Most of you (if you road tripped across Ireland in Note in the summer of 2009, you are the exception) have never heard what may be one of the greatest modern Christmas songs of all time. The story begins in 2006 when the Killers began releasing a yearly Christmas song on iTunes whose proceeds would go toward the Project RED campaign and AIDS in Africa. To date, they have released seven such songs over the years (all can be purchased on this ep), but one such song stretches the possibilities of musical greatness and sets a new high standard for the potential of what a Christmas song can be. In 2008, the Killers partnered with Elton John and Neal Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys to create Joseph, Better You Than Me. Here are the 25 reason why this is the best Christmas song you have never heard.
25 Reasons Why JOSEPH, BETTER YOU THAN ME is the Best Christmas Song You Have Never Heard
1) If you buy the song, all proceeds go to Project RED. JBYTM is a Christmas song that is actually about giving.
2) 0:00 – 0:33 – Brandon Flowers, beautiful yet haunting opening vocal set against some simple piano chords. His falsetto mix is effortless and effervescent.
3) The randomness of the musical mix of The Killers, Elton John, and Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys. This unorthodox combination is a stroke of musical brilliance.
4) 0:33 – 0:36 – The drum kick entry coupled with Elton John’s first vocal on the second verse. Drum kick entries are always key moments of great songs, but to unexpectedly add the familiar regality of Sir Elton John’s voice to this moment is genius.
5) The music video features footage from the classic The Living Christ Series from 1951. Anytime you can combine a great rock song with stock footage from this “captured in time” miniseries, you have struck artistic gold.
6) Christmas songs rarely begin with such to the point questions: “Are you bad at dealing with the fame, Joseph? Do you see both sides? Do they shove you around?” This is immediately not your average “Hark, Santa Claus is coming to jingle bell rock” Christmas tune.
7) 0:49 – 1:05 – The lines “When the holy night is upon you/Will you do what’s right?/The position is yours.” These big idea questions have universal application. The position is yours.
8) Elton John’s consonant pronunciation of the “s” in the name “Joseph.” He sings it with the hard “z” in “Zephyr” as opposed to Jo-Seph. I love this.
9) 1:08 – 1:14 – The music video’s visual interpretation of “From the temple walls to the New York nights.” The Living Christ Series footage is particularly literal.
10) The essential truth in the questions sung by Elton John: “Will your faith stand still or run away, or run away?”
11) 1:46 – 2:00 – A guitar solo musical break. It is appropriate, accessible, contemplative without losing any of the momentum, and a perfect lead-in for the song’s burgeoning climax that is about to come.
12) 2:08 – 2:15 – The under layered harmony and rhythmic movement on the line “Do you wish you were back there at the carpenter shop?” This is Elton John doing Elton John things as well as he ever has.
13) JBYTM peaked at no. 43 on the Canadian Hot 100 Chart and at no. 64 on the Austrian Singles Top 75 Chart. Such consensus between the Canadians and the Austrians is hard to come by.
14) 2:16 – 2:30 – Neil Tennant’s vocal line. I admit that my experience with the music of the Pet Shop Boys is close to nonexistent, but the alluring and Bob Dylan-esque sound of Mr. Tennant here warrants further exploration.
15) “You’re a maker, a creator, not just somebody’s dad.” Yes! Joseph does matter.
16) The harmony vocal amp up on the second pre-chorus. It is pristine and Elton John’s melody grounds it all. His vocal reverberation is as warm and heartfelt as ever.
17) How many Christmas songs have ever been about Joseph? If there are any, how many have ever been this good? Joseph is an under appreciated figure in the Christmas story and this song is much deserved.
18) Yes, the desert is a “hell of a place” to find heaven, Sir Elton. This truthful admission is in stark contrast to some of the sugarcoated joy of other Christmas tunes.
19) The lyric “All the years since you left/you have time to sit back and reflect” and the Killers tower of harmony vocals that accompanies it. The climax lead-in (because we are almost there) pushes the listener of this song up that mountain top.
20) 3:40 – The beginning of the “Better You Than Me” song climax. The back and forth between Elton and Brandon is simply gorgeous music.
21) The echoes of “Joseph” that begin at 4:20. Elton and Brandon are both working it in the studio on this one. You can feel their electric commitment and vocal talents coming through the sound waves.
22) Joseph, Better You Than Me is a song that grows on you with each listen. There is so much going on both lyrically and musically that it calls for many returns to fully grasp its greatness.
23) 4:36-4:38 – Elton leaves it all out there on his final “Better you than me.” For a man who has given so much to us musically, his amazing effort and drive on this song is so impressive. This is not just another job for Elton. Joseph, Better You Than Me is a special moment in an amazing career.
24) At 4:53, Joseph, Better You Than Me is an epic rock song length. Often Christmas songs are easy in and easy out, but JBYTM takes more time because it has something important to say.
25) The calm after the storm return to the opening line “Well your eyes just haven’t been the same, Joseph” to end the song. Brandon’s delicate summation and denouement is a beautiful ending to a beautiful song.
Happy holidays to you all and if haven’t already made the purchase, do so. This will be the best $1.29 you will ever spend…