John has the true story of Seattle's strangest Christmas classic

"Stop the Cavalry" by The Cory Band has been a quirky Seattle Christmas favorite since the eighties

December 9, 2019
John Fisher holding The Cory Band CD

Photo: Sarah Bornstedt

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You know all the classic Christmas songs, from "Jingle Bells" to "Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer," and we’ve been playing lots of them during the holidays on The New 94.1 The Sound of Christmas.

But there’s one Christmas classic that’s unique to Seattle, and that’s so different and, well . . . weird, that it’s shrouded in mystery. The song is called “Stop The Cavalry,” and it’s by The Cory Band. I first played it when I came to Seattle in 1992 to work at the late great station 103.7 The Mountain. But its place in the lore of only-in-the –Northwest songs goes back farther than that.

Here’s your “Stop The Cavalry” FAQ:

Who wrote Stop the Cavalry?

The song was originally written and recorded by a 70s British pub-rocker named Jona Lewie.  He put out a couple of releases on Stiff Records, a legendary U.K. punk label. (Other artists on the label back in the day included Ian Dury, The Damned, Nick Lowe, Elvis Costello, and Madness.)  Although Lewie’s original version of the song was kind of subdued and way less rousing than the version by the Cory Band, Stop the Cavalry became a pretty big Christmas hit in Britain in 1980, and it still is. (Apparently, Lewie didn’t originally intend it to be a Christmas song – he added the holiday references after realizing the record would be released in November.)

So who’s the Cory Band?

Details are sketchy, but apparently Stiff Records thought a more stirring and lively arrangement would benefit the song so in 1981 they hired the Cory Band and the Gwalia Singers (a veteran male choral group from the Welsh coastal town of Swansea) to jazz it up a little.  This gave the song an even more majestic holiday "oom-pa-pa" vibe. Stiff Records sent the new version out to “progressive” FM rock stations around the country that were already playing some of the label’s more cutting-edge artists.

How did it get on the radio in the Northwest?

One of the stations that received the Cory Band’s version of “Stop the Cavalry” was KEZX in Seattle, a long-lost station that was legendary for its eclectic mix of music. A guy named Peyton Mays (who I would later work with for a couple of years at The Mountain) thought the song sounded infectious (in a good way.) To him, “it sounded like something you’d grown up with the first time you heard it – and yet the lyrics were pretty dark.” He threw it on the air sometime in the 1980s, the phones lit up like  . . . well, like a Christmas tree, and a Northwest holiday tradition was born.

When KEZX went under, airplay and interest in the Cory Band died down until the early 1990s when KMTT (my old station – The Mountain) was born and “Stop the Cavalry” hit the airwaves once again. (Other stations have claimed to have “discovered” the song over the years, but they’re just rewriting history.)

What’s the song about?

According to Jona Lewie, the guy who wrote it, "The original title was Can You Stop The Gallantry! At college I was impressed by a book called something like The Humanistic  Perspective. The song may sound a bit Marxist, but it's more about just that -- the human perspective, the sympathy for what the soldier's going through. I suppose it was a bit inspired by The Charge of the Light Brigade as well." Okay dude, if you say so.

How do I get my hands on the song?

Silver Platters record stores in Seattle’s SoDo neighborhood, Bellevue, and Lynwood have “pre-owned” copies for $4.99, you can stream it on the major music apps, and it’s easy to track down on YouTube if you just need a quick fix. I'm not even sure where I got the CD copy I'm holding in the picture above, but it's a collector's item, and I'm keeping it.

Meanwhile, here's what all the fuss is about:

 

What the heck are the words?

Here you go . . . sing along at home:

Hey, Mr. Churchill comes over here
to say we're doing splendidly
But it's very cold out here in the snow,
marching to win from the enemy
Oh I say it's tough,I have had enough
Can you stop the cavalry?
I have had to fight, almost every night
down throughout these centuries
That is when I say, oh yes yet again
Can you stop the cavalry?
Mary Bradley waits at home
in the nuclear fall-out zone
Wish I could be dancing now
in the arms of the girl I love
Chorus:
Dub a dub a dum dum
Dub a dub a dum
Dub a dum dum dub a dub
Dub a dub a dum
Dub a dub a dum dum
Dub a dub a dum
Dub a dum dum dub a dub
Dub a dub a dum
Wish I was at home for Christmas
Bang! That's another bomb on another town
While Luzar and Jim have tea
If I get home, live to tell the tale
I'll run for all presidencies
If I get elected I'll stop - I will stop the cavalry
Chorus
Wish I could be dancing now
in the arms of the girl I love
Mary Bradley waits at home
She has been waiting 2 years long
Wish I was at home for Christmas

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