Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Discuss: Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree...

Karen: A big part of the holiday season for me is music. I start feeling that Christmas spirit when I hear any of the tunes off of the Vince Guaraldi "Charlie Brown Christmas" album. That has to be my number one, all-time favorite Christmas music. But there are a lot of other songs I really enjoy. I like the  traditional tunes like "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" and old crooners like Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole, but it's great hearing traditional songs with a twist. Surf guitar slingers  Los Straitjackets have a great album, "Tis the Season for Los Straitjackets," where they combined traditional Christmas tunes with classic surf songs like "Pipeline" and "Walk Don't Run" to create unique sounds. I absolutely love this album, as it hits two of my favorite genres.

Karen: Last year I was thrilled to run across a little gem in Best Buy - "A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector." This album is a real beauty. It has holiday classics performed by The Crystals, The Ronettes, Darlene Love, and Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans. If you're a Phil Spector fan, or a girl group fan, or just a fan of 60s pop singing groups, this is a terrific album.

Karen: There have been a lot of original songs over the years that I've grown fond of, but none rocks harder than the Kinks' "Father Christmas."

Karen: There are so many more I enjoy -"Little Saint Nick" by the Beach Boys, the schmaltzy synth of "Wonderful Christmastime" by Sir Paul, "Merry Christmas (I Don't Wanna Fight Tonight)" by The Ramones, "Christmas Is" by Run-DMC...it seems like everyone has put out a Christmas song. What are your favorites?


Anonymous said...

I love most Christmas carols but my favourite is probably 'Good King Wenceslas' due to its' great tune, its' snowy setting and its' message of altruism which is what Christmas is supposed to be about. My favourite Christmas pop songs are 'Merry Xmas Everybody' by Slade (1973) which is THE British Christmas song of the last 50 years and is inescapable in the UK at this time of year, 'Happy Xmas (War Is Over)', 'Wonderful Christmastime', 'I Believe In Father Christmas' by Greg Lake which is 40 years old this month, 'Ring Out Solstice Bells' by Jethro Tull (1976), 'Mary's Boy Child' by Harry Belafonte and the 1978 version 'Mary's Boy Child - Oh my Lord' by Boney M which was the best-selling Christmas song of the '70s in the UK. Also Winter Wonderland has always been a big favourite and last Christmas I discovered a fantastic new song, Feliz Navidad - yes, I know it came out in 1970 but I'd never heard of it till last December. And finally, a great modern Christmas song is "White Is In The Winter Night" by Enya from 2008.

Redartz said...

Karen= you're quite right; that Phil Spector album is fantastic. The versions of "Winter Wonderland", "Marshmallow World" and "March of the Toy Soldiers" are my favorite versions of each; period.

Colin- some great tunes in your list, too. Really like the Greg Lake and Boney M songs you mentioned. And "Feliz Navidad" (the original version by Jose Feliciano) was a favorite from the first time I heard it. Also brings memories of our holiday outings back in high school with Spanish Club, singing Spanish carols. "Veintecinco de Diciembre, pum, pum..."

A couple more faves: "Christmas Wrapping" by the Waitresses. "Do they Know it's Christmas" by Band Aid. Plus, it's fun to listen to the Beatles Christmas fan club recordings, if you can find them. I had the fortune to pick up a copy of the collected LP years ago; full of classicly Beatle-esque shenanigans and skits...

Humanbelly said...

Ah, Karen, yer battin' right in the HB ballpark, ya are-!

Christmas Music in general is an issue that generates smirks, eye-rolls and certainly no small amount of well-meant, friendly derision in both household and workplace (hoo-- especially the workplace, as our theater company is a branch program of the DC Jewish Community Center-!). I suspect the reason Sirius/XM started up two Holiday channels on the day after Halloween this year is because they were tired of. . . someone. . . calling their offices during the first week of November every year to ask when exactly they planned to get started. Surprisingly, ten years ago that sort of programming was much more loosely handled, and I would get transferred from department to department by well-meaning folks, all of whom had a "hunh-- y'know, that's a very good question"-type of response. This year they headed HolidayObsession Man off at the pass. . .

Most years, one or two albums will catch my fancy more than the rest and get preferred playtime. The Vince Guaraldi album, yep, that's always been a huge favorite-- it's particularly good if you're working quietly on something alone. Other personal chart-toppers would be Barenaked Ladies Christmas Album w/ the God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen/We Three Kings medley with Sara McLaughlin; Hollywood Trombones' "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" (astonishingly good, unknown album!); Straight No Chaser's first Christmas album a couple of years ago; and most of Manheim Steamroller's output. . . until the one from a year or two ago that somehow couldn't rise above Muzak level. TSO is a guilty pleasure that I rather love-- but do burn out on pretty quickly.

