How Australia's Unofficial Christmas Anthem Came To Be In 1996, musician Paul Kelly released a song from the point of view of a man in prison thinking of family and friends celebrating Christmas without him. "How to Make Gravy" remains a hit.
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How Australia's Unofficial Christmas Anthem Came To Be

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How Australia's Unofficial Christmas Anthem Came To Be

How Australia's Unofficial Christmas Anthem Came To Be

How Australia's Unofficial Christmas Anthem Came To Be

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In 1996, musician Paul Kelly released a song from the point of view of a man in prison thinking of family and friends celebrating Christmas without him. "How to Make Gravy" remains a hit.

(SOUNDBITE OF PAUL KELLY SONG, "HOW TO MAKE GRAVY")

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Christmas is a time of togetherness. It can be hard to be far away from loved ones. That brings us to the song "How To Make Gravy" by the Australian musician Paul Kelly.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOW TO MAKE GRAVY")

PAUL KELLY: (Singing) Hello, Dan. It's Joe here.

SIMON: It's become a kind of Christmas anthem in Australia since it was released more than 20 years ago. Joe was in prison, writing a letter home.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOW TO MAKE GRAVY")

KELLY: (Singing) It's the 21st of December.

It just sort of rolled out like a long piece.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOW TO MAKE GRAVY")

KELLY: (Singing) And now they're ringing the last bells.

There's no chorus line, no repeated lines. It just tells the story.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOW TO MAKE GRAVY")

KELLY: (Singing) If I get good behavior, I'll be out of here by July. Won't you kiss my kids on Christmas Day? Please don't let them cry for me.

It's kind of based roughly on my family Christmases. I come from a big clan. And most of us together, or all of us together, and as partners and exes and strays.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOW TO MAKE GRAVY")

KELLY: (Singing) I guess the brothers are driving down from Queensland.

New boyfriends and girlfriends and so on.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOW TO MAKE GRAVY")

KELLY: (Singing) And Stella's flying in from the coast.

So that was sort of the atmosphere.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOW TO MAKE GRAVY")

KELLY: (Singing) They say it's going to be a hundred degrees - even more, maybe. But that won't stop the roast.

Of course, in my song, Joe can't get there.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOW TO MAKE GRAVY")

KELLY: (Singing) Who's going to make the gravy now?

So he's fretting about who's going to make the gravy because he always makes the gravy, but he can't be there and he wants to make sure they get it right.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOW TO MAKE GRAVY")

KELLY: (Singing) Just add flour, salt, a little red wine.

The recipe for the song comes from my ex-wife's father-in-law. It's actually the only true thing in this song. The song's all made up. But it's a real recipe, which I use. And the unusual thing was adding a bit of tomato sauce, or what you would call ketchup. I've had foodies - you know, those food snobs, you know, say, what? You're putting tomato sauce - ketchup in a gravy? And that's the recipe I still use. And now, of course, you know, I'm stuck with it. At family Christmases, I'm the one that always has to make the gravy.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOW TO MAKE GRAVY")

KELLY: (Singing) I hear Mary's got a new boyfriend. I hope he can hold his own. Do you remember the last one? What was his name again? Just a little too much cologne.

For me, I was thinking it was more of a comedy when I wrote it, but I guess a lot of people think it's a sad song. I think it's got a bit of both.

I think Christmas is - you know, it's a fairly potent time where there - a lot of people, you know, they like Christmas. They look forward to it. But a lot of people don't. It's stressful - families getting together and all the little foibles and annoyances they have with each other. That runs deep with all of us.

So there must be something in a song that brings that up. It's really that Joe, who can't make it, shines a light on it. But I think sometimes people forget about poor old Joe.

SIMON: Paul Kelly and his 1996 song, "How To Make Gravy."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOW TO MAKE GRAVY")

KELLY: (Singing) You know, one of these days, I'll be making gravy. I'll be making plenty.

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