25 December 2009

The Beach Boys: Little Saint Nick

So Merry Xmas to one and all!

True story: I was going to start this blog sometime after the turn of the year. But then i realized that if i waited until January to start this i’d have to wait a full year to deal with this song, which would easily be deserving of a Grammy nomination for Worst Non-Comedic Xmas Song Ever. (Worst Comedic Xmas Song Ever? “Reggae Christmas Eve in Transylvania” by the otherwise-amusing Count Floyd, no question.)

So no, i’m not a fan of this one. At all. And yet it remains in heavy rotation every year when top–40 stations across the country switch over to Xmas music sometime in November (maybe in October in some markets, the way things are going). At least it’s only two minutes long.

(By the way, if you’re not familiar with the song, you can have it burrow into your brain, as well, by following this link. If you absolutely must.)

What makes this song even worse, though, is that it was written by Mike Love and Brian Wilson. Yep, that’s right, universally acclaimed musical genius Brian Wilson was part of writing this utter horror of a song. Now, i’ll admit that i’m not a huge Brian Wilson fan—i don’t get what was so great about Pet Sounds, to begin with—but even so i can see (hear?) that Wilson was pretty good putting at together a single.

On “Little Saint Nick”, though, his genius took a holiday.

First of all, it’s a blatant act of self-plagiarism, since it essentially steals the tune of the really amazing California-surf-rock “Little Deuce Coupe”. This wouldn’t be so bad if Wilson and Love had been able to come up with decent lyrics to fit the tune.

What’s that? You don’t think they did all that bad a job? Well then—let’s go to the lyrics themselves, then, shall we?

Well, way up North where the air gets cold
There’s a tale about Christmas that you’ve all been told
And a real famous cat all dressed up in red
And he spends the whole year workin’ out on his sled.

Not the greatest opening ever, but not the worst. I mean, some of the lyrics are weird (Santa works out on his sled?—were the Rocky movies actually some sort of elaborate homage to this?), but nobody outside of Motown could do harmonies like the Beach Boys, and so we can let a little bit of that sort of thing slide just to listen to them.

For now.

It’s the little Saint Nick (little Saint Nick)
It’s the little Saint Nick (little Saint Nick)

In all fairness, we learn later that “the little Saint Nick” is Santa’s sleigh. However, given the preceding verse, you’d be forgiven for thinking it refers to Santa himself—and, for those of you who aren’t up on your English grammar, English grammar doesn’t allow articles (that is, a, an, or the) before proper names or phrases standing in for proper names. For example, you wouldn’t be able to say “Hey, mom, look! It’s the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer!”

Like i said, it resolves itself later (in the very next line, in fact), but there’s a moment of grammatical whiplash there. Cracks are starting to appear in the fa├žade of Brian Wilson’s lyrical talent, i fear—and they’re only gonna get wider.

Just a little bobsled, we call it ol’ Saint Nick

Just for the record, here’s the disambiguation on the name of the sleigh. Weird name, but fine. Whatever.

But she’ll walk a toboggan with a four speed stick
She’s candy apple red with a ski for a wheel
And when Santa hits the gas, man, just watch her peel.

This isn’t just an example of your basic, garden-variety stupid lyrics. This is mind-bogglingly, insanely stupid. I mean, what? The whole street-racing thing went well for you, so you decided to throw random automotive descriptions into the mix?

Let’s go through this logically, shall we?

First, we have a line that makes no sense to me at all—and it’s not a matter of misunderstanding the words, since this is one of the most clearly-sung lines in the entire song: “But she’ll walk a toboggan with a four speed stick”. Huh? I mean, i get that it’s got a four-speed manual transmission (keep that in mind, by the way—it’s important later on), but “But she’ll walk a toboggan”?! You can’t make up incomprehensibility like this!

And even if i actually am mishearing things, the only alternative i can come up with is “But she’s like a toboggan with a four speed stick”, which makes nearly as little sense, since as far as i can find toboggans are not normally outfitted for manual transmissions, let alone transmissions of any kind, as would be necessary for such a simile to work.

