David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 328: Jona Lewie (Stop The Cavalry)

February 20, 2024

In 2011, when I started at Southwestern Michigan College as Vice President of Instruction, one of the things I was most excited about was to be at a school with Performing Arts. Davenport University, where I had spent my previous 17 years, being primarily a business school, had no arts programs. I hadn't consciously missed the Performing Arts there, but felt the void filled very quickly at an institution where I could walk through a hallway and be pleasantly surprised by the operatic pieces of "Bohemian Rhapsody" being sung by student choirs. I figured I would gladly trade the athletics of Davenport for the arts of SMC (SMC has since added athletics so I now have the best of both worlds).

Not too many people at SMC in those early days would have known about my obsession for all things rock and pop music. In fact, it was at one of the first holiday concerts that my secret (not that I was really trying to keep it a secret) came out. Mixed in with the classical holiday songs, the classic holiday songs, and the spiritual hymns and psalms of Christmas, our band director introduced an obscure song as part of the band's numbers, "Stop The Cavalry."

'Stop the Cavalry?? Stop the Presses,' I immediately thought. 'I know that song. That's Jona Lewie, but it's hardly a Christmas holiday song.' Since it was being performed just by the band (sometimes the choir and the band co-perform pieces at all of our concerts), all the audience got was the jaunty melody produced in short spurts by SMC's version of the Salvation Army Brass Band that provided the catchy horns in the original. In retrospect, I can't remember what captured the Kazoo from the original. Knowing the scope and talent of our bands over the years, there probably was a Kazoo-ist (if that is a word?).

Thus, as soon as the concert ended, I found Doc, our Director of Bands, and said, "I knew 'Stop The Calvalry. That was a great surprise, although I didn't really associate it as a Christmas song." I believe, in that moment, I was to be forever revered by Doc, who seemed really, really pleased, and that moment ultimately helped forge a professional friendship that exists even after his retirement.

Needless to say, as soon as I got home, I put on my "Stop The Cavalry" and looked into its origins a little more. I wasn't familiar with it from its 1980 release; probably nobody in the United States was, which explains Doc's set-up that it was an obscure number. I knew it from a compilation of British music, and frankly preferred Lewie's equally quirky addictive "You'll Always Find Me In The Kitchen At Parties" to what I knew as an anti-war song, "Stop The Cavalry." Not that I couldn't be (and have always been) anti-war, but over the years, lyrics of "Mr. Churchill comes over here to say we're doing splendidly/but it's very cold out here in the snow marching to and from the enemy/Oh, I say it's tough, I have had enough/can you stop the cavalry?" were more memorable for me than the occasionally repeated "wish I was home for Christmas."

Lewie apparently didn't see it as a Christmas song either, but a late November release in Great Britain probably doomed him, as the record company saw marketing opportunities (and apparently added the fantastic tubular bell, another instrument that could be wonderfully displayed at an SMC holiday concert). If Wikipedia is to be trusted, the royalties from this every Christmas have probably afforded Lewie a pretty good life, so I doubt he complains too much.

Over the next 6 or 7 years, before Doc retired, I would hear "Stop The Cavalry" a couple more times at the holiday concert, its obscurity meaning it was never a perennial favorite, but something fun to bring out every once in awhile. And without the lyrics but with the addicting march of the music, punctuated by those horns, that kazoo and those bells, it has become a holiday song in my mind. 

To me that is much easier to accept than the concept that Die Hard is a Christmas movie. That argument definitely needs to stop.

Jona Lewie. "Stop The Cavalry." Stiff Records, 1980. Link here.

Day 327: Salt-N-Pepa "None Of Your Business"

Day 329: The Doobie Brothers "Black Water"

See complete list here.