Bing Crosby's "White Christmas" album is also a favored relic, as it was the only Christmas record my college dorm had for the lobby, so I would listen to it over and over during late night shifts at the front desk as the season drew near.

But-- the first "album" I listen to every year is actually this cassette tape:


(if you'd care to follow the link). . .

It's one of those no-name holiday tapes that I believe was made by either RiteAid or People's Drugstore 'waaaaay back when for the Two for $5 rack. And upon first listen, it seems to be exactly the cheesy product you'd expect. Christmas carols re-packaged on the fast&fly into Dixieland arrangements, with a few vocalists doing mid-level impersonations of Bing, Louie Armstrong, etc. Except. . . two unexpected factors weren't taken into account. 1) The fact that fast/loose/in-the-moment is the bedrock strength of great Dixieland Jazz, and 2) the completely anonymous, uncredited musicians are flippin' GREAT! And there are moments when the producer wisely just gets out of the way and lets them run off with it all. And even the moments of near-groaning cliche' (inevitable) seem to have a bit of a wink to them that defuses most of their potential annoyance.

Why do I include the Amazon link here?
Geeze, I want to encourage ANYONE to BUY the darned tape so that maybe SOMEbody SOMEwhere will figure out that it's a gem badly in need of being re-mastered onto a format based in the current century! I'm on my 3rd one now, with a 4th in reserve (and a buddy has two of his own), but sooner or later, they'll all be gone-- and that would be, well, the opposite of a Christmas Miracle-!

Oh gosh-- rambling tangent for breakfast. So sorry, Karen!


david_b said...

I put a few on my FB page, but I like the Venture's Christmas album plus the Beach Boys 'Man with All the Toys'. I heard that particular song years and years ago, always loved it, but it's actually more of an obscure BB song (never knew the name of it.., until just recently), love it.

My love for 'Wonderful Christmastime' is **well** documented here and on my FB page (again..), just a smart and unforgivably-seeming unforgettable yuletide jingle.

Two other favs are of course Bing and David Bowie doing 'Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth' (wonderful back-story on that as well), and the 'Do They Know It's Christmas', which delivers a slight 'lets-be-concerned' about starvation, but much more charming to listen to than Lennon's over-played 'Happy Xmas (War is Over)', IMHO.

Blessings, everyone.

Humanbelly said...

Oh man, DaveB, but do you remember how excruciating it was the Christmas that Lennon was assassinated? That song, as well as his half of Double Fantasy, simply never left the airwaves. That first spoken/sung phrase would play-- "And so this is Christmas. . . ", and I would struggle (college sophomore, mind you) to not immediately tear up on the spot.


cerebus660 said...

The Phil Spector album is indeed a wonderful thing and contains one of my all-time fave Christmas songs: Christmas ( Baby Please Come Home ) by Darlene Love. Just sublime!
And no Christmas is complete in our house without me playing two songs on Christmas Eve:
Santa Claus Is Coming To Town by Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band
( for the sheer joy and exuberance and for Bruce cracking up half way through )
Fairytale Of New York by the Pogues and Kirsty MacColl
( for the gin-soaked maelancholy and that beautiful tune )
Oh, and I'll have Little Saint Nick by the Beach boys too...

cerebus660 said...

* "melancholy" :-)

Anonymous said...

I forgot to mention all the songs from 'Rudolf The Red Nosed Reindeer' - sadly I never grew up watching this stop-motion gem but since discovering it a few years back I try to watch it every year...I saw the whole movie on YouTube a few days ago and I love all the songs : Holly Jolly Christmas, I Am Old Kriss Kringle, Silver And Gold, We're A couple Of Misfits etc - there's not a bad song on it, great stuff :D

Edo Bosnar said...

Well dang, everybody mentioned all of my favorites: Fairytale of New York, Father Christmas and McCartney's Wonderful Christmastime (which, like David B., I enjoy quite unironically). I'd just add another tune that I always find myself playing on YouTube during the holidays: the Snow Miser and Heat Miser theme songs. Those two characters were by far the most memorable aspect of that Christmas special (The Year Without a Santa Claus), and their songs are all kinds of awesome.

Steve Does Comics said...

Off the top of my head, I would go for;

Merry Xmas Everybody by Slade.

I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day by Wizzard.

Israel by Siouxsie and the Banshees.

Merry Christmas Everyone by Shakin' Stevens. It's not cool. It's not clever but it is weirdly irresistible.

