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Hot cross songs

At the Side Project blog, Warwick Holt wonders what to sing for Easter

The supermarket shelves are full of hot cross buns and chocolate eggs, which can mean only one thing: it’s some time between January and Easter. And given that we’ve been living with them for three months, now it’s actually Easter.

Easter! Also known as The Other Big Christian Religious Holiday. Here in Australia we get two holidays: Good Friday to mourn Jesus’ crucifixion, and Easter Monday to celebrate Easter Sunday, which celebrates his resurrection. Because Jesus may have apparently risen on the third day, but no self-respecting Aussie is rising on a Sunday morning, even to take a holiday.

When I was growing up we even had Easter Tuesday – or Tummy-ache Tuesday as it should’ve been known. Those lucky Tasmanians still get it. The point is, lots of holidays, family time, lots of great tunes…

Hang on, a minute – what tunes? Of course there’s the awe-inspiring Passions of St Matthew and St John by J.S. Bach, though they’re not too easy to sing around the campfire with 5-year-olds.

No, when it comes to Easter tunes, the big one is “Here Comes Peter Cottontail”, a 1950s song by Gene Autry. And not exactly profound. “Santa Claus is Coming To Town” may be a jolly children’s song, but it has a moral message a little deeper than “Hippity-hoppity, Easter’s on its way”.

Even Autry’s previous hit “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer” had a lovely Ugly Duckling style story to tell. “Peter Cottontail”, on the other hand, is sweet and catchy, but basically a cash-in on “Rudolph”’s success. (Perhaps a better title woul've been "Rip-off the Red-handed Rabbit".)

Or there’s that classic song for first piano players, “Hot Cross Buns”, though even then there seem to be multiple versions of the tune kicking around. I’m not sure what the message of “If you have no daughters, give them to your sons” is beyond “sons rhymes with buns”.

Beyond that, my Easter songbook is looking pretty empty.

Now while I'm perfectly happy to be all Scrooge-like and let carollers keep their songs of dashing through the snow purely for the height of summer, it does seem a curious disparity. After all, we're talking Easter! Chocolate being delivered by magical rabbits! This is a time seemingly made for kids to get their song on.

Sure, the Christmas story is an easy thing to celebrate in songs that little kids can get down with. The birth of a cute widdle baby surrounded by cute farm animals who then gets visited by not just one king but THREE. There's even a twinkly star and everything. It might as well have been written by Anne Geddes. So Hallelujah, even Humphrey B. Bear can sing that baby's praises.

Easter though, a bit trickier. Lord and saviour is tortured, then nailed to some wood to die in the baking sun. Sha-la-la-la! Doesn't really work. Let's face it, Leonard Cohen and Ian Curtis writing for My Chemical Romance would be hard-pressed to come up with a song that depressing.

There is one crucifixion-related song that’s a real toe-tapper, with an uplifting message too, but it might be a controversial choice for the more religious-minded among us. In fact the toe-tapping is just one of the sacrilegious aspects of it.

Of course there is the resurrection which you’d think would lend itself to a more triumphant chorus, but maybe songs about the risen dead are also not super kinder-friendly.

So is there anything that we can co-opt as a good Easter song? Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” may encourage kids to swallow the wrong type of candy. And simply adding “Good” to Rebecca Black’s “Friday” seems fraught. And do we want to see Psy teaching us the bunny dance doing “Easter Style”? Probably not.

So, enterprising songwriters, there’s a hole in the market for you. You’ve got til Friday to get it uploaded and onto the iTunes charts.

To the rest of you, may you have the goodest of Fridays, and as they say in the classics, um, “hippity-hoppity, Easter’s on its way”.

As well as being The Project’s Web Producer, Warwick runs a Media Empire. Music is his religion.

The opinions expressed in The Side Project blog do not necessarily reflect those of The Project or the Ten Network.