Friday, December 30, 2011

Around this time there happens to be a lot of lists thrown around as we commence the new year and remember the old one by looking back and ranking things. It's the best part of the year for anyone who likes making lists, such as myself.

The problem is that most people like to make the lists "best ofs", and rank their favorite things of the year, whether it be music, movies, Tweets... whatever. And I've already made the decision to participate in this practice despite having no right to participate, due to my general lack of doing anything this year. So I made a few adjustments.


The Tree Of Life
Super 8
Attack The Block
Source Code


Tom Waits--Bad As Me
Beach Boys--Smile Sessions
Other things

So now you know how cultured I have been over the past 12 months or so.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas song #25:

It's Christmas, no one's going to check here anytime before Dec. 26th (and if you do... then get back to being with your family or something), and by that time no one will want to read anything I have to say about the above song.

But just one final song before I call it quits on all these stupid holiday songs. This one good old Mormon choir style.

I had a pretty good day (aside from both the Vikings winning and Adrian Peterson tearing his ACL... both completely screwing over the long term future of the team). Made my requisite lasagna. Everyone liked all the dumb things I got them. I got a bobblehead, after my 0-fer last year when I partly started collecting them to make Christmas shopping easier for me. And I put a toothbrush on my list... and I got it.

Which makes me feel a little old, but... I guess I sort of am.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas song #24:

Because it's the best traditional hymn, and there's nothing much else you can say.

Busy day for me. Work in morning, work later tonight, wrapping presents in the middle... and a mad scramble to replace a duplicate gift somewhere thrown in there. I'm going to go enjoy the rest of my free time.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas song #23:

Frank Sinatra--Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas

From here on out, it's more about the song rather than any particular version.

I'm not much for the old crooners like Sinatra or Martin or Crosby 11 months out of the year. But whenever December comes around, it seems like such a treat to hear them. It's pretty obvious why. You grow up hearing them all around you in film, on TV and on the radio, that they become incredibly familiar. And "familiar" is really the main thing I end up wanting in Christmas music.

This is one of the songs that I want to only hear coming from an old crooner's vocal chords.

I guess it pretty much boils down to the fact that the song projects a real sadness under the sheen of the lyrics, and I guess having someone with a calm and warm voice like Sinatra tell me things will be alright (despite knowing it may not be true) makes me more liable to believe it.

Sinatra actually has a couple different versions. The first few had him singing the original lyric of "until then we'll have to muddle through somehow." But then when he decided to record an album entitled "A Jolly Christmas", he asked Dean Martin to write something more upbeat than that line for his "jolly" album. Thus the more known "hang a shining star upon the highest bough" revised lyric. I probably prefer the original lyric, even if it makes the song more overtly dark.

In any case, I'm posting the version with the revised version because... well, I don't know.


In memory of the snow that has fallen for the last time this year.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas song #22:

Vince Guaraldi Trio--Linus & Lucy


Vince Guaraldi--Christmas Time Is Here (vocal version)

Today I'm bringing the two most recognizable tunes from A Charlie Brown Christmas. You've all heard them before (except if--for some unfortunate reason--you have NEVER LIVED), but give them another listen, because they're still great. And you probably haven't watched the special at all this year, and this should motivate you to go out and do so.

"Linus & Lucy" is a song that has origins in the Charlie Brown Christmas special, but isn't really considered to be a Christmas related song because it then went on to be the signature theme of pretty much all the Peanuts specials. But it got its start here, so it's a Christmas song, damnit. There's not much else I can say other than it's popularity is quite warranted. I used to have the theme song (plus this great Peanuts background) as my startup and shut down theme on my Windows 2000 (or something around there) profile back in the day, until my dad deleted it because it was "slowing down the computer." It was a much sadder day than I would have imagined.

"Christmas Time Is Here" actually appears on the soundtrack twice, and consecutively to boot... with an instrumental version followed by the one you're hearing above. Both are pretty great, but I have stronger memories of the vocal version, because it opens up the special with kids skating on the pond and Charlie Brown morosely skirting across the scene trying to make sense of it all.

It's also pretty weird. The lyrics are mostly upbeat, talking about things that any child would go crazy about during the holidays, but the vocals sound so melancholy that lyrics like "Christmas time is here, happiness and cheer, fun for all that children call their favorite time of year" come off as being sung by a gang of bitterly sarcastic children. But it's a great, sullen holiday track if you look at it as a song about yourself viewing your own past, and thinking about how innocent and carefree everything was.

