Not everyone is having a good time this holidays, you jerk. Get in the (anti-)Christmas spirit with these crushingly depressing gems.
This harrowing tale of substance abuse and the disintegration of a once-happy relationship is nothing if not a downer. It starts out hopeful, albeit in the drunk tank, and dissolves quickly into brutal name calling and anger, as Kirsty MacColl seethes “you’re a bum, you’re a punk,” only to be assaulted by MacGowan’s slurs of “you’re an old slut on junk.” The song is one of the highlights on The Pogues’ best record, If I Should Fall from Grace with God. It’s a harsh look into what happens to a relationship full of hope in a time when hope might not be enough.
John Denver gets a bit of a bad rap: he’s a country singer and people tend to lump him in with adult contemporary stuff. But this simple little ditty from the perspective of a seven-year-old child about a deadbeat father ruining last year’s Christmas is a major bummer when you pay attention. All the kid can think of is that he doesn’t want to see his mother cry again this year. It’s not the most masterful song on the list, but it’s not one that’ll bring a smile to many faces.
Bakersfield sound pioneer and badass outlaw country singer Merle Haggard is definitely not the kind of guy you want behind Santa’s white beard. This song is sweet, but crushing, with a hard-working father being laid off at the factory just a few weeks before Christmas. He heartbreakingly explains that his little girl won’t be able to understand why there’s no Christmas for the family that year. But he’s still dreaming about California in the summer, and if they can hold on just a little longer, hopefully that’s what he can deliver.
This one was partly penned by convicted murderer and wig enthusiast Phil Spector, originally meant to be sung by Ronnie Spector. Thankfully, things don’t always work out as planned. Darlene Love’s vocal performance on the track is dripping with longing and melancholy, backed by upbeat bells and horns. When Love sings, “If there was a way/I’d hold back this tear/but it’s Christmas day/please, baby, please come home,” it drives a knife into the heart of anyone who’s been alone on the holidays. Mariah Carey’s version is good, too. But not as good.
Tom Waits, owner of everyone’s favourite whiskey-coated vocal cords, put this one out on his 1978 album, Blue Valentine. It’s sparse, with just Waits’ voice and his slinky piano backing up the first-hand account of a prostitute writing to one of her old partners-in-crime (also, maybe, a former lover). There is way too much detail packed into its four and a half minutes to get into here, but she writes that she went back to Minneapolis, got married, and things are good. Until the last 45 seconds, where she admits that she lied about all of it, and is hard up for cash to pay her lawyer. Neko Case does the only other version that measures up.
Matt Williams is a writer and musician with a decent fantasy football team. Follow him on Twitter @WaterInHell .
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