Tis the season to be jolly and all that, so let’s take a look at how some of prog’s luminaries have chosen to celebrate Christmas in years gone by. Despite whatever you may think of prog music in all its glorious forms, there have been plenty of times where some of its greatest voices have embraced the festive season in style. Here are some of our favourites...
Mike Oldfield accidentally invents the Zoom call 25 years early
First up, we have Mike Oldfield and his interpretation of traditional German carol In Dulci Jubilo. You might not recognise the name, but as soon as you click on the video, you’ll know it: a perky, nay, joyous tune that skips along like an urchin who’s just found a shiny penny in the snow-filled streets.
But this being 1975, and the art of the promo film still in its infancy, instead of some uplifting Dickensian mise-en-scène, we get this cutting edge video of the screen divided into nine squares (like some kind of advent calendar?), each one representing an element of the song’s arrangement. As one wag in the comments points out, it looks like Oldfield has invented the Zoom call. And with Oldfield being the only player visible throughout – looking in serious need of a haircut – it would be easy to make the mistake of thinking it’s just him playing everything. Surely not deliberate…
Greg Lake creates the ultimate prog Christmas anthem
There’s no skimping on the location budget for our next entry, the daddy of all Yuletide prog songs, Greg Lake’s I Believe In Father Christmas. There’s no doubt that this is music to warm the cockles of even the hardest hearts, but lyrically it’s actually quite a sombre reflection on another Christmas coming around with mankind still intent on avoiding peace on earth.
The film starts with a close-up on a rather sleepy looking Lake singing the opening lines about snow at Christmas, but when the camera pulls back, we find that, rather than being in a winter wonderland, he’s sat in a desert surrounded by Bedouins and camels, apparently broadcasting from a park-and-ride near Bethlehem. We get the same close-up and pan out on the second verse as well, only this time Lake is revealed to be playing halfway up a mountain. Finally, Lake addresses us from darkness and flames, delivering the killer pay-off line of “Be it heaven or hell, the Christmas we get we deserve” before a stark cut to footage of blazing guns and rockets launching. Brrr!
Jethro Tull get festively weird on Top Of The Pops
Next, we have Jethro Tull’s seasonal entry. Ian Anderson had already delivered a blunt judgement on festive overindulgence with 1968’s A Christmas Song, so this time round, he took the pagan route with Ring Out Solstice Bells, a song that namechecks the druids instead of Santa. You can watch their performance of it on Top Of The Pops, complete with keyboard player John Evan wandering around the stage like a reanimated corpse at a party.
...and then see Ring Out Solstice Bells get given a grim animated makeover
Stranger still is this animated film that was shown on BBC1’s The Golden Oldie Picture Show, a curious feature of early evening telly in the mid-eighties, where the lamentable Dave Lee Travis introduced visual interpretations of classic songs that ranged from tediously on the nose to plain bizarre. There’s definitely something a little odd about their take on Tull’s tune. It starts with the killing of a deer by a cruel looking hunter, before the action shifts to a village in the shadow of an imposing stone tower, its inhabitants grimly dancing under the beady eye of an evil dwarf wearing antlers. And then the Grim Reaper turns up (oh alright, Old Father Time).
Kate Bush gets excited about mistletoe
Finally, what better way to end than with Kate Bush’s December Will Be Magic Again, where Bing Crosby “makes you feel nice” and the snow has “come to cover the muck up”. And with its screeching guitar and synth, it’s actually one of La Bush’s proggiest offerings. So what’s the visual concept for this one? Basically, it’s Bush in red pyjamas sat in a red satin bucket throne giving it her am-dram all, dispensing glitter from her fingertips and literally squirming with pleasure at the thought of kissing under the mistletoe. Happy Christmas, everyone!