Monday, January 07, 2019

twas parsecs of time since this blog post did start

It occurs to me that I didn't do a Christmas-related post in 2018, so in the spirit of this music-related one from 2015 (but at considerably less gruelling length) I offer you my opinion that the second line of Chris de Burgh's perennially popular (but nonetheless awful) Christmas song A Spaceman Came Travelling is the worst single line of lyric in the history of music. A bold claim, I know, but I stand by it.

In fairness to Chris de Burgh, many of the established canon of Christmas pop songs are deeply awful. Paul McCartney's Wonderful Christmastime, for instance, is pretty horrible and is redeemed only by some farty rubbery synthesizer noises and the knowledge that he knocked it off in a tea break between sessions for a "proper" album. Some kudos should also go de Burgh's way for at least trying to do something different with the narrative, even if it is a Chariots Of The Gods knock-off.

But there's really no excuse for this:
A spaceman came travelling on his ship from afar,
'Twas light years of time since his mission did start
Broadly speaking there are three crimes committed by this line - two of them are crimes against scansion and general construction of verse by competent adults, and the other is a crime against physics. Note that I am giving de Burgh a free pass on the fact that "start" doesn't rhyme with "afar", and that on reflection it might have set the ludicrous nature of the song as a whole off on the right foot to have adhered to a strict rhyming scheme and have the first line conclude "from a fart". But we'll blow that one off and let that one go, as it were. So:
  • The opening 'Twas here is either a clumsy attempt to squash two syllables into one (ironic since in a minute we're going to be scrabbling around trying to find an extra one) or an attempt to lend a folky, fable-ish, once-upon-a-time air to the song. I actually favour the latter as a theory, since it wouldn't be hard to get an It in at the start of the line if you really put your mind to it.
  • Probably the worst crime of all in my book is the insertion of the "did" to allow the line to end with the word "start". I mean, honestly, you get told not to do this in primary school, and doing it here just makes the line sound like it's been written by a six-year-old. In fact I have a six-year-old in my house, and I'm pretty sure she could do better. Alternative suggestions are pointless given the next problem on the list, but if pressed I would offer these suggestions for fixing the rhyme and replacing the "since his mission did start" bit in (in my opinion) ascending order of awesomeness:
    • on the way from that star
    • in his big airtight car
    • since his spaceship went RARRR
  • Finally, of course, there's the "light years of time" bit. Thankfully, since Chris de Burgh isn't quite such a universal icon of pop culture as Star Wars, there has't been a whole cottage industry springing up to retrospectively decide that it's not wrong at all, like the one that attempts to render the line about "making the Kessel run in less than twelve parsecs" acceptable.
It's easy to mock Chris de Burgh, of course, partly because of his well-documented extreme humourlessness about being mocked, but also because there is just something inherently ludicrous about him that's hard to put your finger on. Well that's all very well, you might say, but just because it's easy doesn't mean you should do it. To which I would respond: I couldn't disagree more.

In conclusion I contend that there are only two Christmas pop songs you actually need: Slade's Merry Christmas Everybody which - despite over-familiarity - is the only properly great one from the rosy-cheeked Christmas jollity end of the genre, and Jethro Tull's Ring Out Solstice Bells to cover the atheist/secular/pagan angle.

No comments: