Start walking backwards for Christmas
The news has been so depressing lately, everybody deserves a break for the festive season.
It is at times like this I turn to the dear old Goons for much-needed salvation.
As a kid, one of my favourite songs was I’m Walking Backwards For Christmas by the Goons, whose radio show featuring Spike Milligan, Peter Sellers, Harry Secombe and in the early days, Michael Bentine, helped make life bearable in Britain during the austere 1950s.
Walking Backwards has an intriguing history. There was a musician’s strike at the time of a Goon show episode in 1956 entitled The Great Tuscan Salami Scandal. The show usually had several musical breaks, but with the musician’s strike, Spike Milligan had to somehow fill up the three minutes normally occupied by the studio orchestra.
He came up with an impromptu rendering of a song he had just written, Walking Backwards, accompanied by Peter Sellers playing a mean piano.
It was hilarious mayhem and the audience loved it. So they made a proper recording and it reached No 4 on the hit parade in June 1956, the first Christmas song to be a hit in the middle of summer.
I was nine-years-old, and Christmas has never been the same since.
Goon, but not forgotten
It is hard to explain the appeal of the Goons to anyone not brought up at that time. They were completely different to anything else ever and had a unique zany spontaneity that hit the spot.
Another of Milligan’s 1956 songs turned out to be an unlikely hit. Spike had a bet with his brother that he could get a song containing only two chords into the hit parade.
Thus was born the Ying Tong Song. It’s not a Christmas song, although it could be, as the lyrics don’t make any sense whatsoever.
It goes something like: Ying tong, ying tong, ying tong, ying tong, ying tong iddle I po (repeated about 59 times in silly voices and interrupted twice by a soprano opera singer performing Take me Back to Vienna).
Actually, it sounds a bit like one of those songs adopted by Thai political parties, which used to wake me up during past election campaigns.
Music is an unavoidable ingredient at Christmas, although songs like Jingle Bells (Jinger Ben to Thailand connoisseurs) and Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer might make you wish it wasn’t.
But for kids, the words to Christmas songs can be quite confusing.
I remember as a nipper being puzzled why the last line of Ding Dong Merrily On High was “when Anna is in Chelsea”. I could not figure out where Anna had suddenly appeared from, or why she was in Chelsea. It wasn’t until I got a bit older I discovered that it should be “hosanna in excelsis”, which frankly made even less sense.
According to Gavin Edwards in his entertaining tome Deck The Halls With Buddy Holly, people regularly mishear lyrics and come up with all sorts of strange versions of Christmas songs, known as “mondegreens”.
In Jingle Bells, people mishear “making spirits bright’’ as “making spare ribs right”, while in Santa Claus Is Coming To Town, many sing along to “he’s making a list, chicken and rice”, rather than the correct “he's making a list, checking it twice”.
And as for those “sleigh bells in the snow’’ in White Christmas, many originally thought it was “slave elves in the snow”, which admittedly would make it a more interesting song.
The unknown reindeer
According to a US survey, many kids believe the third verse of Away In A Manger begins “the cattle are lonely” rather than “the cattle are lowing”.
Incidentally, in the early ’70s, I recall seeing a Thai cassette of Christmas songs which included the splendid Away in a Manager.
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is also responsible for some misunderstandings. One kid even invented a new name for one of Santa’s reindeer. He thought the line that went “all of the other reindeer” was actually “Olive, the other reindeer”.
Anyway, if you find yourself having to sing some of these songs in the next few days, don’t worry if you can’t remember the words, simply make them up — just like everyone else.
Long in the tooth
Most people are familiar with the song All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth, which is usually associated with kids. But anyone who has run into Crutch in recent weeks will know it can also apply to a 68-year-old kid.
For some time I have been walking around with an unsightly gap at the front, with the remaining teeth resembling fangs. It was a most uncomfortable feeling and to spare friends from this unpleasant sight, I found myself speaking like a ventriloquist, trying not to open my mouth.
The result, of course, was that nobody could understand a word I was saying, although to her credit, the waitress got used to “gottle of geer”.
Thankfully I now have replacements and still nobody can understand a word I’m saying.
I can’t do “Sister Suzy sitting on a thistle” for a start.
But I can say Happy Christmas and a merry Jinger Ben to all readers — and please keep an eye open for Olive the unknown reindeer. Like the cattle, she might be a little bit lonely.
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Bangkok Post columnist
A long time popular Bangkok Post columnist. In 1994 he won the Ayumongkol Literary Award. For many years he was Sports Editor at the Bangkok Post.
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