Let's Make "The Perfect Year" A Real New Year's Eve Carol
“It’s New Year’s Eve/And hopes are high/Dance one year in/Kiss one goodbye.” Reading that, you may think, “It’s not even Christmas yet, stop writing about New Year’s Eve carols and leave Christmas be.” But why would you think that? This month, as with the last two, most people will hear more Christmas songs than they knew existed, but when have songs about New Year’s Eve ever been overplayed, let alone encroached on earlier holidays?
There are plenty of songs about with the last/first night of the year, but most of the songs people routinely hear associated with it are not about it. Take the songs played during the Times Square Ball Drop: John Lennon’s “Imagine,” Frank Sinatra singing “New York, New York,” Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s stunning medley of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and “What A Wonderful World,” and the old chestnut “Auld Lang Syne.” That last is most closely attached to New Year’s Eve, but even it is not about the event specifically, it is about any kind of passing. The rest of the songs are about hope, perfectly appropriate to New Year’s Eve, but again, not specific to it. The lyrics I quote above are from an Andrew Lloyd Webber song that is joyfully and specifically about celebrating one year becoming another, and I’d like “The Perfect Year” to become a regular part of that celebration, a true New Year’s Eve carol.
“The Perfect Year” is from Webber’s musical Sunset Boulevard, and the lyrics, by Don Black and Christopher Hampton, cover all of the important aspects of a New Year’s Eve observance. The first verse references “A midnight wish to share with you” followed by, “Your lips are warm/My head is light:” New Year’s resolutions, a kiss at midnight (also mentioned in the line at the beginning of this article), and the side effects of the customary champagne. The refrain is about not needing a “crowded ballroom” for the celebration, acknowledging that many people do pack themselves into parties on New Year’s Eve, but an intimate celebration is acceptable, even preferable for some. “If you’re with me/Next year will be/The perfect year.” There’s that hope I mentioned that ties other songs associated with New Year’s Eve together, and the second verse ends similarly with “The clock has struck/The die is cast/Let’s take a chance/Forget the past.” It’s a song to share with the person you plan to kiss at midnight, about the importance of that person in your life. Finally, following the “Kiss one goodbye” line referenced above are the lyrics, “Another chance/Another start/So many dreams/To tease the heart.” These are the sentiments felt by most if not all people toward the ultimate new beginning that is promised by New Year’s Eve.
As for the music, I know there are many out there who think Webber is good for nothing but earworms that will never leave you once you’ve heard them. While I have more respect for him than to make that kind of generalization about his music, I would say, in the case of a holiday song, is that such a bad quality? If you read the words “Jingle Bells,” how long will it take you to escape that melody dashing through your brain? If I write the word “dreidel” three times, even non-Jews will think, “I made you out of clay.” So perhaps the power of Webber’s music to stay with you, whether you like it or not, is a good thing in this case, even something other songs written about New Year’s Eve could have used more of over the years. But this particular melody is also quite lovely and, importantly, kind of a sleepy tune. It’s a song about the middle of the night, the only time during the year most people actually stay up that late, and they are tired, perhaps more so for being a little tipsy.
This is the kind of music I can easily hear Bing Crosby, the voice of Christmas, singing, or, rather, crooning. I was first introduced to this song on Sarah Brightman’s second album of Webber songs, Love Changes Everything, and I fell for it right away, wondering where it had been on all of those midnights. It perfectly expressed what I usually feel around that time of year. The lyrics I quote here come from that version, and I know they are somewhat different in the show. In the show, it has a subtext of obsession, but on New Year’s Eve it could be just a nice song to slow dance to, alone with your significant other or at a party with someone new.
There are versions other than Brightman’s, but hers is a stand out, her voice having a clear, bell-like quality I associate with a dark winter night. I wonder if she has a Christmas album like her Phantom of the Opera co-star, Michael Crawford. But whether you listen to her or Patti LuPone or Glenn Close or Dina Carroll or whoever, if we all start listening to this song around New Year’s Eve and sharing it with others, that most promising of nights can once again hope to have its own hit. The likes of ABBA, Ella Fitzgerald, Barry Manilow, the O’Jays, Taylor Swift, and the afore mentioned Mr. Crosby have recorded songs about New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, but when I first heard this one I thought it was the only one, because those never really took hold like Christmas songs have (the jury is still out on the staying power of Swift’s, which is new). I know it’s not the most important thing in the world, popularizing a song about New Year’s Eve, but in a season about sharing, a nice, perfectly fitting song sung by one person to another can be one of the nicest of gestures, and since we do it with Christmas, we may as well keep the good will going a little longer. That’s my hope in writing this, anyway.
Aaron Netsky’s writing has appeared on AtlasObscura.com, Slate.com, TheHumanist.com, ThoughtCatalog.com, Medium.com, and all over his personal blogs, Cantonaut (http://cantonaut.blogspot.com) and 366 Days/366 Musicals (https://366days366musicals.tumblr.com). He is also a novelist, actor, and singer who has performed and worked in a variety of capacities off andoff-off Broadway. Follow him on Twitter @AaronNetsky.