The Writer's, artist's & reader's Guild

Christmas Song Nr. Eight: God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen by Barenaked Ladies

Some Christmas songs are so old and common that they become part of our cultural heritage whether we like it or not. Featured in movies, we sing them in school, in our church choirs, it is played on the Christmas mix while we decorate the tree or we join in them on those rare occasions we are invited over to a friend’s house for some caroling. They enter into our minds through osmosis as it were. Such a song is God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen and for those who live in North America also the version sung by The Barenaked Ladies and Sarah McLachlan.

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen is often referred to as one of the oldest Christmas carols, dated to the 16th century and first appearing in print 1760. It was then mentioned as one of three new carols that season.  The music appears to be from the mid-18th century as well and is heralded as a traditional one.  It recounts the announcement of Christ’s birth to the shepherds and simply put recalls the words of the angel that delivers that very message. This in itself makes it intimately connected to the season.  An ever popular carol it has been recorded and performed several times through the years by The Vienna Boys Choir, Bing Crosby, Savatage and countless others. It also appears in several iterations and under a variety of names like Tidings of Comfort and Joy.

In 2004 Canadian rock band Barenaked Ladies, formed in 1988, released their collection of seasonal songs;  Barenaked for the Holidays. The album, not overtly Christmas like, is a collection of Holiday treats and mixes whimsical versions of classic tracks, Hanukkah tunes and even Auld Lang Syne and makes for an interesting part of any Christmas gathering. The stand out track is the medley they have composed of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen and We Three Kings together with fellow Canadian Sarah McLachlan, born in 1968. The track is recorded almost like a skiffle song, with acoustic instruments and harmonizing vocals. It is a warm and snuggly sensation one gets from listening to it and the vocals meld together quite well. One can imagine Barenaked Ladies and McLachlan standing on a street corner in their long coats and fingerless gloves singing for change in the snow.

The fact that the melody is a classic tune and that the artists put a fresh spin on it is what brings about the Christmas feeling. It is also the reason why the track is number eight on the Christmas List

-Andrew Tobias

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