Greg Lake discusses his often-misunderstood Yuletide classic: ‘What Christmas really meant to me’

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“I Believe in Father Christmas” came to Greg Lake almost by accident, when he started singing a familiar Yuletide standard over a newly written riff that stubbornly refused to go away.

“No matter how I tried, I just couldn’t seem to develop it into a song,” the Emerson Lake and Palmer legend has said. “It actually started to drive me crazy, and one day I found myself humming the tune to ‘Jingle Bells’ over the riff. This is the sort of thing that happens to writers when they get a few steps away from total insanity.”

He confided all of this to writing partner Peter Sinfield, who worked with Greg Lake both in King Crimson and in Emerson Lake and Palmer. Sinfield suggested that he adapt the music into a Christmas song, but Lake admits he was cool to the idea — ironic since, in 1975, the track would become a No. 2 solo hit on the UK charts before finding a home on ELP’s 1977 Works Volume II album.

“I really don’t like most of those good-time Christmas party songs, but after a while I began to reflect on what Christmas really meant to me as a kid — and how this had somehow got lost in the commercial feeding frenzy that has taken priority in more recent years,” Lake admits. “Pete and I started to think about this and after a while we began to identify the core belief that children have about Christmas that really capsulizes the magic and benevolent spirit of Christmas.”

Even today, its message of anti-commercialism is sometimes misunderstood as being anti-Christmas. Greg Lake insists it’s anything but. In fact, by getting back to basics, to his own early belief in the season — and specifically, he says, how “the story of the nativity represents the concept of peace on earth, good will to all men” — Lake was able, finally, to break the creative log jam.

Lake and Sinfield, nearly simultaneously, came upon the song’s key line and title: “It was the magic key,” Lake says, “which unlocked the door to the song: I Believe in Father Christmas.”

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