Holiday, Oh, Holiday

I get a kick out of this commercial, which I first heard on the radio, then saw it on TV.

It’s a happy-sappy commercial with catchy music that goes “Holiday, Oh a Holiday and the best one of the year.” Very Christmas-y on the surface.

The song is done by a group called Vampire Weekend and is excerpted in the commercial.
The lyrics, though happen to be exactly the same as those of Matty Groves which is Child Ballad #81, a traditional Folk song that has been around forever and reproduced in countless versions.

While those are nearly the only lyrics in the commercial and the only ones that Vampire Weekend‘s Holiday has in common with the traditional song, had the commercial’s producers realized that, they surely would have picked another song.

Why? Well, Matty Groves, also known as Little Musgrove and Lady Barnard, is a sad tale of adultery and murder. It has been performed by many artists, such as Joan Baez, Fairport Convention and Christy Moore among countless others.

In the traditional song, which has as many versions as performers, Matty Groves, a commoner, is seduced by Lady Barnard, the wife of a powerful, wealthy Lord, who is away tending to his lands and unfortunately, neglecting his wife. The Lady meets Matty in church and takes him home, where the Lord comes home and finds them in bed. An angry confrontation ensues and the Lord gives Groves a sword and promptly slays the commoner who is no match for him.

The Lady is unrepentant and when the Lord asks “How do you like your lover now?” She tells him she still likes him better. The Lord in a fit of rage, kills the Lady and they are buried in a common grave, with the Lady on top, “because she is of noble blood.”

Here’s a version performed by Fairport Convention.

Compare the lyrics in this to those in the Vampire Weekend video. Not a lot in common, but the only ones used in the commercial are the ones in common in both songs.

90% of people won’t recognized the Vampire Weekend song. I didn’t. But 99% of people probably won’t recognize the lyrics as belonging to Matty Groves/Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard, either. In some versions, it was Lord and Lady Arlen. I’m sure it was adjusted for local political impact over the years.

I’m just tickled that a car company would choose a song with lyrics that bring an image of adultery and murder to my mind for their Christmas commercial. Pure genius…

Posted in Music, TV
4 comments on “Holiday, Oh, Holiday
  1. M. Moretti says:

    They forgot the giant red bow! Nevertheless, this showcases the wonder of the old Anglo and/or Celtic folk song, useful first of all for being so old it is in public domain. It can be used for free and changed any way one chooses. One well known example of this for this season is, of course,”What Child is This?”/”Greensleeves”. “Barbara Allen”, which is used in the old classic movie of the “Christmas Carol”, is another song of this type with several versions.

    These songs in original version seem to tend to this tragic love story theme. One wonders are these the kind of things they used to sing when full of wassail at their Twelfth-Night celebrations?

  2. I have to say the first time I heard the commercial, I seriously thought they were nuts to reference – how did you put it so concisely? – adultery and murder! I laugh every time I hear it now, knowing what I know and clearly, what at least one other person – you! – do as well. Thanks for this post!

  3. Ugly American says:

    Yeah, irony everywhere this season. Ha, fucken ha. I for one am sick of it and I’d love to kick these people in the head. This song was also used in a Tommy Hilfiger commercial. Americans are so concerned with being cool…even with the economy this bad. We will never, ever learn.

  4. Mary, I’m sure you’re aware there are so many traditional folk songs that a Harvard professor, Francis James Child cataloged most of them back in the 1880s. They’re known as Child Ballads and anyone familiar with modern folk artists like Fairport Convention, Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, Woodie Guthrie, Kingston Trio, Simon & Garfunkel or even early Bob Dylan will see their influence.

    Alan Lomax continued chronicling American Folk music in a similar vein, but with actual field recordings in the ’30s and ’40s. Much of the Appalachian folk music of that era has been documented due to his efforts.

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