answering record.
And that's when it hit us, that's what makes this song so sad: It's the hope. Sweet, innocent hope, swatted down and stomped on by this bastard monster Daddy, who for all we know is in Vegas chasing tail, tripping balls, and gambling away the kids' college funds.
List continues on the next page.
2. Stompin' Tom Connors, "An Orphan's Christmas" On what does Tom Connors stomp, you ask? Why, your heart, of course. And your Christmas spirit. This particular sadness carol is in story form, told in first person through the eyes of a 7-year-old orphan looking forward to Santa Claus' Christmas visit. Santa Claus, it seems, expects a surplus of sleds in this year's Christmas inventory, and has plans to stop by and unload the extras on the orphanage once he's done making sure all the kids with parents have as nice a Christmas as possible.
Our seven-year-old protagonist is an earnest, fastidious little fella, and on Christmas morning when the orphanage matron tells him he can't go downstairs until his bed is made up nice and tidy-like, he fusses and frets over it until he's the last one out the door, on the heels of the other kids who all figured, "Screw it, that's good enough" and went to see Santa with their sheets naughtily rumpled and askew. The boy waits in line, and by the time he gets to Santa, the jolly old elf tells him "Sorry kid, I just gave away the last sled, all I have left is this big ol' bag o' FUCK YOU."
Well, not in so many words, but that's the gist of it: The little boy who did everything right and tried his hardest to be the best little boy he possibly could got the shaft for his efforts. Let that be a lesson, kids: shirk your duties, cut in front of the other saps who are doing things the proper way, and always, always cheat. If you play fair and do as you're told, Santa will give your presents to more privileged children whose parents didn't veer their car off a bridge driving home from a key party while blasted on speedballs.
1. Nancy LaPlante, "Debbie's Last Christmas" What does the singer want for Christmas more than anything else? A new car? A new house, maybe? Perhaps something simpler, like a certain book, phone, or purse? Nope, all she wants is to see her daughter Debbie smile. "Uh-oh," you should be thinking, and you're right: Debbie's dying.
We're not sure what of, and for the purposes of the song, it doesn't really matter: who wants a graphic description of symptoms in a song like this? The descriptions of the little tyke sitting sadly in her hospital bed waiting for death are quite enough, thanks. Yeah, this one beats the ass off "The Christmas Shoes" by reversing the roles; instead of a kid buying his dying mommy stiletto heels so she'll look hot for Jesus, we get a mother torturously watching her daughter wither away while praying for just one smile.
Things get bad way before December 25, and it's still November when they decide to have Christmas early for Debbie. Then there's this whole trying-to-be-uplifting section about how the guy who was going to play Santa Claus is stuck in a snowstorm but can't make it; if that's the case, who's that guy who has been talking to and laughing with Debbie all this time?
It's kind of an O. Henry ending, but here are the important facts: Yes, Debbie, there really is a Santa Claus; yes, Debbie finally smiles; and yes, smiling Debbie is quite dead. Ho ho ho.
ROCKS OFF'S GREATEST HITS
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the mission of the Houston Press. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Houston’s stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism