Low – Just Like Christmas
Working in a record shop at Christmas is brilliant. Obviously it’s complete and utter mayhem – your beloved strict A-Z rock and pop department gets trashed on a daily basis, you have to deal with mountains of stock and thousands of increasingly desperate customers queuing up to buy the latest Now album because they’ve long ago lost the ability to think for themselves. It all builds up to that exquisite moment when you shut the doors on December 24th, with faces still pressed up against the glass making heartfelt (or foulmouthed) pleas to let them in or someone’s Christmas is going to be ruined, and it’s all your fault. And then you have to put the sale out and come back in at stupid o’clock on Boxing Day to deal with a mountain of refunds and tired crabby people who lined up for the Next sale at 6am and are now the dangerously unhinged but proud owners of bags and bags of terrible garments that they will never ever wear.
It may sound horrendous, but I always loved it – so much so that after years away I’ve popped back to do it again one last time this year – because for me it brought home the true meaning of Christmas, which is of course to sell stuff. Faced with hearing Mariah Carey’s All I Want For Christmas Is You twelve times a day, you have two choices – embrace it or go mad. I always threw myself into it with an enthusiasm bordering on the insane, but stayed just on the right side of it, and this means I can still listen to hugely overplayed Christmas songs and feel the warm glow of consumerism. It truly is the most wonderful time of the year.
In 1999, the freshly minted Virgin Megastore in Glasgow opened in December, just in time for peak trading. The entire shop front had been wrapped up like a present, and Richard Branson and Melanie C fake-abseiled down the building to rip the packaging off (followed by a this-will-fool-no-one-but-let’s-go-with-it-anyway swap for the real things at ground level) – and with that, the shopping began.
Pleasingly, one of the hottest items on my floor in those first few weeks was Christmas by the Minnesotan band Low. We literally couldn’t get enough of it, and as it was something of a limited edition we sold out long before the big day arrived. This eight track EP introduced me to what has become one of my all time favourite seasonal records – Just Like Christmas.
Now, Minnesotans know a thing or two about harsh winters – and perhaps that’s why this song, while containing the requisite amount of jingle bells, has a decidedly weary quality to it that suggests the novelty of spending five months the year under a blanket of snow has begun to wear off: “On our way from Stockholm / It started to snow / And you said it was like Christmas / But you were wrong / It wasn’t like Christmas at all”. It’s an ever so slightly grumpy song – even the instrumentation sounds a bit curmudgeonly – but at its heart it’s very sweet, being about one of those little shared moments that make you feel Christmassy, even though everything around you is telling you otherwise. The lyrics do cheer up a bit, continuing (and concluding) with: “By the time we got to Oslo / The snow was gone / And we got lost / The beds were small / But we felt so young / It was just like Christmas”. By this point, what with all the jingling and the big boulder-y drums, you can’t help but feel a warm glow begin to spread.
The whole thing chugs along in a lovely rumbling sort of a way, kind of like you’re being dragged along in a sleigh that’s seen better days with one thin blanket between four of you and an icy Arctic blast pummelling the back of your neck – perhaps a slightly miserable experience, but also oddly comforting, and maybe even a bit exhilarating. Truly this is a Low Christmas.
Entered chart: was not released
Who could sing this today and have a hit? I’d love to hear Tegan and Sara (in full pop mode) have a go at turning this into a banger.