In comparison with that line, the second line is amazingly clear: “She’s candy apple red with a ski for a wheel”. Well, the color makes sense (and fits traditional descriptions of Santa’s sleigh), but “with a ski for a wheel” is, well, lacking. First of all, cars have four wheels, not one—so does this sled have one ski, or three wheels plus one ski (that is, one wheel having been replaced by a ski)? Maybe it’s a unicycle that’s been retrofitted with a ski for winter maneuverability. Oh, and a transmission.

At least the last line there lets us know it goes fast—and apparently there’s an engine there, since Santa Claus “hits the gas” to make it go.

It’s the little Saint Nick (little Saint Nick)
It’s the little Saint Nick (little Saint Nick)

More on the name of the sleigh.

By the way, did anyone else notice that the refrain calls it “little Saint Nick”, but the preceding verse said they call it “ol’ Saint Nick”? Well, which is it, Misters Wilson and Love? You’re being inconsistent here!

Run run reindeer
Run run reindeer ahhhhhhhh
Run run reindeer

This is a pointless little lyrical interlude, but it’s got the Beach Boys providing us meaningless but sweet, sweet harmonies, offering us a respite from the semantic train wreck that is the rest of this song.

But then…

Run run reindeer (we don’t miss no one)

…it gets a little creepy.

They’re talking about driving fast, and reindeer running, and they throw in “we don’t miss no one”?

Remind me to stay off the roads when Brian Wilson or Mike Love are driving. Or maybe they’re saying that they’re driving around, gunning for Santa’s reindeer? Either way, this is just weird.

He’s hauling through the snow at a frightenin’ speed,
With a half a dozen deer with–a Rudy to lead,
He’s gotta wear his goggles ’cause the snow really flies
And he’s cruisin’ every pad with a little surprise.

I’m not even going to comment on the “with–a Rudy” issue, ’cause there are larger problems here.

Consider: If Santa’s sleigh has that powerful an engine, mated that well to its transmission, and it moves that fast, the reindeer in the lead are, by this point in the song, dead—and, most likely, Santa’s windshield is shattered and his radiator is punctured.

At least we know why they don’t miss no one. Run, run reindeer, indeed.

It’s the little Saint Nick (little Saint Nick)
It’s the little Saint Nick (little Saint Nick)

This little refrain isn’t sounding nearly as innocent any more, is it?

Ooooooo, merry Christmas Santa

I do like the fact that they’re wishing Santa a merry Xmas—he doesn’t get a lot of thanks, despite all he does for the holiday—but it does lead into…

Christmas comes this time each year!

…the dumbest line of the song—and this song has a lot of dumb lines.

Apparently Misters Love and Wilson think we’re too stupid to look at our calendars and realize it’s time to buy gifts for our friends and relations, so they feel the need to remind us. (Hey kids! All the cool kids are giving their friends The Beach Boys Christmas Album, now for sale!)

Well, either that, or they decided to give up before they came up with some sort of more meaningful sentiment to fill in the same meter. But that can’t be it! Brian Wilson’s a musical genius, right? He’d never be troubled by something like rhythm and meter gettin in the way of him saying exactly what he wanted to, right? (Pay no attention to the “with–a Rudy” behind the curtain, above.)

Ooooooo, merry Christmas Santa
Christmas comes this time each year!

And just to prove what they think of our collective intelligence level, they remind us one more time that they think we can’t be trusted to remember when major holidays happen.

It’s almost enough to make me want to sign on to the Kwanzaa thing.

1 comment:

  1. No one... and I mean no one... messes with The Bech Boys. Got that?

    Seriously, though, I do find most of their Christmas songs to be odd. I'm not a big fan of this one and in Santa's Beard their bratty little brother is totally rude to Santa. And The Man With All the Toys? Just plain strange.

    Okay, maybe it is okay to mess with The Beach Boys.

    But, you see, you aren't supposed to actually think about the lyrics. Their sweet, sweet harmonies and sing-along-ability should make you just sing along... with whatever they are saying.