Step right in, my fine friend! Make yourself comfortable, stick these headphones on and prepare to be Popped. I’m proud to say this is my second Christmas column for CALM, and the fact the Dr Pop series first came into existence shortly before Christmas-time last year is no coincidence: during this time of forced grins and silent desperation (the alternative lyrics to ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’, I like to think), there seemed to be no better opportunity than to steam in with some sonic solace.
As those of you who have already read and, hopefully, taken advantage of my musical prescriptions will know, this is about more than just pelting you with cheerful songs (there are enough of those around during the festive season, and dear Lord, do they make us feel punchy if they catch us at the wrong moment) and expecting you to pull yourself together and join in. What I’m trying to do here is subtler than that, I like to think, but with any luck, you’ll feel brighter at the end of it all the same.
‘Bright enough to survive Christmas, though?’ I hear you exclaim in your most unconvinced of voices. It’s a fair question. Bright enough to smile serenely as Uncle Cuthbert attempts to trump out the theme tune to Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em, with horrifying results? Enough to cope with the Eastenders ‘Christmas’ ‘special’? Enough to chuckle warmly as your toddler nephew tramples your spectacles? While they’re still on your face? Ok, probably not, but let’s give it the old college try, shall we?
I also recommend revisiting last year’s prescription , which addresses good old family tensions, and also this one (rather pertinent at Christmas time) which concerns money issues. This particular column focuses on navigating your way through, and away from infuriating Christmas music. Put them all together and you’ll feel more ho-ho-ho than ho-ho-homicidal. Ho-ho-hopefully.
1) Cheer Up, It’s Christmas - Wiley
As those canny popstars who invested in sleigh bells and jingled their way into the perennial Christmas consciousness gleefully prepare for the yearly royalties to pour in (Slade, i'm looking at you!), I’m going to start by offering up a festive palate-cleanser.
Wiley’s lovely, witty ‘Cheer Up, It’s Christmas’ is low on saccharine seasonal syrup but it also eschews cynicism, bitter resignation or downright gloom. We’re talking about a kind of cheeky acceptance and affection for this time of year, and not only will the song’s pacy groove send you tobogganing towards jocularity, the lyrics won’t go amiss, either.
The thing is, Wiley isn’t pretending things are suddenly going to be different, just because it’s Christmas. But it can still be rather fun if you change your attitude - that’s the one thing you have control over, after all - and at least try to get into the spirit of things.
“At Christmas be around family/Or else you’re at home straight angry/In a good mood/ Yeah, I can be/ I said, a glass of brandy will be handy.’
We hear you, Wiley. Oh, we hear you.
2) Gaudete - Steeleye Span
Brandy in hand(y), I now steer you in a most unusual direction, or at least an unexpected one post-Wiley. For me, nothing says Christmas like howling out a dreadful version of ‘Gaudete’ with my nearest and dearest.
There are no jingles, no twinkles, it’s a cappella and in a mean-ass minor key plus I’m pretty sure there are no lazy references to ‘presents’, ‘snow’ or ‘tinsel’, but if there were I’d be blissfully unaware as I can’t understand a bloody word they’re singing about (I just make up a load of random sounds and hope for the best.) It’s in Latin, you see, and it’s so old it might even be medieval. (And no, Steeleye Span didn’t write it, cheeky, they’ve only been around since 1785, or something.)
One thing I would recommend is making sure this song plays at your family gathering, should you be attending one, and encouraging everyone to join in, each taking a different harmony for the chorus. As I recommended in my last Christmas column, the more you're singing, the more your cake-holes are occupied in something other than arguing / ranting / drinking and then arguing / ranting.
Good luck! And don’t forget to bagsy the high-pitched Maddy Prior verse-bit if you thrive on attention / your trousers are tight enough!
3) Don’t Like People - Country Teasers
Ok, so maybe things aren’t looking too great. Fists are starting to clench. Christmas shoppers are grinding your gears. No one lets you sing the high-pitched Maddy Prior verse-bit in ‘Gaudete’. Your expectations of your family’s expectations are bringing on an anxiety attack.
Now, I’m not one to recommend diving into a bucket of schadenfreude, but I’m also not going to pretend it doesn’t lift our mood when reminded we have company in our (hopefully temporary) misanthropy. Enter those clever Country Teasers and the exhilarating ‘Don’t Like People’. Because sometimes, we just don’t, and being made to feel guilty about that just doesn’t help. Listen, embrace it, wig out, get it out of your system and move on, knowing that QUITE A LOT OF PEOPLE ARE ACTUALLY OK REALLY.
And what about the ones who aren’t? Well, Christmas is as good a time as any to finally let ‘em go. Years are not a good enough reason to keep someone in your life if they’re making you unhappy. Dissolve the attachment in as healthy a way as possible; soon you’ll be wondering why you didn’t do it sooner. Just remember that the more you accept a certain kind of treatment - even from yourself - the more you attract the kind of vibes (groovy, man) to match it. So make sure you’re attracting the kind of vibes (far-out, dude) you really want.
Or, to draw on an old Native American fable, you’ve got two wolves in your life - one lovely, happy and positive, one vicious and nasty and mean. Which one thrives? The one you feed, man, the one you FEED!
4) Everything’s Gonna Be Cool This Christmas - Eels
Because you’d be surprised how many people love you and want you around. Give it a listen, shrug off impending grinchiness and open up a bit.
It’s easy to get into the habit of pulling up the drawbridge, swearing we’ll never trust anyone again - we’re sensitive souls, and that’s no bad thing - but you can, and you will, and nobody’s perfect. Not even me. Well, ok, let’s not go overboard.
We all disappoint each other, but we all have to look beyond our often impossible expectations of others and take the good stuff, because, as Eels sing in this ditty:
‘As days go by, the more we need friends/
And the harder they are to find/
If I could have a friend like you all my life
/Well, I guess I'd be doin' just fine.’
Aw, shucks, you guys!
5) Hark The Herald Angels Sing - The Fall
No explanation needed as to why this is here. If even Mark E Smith can get into the Christmas spirit, then, with a bit of effort, you probably can too; whether you spend Yuletide alone, with family or friends or volunteering for a charity, keep the MES drawl in your head, stay detached enough to take nothing seriously but connected enough to share in the warmth, and you’ll be all right.
I wish you a very merry Christmas and will return with more rock ‘n’ roll remedies in 2015.