Sunday, December 12, 2010

The 12 Songs of Christmas or Music Not To Slit Your Wrist To

                As is customary this time of year, the music of the season infiltrates our lives in every capacity we can think of:  Commercials feature people with an over/under of 74 ½ teeth displaying fake smiles and a piss poor ability to lip sync.  Elevators and department store sound systems take songs that are at best barely tolerable and turn them into mindless musak massacred pieces of soulless synthetic slop.  Now contrary to the programming of this years’ holiday specific channels, there are holiday songs that exist not sung by the cast of Glee.  So in honor of the 12 days of Christmas that represent the homestretch of this season of receiving cleverly disguised as one of giving, I present my personal mix tape of 12 quality Christmas songs for your enjoyment. (Note for the Twihards:  A mix tape is a series of songs with a similar theme that is presented to another person, usually in CD or cassette tape form.  Back in the day, this was generally utilized by nerdy soulful types to express affection for females, who usually responded to such gestures with as much appreciation as New Yorkers to a 9/11 joke.  Not that I’d know about such things.)   Thus without further ado…
                12.  BAND AIDDo They Know Its Christmas” – The song from Europe that makes you feel guilty about any success you have in life by a super group of rich musicians. It always gets a listen for hearing which participants still resonate (Bono, rocking the mullet in the video), which you forgot about (Paul Young, also rocking the mullet), and which left you scratching your head (JT from Kool and the Gang?).  Still, I always find myself singing “Feed them” by the end, which in turn makes me think of Sam Kinison’s iconic Ethiopia bit (NOTHING GROWS OUT HERE!  NOTHING’S GONNA GROW OUT HERE!)
                11. THE PRETENDERS “2000 Miles” – I find that the older I get, the more I appreciate the soothing hard worn wisdom of Chrissy Hynde’s voice and lyrics.  The song is an ode to those who are away during the holidays, thus making it a perfect tribute for the men and women fighting for our country.  This opening back to back lament of heartache also underscores the fact that there are SOOOOO many sad songs written about Christmas.  Why do we call it the most wonderful time of the year again?
                10. RUN-DMC “Christmas In Hollis” – Now we’re getting hip and happy.  I remember as a teenager that Music Television (Despite all evidence to the contrary, the M in MTV does stand for music) would use this song as a frequent bumper during the holidays  and why not? It’s such a great jam that will get your head bopping in no time.  Plus, your mind can’t help but harken back to the beginning of Die Hard (And why doesn’t that film get brought up in the discussion of great Christmas films? Nothing says Christmas like Bruce Willis, bare feet, and broken glass.)
                9. Bing Crosby and David Bowie “The Little Drummer Boy/Peace On Earth” – Here’s the 70’s in a nutshell:  In the Christmas special this song appeared on, Bowie was whiter than the phony snow on set, and it’s the most normal he had looked up to that point in his career.  He also proceeded to blow Crosby, only considered to be the greatest American voice until Sinatra came along, completely out of the water in a one-sided display only equaled years later during the Axl Rose-Tom Petty Free Fallin’ duet.  Bonus:  You Tube the pre song banter between the two.  Military fathers and gay sons aren’t this awkward.
                8.  Relient K “The 12 Days Of Christmas” – And you thought there wouldn’t be any sort of modern music on this list?  The group that answers the question “What would Blink 182 sound like if they were a Christian band?” gives this timeless tale some fresh sounds and asks questions we’ve all thought. (What’s a partridge and what’s a pear tree? /I don’t know so please don’t ask me.)
                7.  Michael Bolton “Our Love Is Like A Holiday” – Yup, Michael Bolton.  The song crystallizes what I imagine musicians who just want to get home for the holidays feel and has a soft, romantic vibe.  (And no, it has nothing to do with the fact that I was once a courier who shared an elevator and hung out in a lobby in Universal City with Bolton at his pinnacle and he couldn’t have been a nicer guy.  Nothing at all.) 
                6.  Harry Connick Jr. “Must’ve Been Ol’ Santa Claus” – There’s no doubt in my mind this song was recorded in New Orleans.  The jazz vibe just oozes through this tune about a kid who gets to hang with Santa during his annual sleigh ride.  I have no tap dance ability whatsoever, but it doesn’t mean Harry and his gang don’t make me want to try. (No matter how scuffed up the floor below me may become.)
                5.  CHUCK BERRY “Run, Run Rudolph” – There have been countless remakes of this song, but none did it better than the Godfather of the Guitar.  The thing that always stands out is just how clean the solos sound.  So many modern day guitar gods use their tricks of the trade, but Berry always just let the instrument do the talking. (Probably because he had no choice.)  Plus his voice, never technically proficient, is perfect for the playful nature of the tune.
                4. BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” – There are countless live recordings of The Boss, but this is the song that completely captures what it is like to see E Street Live.  Bruce telling the fans a story that doesn’t quite resonate, but is entertaining nonetheless;  The band taking any song put before them and jamming in unison like they’ve been playing it 100 times a day for 20 years;  the uncontrollable joy that manifests itself in the laughter on stage and the smile on your face.  That personifies Christmas more than any number of “Ho, Ho, Ho”’s bellowed by the Big Man.
                3. THE EAGLES “Please Come Home For Christmas” – Don Henley’s voice has always been a contradiction: soothing beauty swirled with cantankerous admonishment, all hiding the vulnerable pain underneath.  That makes it perfect for a tune about a guy marveling in the joys of others around him while asking for his loved ones’ return with more than a hint of edginess. There hasn’t been such a reluctant romantic since Lloyd Dobler held up the boom box in Say Anything.  
                2. U2 Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) – It’s not Christmas time until the tree is up, Linus has given his spotlight speech on the birth, and I’ve been caught air drumming in the car to the beginning of this infectious two minutes and twenty-one seconds.  Bono is in prime voice (and still rocking the mullet) and you’ve never heard a song sound so vibrant when its subject matter is so sad. (AGAIN with the sad stuff!)
                1. NAT KING COLEThe Christmas Song” – The Gold Standard.  Despite Spielberg’s attempt to stamp it with tragic overtones in Catch Me If You Can because he can’t get over the fact his parents divorced and he didn’t have a perfect existence (Yeah Stevie, you’re a real ‘effin party of one on that front.), it remains THE song to pour some wine, turn out all the lights except for the tree, curl up on the couch with your wife on one side and your dog on other, and listen to utter cool wrapped in a singular velvety voice.  And that I do know something about.

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  1. Nice choice of songs, I disagree with a few of them, and I KNOW you would disagree with several of my choices as I am the "sad" song kinda gal. I am just thankful you didn't choose the 2004 version of "Do they Know It's Christmas" as that is horrible and should never be played gain.

  2. Love your list and review of each song. I remember seeing Bowie's white mug on my TV screen. I tried to adjust the contrast but it didn't help.

  3. hahaha! I'm old enough to appreciate ALL your selections. I did NOT just say that out loud to the entire cybersphere. Yeah. I did :) Well done mate, that got a laugh :)

  4. Good list, Michael. I love Band Aid's "Do They Know It's Christmas"! You have a good eclectic list - some traditional, some not-so-much. I have a list of my own (though more traditional) of some albums. Feel free to share your link on the post so others can check your own list out.

  5. Check out Darlene Love's original version of "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" sometime. It is well worth a listen, and I prefer it to the U2 version (no disrespect to Bono or his mullet).

  6. totally did this list myself. awesome post.