The Kinks: “Father Christmas”
It was only a matter of time before the Kinks’ classic “Father Christmas” showed up here on Reselect during the holiday season, as I’m sure you must have known. It’s just too good a song, with wit too sly and a melody too rocking, to be kept unposted for too long.
The recording of “Father Christmas” began during the 1976 recording of the Kinks’ 1977 album Sleepwalker, but apparently didn’t get completed until 1977, when they were recording 1978’s Misfits, most likely (and on this I’m just speculating) because they couldn’t get it out in time for Christmas 1976. If I had to say one way or the other, it sounds more like a song fromSleepwalker, which I think is the superior album of the two. Aside from being a Christmas song (in subject matter, anyway), it would have sounded right at home on that album. But it’s a moot point, really, because the song was released as a single, and that’s how it works best.
One of rock’s all-time great original Christmas songs, it recounts the narrator’s run-in with a gang of poor, young hooligans on the street one Christmas as he plays Father Christmas (i.e., Santa Claus, if for some reason you aren’t familiar with the British terminology) for a charity. The kids demand his money under threat of violence, saying also that he can skip the presents because they’ve got more important things to worry about:
Don’t give my brother a Steve Austin outfit
Don’t give my sister a cuddly toy
We don’t want a jigsaw or Monopoly money
We only want the real McCoy
[. . .]
But give my daddy a job cause he needs one
Hes got lots of mouths to feed
But if you’ve got one, I’ll have a machine gun
So I can scare all the kids down the street
It’s an edgy twist on the standard Christmas song, sort of the very aggressive cousin of “Christmas Is Coming” (with the lyrics: “Please put a penny in the old man’s hat/If you haven’t got a penny, a ha’penny will do/If you haven’t got a ha’penny, then God bless you”), minus any blessings. “Father Christmas” makes the listener dig just a bit farther than the usual tidings of joy to think about the less fortunate. At least I’m sure that was Ray Davies’ hope when he wrote it — but it’s not unlikely that most of us are too busy rocking the air guitar when the song comes on to be thinking a lot about the underlying message.