Pre-holiday Fluff Cavalcade Six: Clanging Chimes of Doom

Misty over at Shakesville posted this brilliant video history of “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” which I will now confess is one of my guilty yuletide pleasures. And I mean “guilty” in every sense of the word: it’s a crap song, it’s patronizing as all hell and, oh yeah, it totally didn’t solve the problem of world hunger. There’s that. (Also, as Misty points out, the hair. My god, THE HAIR.)

I blame my sister J. for this. She (age 23) brought home the 12-inch at Christmas 1984 for our sister M. (age 13) and me (age 9) to share. M. already had enough taste not to care too much, but I sat in our den — home of the one stereo in the house — playing it over and over and over, studying the album cover, trying to figure out how to pronounce Siobhan Fahey’s name and how what definitely appeared to be a man could be called “Marilyn”* and whether Simon LeBon would ever marry me. Listening to the whole damn extended thing, right through the “Thisispaulmccartney. Happychristmas. Feethewuh.” part, throughout the Christmas season and beyond. All because it had the official Big Sister seal of approval as Something Really Cool and Sophisticated that People in their Twenties Liked.

So now, 23 years later, it is totally embedded in my brain as an important bit of childhood Christmas nostalgia, right up there with John Denver and the Muppets**, and I can’t bring myself to hate it. Even if I really, really should. THANKS A LOT, J!

In case you have similar feelings, here’s the original for you to enjoy.

*Keep in mind that at this point in my life, I fully believed that Boy George was straight — in fact, he was my back-up plan if Simon LeBon didn’t pan out — and simply enjoyed dressing in drag for, uh, his own reasons. I was a clever child in other ways, all right? (Not to mention, take a look at Nick Rhodes, who actually is at least mostly straight, and tell me the eighties weren’t a confusing time to grow up!)

**Not long ago, I lost my shit on a cab ride home from downtown, because I said something about John Denver and the Muppets, started thinking about that album and my childhood Christmases, became hideously maudlin, and eventually ended up at home in tears going, “John Denver is dead and Jim Henson is dead and Frank Oz is dead, and my mother is dead, and MY CHILDHOOD IS DEAD! DEAD DEAD DEAD!” I might have been drinking a little. Also, Frank Oz is not even dead.

57 thoughts on “Pre-holiday Fluff Cavalcade Six: Clanging Chimes of Doom

  1. Keep in mind that at this point in my life, I fully believed that Boy George was straight

    Ditto. I just thought he was “theatrical”. However, I think the combo platter of him, Nick Rhodes, and later, Robert Smith of the Cure resulted in my kryptonite being men in black eyeliner.

    (P.S. John Taylor FTW until the end of time)

  2. Oh man yes, I LOVED that song – and I was the older sister. I just thought it was the coolest – it was kind of the early beginnings of my environmental/social justice activist tendencies. John Denver and the Muppets I was always kind of “meh” about – my mother LOVES John Denver and I was old enough by then to know it must, therefore, be totally uncool. But my boyfriend loves all things Muppet, particularly the John Denver and the Muppets special. I tried to buy him a copy of it for Christmas but it’s nearly impossible to find, at least unless you’re willing to spend $90+ for an old VCR copy.

    And ditto on Boy George – I just didn’t quite understand it at that point. Around this same time I encountered my first pot – I thought it was just some funny-smelling cigarettes. I was a rather naive child…

  3. My family doesn’t have a lot of traditions, but… Every year when we decorated the Christmas tree, we listened to the John Denver and the Muppets Christmas. Also, it was my job to bust out the Miss Piggy voice– “Five go-o-olden rings”– while singing “The 12 Days of Christmas.”

    And also? “Do They Know It’s Christmas” is so much cooler than “We Are the World.” Seriously. Even when I was that young, I already thought it was better to be English. (Jackass alleged screenwriters’ opinions notwithstanding.)

