Some people love Christmas carols, which is why many radio stations start playing them around Halloween and don’t stop until New Year’s. For those who start to get weary of the sounds of the season around this time and can’t bear the thought of another chestnut roasting on an open fire, songs like “Father Christmas” by The Kinks are a perfect antidote.
Released in 1977 as a single, “Father Christmas” stomps all over the tinkling pianos and sleigh bells of most carols with the rapid-fire drums of Henry Spinetti and the hard-charging guitars of Dave Davies. Meanwhile the treacly sentiments common to most December perennials are doused by a cold dose of reality courtesy of Kinks’ frontman Ray Davies.
In England, Father Christmas is the personification of Christmas, a la Santa Claus in the United States. Davies plays off this notion of the jolly bringer of glad tidings and delivers a tale in which the old man can’t quite deliver joy to the whole world. The narrator’s memories of Christmas as a child are mostly positive, the happiness of opening presents outweighing the fact that he knew that Santa is just his dad in disguise.
Now grown, he attempts to return the favor to other kids as a department store Santa. But the reception he receives is far less benign than the usual milk-and-cookies treatment: “A gang of kids came over and mugged me/And knocked my reindeer to the floor.” It turns out that these hooligans are frustrated by the poverty of their families, and, as a result, demand cold hard cash from his bag of goodies: “We don’t want no Jinx or Monopoly money/We only want the real McCoy.” As for what Santa can do with the traditional gifts: “Give all your toys to the little rich boys.”
“Give my daddy a job ‘cause he needs one/He’s got lots of mouths to feed,” one of the children asks, but even this tender moment is quickly undercut when Davies snarls, “But if you’ve got one, I’ll take a machine gun/So I can scare all the kids on the street.” Later the runaway-sleigh attack of the music pauses for just a moment for Davies to deliver a thoughtful message to those enjoying the season in comfort: “Have yourself a very merry Christmas/Have yourself a good time/But remember the kids who got nothing/As you’re drinking down your wine.”
In keeping with the irreverent spirit of the song, Ray Davies often donned a Santa costume to perform it live. He even stole some shows with it just like the kids in the song steal the money. “When the record came out we were on tour with a very successful band at the time supporting them,” he remembered in an interview with Southern California radio station KSWD. “I went on dressed as Santa at the end of the show to do ‘Father Christmas.’ And the other band found it hard to follow us. The following night with the same band I went to run on but there was a bunch of heavies preventing me from running on stage. And I was protesting. But the people said, ‘The Kinks didn’t do an encore but Santa Claus was there and they were stopping him from going on stage.’”
So maybe there are those who might want to avoid the harsher truths presented by The Kinks at such a festive time. But if you have the urge to shake up the silent nights so prevalent this time of year with a little in-your-face rock and roll, this “Father Christmas” has the perfect gift for you.