Gareth Roberts Gareth Roberts

Bring back schmaltzy songs

(Image: White Christmas, 1954)

Christmas pop song lyrics play by different rules. Children, food and family togetherness are never mentioned in pop songs from January through November. It would be unthinkable for a non-Christmas pop song released in the last 50 years to mention ‘Children playing having fun’ or God forbid, anything religious. But this was not always the case. The pop music of the pre-rock and roll era is, to our ears, often indigestibly schmaltzy and even holy.

Let’s have a quick look at some big hits of the 50s. Eddie Calvert sings of his father:

No one could be, so gentle and so lovable
Oh, my papa, he always understood.

Frankie Laine tells us:

Every time I hear a newborn baby cry or touch a leaf, or see the sky
Then I know why I believe.

While Michael Holliday relates in ‘The Story Of My Life’:

There’s one thing left to do
Before my story’s through
I’ve got to take you for my wife
So the story of my life can start and end with you.

This was perhaps the very last occasion when marriage was depicted as an ending, even a happy one.

The 60s and 70s are a bit of a halfway house in this regard. The mega hits of Petula Clark in the 60s – produced and usually composed by Tony Hatch and his wife Jackie Trent – are zippy, orchestral pop with a beat. Their lyrics are notable for their ripostes to the growing counterculture i.e. what became the culture. ‘Round Every Corner’ is an exaltation to optimism and the pioneering spirit – ‘Leave all the gloom days, think about the new days!’ Petula exults. ‘Man will soon be standing on the moon above – just imagine all the things that he’ll discover!’

The very idea of counting your blessings and showing gratitude in a pop song would shortly become unthinkable, as it remains today

Even more exuberant is ‘Colour My World’ from 1966, with its opening blast of a line, ‘You’ll never see a dark cloud hanging round me!’ – a direct answer record to the Rolling Stones’ ‘Paint It Black’.

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