Anyway... I'm watching the special tonight, hopefully. At least that's the plan. It's my girlfriend and I's anniversary (and ultimately Christmas, since we usually head home after this date), and the plan is to go out to eat somewhere, then watch this sometime afterwards. And I'm really looking forward to it. I haven't been feeling myself these past couple of days, and the fact that there's no snow on the ground combined with my family having a lot of financial issues right now-- kind of has me in a holiday funk.

And you know, watching a depressed kid ruminate about the holiday sounds deeply comforting to me right about now. Maybe to no one else it would. But it does for me.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Christmas song #21:

Vince Guaraldi Trio--My Little Drum

Well, I devoted three days to the greatest Christmas album of all time, so I might as well devote 2 days to the 2nd greatest Christmas album of all time, the soundtrack to the greatest Christmas special of all time.

I suppose I could try to go into a lot of detail as to why the album is great, but really, you should know this already. But I would like to say that I love how it matches the special's melancholy almost toe to toe, which makes it just as essential listening as the special is essential viewing around this time.

Anyway, it's a collection of your favorite standards with a couple originals all done in a contemplative jazzy sort of way. And you probably know a lot of the tracks from this album, but today is devoted to a track that I'm assuming not a lot have heard before, but I think it's one of the standout pieces from the album. But that might be because I--unlike just about every other person on Earth--love "The Little Drummer Boy."

Most people describe it as a slog and quite repetitive... which I can't really deny, because that's sort of the reason I enjoy the song. But only in certain circumstances. There needs to be as little instrumental backing as possible, and in most cases, it just needs to be a single voice (although there are a couple choir versions I like.) And that voice needs to have a particular gravitas in order to lend the song its weight. In other words, I like my "Little Drummer Boy" renditions to be as boring as possible.

So I am including this Vince Guaraldi version pretty much because it might just be the most palatable version of the song in existence. And so maybe--just maybe--the song will win a couple people over. Not likely, but still.

I think it's designed to even win over those who normally hate the song, too. Gone is the dirge atmosphere and all the "rump-ba-bum-bums" in favor of a slightly somber yet still comforting jazz tune. Plus, there's a children's choir acting as the percussion section. I don't think any possible human being can hate that. In the end, though, it's just quiet and lovely. And that's about all you can ask for.

It wasn't included in the actual special, so this is the bonus treat you get for listening to the album. Or at least *I* think it's a treat.


Because I didn't want to post too many videos tomorrow (you know, a day after I posted three), here's an extra one today. And because if this song doesn't make you imagine snowflakes slowly drifting from the sky, then you need to move to somewhere where it's f***ing cold.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Christmas song #20:

Sufjan Stevens--Well, a bunch of songs

Sufjan Stevens--Come Thou Fount Of Every Blessing

Sufjan Stevens--I Saw Three Ships

Sufjan Stevens--The damn title is listed in the YouTube video

I'm copping out again, because Stevens put out a compilation of about 40 songs, and it's hard to choose just one. I mean, I could spread them out over a couple days, but I'm not gonna.

Anyway, the backstory of this compilation is this: from about 2001-2006. Sufjan recorded a bunch of holiday--related EPs, given to friends and family as gifts... while secretly planning a killer Christmas compilation to be released on the unwitting public at the peak of his powers. It was then released in 2006. Apparently he also put out a couple other EPs since then, but they haven't been officially released yet, so let's just ignore them for now.

What I like a lot about the compilation is that it's a good mix of old standards and original songs, and the old standards happen to be the lovely old Christmas hymns. It's a definite treat, because it's a rare exception when a popular musician forgoes most of all the secular holiday tunes in favor of the hymns... not that there's anything wrong with them, but the hymns have a particular loveliness to them. And they're all mostly wonderfully arranged here.

The first song I've included is pretty simple, with just some simple acoustic strumming, a little hint of piano, and soft vocals--essentially it lets the melody make the song work, which it does. I've played this a couple times over the course of day, and every time Sara has commented on what a lovely song this is. I think she only just now realized that she was commenting about the same song every time, so I don't know how glowing of praise that is... but there you go.

"I Saw Three Ships" is probably my favorite, as any Christmas song that combines a horn arrangement with jingling bells has to be damn good. Apparently the carol comes from 17th century England, but I had never heard it before listening to it... so I assumed that it was an original by Mr. Stevens, and was all ready to crown him the king of Christmas music or something. Can't quite crown him the king for providing just a simple rendition... but again, it's quite the lovely song.

