Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree

In the spirit of the War on the War on the War on Christmas™, I thought we might take some time to share our favorite Christmas and/or Holiday songs.

The lovely and talented Malibu Stacy is a huge fan of Christmas tunes, while I've always been a Festivus man myself. We're a mixed marriage. What can I say? With lots of holiday cheer and holiday alcohol, we make it work.

I know it's only the first week of December, and thus the malls and stores have only been playing Christmas tunes for two months now, but hopefully that's enough exposure for you all to come up with some favorites.

Here are my favorites:

10. Vince Guaraldi Trio, "Christmas Time is Here" -- An all-American classic. 'Nuff said.

9. Burl Ives, "A Holly Jolly Christmas" -- See above.

8. El Vez, "Christmas Wish" -- Yes, El Vez, the Mexican Elvis. This is a nice steel guitar '60s tune, something that could easily have appeared in any one of the 328 Hollywood films the real Elvis appeared in between 1960 and 1963.

7. Ann Margaret and Al Hirt, "Baby, It's Cold Outside" -- This is a song that should clearly be labelled a "holiday song" and most definitely not a "Christmas song." With lines like "No, no, the answer is no" and "Hey, what's in this drink?" it sounds more like an episode of "Law and Order: Holiday Victims Unit" than a festive holiday tune.

6. Patton Oswalt, "My Christmas Memory" -- Not exactly a Christmas song, but a killer comedy routine about a Christmas song. I can't do it justice here, but go download it on iTunes and be glad you did. You'll never look at Alvin and the Chipmunks in the same way again.

5. Bing Crosby and David Bowie, "Little Drummer Boy" -- Yes, the alcoholic wife-beating crooner and the androgynous glam rocker, together to sing a tribute to that first Christmas Eve. Somehow, they pull it off, in a nice harmony.

4. Clarence Carter, "Back Door Santa" -- Another one on the list that's a little more naughty than nice. Still, it's a scorching soul number, and contains the opening horn sample used in another holiday classic, Run D.M.C.'s "Christmas in Hollis."

3. James Brown, "Sweet Little Baby Boy, Pts. 1 & 2" -- James Brown used to put out a Christmas single every year, with titles like "Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto" and "Soulful Christmas." This is one of the more sincere songs, though, and it has a nice string arrangement that's unusual for the Godfather.

2. Billie Holiday, "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm" -- Come on, even her name is Holiday. A surprisingly swinging tune from Lady Day, and a nice one at that.

1. Otis Redding, "Merry Christmas Baby" -- One of my favorite Christmas tunes, done beautifully by Redding here.

Alright, the rules from the Friday Random Ten are in effect. Well, except for the Random part. And the Friday part. And the Coolness Self-Audit, too, since everyone's cool on the Yule.

I guess just give us the holiday songs you hold dear. Is that so much to ask?

15 comments:

Parral Entertainment said...
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ORF said...

This is easy, except that mine's a whole album. There's at least ten tracks on the album tho, so I think it's prolly alright: John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together. It is the BOMB. http://tinyurl.com/b7ucp

Mr Furious said...

Carryovers from Otto Man's:

10. Vince Guaraldi Trio I'll see your "Christmas Time" and raise you "Linus and Lucy" and "Skating"

9. Burl Ives, "A Holly Jolly Christmas" I actually joked to my wife we should name our first son "Burl" last night. The best part about Burl Ives is, in my head I picture the stop-motion animated version, not the real guy.

8. (tie) Bing Crosby and David Bowie "Little Drummer Boy" Classic.

There is a R&B radio station in Detroit that started playing all Christmas music the day after Halloween. My list will be heavily influenced by their playlist since we listened as we decorated our tree last night, and I have a lot of 'em fresh in my mind.

I'll go with the following additions (in no particular order):

8 (tie) Bob Seger "Little Drummer Boy" I reallly think this is a strong version of this song, actually kicking ass over the Bing/Bowie version except for the nostalgia factor.

7. Bruce Springsteen "Santa Claus is Coming to town" I'm actually not a big Springsteen guy, but you can reallly hear the guys in the band having a good time with this one.

6. Rufus Thomas "I'll Be Your Santa Baby" Another totally sexed-up 70s R&B/funk tune. Heard it on the radio a few years back and grabbed the mix CD at the link.