  4. I’m still sad about Jim Henson. And Mr. Rogers.

    “Do they know it’s Christmas?” is totally awesome for three reasons:

    1. Seeing all those now aging rock guys when they were young and fresh faced.
    2. Floppy hair.
    3. Bono totally over-singing his part when everyone else is so not into it. And his most righteous mullet.

    “There won’t be snow in Africa this Christmastime”? I’m not a geography genius but how much snow is there in Africa ever?

  5. What? Boy George is gay?! Tell me it isn’t so!!!

    Sorry, I too thought he was simply “theatrical” as Jane put it. *sigh* What naiveté, what hope. What an ultra-cutie, lol.

  6. Laurie, why the fuck have you seen Elmo’s Potty Time?

    And sorry about that, littlem! In my agitated state, I convinced myself I’d heard he was dead, too. Then I Googled him and realized he wasn’t, and then I felt even dumber about my outburst.

  7. ZOMG, I /still/ love this song. Love it to pieces.

    In fact, I just spent a very frustrating half-hour on iTunes, which I just today signed up to (leave me alone, I’ve had involuntary Luddite-ism forced on me by children), discovering that the only way to buy it is with an entire album of stuff, which I, er… just bought. Dammittohell.

    And honestly, John Taylor. God, I adored him. I was absolutely, totally going to marry him, even if at the time I figured he was probably the greatest man-whore ever to walk the earth. And this was before I could even really appreciate just what a man-whore /was/.

    And yeah, I really thought Boy George was straight. Though my backup for John Taylor (should, you know, the power of my 11-year-old starry-eyed love not be enough to make him see the light of blissful monogamy) was totally Adam Ant. sigh. Men in eyeliner witih puffy-sleeved Victorian shirts…. teh yum.

    Oh, and Kate? What IS it about John Denver? “Country Road” came on the radio a week and a half after my mom died, prompting the saddest LJ posting EVER. And yeah, what else did I buy on iTunes? The John Denver/Muppet Christmas album. Now I have to go make sure I’ve packed enough Kleenex for the road tomorrow.

  8. This has nothing to do with your post (sorry). I just wanted to tell you I love that weird little drawing on your hompage. It reminds me of something James Thurber would have drawn.

  9. Oh, and Kate? What IS it about John Denver? “Country Road” came on the radio a week and a half after my mom died, prompting the saddest LJ posting EVER.

    Dude, I wish I knew. I wasn’t even a big fan as a kid, other than the Muppet album, but if I’m in the right (or wrong, depending on how you look at it) mood, he can totally make me weepy.

    Also, the most ridiculous grief/radio story I have… Within a week after my mom’s death (when I was 25), I was in the post office and that Sugar Ray song, “Fly,” which includes the line “25 years old; my mother, god rest her soul,” came on. LOST IT. IN THE POST OFFICE. And subsequently found out Mark McGrath’s mother isn’t even fucking dead, which made me intensely bitter for a while.

  10. Whenever I listen to “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” from John Denver and the Muppets, I tear up.

    Also, I’ve realized that every time I picture the recording of that track, I picture Rowlf and John Denver in the recording studio, not Jim Henson and John Denver, even though there’s no earthly reason for Jim Henson to have had Rowlf there.

  11. everstar – what? You mean the Muppets weren’t in the studio? But… but how would they sing?

    No, seriously. I had never given that a. SINGLE. thought. Ever. In my life. 34 years old, never once occurred to me that, y’know, the Muppeteers were the ones singing into microphones, and not the Muppets in front of mikes.

    Oh, Rowlf. Now I really am going to go cry. sigh.

  12. I’m listening to John Denver & Muppets Christmas album RIGHT NOW. “Where the River Meets the Sea” makes me bawl like a baby every. single. time.

    Piece of trivia for y’all: Jim Henson *hated* singing and thought he sounded terrible. This is the guy who brought us “Bein’ Green”, “Rainbow Connection” and “Rubber Ducky” among others. Just goes to show you can’t ever judge yourself!

