The 9 Best Christmas Songs By The Fall

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The 9 Best Christmas Songs By The Fall

I must admit I don’t like Christmas in England because everywhere closes down for three weeks. It’s disgusting. You can’t get any bread or milk and that’s what the song’s about. Christmas is more of a family time…where families can beat each other up. — Mark E. Smith

It’s that time of year again when people start asking themselves, “What if Ebeneezer Scrooge wrote Christmas songs?” Eventually, some kindly person in your life will remind you Scrooge is a fictional character. However, there is a fairly good analogue of that flint-hearted grouch in Mark E. Smith, the mad genius of Salford and frontman of The Fall, a legendary post-punk band only a few short years from a 40-year career in music. Smith is almost an almost comical curmudgeon, and chances are if you exist, he has some fundamental problem with your existence. And if you are lucky, he has a waggish, but nonetheless deflating observation about your myriad of character flaws.

It’s that time of year again when people start asking themselves, “What if Ebeneezer Scrooge wrote Christmas songs?” Eventually, some kindly person in your life will remind you Scrooge is a fictional character. However, there is a fairly good analogue of that flint-hearted grouch in Mark E. Smith, the mad genius of Salford and frontman of The Fall, a legendary post-punk band only a few short years from a 40-year career in music. Smith is almost an almost comical curmudgeon, and chances are if you exist, he has some fundamental problem with your existence. And if you are lucky, he has a waggish, but nonetheless deflating observation about your myriad of character flaws.

Despite this, Mark E. Smith and The Fall are one of the few bands to survive the post-punk explosion of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s with their dignity intact, having never broken up, having never stopped going in. And sprinkled throughout the years of a discography that would make a grown man cry, are a handful of moments that indicate Smith has some minor fixation with Christmas songs, even though he’d much rather project an image of a drunken ne’er do-well down at his local only barely aware of the holiday spirit. So in case you find yourself in a frenzied game of pub trivia and the tie-breaking question has to do with Smith’s Christmas obsession, we’re here to rank a few of The Fall’s more well-known Yuletide jams.

9. “Blue Christmas”
This is a Fall song only a mother could love, albeit a bewildered, and in many ways disappointed mother. “Blue Christmas” is of course a turgidly recorded cover of a song made famous by one of Smith’s occasional inspirations, Elvis Presley. The recording is bad, the backing vocals sound like someone is being murdered, and Smith’s mushy-mouthed tirade is equal parts inspiring and revolting. “Blue Christmas” itself is referenced in “Ludd Gang,” a Fall song that is actually good. In any case, songs about unrequited love don’t seamlessly lend themselves to The Fall’s treatment, but if we’re being fair, the band sounds like they’re having fun and isn’t that was covering Christmas songs for no discernible reason is all about?

8. “Happy Holiday”
In England, “holiday” almost certainly refers to a vacation and not the moment when Father Christmas crawls out of the soot of a chimney to delight young chavs with bargain bin Turkish delights. This B-side from 1994’s Middle Class Revolt, which was eventually released in 2006, that depicts a chav walking around Greece drinking ouzo might actually be in some small way intended to disrespect both Jesus and his fat security state creeper Santa Claus. Anyway, this song is fine. If someone put a gun to your head and weirdly demanded that you describe it to them, saying “Well, it sounds like a song by The Fall” is about as accurate as you can get.

7. “Christmastide”
This is just a reworked version of “Xmas With Simon” that is not as good. Smith sounds a bit sleepier, which is understandable due to this song being sort of a snoozer. But if you really want it, you can find it in the bonus material to Levitate.

6. “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”
“Hark the Herald Angels Sing” is another relatively straightforward number with amiable sounding guitar and vocals that don’t completely sound like a junkyard dog unleashed on a group of plucky trespassers. Smith sings about the birth of Christ like he’s the frontman of a church house band going through the motions. It’s not terrible. The background “Hark! The Herald-angels sing!” bit actually sounds pleasantly almost like actual Christmas music if you squint your ears and hit the eggnog particularly hard.

5. “No Xmas for John Quays”
A track from The Fall’s debut record Live at the Witch Trials (which is neither a live album nor a witch trial per se) finds young Mark E. Smith already committing valuable time to ruminating on Christmas. A fairly straightforward rocker, back when The Fall might still be considered more or less a punk band, “John Quays” is decent tween wordplay for “junkies” (although in later years various Fall revisionists insist that a person named John Quays who also happened to be a junkie actually exists). The tune showcases Smith as young, hungry, and still coloring inside the lines. He drops excellent Christmas commentary such as, “The X in X-Mas is a substitute crucifix for Christ” and “Good King Wenceslas looked out / Silly bugger / He fell out” in his soon-to-be signature Northern bark-drawl. It’s a Fall classic, still likely to be included in any many a Top 50 list, but it feels less like a Christmas song than it does a song vaguely aware of the existence of Christmas. In its defense, Smith was a young man at the time, still obviously grappling with his confusing and often conflicting views on Christmas.

4. “Xmas with Simon”
This is a breezy, keyboard heavy jam about tumbling desert empires and people who eat too much dessert. Ethereal “Jeeeesus…it’s Christmas” chants punctuate Smith’s diagrammed meanderings. “Do not fret / Christmas time is near” he croons, and as the song plods along at the same leisurely pace of most Fall numbers, the tone shifts from whimsical to sinister and back again, which is basically the Mark E. Smith way.

3. “Mark E. Smith Reads Xmas Story for BBC Collective”
This is not a song in any way shape or form, but we’re including anyway because it does feature an intro with angelic chorale music and some Christmas ornaments. Following that, we are taking into a darkened study, where a spectacled Mark E. Smith reclines in a leather chair before a fireplace. He then licks his lips nefariously and dives into a classic Christmas tale, “The Colour Out of Space” by H.P. Lovecraft. For the full bizarre effect, turn the closed-captions on. At the end of this 10-minute video you may ask yourself, “What just happened? How do I get those 10 minutes of my life back?” And if you’re lucky, you may hear the Ghost of Mark E. Smith Future whisper, “Sod off, pal.”

2. “Jingle Bell Rock”
This is the good stuff. It’s a classic Fall banger that perhaps even a few self-respecting school children might want to sing along to. (The jagged arrangement and Mark E. Smith’s barmy bellowing might make a few kids cry, but anyway). This song from the 2006 reissue of Cerebral Caustic is such a classic Fall Christmas song because it’s notably devoid of excessive inscrutable MES artifice. Running just longer than a minute, it’s very punk rock in its efficiency. If you hate it, it’s over before you know it. If you like it, well, it didn’t overstay its welcome.

1. “We Wish You A Protein Christmas”
Christmas songs generally slot into two varieties—songs about God and Jesus and people wandering around the desert looking them, or songs whose lineage you could trace back to some sixth-degree of separation with Santa Claus. Not enough Christmas buck those obnoxious traditions, though. In addition to being an anthemic foot-stomper, replete with ominous keyboards, flabby beats, ghostly chanting, baleful laughter, and good old-fashioned arena riffing, you’d be forgiven for forgetting this is a Christmas song (in all fairness, it once was a song not about Christmas that was rearranged and re-worked). MES ties it all together with lines like, “C-C-C-Christmas time / All the family is in the house today / How I wish I had never gone away / I see Christ’s blood on the street / Something here is the wrong way round.” That’s the good stuff.

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