Unearthing forgotten Christmas classics is a holiday tradition that never grows old to me, especially when the new interpretation is this deft and the forgotten song this worthy. “I Don’t Intend to Spend Christmas Without You” is an overlooked nugget from the overlooked ’60s singer/songwriter Margo Guryan, which surfaced on a fan club recording by St. Etienne in 1998 but has otherwise been waiting for a wider audience. In a just world, this is the version that does it, starting right now with this post. (Side note: the world may not be entirely just.)
What I particularly love here is how the British band Younghusband has managed to disclose the otherwise unapparent Ramones-y heart of Guryan’s rather more Bacharach-y original. The song’s chunky, fitful melody was never as light and breezy as the songwriter professed in her own version; the band here exploits its truer nature by giving it a bottom-heavy feel and converting a light-as-air riff filled with la-la-las into a decisive, lower-register instrumental melody. There is something inescapably Phil Spector-ish in the air here too, as the bashy, reverbed, elusively constructed background sound feels like a tasty homage to a master who himself of course is associated memorably with Christmas music.
Meanwhile—Margo Guryan? I had never heard of her before, and yet wow, there she is, a singer/songwriter who wrote and performed in that wispy, sunshine-y style perhaps more widely associated with the likes of Claudine Longet or even, from South America, Astrud Gilberto—a style that has had an unanticipated second life here in the 21st century. Guryan began her musical career in jazz in the late ’50s, and did not start paying attention to pop music until a friend of hers forced her to listen to “God Only Knows.” She eventually recorded one album, 1968’s Take a Picture, a light-sounding but deceptively complex collection of songs which was well-received critically but found no audience. (Guryan did not want to tour, so her record label didn’t promote the release.) She thereafter abandoned her recording career, and spent most of the ensuing decades as a music teacher. She is still alive, and is active on Twitter.
Younghusband, meanwhile, is a quartet from London that released its debut album, Dromes, in September, in the UK only. Their “I Don’t Intend to Spend Christmas Without You” cover was made available via their record label, Sonic Cathedral . Thanks to Lauren Laverne at BBC6 for the head’s up.
For the excessively curious, the original Margo Guryan version can be heard on Spotify, here (available only to Spotify subscribers):