  13. Wow. “Rainbow Connection” was my husband’s and my first dance song at our wedding.

    Greatest. Memory. Ever. We’re dancing, we’re married, it’s all happy. I glance around and see everyone watching us, singing along.

    And now, I must back away from the computer, before I short it out by being such a blubby* mess.

    * Thanks ‘Liss!

  14. I just wanted to tell you I love that weird little drawing on your hompage. It reminds me of something James Thurber would have drawn.

    What weird little drawing?

  15. ROTFLMAO – It’s on the telly right now!!!

    Colleen Re: Snow in Africa
    One can go skiing in Morocco in the High Atlas mountains, if you don’t mind the long trip, lack of good equipment rental and alas, shite skiing.

    re: Durran Durran
    My birthday is the same day as Nick Rhodes. I thought that was totally like, cosmic and proof we were meant to be together. And I was SO into John, but I remember seening a photo of him in shorts and one look at his scrawny chicken legs put me right off.

    Speaking of Marilyn and Boy – remember the days when George Michael was still ‘straight’? Props to Boy George who is still as fab as ever, a completely entertaining character even when doing public service!

  16. does Bono bear a seriously bizarro resemblance to Bobcat Goldthwait?

    Once I saw on TV, probably some Comedy Central special, Bobcat Goldthwait do an impression of Bono covering “YMCA.” And — I say this as a former U2 fangirl — it was the greatest thing that’s ever been on TV. The impression was uncanny and hilarious. They are doppelgangers!

  17. Is it weird that I can tell you where I was and exactly what I was doing when I found out Jim Henson had died?

    Also… Thorn, back up off my Adam. :::ahem:::

  18. I dunno. Maybe Rowlf would have been in the studio with John Denver. I heard an interview over the radio once, where the radio interviewer apologized at the end for the slightly fuzzy sound quality. Through the whole long interview, he had been holding the microphone up in front of Kermit’s face, not in front of Jim Henson’s. Jim was very gracious about it…he said it happened all the time.

  19. KH, that Sugar Ray song is a takeoff on Gilbert O’Sullivan’s “Alone Again (Naturally),” vintage 1972. Only in O’Sullivan’s version, which he wrote, the mother was 65 years old. Later he admitted that almost none of the song was true — including the part about his mom being dead. As a student of songwriting I can tell you that singer-songwriters make shit up routinely and sing it like it really happened to them.

  20. As a child of the 70s (well, born in ’66, but the 70s are what I remember), I’m a lifelong John Denver fan. When he died, WGN radio here in Chicago talked about his legacy and impact, and all the callers were about my age, which the host commented on. For some reason, the song of his that really makes me sob is “Matthew,” the song about the uncle who lost everything in a tornado.

    What I want to know is why the hell the Muppet organization hasn’t released John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together on DVD, since I know the CD is one of their all-time best selling items.

    Oh, and as a sidenote–I was just watching a few episodes of the second season DVD of the Muppet Show and want to thank whoever thought to have Rudolf Nureyev and Miss Piggy doing a duet of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” in a sauna with Nureyev only in a towel and Miss Piggy trying to claw that off of him, which she succeeds in doing at the end of the skit. (She’s singing the traditionally male part of the song.) He has the fabulous dancer’s body in full display, well, as full as you’re going to get on a kids show…

  21. and how what definitely appeared to be a man could be called “Marilyn”*

    Dear Goddess. I had a crush on him. Thanks for reminding me…

  22. In 1984 I was 19, living in a dorm. My RA stopped me in the hall to tell me that a girl from our floor was dead. She’d been engaged to be married in January. Home for winter break, she went with her dad to a neighboring town to pick up her wedding dress. They got caught in a blizzard on the way back and were hit head-on by a semi. Both killed instantly, right before Christmas.

