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Christmas Must Be Tonight by The Band

I spent my time at University working in a supermarket part time, and it only served to deepen my apathy to Christmas pop songs. The supermarket played music on a four hour cycle, with the songs in the same order each time, so if you’d worked enough shifts you’d know exactly what was coming next. While I have fond memories of Stevie Nicks’ gentle take on ‘Silent Night’, I was constantly subjected to Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’ and Paul McCartney’s ‘Wonderful Christmastime’, songs that feel like five minute toss-offs.

But of course, there are good Christmas pop songs out there – I’ve already covered Paul Kelly’s ‘How To Make Gravy‘ recently, and Christmas Eve is a fitting time to take a look at The Band’s ‘Christmas Must Be Tonight’. Inspired by the birth of Robbie Robertson’s son Sebastian, it has a gravitas that’s lacking from a lot of other Christmas pop. Rick Danko and Levon Helm’s vocals are tender, but without a trace of sentimentality, while the song is nuanced enough to be interpreted either as a literal version of the Christmas story or a tribute to Robertson’s son.

Of course it also benefits from its relative obscurity – an overlooked gem in a catalogue full of great songs – but ‘Christmas Must Be Tonight’ is a gorgeous, expertly written and performed, seasonal song.

Happy Christmas everyone!

Come down to the manger, see the little stranger
Wrapped in swaddling clothes, the prince of peace
The wheels start turning, torches start burning
And the whole wise men journey from the east

How a little baby boy bring the people so much joy
Son of a carpenter, Mary carried the light
This must be Christmas, must be tonight

A shepherd on the hillside, went over my flock I bide
On a cold winter night, a band of Angels sing
In a dream I heard a voice say, “Fear not, come rejoice
It’s the end of the beginning, praise the new born King”

How a little baby boy bring the people so much joy
Son of a carpenter, Mary carried the light
This must be Christmas, must be tonight

I saw it with my own eyes, written up in the skies
Why a simple herdsmen such as I
And then it came to pass, he was born at last
Right below the star that shines on high

How a little baby boy bring the people so much joy
Son of a carpenter, Mary carried the light
This must be Christmas, must be tonight
Son of a carpenter, Mary carried the light
This must be Christmas, must be tonight
Be tonight, be tonight
Be tonight, be tonight
Be tonight, be tonight

13 thoughts on “Christmas Must Be Tonight by The Band Leave a comment

  1. Not one of my favourite Christmas songs, although like everything by The Band, it is quality. Driving Home For Christmas by Chris Rea is so good I can play it in the middle of summer, and my other faves are not really Christmas songs at all, but just have the word in the title: Soon after Christmas by Stina Nordenstam is hauntingly beautiful and Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis is Tom Waits conjuring up a story as only he can.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, there is an interesting distinction between songs explicitly about Christmas, and songs that just happen to mention it in the title/lyrics. Wham’s ‘Last Christmas’ could be ‘Last Arbour Day’ or ‘Last Centennial Day’, and it wouldn’t really change the meaning of the song much.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Very nice tune. Admittedly, I like some of the Christmas pop/rock songs, including Springsteen’s version of “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town.” As for “Silent Night,” my favorite modern version is by The Temptations. Their harmonizing is as close to magic as it gets, in my opinion.

    But like with most things, listening to these tunes should be in moderation, so I can see why you started disliking some of them after having been exposed to them a gazillion times!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Springsteen’s ‘Santa Claus’ is perfectly serviceable, but it wouldn’t make my list of 100 best Springsteen songs. Temptations doing Silent Night sounds like a good idea. It’s just pretty tough for these songs to stand up to repeated listens.

      Like

  3. You know I’m a Band guy and this is just a good song for any time for CB. I love the organ on this one. Danko is one of my favorite vocalists. I don’t listen to a lot of Xmas music on purpose. If I do it’s usually jazz comps. Good choice on this one.

    Liked by 1 person

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