Fairy Tale of New York by the Pogues and Kirsty MacColl.

I'll also add Pipes of Peace by Paul McCartney. The lyrics aren't specifically Christmassy but it was a hit at Christmas and the video was inspired by the 1914 Christmas Truce and always brings a lump to my throat, the sap that I am.

Garett said...

I've mention David Myles a couple times-- here's his song Santa Never Brings Me a Banjo: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2KNGhf6aMs4
My band plays that a couple other Christmas tunes this time of year.

How about Havin' a Reggae Christmas, by Bryan Adams and featuring Pee Wee Herman: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s4_4DOEvQ4E

I couldn't believe it when I heard this on the radio, but it sure grew on me-- Bob Dylan singing Must Be Santa: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a8qE6WQmNus

Steve Does Comics said...

Come to think of it, All Together Now by The Farm is about the 1914 Christmas Truce, so I suppose that's technically a Christmas song. They just weren't bright enough to put the word, "Christmas," in the title. So I shall add that to my list of favourites.

I caught myself enjoying Christmas Time by The Darkness the other night. I fear a strange kind of Yuletide madness has claimed me.

Redartz said...

HB- you nailed December 1980. Add "Imagine" and you had most of that month's airplay locked up.

Colin- seconding your love for "Rupolph". Classic music in a classic show. My wife catches me channeling Yukon Cornelius every year...

Oh, another favorite: Sting's "Gabriel's Message" from the album "A Very Special Christmas". Hauntingly powerful. Great album, also features the Springsteen tune that Cerebus 660 mentioned.

Anonymous said...

"Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer"!

Actually, I agree with "Fairytale of New York"...great song; I also like ELP's "I Believe in Father Christmas", though when you listen to the lyrics it's not really what you'd call "feel-good music".

Mike Wilson

david_b said...

Steve, GREAT call on Macca's 'Pipes of Peace'. Despite his creative downslide in the '80s and the 'not-so-great' album it was the title song of, that video's a definite creative high point for McCartney.


Fits istutely well into the power of Yuletide spirit during times of unrest and warring countries, great message.

pfgavigan said...


Not anti-Christmas or anything (( nervously looks around for Bill O'Rielly )), but I absolutely love the Doctor Demento Christmas special. While it's a hit and miss affair there are some absolute gems of satire in it.



The Prowler said...

Christmas music!!! I FREAKING LOVE CHRISTMAS MUSIC!!!! Like, a lot and bunches. Christmas isn't Christmas until I hear Nat King Cole's The Christmas Song. And "White Christmas" is a song that really lets you know if a singer has chops or not. Not a fan yet of The Vince Guaraldi Trio's A Charlie Brown's Christmas but I've only listened a time or two.

Hey HB, you should try Michel Rondeau Brass Quartet's Christmas Music For Brass. Really strong arrangements and good music for the background.

Another fun Christmas song is Bing Crosby and the Andrew Sisters Mika Noka, wait, Meli Kalinopo, oh Hell, Mele Kalikimaka (nailed it)!!! Love that song.

A few others to give a listen to: John Denver and the Muppets "We Wish You A Merry Christmas" Louis Armstrong's "Winter Wonderland", Cee Lo Green's "What Christmas Means To Me" and Owl City's "Peppermint Winter".

(I know this is where I usually insert a song but since today's topic is music I'll leave a little something else under the BAB tree:

One fine sunny day, two bananas decided to throw the kite, a blanket and a picnic basket in the old trunk and head on down to the river. Well the picnic was eaten and the kite flown when the two bananas settled down to cloud gaze on the blanket. Just then a turd goes floating by on the river. The turd spies the two bananas and yells out "Come on in, the water's great!!!" The bananas sit up and one banana turns to the other and says: "Do you believe that shit!?!")

Anonymous said...

Fairytale of New York is the only Christmas song I really like (Christmas music being everywhere from Thanksgiving to Christmas burned me out on it at an early age) but it's inescapable. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em with:

The Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack. If it doesn't make you smile you're dead inside.

Wynton Marseilles: Crescent City Christmas Card: all the non-experimental tracks are excellent. Christmas Jazz at its finest.

Bad Religion: they have a good punk Christmas album, but my favorite is their cover of Joy to the World. If you've never heard it and have a tolerance for heavy music, it's a hoot.

Jimi Hendrix's cover of Little Drummer Boy: almost all feedback. Inessential, but my favorite version of that song.

Stevie Wonder's Christmas music: c'mon, it's Stevie.

- Mike Loughlin

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