Lake filmed a video in the Sinai Desert where he performed his song surrounded by Bedouins and camels.
I Believe In Father Christmas – Greg Lake
Recorded at EMI, Abbey Road
Released November 1975
Writers Greg Lake & Peter Sinfield
Producers Greg Lake & Peter Sinfield
UK #2 12/75 USA #95 12/75
While this appears on numerous Emerson, Lake and Palmer collections (due to a later group re-recording) it was in fact a Greg Lake solo offering when it first appeared in time for Christmas 1975. Not your usual jolly Christmas ditty full of reindeer, mistletoe and roasting chestnuts (though there is a distinct overdose of sleigh-bells), ELP and former King Crimson vocalist Greg Lake’s contribution to all those Christmas hit collections over the intervening years is a song of yuletide gloom and woe with a message, though that message is apparently not necessarily what you thought it was. This can hardly be blamed upon Mr Lake since he didn’t write the lyrics, only the music. Having come up with a suitably seasonal melody on his acoustic guitar (you can sing ‘Jingle Bells’ to it!), Lake contacted lyricist Pete Sinfield with whom he’d worked in King Crimson.
The mood is set with Sinfield’s opening lines, ‘They said there’ll be snow at Christmas, they said there’ll be peace on earth, but instead it just kept on raining…’ Following mention of a ‘fairy story’ about some Israelite, there’s an uplifting classical interlude, sleigh-bells to the fore (more of that later) before further gloom descends in a final verse though towards the end as hope springs eternal things look up with an ‘hallelujah’ and ‘noel’ before the final line glumly predicts, ‘be it heaven or hell, the Christmas we get we deserve’. Not much good cheer there then, Greg?
Most articles written about the song seem to claim that it’s an anti-Christmas, anti-religious or atheist piece about the ever increasing commercialism of Christmas. Sinfield, having recently read these claims on Wikipedia, vehemently denies this and states that it is actually about childhood Christmas’s he recalls in the early 1950s, a loss of innocence and the sad realization that everything isn’t quite what it seems – i.e. it was actually his dad dressed up as Father Christmas! However, the man who sang the song does in fact have a different view, and in comments relating to U2’s 2008 charity cover version on @U2blog he said, “In some ways, ‘I Believe In Father Christmas’ is a rather quirky song. It was never written with the intention of it becoming a hit single but was written, rather, as an album track making quite a serious comment about how Christmas had changed from being a celebration of peace on earth and goodwill to all men, into one huge and disgusting shopping orgy.”
Not surprisingly, on the musical side ‘I Believe In Father Christmas’ contains all the pomp and circumstance one might expect from a member of the notably bombastic Emerson, Lake & Palmer, and obviously flush with cash from his group engagements, Lake hired a 60-piece symphony orchestra and 30-voice choir to accompany him in the studio. What he didn’t initially pay for was the chunk of classical music he stole from Russian composer Sergey Prokofiev, which forms the most uplifting musical segment of the song. This is part of his Lieutenant Kije Suite, written in Paris in 1933. Prokofiev died in 1953, though only 22 years later his music was still in copyright when Lake borrowed it, though the late Russian’s publishers don’t appear to have noticed for a while. Original copies make no mention of him, but more recent editions give Comrade Prokofiev his due credit. This slice of Prokofiev was added, by the way, at the suggestion of Lake’s buddy Keith Emerson who claims to have used it himself during lengthy live jams with his previous band, The Nice. (By the way, Sting pinched another part of Prokofiev’s piece for his song ‘Russians’)
‘I Believe In Father Christmas’ was recorded at the famed Abbey Road studios, and with symphony orchestra and choir in place, in order to create something of a party atmosphere, Mr Lake, jolly joker that he was, decided to hire a stripper who apparently caused something of a sensation when she sat on the lead-violinist’s lap! There are no details as to how far she had proceeded in her act at the time. Throwing more wads of cash around, and perhaps with the birth of the baby Jesus in mind, Lake filmed a video in the Sinai Desert (Israeli occupied at the time) where he performed his song surrounded by Bedouins and camels. The Bedouins were no doubt suitably bemused. Released in November 1975, ‘I Believe In Father Christmas’ swiftly climbed the UK charts and rose to Number 2 though it was held off the Number 1 spot by Queen’s finest musical moment, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’.
Sinfield, who wrote the lyrics for most of King Crimson’s debut album and also named the band, composed the lyric to Lake’s other well-known solo piece, ‘C’est La Vie’ (a French Number 1 for Johnny Hallyday) and went on to write for Bucks Fizz (!), Celine Dion (‘Think Twice’) and numerous others including another French superstar, Julien Clerc. Greg Lake is still recognized as one of the Kings of ‘Prog-Rock’ – indeed author Tom Bromley has noted, “I’m not sure it is possible to be more ‘prog’ than Greg Lake without having been born a hobbit.” (What about Jon Anderson of Yes then? Or maybe he IS a hobbit?) Following his solo sojourn, Greg of course rejoined his pals Emerson and Palmer for further musical mayhem and during the 1980s was a member of both Emerson, Lake & (Cozy) Powell and Asia. In more recent times he’s been a solo act – ELP reconvened in 2010 for a one-off 40th anniversary gig. While Mr Sinfield’s dreams were shattered, it’s quite possible that Greg Lake, like many of you readers out there, still do believe in Father Christmas. A Merry Christmas to you all!
Copyright © 2010/2014 SongStories/Tony Burton
Originally published by Tony Burton, Stavanger bibliotek og kulturhus.