    She was 20 years old. We’d had some classes together and were semi-close friends. “Do They Know It’s Christmas” was in heavy radio rotation then, of course. I might have otherwise grown to dismiss it as some nostalgic holiday cheesiness – but that song will forever only remind me of Kristi. I love it. (Even the raucous drunken rendition I heard outside my window the other evening made me smile.)

    Oh, and no one will EVER convince me that the Muppets were not in the studio singing with John Denver.

  23. Our favourite Christmas tradition is to watch A Muppet Christmas Carol while putting up the tree and drinking mulled wine.

  24. Please tell me someone in this throng remembers “Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas.” Then I will squee. Also, I, too, was responsible for the Miss Piggy “five go-olden riiiiiiings” phrase when I was young; I had assumed it was because of my natural singing voice but one Christmas my cousin, in a fit of prepubescent male assholeness, blurted out, “I thought it was because you are fat.” Sorta have some mixed feelings about that song now. But I will never, ever not love (and cry at) “When the River Meets the Sea.”

  25. Your avatar. I like it. It reminds me of James Thurber and the the drawings he used to make.

    Ah. I think you mean Fillyjonk’s avatar, which is why I was confused. (Though that was the only Thurberesque drawing I could think of on the site, so I suppose I did get what you meant the first time.)

  26. I seriously am supposed to be at the store right now getting last minute supplies for the Solsitce ritual I am hosting in like oh an hour and a half and here I sit in my bathrobe laughing and crying at the same time. DH is looking at me as if perhaps I might have gone off my rocker whilst he was out of the room getting coffee. But to read all these comments reminds me that yest the muppets were in the studio, I was gonna marry Simon LeBon, be good friends with Boy George, and hang out with Bananarama. Change my name Siobhan, I just loved that name. All of that was gonna happen, just had to… I still get teary eyed when I hear this song. I used to have the making of video which had Neil from The Young Ones in it. Another great Brit import.

    Please tell me someone in this throng remembers “Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas.”

    My baby brother wore out the VHS we had of this. We loved this and I can still remember most of the songs…

    I must also admit that recently in an old box I came across a set of vhs tapes, they included every single minute of Live Aid ( the music concert that eventually came about because of the Band Aid and We are the World effort. ) I was you could say, a bit of a fan.

  27. Oh, and no one will EVER convince me that the Muppets were not in the studio singing with John Denver.

    Even meat people making albums together might not be in the same studio at the same time.

  28. Don’t know how I managed to escape the John Denver muppets special but I do remember having hell’s own job trying to mime ‘I’m In Love With A Big Blue Frog’ during a game of charades once.

    Apropos of 80s heroes, I chanced to see Marilyn interviewed about a year ago for some documentary about New Romantics . Shapelings, best to remember him the way he was….

    Oh …and Colleen? Right now I’m savouring the phrase “righteous mullet”.

  29. 1984- I was 14 and pestered my mom to no end so I could be home ready to record this on the VCR during its debut on Richard Blades’ MV3. My best friend and I used to braid our hair like Boy George, dissing the other girls who were all Flashdance and shit. Then I saw Desparately Seeking Susan… and knew then I needed to be a rebel like Madonna. So thanks for the flashback. My thoughts on this most awesome of videos:
    1. The Mulletry. Mullet frickin’ central!
    2. I also thought George Micheal was straight.
    3. I love that Cool & the Gang are representin’.
    4. All the singers with 1 hand to their headphones. Classic!
    5. The other guys from bands who aren’t lead singers, getting to do something… like um… shake maracas.
    6. Hey! They’re serious and having FUN! They are like GODS!

  30. I had forgotten how fabulous George Michaels hair was back then… oh it’s beautiful. There was some other awesome hair in there but Georgies is perfect.

    I used to have a pet sparrow who would tweet along in perfect rhythm to “Faith”.

  31. 5. The other guys from bands who aren’t lead singers, getting to do something… like um… shake maracas.

    Ha, no kidding! I had to watch it like 6 times before I figured out who Jon Moss was. Up until then it was just, “I know that dude standing around doing nothing played something in some band.”

