Today begins a series of posts where I will finally, after all these years of Christmases (Is that even a word? Well, it is now.) get my revenge for having to listen to the sheer dreck that gets passed off as Christmas songs and carols at this sacred time of year.

Before we begin though, a little perspective about where I come from in regards to Christmas: First of all, I’m not Scrooge, Jr. I love Christmas. Some of my most cherished memories are from Christmases Past (I guess it is a real word. Twice I’ve gotten it past Bill Gates’ spell check.). Several years ago I even wrote a Christmas song called ‘Sure Love Christmastime’ that went a little like this:

Sure love Christmastime
Don’t it feel so fine
Everybody singin’ that same sweet song
Sure love Christmastime
If the choice was mine
I’d keep Christmas all year long

That song has never been published or even performed in public, and if it had been I’m sure it would be on somebody’s list of bad Christmas songs, maybe even mine.

I am also very aware that not everybody agrees with the sentiment of the song. I know there are many people of other faiths, people who are alone, and people who have painful memories of their childhoods for whom “Christmas all year long” would be like living in a newly discovered tenth circle of Hell. I can relate to that because this Christmas will be the first one where I’ll be away from Boodles since she was born.

Another thing is, I am a Christian. I believe in Jesus and am proud and happy to celebrate his birth. However I am also realistic and cynical enough to know that most of what we celebrate as Christmas is hooey, bunk, nonsense, rubbish, drivel, bilge, pishtosh, bunkum, malarkey, and tommyrot. Much of it we stole from the pagans, which was stolen again by greedy corporations. History tells us that Jesus wasn’t born in December, common sense tells us that he wasn’t “lily white” (more on that later on in the list). I am not above pointing out the hooey, bunk, etc. when I see it, hence this list.

So as to not only gratify the cynical side of my nature, however, I will also be posting my list of the ’12 Good Songs of Christmas.’ Starting tomorrow, every other day I will feature a good song, and if I don’t screw it up they will alternate good and bad culminating with my choice for the worst song on December 23rd, and the best song on Christmas Eve. I’ll also post my regular features like ‘Graph of the Week,’ ‘Fail of the Week,’ and maybe some of the other posts I’ve started writing but haven’t finished yet.

I fully expect many of you to disagree with my choices and sincerely hope that you will use the comments section to tear me a new one for Christmas. Having said all that, here we go…

12. The First Noël or The First Nowell

Words & Music: Traditional English carol of the 16th or 17th century, but possibly dating from as early as the 13th Century. This combination of tune and lyrics first appeared in the early 1800s.
Source: William Sandys, Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern (London: Richard Beckley, 1833)

OK, so usually with these songs I will hold the writer(s) accountable, but since this song is an English translation of an old French carol I think the blame should fall on the heads of Messrs. Gilbert and Sandys. Furthermore, since the melody is fine, in fact quite lovely, I am going to put all of the blame squarely on Davies Gilbert for some of the weakest lyrics this side of Jim Steinman. Seriously, a three year old could write better lyrics:

The First Noel, the Angels did say
Was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay
In fields where they lay keeping their sheep
On a cold winter’s night that was so deep.

Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel
Born is the King of Israel!

OK, we know that this didn’t happen in the winter, but maybe Mr. Gilbert wasn’t aware of that so we’ll give him a pass on that one, but can’t you just hear the gears in his head turning as he tries to come up with rhymes?

“Let’s see… Angels did say…um…day? No, this has to be at night so they can see the star. May? No this was in December. What else? Fay? Gay? No, better not use that one in case it has a different meaning someday. Kay? Lay? That’s it! So the sheep were laying down, and so were the shepherds. Y’know catching some ZZZs. All right, now we’re cookin’ with Classical Gas. What rhymes with sheep?”

And it just goes on like that:

They looked up and saw a star
Shining in the East beyond them far
And to the earth it gave great light
And so it continued both day and night.

Star/far, light/night. And then he does the star/far rhyme again!

And by the light of that same star
Three Wise Men came from country far
To seek for a King was their intent
And to follow the star wherever it went.

Then he goes for the stay/lay line again, since it worked so well the first time:

This star drew nigh to the northwest
O’er Bethlehem it took its rest
And there it did both pause and stay
Right o’er the place where Jesus lay.

Even though he already called them the “three Wise Men,” now here come the “Wise Men three” because it rhymes with knee. Huh? See what he did there? And of course these Wise Men entered “full reverently upon their knee.” One knee between the three of them? Man, that must have been a rough trip:

Then entered in those Wise Men three
Full reverently upon their knee
And offered there in His presence
Their gold and myrrh and frankincense.
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel
Born is the King of Israel!

Then let us all with one accord
Sing praises to our heavenly Lord
That hath made Heaven and earth of nought
And with his blood mankind has bought.
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel
Born is the King of Israel!

It’s just all so awkward.

OK, so Gilbert and Sandys were no Gilbert and Sullivan, but having done extensive research (ten minutes on Wikipedia) on Davies Gilbert, I can tell you that the reason his lyrics are so bad is that he wasn’t a lyricist. He was a British engineer, author, politician, and member of the la dee frikkin’ da Royal Society. Here are some of the books and/or publications written or edited by Davies Gilbert:

  • Plain Statement of the Bullion Question (1811)
  • The Parochial History of Cornwall, founded on, [or rather including,] the manuscript histories of Mr. William Hals and Mr. Thomas Tonkin; with additions and various appendices, by D. G. [including copious extracts from J. Whitaker, D. and S. Lysons, &c. and geological notices by Dr. Boase. 4 vol. London, 1838.
  • On the vibrations of heavy bodies in cycloidal and in circular arches, as compared with their descents through free space; including an estimate of the variable circular excess in vibrations continually decreasing. By Davies Gilbert, .. London : printed by William Clowes, [1823] 15,[3]p. ‘Extracted from the Quarterly Journal, Vol. XV’.
  • On the expediency of assigning Specific Names to all such Functions of Simple Elements as represent definite physical properties; with the suggestion of a new term in mechanics; illustrated by an investigation of the Machine moved by Recoil … From the Philosophical Transactions. pp. 14. [Privately printed:] London, 1827.

Yeah, let’s get that guy to write all of our Christmas carols.

Like I said, the music for ‘The First Noël’ is nice. So maybe we just need to get somebody else to re-write the lousy lyrics. I’m open for suggestions…

2010 Update:

….and the tommyrot continues! Just the other day I was looking through the bins at the store and saw that one of my favorite singers, Annie Lennox, has a new Christmas CD. Barely managing to avoid peeing in my pants I picked it up and, you guessed it, The First Freaking Noël is on it.

Annie, honey, during the Eurythmics days if Dave Stewart had come up with piffle like this you would’ve smacked him silly.

2011 Tommyrot Update:

I just got home from a church service where the choir sang a Christmas musical. It was quite nice and the choir did a good job, but there among the songs they sang was…yep, The First Freaking Noël.

There was a lady doing translation for the deaf, and during the song she mimed yawning. It was during the verse where the shepherds were laying in the fields, but I like to think that it was sign language for “Holy crap, can you believe how boring and weak this song is? You can’t hear it, but trust me you’re not missing anything.”

I can dream, can’t I?


3 thoughts on “The 12 Bad Songs of Christmas: #12

  1. The Celtic Women sing like angels to be sure. I am thinking that perhaps they all decided to wear those awful strapless ruffley things to distract you from the mindless lyrics they were singing. Yes, my take away from the video was “beautiful voices in unfortunate gowns”. I wasn’t paying much attention to the lyrics at all. The orchestra was decent.

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