And honestly, I should have known it wasn't an original, because all the originals (like almost every other f-ing Sufjan penned song) have stupid and overlong titles. And they're all silly and more secular in nature, which I suppose gives the compilation a bit of balance. They aren't AS great as most of the hymns included--but that's because nature has preserved all the great Christmas hymns and weeded out the crappy ones. He gives it a pretty good go, at the very least. "Elf Dance" at the very least includes a lyric lamenting the fact that K-Mart is closed for the holidays, so... so it's offering a new perspective in Christmas songs previously unexplored.

I mean, there might be a whole collection of retailer-based Christmas songs that exists on some marketer's iTunes, but I haven't heard it. Nor do I really want to.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Christmas song #19:

Darlene Love--Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)

This is it. You can't get much better than this.

Backstory: this was written by Phil Spector, which somewhat surprised me since I always assumed it was just an old standard from somewhere, since it seems so ubiquitous like most other holiday standards. But no. Apparently the song was written with the Ronettes in mind, but then when it became clear that Ronnie Barrett couldn't put in the emotion needed into the song. So they gave it to Darlene Love, who knocked it out of the park... and now the song is covered routinely, and Darlene Love probably still makes her living singing this song around Christmastime (I know that she always appears on Letterman near Christmas Eve, for example.)

I don't really know what else to say about this song, except I can't comprehend any reason why anyone could dislike this song. And if you DO dislike the song, then I'm assuming you probably had a traumatic experience in your life while this song was playing in the background. (And if so, you are probably a character from a Martin Scorsese movie... and you were probably whacked. Hope the afterlife's alright.) Honestly, it might just be the best thing Phil Spector ever touched--outside of "Be My Baby," perhaps.

You've got a typically great vocal performance front and center (Love sounds like she's going to crack at any moment, which certainly sells the desperation of the song.) And the production is as always grandiose and massive, with just the right touch that gives it that extra lift (love the piano that comes in near the end.

In essence, this belongs on any Christmas playlist. I mean, if you're looking for songs that are very representative of the holidays, you might not find much of this in this song. But it's damn good, and sometimes that should be enough.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Christmas Song #18:

The Ronettes--Sleigh Ride

OK, so it’s the second day in which I’m posting about music from Phil Spector’s A Christmas Gift For You, and I had a really hard time deciding which song by The Ronettes to play. I might just include them all. You hear them all on the radio. They’re all great.

So, at the time, the lead singer (Ronnie Barrett) was Phil Spector’s main squeeze (I don’t know when the relationship started, but I’m assuming Spector had a thing for her quite early on), and would soon become Ronnie Spector. So I’m guessing that since most of his interest could have been directed towards Ronnie Spector, that he saved his best songs and best arrangements for The Ronettes. Plus, the best song on the album (which we’ll cover tomorrow) was written with Ronnie’s vocals in mind, until it was realized she didn’t have what it took to sing it and it was passed off to Darlene Love. (I wonder if this is where their relationship started to go sour. Probably not.)

In any case, The Ronettes still have the greatest batch of songs from this collection, which is why these are the songs from this album you hear on the radio the most(except for maybe tomorrow’s song). The above song is the one my local station plays all the time—and for good reason, since it’s a killer version of “Sleigh Ride.” I mean, it was already a pretty damn catchy song—but it’s even moreso here, mainly because of the “ring-a-ling-a-ling-a-ding-dong-ding” backing vocals (which was then often duplicated in later versions of the song), but both Spectors do their part in making it sound even better.

It does, however, eschew the whole “giddy up let’s go” verse, which may or may not sit well with people. It doesn’t really bother me, since it’s less catchy than the main portion of the song. Whenever someone with arguable musical quality (like, I don’t know, Amy Grant) sings the song, I can enjoy the song up till the middle-eight, in which it just sounds too overdone with vocal pyrotechnics or overproduced or whatever. (I’m mainly basing this on memory. Amy Grant might have a perfectly fine version of “Sleigh Ride.”) But I do know the lack of the verse bothers some people… so be prepared, I guess.

But the other songs are no slouches either. “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” is almost a miracle in how it makes a really stupid song sound amazingly not-stupid. Check out the opening string arrangement—it makes the song sound almost poignant and sentimental! I mean, there are extraneous sounds that distracts from the loveliness of that opening, but it’s still great. Combined with the usual Wall Of Sound (and an almost marching drum pattern that I love), it’s better than anything one could possibly imagine.

