Monday, December 15, 2008

guest post: rock the (jingle) bells

Hi all,

Continuing our holiday-centric posts, Dan is here with some stellar soundtrack recommendations for all of your upcoming festivities. He's sort of a secret Christmas music connoisseur. --Lisa

As a Jewish fellah, I didn’t grow up with Christmas music. But as connoisseur of rock and roll arcana, I have developed a fondness for the genre, classics and oddities alike.

The challenge of creating a playlist for your holiday party is that you want to include enough sentimental favorites to kindle the ol’ Festivus spirit without descending into hokeyness. Even the most diehard hipster doesn’t want to hear your collection of obscure dub and Krautrock when the weather outside is frightful. But is that an invitation to snuggle up with Michael BublĂ©’s Swingin’ Kwanzaa or A Night in the Manger with Seals & Crofts? I say, no, it is not.

With this in mind, here is a holiday party play list that balances fond memories, cool curios, and just the right amount of corn. Confession: A few of these tracks can be found on Elton John’s Christmas Party, which much to my own surprise, is one of the best Christmas comps to come out in recent years. I don’t own it myself, though, because I would have to break my No John Mayer Under Any Circumstances rule. What’s next? “Your Body Is a Winter Wonderland”? Blech.

Hope this is useful. For the love of god, stay away from the caroling cats!

1. James Brown—Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto, available on 20th Century Masters – The Christmas Collection: The Best of James Brown

2. Run-DMC—Christmas in Hollis, available on Greatest Hits

Because Christmas isn’t just for the reindeer sweater, giant-bow-on-a-Lexus crowd.

3. The Funk Brothers—Winter Wonderland (instrumental)

4. Marvin Gaye—Purple Snowflakes, both available on Motown Christmas: Playlist Your Way

The Funk Brothers were the legendary backing band behind Motown’s greatest hits. As for Marvin and his purple snowflakes…he just saw things the rest of us can’t see. [note from Lisa: I really love this song. Just sayin'.]

5. Darlene Love—Marshmallow World, available on A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector

6. Elvis Presley—Santa Claus is Back in Town, available on Elvis’ Christmas Album

Representatives from the two undisputed Greatest Christmas Albums of All Time.

7. The Beach Boys—Santa’s Beard, available on Ultimate Christmas

8. Brian Wilson—Christmasey, available on What I Really Want for Christmas

These aren't radio staples like “Little St. Nick” and “The Man with All the Toys.” Maybe at the North Pole.

9. Bing Crosby & David Bowie—Peace on Earth/The Little Drummer Boy, available on Bing Crosby’s Christmas Classics

10. Magnetic Fields—Mr. Mistletoe, available on Distortion

We now enter the more eccentric portion of our program.

11. Rufus Wainwright—Spotlight on Christmas, available on Elton John’s Christmas Party

12. The Kinks—Father Christmas, available on Come Dancing with The Kinks: The Best of The Kinks 1977-1986

Two great songs that just happen to be about Christmas. The latter is about a Santa-for-hire who gets mugged by the poor kids in the neighborhood. Ah, holiday cheer.

13. My Morning Jacket—Xmas Curtain (live), available on Okonokos

14. The Band—Christmas Must Be Tonight, available on Islands

Is the MMJ song even really about Christmas? Not sure. Let’s pair it with this track by their heroes in the Band just to be safe.

15. Willie Nelson—Christmas in Prison, available on Songbird (itunes version)

16. Elvis Costello & The Chieftains—St. Stephen’s Day Murders, available of Mighty Like a Rose (Expanded Edition)

The dark side of the season. Nothing like an Irish air about poisoning the dinner guests to brighten up your caroling repertoire.

17. Don Byron—Dreidel Song, available on Don Byron Plays the Music of Mickey Katz

18. The Klezmatics—Hanukkah Dance, available on Woody Guthrie’s Happy Joyous Hannukah

Where my Jews at? Did you know Woody Guthrie married into a Jewish family, moved to Coney Island, and wrote lots of Hanukkah songs? You did? Know-it-all!

