Perfect Pop Songs #2: Prince’s “Another Lonely Christmas” (1984)
Here’s the second installment in this series. I hadn’t intended for this track to be another one from the 1980s, but rest assured that upcoming posts represent a broader range of material, dating at least back to the late 1940s.
“Another Lonely Christmas” originally appeared as the b-side to “I Would Die 4 U,” the fourth single from Purple Rain, the album that, more than its predecessor 1999, made Prince a certifiable superstar. As I write this now, it occurs to me that, come June, that album will be 25 years old. I’ll have to write a commemorative post when the time is right.
Lyrically, this is one of the most depressing tracks in Prince’s extensive (and increasingly uneven) œuvre. The song’s narrator is talking to an unnamed former lover who died on Christmas day and remembering the good times he shared with her as well as his shock and despair following her sudden and unexpected passing. Musically, it was a brilliant outlier when compared to the tracks included on the film’s soundtrack. The distorted, subtly churning guitars with a judicious helping of delay provide—along with the piano, bass and drums—a backdrop for one of Prince’s most expressive vocals. Note, for example, the subtle changes in inflection and phrasing he introduces each time he sings the chorus (at the beginning, at 1:29, at 2:40, at 3:38 and at 4:39), especially the way he sings the words “last night” and the way he elaborates and extends the words “lonely Christmas” and “care for.” The whispering, the talk-singing and the sometimes pleading tone—also thickened via deftly panned delays—combine to make this track heart-wrenching. And the closing guitar solo makes me melt every time I hear it, as does the stuttering coda.
The version I’ve included is the extended one, available only on the 12" single (with the image depicted above). It contains a verse not included on the most easily located track, the one included on Prince: The Hits/The B-Sides. Beginning around 1:58, that verse starts with the words “Do you still like banana daiquiris?” It was a shock to me in late 1984 to hear any mention of alcohol in a Prince song, since, in contemporary interviews, he had publicly expressed no interest in any beverage stronger than tomato juice.
Nonetheless, here’s yet another perfect pop song. I hope you enjoy it…