By Neil McCormick 12:30PM GMT 17 Nov 2010
Evil pop mastermind Simon Cowell and his horde of televised karaoke contestants may be on a mission to lockdown the Xmas number one but that doesn´t stop other songwriters being inspired by the festivities. And when it comes to songwriting, you don´t get much more inspirational than Paul Simon.
Simon´s Christmas single (exclusively streamed on the Telegraph website) eschews the corny musical clichÃ©s of sleigh bells and choirs in favour of pursuing its own seasonal high spirit, riding on a shimmering bluesy acoustic guitar and foot stomping, hand clapping percussion.
Despite its very American musical milieu, its rough charm and spirit brings to mind the glory days of Simon´s South African dalliance on his classic Graceland album, along with the ragged charm of the Simon & Garfunkel gem ´Cecelia´.
Loose, extemporised gospel interjections from what sounds suspiciously like a roomful of gnarly old bluesmen getting high on mulled wine adds a sense of family celebration. Its like a Christmas campfire (or maybe log fire) singalong, with flowing lyrics that conjure up a working man´s anticipation of holiday release, subtly underpinned with a contemporary political edge:
´I got a nephew in Iraq / Its his third time back / But its ending up the way it began / With the luck of a beginner / He´ll be eating turkey dinner / On some mountaintop in Pakistan´.
Somehow, Simon has waded into the most clichÃ©d of musical genres and conjured up something unique and original that nonetheless captures the holiday mood.
It is, unsurprisingly, a very secular Christmas song, with no mention of Jesus, Mary, Joseph or any of the rest of the gospel crew. But then Simon is following in a long line of Jewish musicians making merry on this Christian holiday, including Neil Diamond, Barbara Streisand, Barry Manilow, Beck, Carole King and a born again Bob Dylan. And, of course, Phil Spector practically remade Christmas in his own wall of sound image. And back in 1966, a little known duo called Simon & Garfunkel released a Christmas album, ´A Very Merry Christmas´, only available in Grants department stores.
Simon´s Christmas song is from a forthcoming album on Decca, ´So Beautiful Or So What´ which will be out in May next year. And that´s how great this song is. It´ll still sound good next Spring.