19. The Pretenders—2000 Miles, available on Learning to Crawl

20. Keith Sweat—Be Your Santa Claus, available on A Christmas of Love

The former is only the greatest Christmas song ever recorded. The latter is…not. But hey, it’s been a long hard year. Treat yourself.


Anonymous said...

Did Bob Dylan write any Hanukkah/Xmas songs?

Megan and Butch! said...

Michael Buble's rendition of "Swingin' Kwanzaa" is something that has intrinsic value to me, like the rainforest -- I feel better just knowing it's there. Except that the Buble "Swingin' Kwanzaa" almost certainly does not exist. But oh -- oh! -- if it did, how happy that would make me!
Good call on 'Christmas in Hollis', too. I live not far from Hollis and I always think of chicken and collard greens and Santa chasing Reverend Run around the tree when I see the sign for it.

Daniel said...

Good question, mom!

Dylan recorded the Irish folk ballad, Arthur McBride, for the album Good As I Been to You (same one that has Froggy Went A-Courtin'). That's sort of a Christmas song.

Also, there are five references to Christmas in songs Dylan himself wrote, though none of them are Christmas songs per se:

1) Ballad of Donald White--And so it was on Christmas eve/In the year of '59/It was on that night I killed a man/I did not try to hide"

2) Floater (Too Much to Ask)--"I had 'em once though, I suppose, to go along/With all the ring dancin' Christmas carols on all of the Christmas Eves/I left all my dreams and hopes/Buried under tobacco leaves"

3) Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie--"And Uncle Remus can't tell you and neither can Santa Claus...
And it ain't in the marshmallow noises of the chocolate cake voices
That come knockin' and tappin' in Christmas wrappin'" (Note: This is a poem, not a song, but it was recorded.)

4) Three Angels--"Three angels up above the street/Each one playing a horn/Dressed in green robes with wings that stick out/They've been there since Christmas morn"

And probably most famous...

5) She Belongs to Me--"On Halloween give her a trumpet/And on Christmas, buy her a drum"

Oddly, no references to Christmas during his born-again period. And no Hanukkah references at all. Bad Jew!

Megan, like all things Christmas-related, Buble's Swingin' Kwanzaa doesn't exist in the material world. It lives in your heart.

Anonymous said...

Did you just know this off the top of you head or did you look it up? I need to know.

Daniel said...

What am I, Rain Man? has an excellent lyrics search engine.

Anonymous said...

No John Lennon or barking Onos??

Vanessa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Great list! Most of those are on mine too, and I'm going to search for those that aren't. Two songs that should be on any Xmas playlist: Fairytale of New York by the Pogues and Just Like Christmas by Low.

Vanessa said...

If holiday entertaining gets to be too much for you guys (as if!), here's an inspiring message from Joey Ramone:

Anonymous said...

Good thing you're not Rain Man. Lisa wouldn't have married you and you'd be living in the cottage. But, we could be making millions in Vegas.

Lisa said...

Anon #2: thanks for the recommendations!

Judy: So you're saying you wish Dan was Rain Man?

Daniel said...

Right, you are Anon. #2!

"Fairytale of New York" was an unforgivable oversight on my part.

If "2000 Miles" is the best Christmas song ever, FoNY must be the best Christmas collab. ever (the Pogues were joined by the late, great Kristy MacColl).

Speaking of which, has anybody heard this new Christmas single by Cyndi Lauper and The Hives? Great idea, but I want to know if it's any good.

Anonymous said...

Hey Dan,
Do you know about Erran Baron Cohen's "Songs in the key of Hanukkah" album, just out? He's done most of the music for his brother Sasha's projects, including Borat's "national anthem," for which he overdubbed his own voice 50 times to make a choir. The album is really cool. He collaborated with many different people, including Y-Love, a NY-based rapper who converted to Judaism and raps in Yiddish. You should check it out!

Anonymous said...

Here's a link to one of the songs:

Daniel said...

Hey, Mike

Heard about this a while ago and then completely forgot about it. Thanks!

Love the idea of a Yiddish rapper. I would love it more if he was named Ice-berg.


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