Last Christmas forever

In a special double-bill today, Gaw and Brit write in praise of a couple of bands you’re probably heartily sick of by now…

At this stage of the proceedings to ask you to pay some attention to a Christmas song is about as palatable a proposition as asking you to polish off another box of sickly chocs. However, I think there’s one that has almost certainly been collected up with the other gaudies for storage until next year which deserves a second listen: Last Christmas by Wham.

Now, I can almost hear your scoffing and sneering from here. But just try a thought experiment: imagine it was written twenty years earlier, by Holland-Dozier-Holland, performed by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, and released on the Motown label. Done that? Have you put it alongside a couple of Smokey’s other hits, Tracks of my Tears and Tears of a Clown?

What I think should now have happened is that the song’s novelty value and naff reputation should have drifted into the background, along with George Michael’s Princess Diana quiff and the fact that he was a middle-class Greek boy from Finchley. Holds its own, doesn’t it? Its compelling melody, its deceptive lightness offsetting a rather tortured melancholy, and its subtle but intense emotionalism puts it up there with some of Motown’s finest.

And as for soul? More than Smokey, George was a singer-songwriter (no, really he was). So when you reflect on his tabloid trials – the out-of-control drug-taking, the tragic love life, the sense of loneliness, the painful shyness – you surely can’t doubt that when he wrote Last Christmas it was very deeply meant.

Indeed, the wistfulness and frustration of the lyrics are brought into sharper relief now that we know they were written by a gay man who was still very firmly in the closet. They’re not bad technically either, at least for a pop song: some clever rhyming, precise language and interestingly confused and shifting sentiments. In fact, here they are. Tell me you’re not hearing sad chimes and honeyed but agonised crooning as you read:

Last Christmas, I gave you my heart
But the very next day, You gave it away
This year, to save me from tears
I’ll give it to someone special

[Repeat]

Once bitten and twice shy
I keep my distance but you still catch my eye
Tell me baby do you recognise me?
Well it’s been a year, it doesn’t surprise me

(Happy Christmas!) I wrapped it up and sent it
With a note saying “I Love You” I meant it
Now I know what a fool I’ve been
But if you kissed me now I know you’d fool me again

Chorus

A crowded room, friends with tired eyes
I’m hiding from you and your soul of ice
My God I thought you were someone to rely on
Me? I guess I was a shoulder to cry on
A face on a lover with a fire in his heart
A man undercover but you tore me apart
Now I’ve found a real love you’ll never fool me again

Chorus

A face on a lover with a fire in his heart
(Gave you my heart)
A man undercover but you tore me apart
Next year
I’ll give it to someone, I’ll give it to someone special
special
someone
someone
I’ll give it to someone, I’ll give it to someone special
who’ll give me something in return
I’ll give it to someone
hold my heart and watch it burn
I’ll give it to someone, I’ll give it to someone special
I’ve got you here to stay
I can love you for a day
I thought you were someone special
gave you my heart
I’ll give it to someone, I’ll give it to someone
last christmas I gave you my heart
you gave it away
I’ll give it to someone, I’ll give it to someone…

I’m even going to defend the video: watched now it seems a surprisingly innocent and lovely ’80s period piece:

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7 thoughts on “Last Christmas forever

  1. johngjobling@googlemail.com'
    malty
    December 30, 2010 at 09:36

    Personally I thought Arthur Mullard and Hylda Baker’s you’re the one that I want had a more serious intellectual leaning, reminiscent of Auvergne chanting with added Hugo Wolf poetry. Admit it now, never again could you watch Grease without thinking of Cockney rhyming slang, as my generation did with the William Tell overture and The Lone Ranger.

    All togevver nah…..

    You’re The One That I Want

    I got chills, they’re multiplyin’, and I’m losin’ control
    Cause the power you’re supplyin’, it’s electrifyin’

    You better shape up, cause I need a man, and my heart is set on you
    You better shape up, you better understand, to my heart I must be true
    Nothing left, nothing left for me to do

    Chorus:
    You’re the one that I want (you are the one I want), ooh ooh ooh, honey
    The one that I want (you are the one I want), ooh ooh ooh, honey
    The one that I want (you are the one I want), ooh ooh ooh, honey
    The one I need (the one I need), oh yes indeed (yes indeed)

    If you’re filled with affection, ‘n you’re too shy to convey
    Meditate my direction, feel your way
    I better shape up, cause you need a man
    I need a man, who can keep me satisfied
    I better shape up, if I’m gonna prove
    You better prove, that my fate is justified
    Are you sure? Yes I’m sure down deep inside

  2. andrewnixon@blueyonder.co.uk'
    December 30, 2010 at 09:48

    In his Wham! guise George Michael produced a string of magnificent pop songs (Freedom, I’m Your Man, Wake Me Up Before you Go-Go-Go-Go-Go) and gave us a new synonym for ‘pointlessness’ with ‘Andrew Ridgeley’. Though that’s no excuse for Wham Rap and Young Guns.

    (I’m a sucker for nearly all the trad British Christmas pop canon. Especially Pretenders’ ‘2000 Miles’ and Mud’s astonishingly convincing Elvis pastiche ‘Lonely This Christmas)’

  3. finalcurtain@gmail.com'
    mahlerman
    December 30, 2010 at 09:59

    They say (I’m still not sure who ‘they’ are) that if Michelangelo had been made of the right stuff, the Sistine Chapel would have been painted with a roller, in magnolia – but I didn’t scoff and sneer Gaw, and I tried your game of imagining back a couple of decades. But bland is all I could dredge up. And the sense of a lack of musical ambition, in favour of ‘shifting product’. Big hair was good though.

  4. wormstir@gmail.com'
    December 30, 2010 at 12:49

    last christmas is one of my favourite christmas songs, as is the video. what a shame they don’t make ’em like that anymore

  5. russellworks@gmail.com'
    ian russell
    December 30, 2010 at 16:37

    hmm, if I were you I’d check the eat-by date on your mince pies.

  6. Gaw
    December 30, 2010 at 16:54

    Malty, that video – what a tender treatment of young love! – is surely the multi-media equivalent of a Turgenev novella.

    Brit, I have a soft spot for Wham Rap – making the best of unemployment and all that. But one defence of the barely defensible is enough for now.

    Mahlerman: Fair enough. It helps to have been at an impressionable age when first hearing it. But I don’t think there’s any fixed conflict between shifting product and musical ambition (the validity of the distinction between popular and mass culture is a different matter, however…)

    Worm: I suppose it would be absolutely impossible to make that video today without lashings of irony?

    Ian, at least I stirred you from your post-prandial festive stupor…

  7. zmkc@ymail.com'
    December 31, 2010 at 05:21

    No-one can say you’re not a brave man, Gaw.

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