    Oh, and I also totes thought George Michael was straight.

    Also, speaking of righteous mullets and singers who take themselves WAY too seriously, I was inspired to search for this. Oof.

    Apropos of 80s heroes, I chanced to see Marilyn interviewed about a year ago for some documentary about New Romantics . Shapelings, best to remember him the way he was….

    Stoned off his ass? Seriously, he wins the award for looking most bored and out of it in that video, in a very tight competition.

  32. Paul Youngs’ Record Producer’s Secret Algebra:

    (Fluffy Party Mullet x Jazz Hands) + (Righteous Spinning inside Leather Jacket / stone wash jeans) = 80’s Pop Romantic HIT! *cue sighing girls in front roe*

    Thanks for another trip you fabulous lady, you!

  33. In December 1984 I was only 9. I had no idea what “gay” meant. Like, none whatsoever.

    Also, I think I might need some pop-up arrows to make sure I recognize all the participants. (Or at least the less-obviously-recognized participants.) For example, there is no way that I’d be able to identify the members of Spandau Ballet or Big Country. And was Paul Young that big? I only remember “Every Time You Go Away”…

    (And while we’re on the topic of Beloved Christmas Songs of the 80’s, Wikipedia tells me that Wham’s “Last Christmas” was in second place on the UK pop charts for the entire time that “Do They Know It’s Christmas” was number one. I am not ashamed to say that I love love love Wham.)

  34. P.S. Even though I didn’t know about gayness when I was 9, it did occur to me to wonder if the Ethiopians in question cared that it was Christmas.

    Turns out that they might have cared, but that Ethiopian Christians, like other Eastern Christians, celebrate Christmas on January 7. Also, about half the country is Muslim, and, in 1984, there were still significant numbers of Ethiopian Jews.

    So the whole premise of the song’s lyrics is… flawed. This is one area where “We Are the World” is superior.

  35. Stoned off his ass? Seriously, he wins the award for looking most bored and out of it in that video, in a very tight competition.

    Nope – Marilyn just looked like some balding, middle-aged, very slightly effeminate bank manager – though Steve Strange was beyond stoned off his. (Did Visage ever make it as far as the US? I’m thinking probably not though, as manufactured 80s bands go, they were quite good).

  36. Stoned off his ass? Seriously, he wins the award for looking most bored and out of it in that video, in a very tight competition.

    Nope – Marilyn just looked like some balding, middle-aged, very slightly effeminate bank manager – though Steve “Fade To Grey” Strange was completely off his face. (Did Visage ever make it as far as the US? I’m guessing probably not).

  37. confession: It just occurred to me this year what an extremely patronizing and ignorant song this really is/was, in fact it was only last night that I really listened to what I was singing with to, and I had to stop as I realized how completely fucking rude it is. In 1984, I truly believed I would help save Ethiopia from all of its troubles by buying this album etc…the humiliation, sigh, how was one expected to think about this song rationally when all of their true loves were in one video – Nick, Simon, Bono, Sting, will you marry me????

    ps do you think they knew how absolutely patronizing this song really was?

  38. I know I am late to this party, but like Nomie, I was born in 1984, and this is the list of people I could confidently identify in that video:
    Sting

    There were others that I thought I knew who were, but Sting is the only one I would bet money on.

    This is the kind of stuff that makes me feel like I’m only pretending to be an adult.

  39. dang….i’m REALLY late to THIS party….LOL…but, i gotta comment:

    – simon lebon was gonna be my baby’s daddy (LOL)
    – boy george was gonna be my BFF (LOL)
    – steve norman (sax player from spandau ballet) was my backup baby daddy (SNORK)
    – nick rhodes was my 3rd baby daddy (i seriously need some birth control, dontcha think?)
    – john taylor (ditto)
    – larry mullen, jr. of U2 (ditto to the extreme)

    and, yes…I AM a sucker for guys in eyeliner! thanx again for the fab thread, kate!

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