5. Billy Squier "Christmas Is The Time To Say I Love You" Too "rock" for WNIC, but I used to really enjoy this one back in Connecticut.

4. Bob & Doug McKenzie "Twelve Days Of Christmas" The quickest way to feel twelve again...

3. Pat Benatar "Please Come Home For Christmas" Benatar crosses over and handles this stuff well. Plus, I thought she was totally hot when I was a kid.

2. Band Aid "Do They Know It's Christmas" Waaay better than "We Are the World."

1. "O Holy Night" A big song in our house. Celene Dion (shudder) might have the best version, but Stevie Wonder, Josh Groban and others all have good ones. My wife loves this song so much she seriously wants it played at her funeral.

Can I get odds on Thrilhous picking Greg Lake - "I Believe in Father Christmas"?

My three-year old's (for the moment) favorite? Gayla Peevy "The Hippo Song"

Lump of Coal category:

Father Christmas - The Kinks
Any Mannheim Steaming-roller
Chipmunks

Otto Man said...

Nice call on the Rufus Thomas. And on Pat Benatar's hotness, we are agreed.

I can't go with you on the Billy Squier, though. Ever since I saw an old video of his, in which he dances like a 6-year-old girl with skips and arm waving involved, I just can't listen to him. At all.

Mr Furious said...

Oh, Squier will be the first one bumped when I hear something better. There are several songs that haven't occured to me yet, simply because I haven't heard them yet this year.

I'll never completely dismiss Squier, however, as he (opening for Queen) was the first live concert I ever attended.

Otto Man said...

The Santa on that album cover is starting to freak me out. Those eyes are a little too all seeing, if you know what I mean. I can't tell if he's listening to enemy troop movements, having an acid trip, or quite possibly both.

peb said...

I very much disagree with the lump of coal given to the Kink's "Father Christmas". That is a holiday classic around my house. But I won't disagree too much since Mr. Furious appreciates the greatness of Billy Squier.

Staying in the classic rock vein, I'd offer the Plastic Ono Band's "Happy Xmas (War is Over)". Moving further from Otto's original theme, check out "Evil Santa" by National Lampoon (I don't know which album though) with Bill Murray as Santa and Gilda Radner as a little girl. It's as funny as it sounds.

Mrs_Thrillhous said...

10. Silent Night - Stevie Nicks
I can actually sing along!
9. What Child Is This
8. Nutcracker
It hurts to watch, but I like to listen.

7. Mama Bake A Johnny Cake, Christmas Coming
Caribbean tune. Mr. Walken had it right--we all need more cowbell!
6. Do They Know It's Christmas? - Band-Aid

5. Ave Maria - Celine Dion
4. O Holy Night - Celine Dion
3. O Holy Night - Mormon Tabernacle Choir
2. Ave Maria - Leontyne Price
1. O Holy Night - Leontyne Price

That would be the Ave Maria by Schubert, which would also make a Favorite Wedding Songs list (which we probably won't see here). Mariah Carey's O Holy Night might work its way in here, but I haven't heard it yet. And I'm on the lookout for even more renditions.

Otto Man said...

I'm on the lookout for even more renditions.

iTunes has a ton of versions. Good ones include Ella Fitzgerald and Lou Rawls. Not so good ones include .38 Special.

Yes, you read that correctly. .38 Special sings "O Holy Night."

S.W. Anderson said...

Christmas being a timeless phenomenon that calls people to perpetuate or re-create family, church and community traditions, I make no apology for these being oldies. And I can't go 10, so if you want to hoot me out of here, I'll go quietly. But maybe this will somehow be interesting anyway.

A few singers are so outstanding that when they sing a song, it becomes theirs for all time. Dozens, even hundreds of lesser talents may cover it, but everyone knows who owns that particular song. Bing Crosby's "White Christmas" is a perfect example. Splendid lyrics with just the right mix of sentiment and nostalgia, it's great for singing along. And more now in this harsh, barren, melody-less period than ever, "White Christmas" is an excellent example of how fine a thing a good melody can be.

Kate Smith was never a glamor girl. In fact, she was the anti-Britney Spears, hefty and the antithesis of hot. But whereas Spears is all flash and jiggle, Smith had a fabulous voice could sing like you wouldn't believe. (There's a nice bio here.)

Take the emotions and sentiment that followed 9-11, magnify them by a factor of 1,000 and you'd come close to what Americans felt in 1943. In that year, in the movie, "This is the Army," Smith sang "God Bless America." Her rendition electrified audiences with its power, dignity, pride and sense of resolve. It perfectly captured the sentiment of that day, and people were blown away by it. Shortly after we got a TV in the early '50s, I saw a clip of her singing it at a war bond rally, in Madison Square Garden, I think. Shortly after Smith began singing, even though it's not the national anthem, people in uniform stood and saluted, civilians stood and put their hand over their heart. Halfway through, the audience was singing along. There was patriotic magic in that hall, and even though she was but one of several stars to appear, she made it happen.

A few years later, I saw Smith on one of the variety shows of that time. She created similar magic singing "Silent Night" simply and more beautifully than any of the dozens of singers I've heard sing it over the years, although Charlotte Church also does it beautifully.

Also from the WWII era, there's another one owned by Crosby, "I'll Be Home for Christmas." It's wistfully sweet and sentimental, and held special meaning at a time when so many Americans were far from home. That said, Mel Torme's version is a very close second.

Finally, for something completely different, there's comedian and satirist Stan Freberg's "Green Chri$tma$."

The following is from a very readable 1996 piece by John McDonough:

Like any curmudgeon of consequence, Mr. Freberg has moved through life with a fine disregard for self-interest, biting all hands as they come, including those that might feed him. It is the knotty dilemma of satire that one's juiciest targets are often one's most fertile patrons.

In Mr. Freberg's case, few target/patrons loom larger than over-commercialization and advertising agencies. His 1959 record, "Green Chri$tma$" ("Deck the halls with advertising..."), was denounced as sacreligious, mostly by ad men.

Dan Smith said...
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Dan Smith said...

In the spirit of the 12 days of Christmas…

12. Jose Felciano - Feliz Navidad My son has the book and I discovered the Spanish says Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. The English only says Merry Christmas. I hate gringos too, Jose.

11. AC/DC - Mistress for Christmas I ask for this every year, but let’s face it Brian Johnson is no Bon Scott.

10. Christmas Regrooved album Electronic Christmas music. I think my wife might let me play this at our Christmas party. That’s worth a top 10 slot.

9. Waitresses – Christmas Wrapping This makes me want to go to the mall in leg warmers and do my shopping.

8. Beach Boys - Little St. Nick The harmonies on the chorus of “Run, run reindeer” are classic Beach Boys (that’s good).

7. Run DMC – Christmas in Hollis My parents took us to see the Christmas show at Radio City Music Hall one year. I guess collard greens w/ Rev Run would have been too much to ask for.

6. Plastic Ono Band - Happy Xmas Only John Lennon’s beautiful voice could make me feel good about the lyrics “So this is Christmas, and what have you done.” John Lydon would get punched in the face for saying stuff like that.

5. Elvis’ Christmas album An excellent mix of secular and religious songs that my mom took from me for her own personal collection. At least she still lets me listen to it when I visit.

4. Bowie and Bing - Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy Spy magazine explained perfectly how this captured the spirit of Christmas, but that was a long time ago and my memory is fuzzy. I’m not sure if this still holds true, but I bought the CD single a few years ago and it included the original video from Bing’s holiday special.

3. Band Aid – Feed the World This gets bonus points b/c Bob Geldof continues to try and help feed the world. The chorus w/ all those voices still makes me feel like it can happen.

2. The Who – Christmas This captures both the childlike wonder of Christmas (“Did you you ever see the faces of the children they get so excited”), and the philosophical questions Christianity raises (“Tommy doesn’t know what day it is….How can he be saved?”). Those rock operas really try and make you think, yet still put a smile on your face.

1. Kinks – Father Christmas Unless you get Steve Vai’s Merry Axemas album, you not going to get any better riffs on a Christmas song. Plus feuding brothers really seems like Christmas time to me.

Otto Man said...

Nice list, Dan. I'd forgotten about that AC/DC classic.

S.W. Anderson said...

Ack! Major omission from my Christmas favorites list, probably because the hour was late and the brain was cramping.

Nat King Cole, "The Christmas Song," "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire . . ." Lots of people have done it well over the years, but none as well as Cole.

peb said...

I can't believe I forgot to mention Slade's "Merry Xmas Everybody". Even more unbelievable is that Dan Smith didn't include it in his list.