The other one is a rendition of “Frosty The Snowman,” which to my ears is the least of the three—although I was reading a list of best Christmas songs a while back (can’t find it now) that listed it exceptionally high. So your mileage may vary, I guess.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Christmas Song #17:

Bob B. Soxx & The Blue Jeans--The Bells Of St. Mary

This whole thing might have been an elaborate excuse to post a crapton of songs from Phil Spector's Christmas album.

And believe me, I will. This is going to be the first day of three that I devote to the record. Deal with it.

And I'm going to try to not to delve too much into hyperbole here, but it's going to happen anyway. And the reason is this: Phil Spector's A Christmas Gift For You is not just a great Christmas album, but a great album period. At the height of the producer's powers, it was decided that a Christmas album was to be made in his usual grandiose and overwhelming style. The result is a bunch of Christmas songs that sound endlessly exciting, overblown, and close to his ideal of creating symphonies for the mass teenage public.

Seriously, it's an album where just about every song could have been a massive single. And--being released in 1963--it's probably one of the first instances in the young history of rock music of an album being put together as an "album", rather than hits surrounded by a bunch of filler. You know, a good year or so before the Beatles did it and popularized it. And it's got an overarching theme too! I mean, the theme is "Christmas"... so that's really not that impressive. But it's a cohesive unit tied together with the wonderful production job by Mr. Spector.

And that's in essence why I love it. It's exciting and fun, and makes me yearn for the days where the month was the most glorious time I could ever imagine. And it's familiar for me (as it should be for anyone who grew up having their parents play the oldies station all the time), which honestly might just be the largest reason it's my favorite, since I'm more likely to turn to old favorites round this time.

So anyway. Quick breakdown: of the artists involved here, Darlene Love gets the most songs with 4, while The Ronettes and The Crystals get 3 and Bob B. Soxx & The Blue Jeans only get 2. But Mr. Soxx (which... in case you didn't guess, isn't his real name) at least gets off one of the best of the bunch with "The Bells Of St. Mary." Which is a song I haven't heard much outside of this version... which is probably because I'm assuming no other version needs to exist.

I don't know how to describe the song other than it's your typical "Wall of Sound" production, except holiday-ized. You know, bells get included in the mix along with the glockenspiels, the booming drums, the strings and the horns and every other thing under the sun. I will mention how I love how Bob B. Soxx just essentially shouts during random intervals, and that I love how the drums become progressively more dominant and crazier as the song goes along.

The string arrangement is great too. Basically, everything about this is great, and I might have to reconsider our friendship if you do not share the same opinion.


The Crystals--Santa Claus Is Coming To Town

Because I'm covering every other group on the album except these gals. And it's one of the more familiar songs, as this gets played constantly on the Christmas stations. It's good, you know... maybe not as great as others, but you know. 5 or 6th out of 13th is still a respectable finish.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Christmas Song #16:

Stevie Wonder--What Christmas Means To Me

So I quickly jotted down a little schedule for this whole month back when I started writing about all these Christmas tunes. Which wasn't meant to ever be set in stone, but rather just give me a little direction in order to actually see this through its completion. So I didn't necessarily choose out a song for each day. For the entry a couple days ago I wrote down "something from Rudolph." For today's entry, I just wrote down "something for Motown." As of writing this, I still haven't really finalized on what I'm featuring from Motown.

I feel compelled to include something from Motown, because a) I have a huge set from the label of Christmas songs and sat through a bunch of Christmas wishes from random bands to separate the wheat from the chaff, and b) the Motown sound seems especially suited for Christmastime, as the "Sound of Young America" (you'd think) would service itself well to replicating the youthful exuberance that the holidays bring. And I mean... they had tons of absolutely fantastic hits. So it shouldn't be a problem to find just one Motown Christmas song that I love, right?

Well, I suppose it is.

I think the main problem is that my two favorite acts from the label (Smokey Robinson & The Miracles and The Supremes) both had pretty lackluster results. And the Jackson 5--the Motown band you hear the most around this time--well, once you hear their rendition of Santa Claus Is Coming To Town for the 30291st time, Michael Jackson starts to sound really bratty. And there are a couple I might quite like (Stevie Wonder's Someday At Christmas and The Temptations' Silent Night), but they don't really sound much like Motown... not that that matters, but still.

So I guess that leaves what I've got up there for you, which sounds the most like Motown while also being pretty damn catchy. This was an original written for Stevie Wonder's Christmas album, and Stevie delivers his usual spirited performance. And his performance is the best compromise between delivering that "Sound of Young America" feel for a Christmas tune and... you know, not sounding like a brat.

I'm trying to listen to the lyrics, and they're a little stupid (I think he's trying to argue that Christmas means getting it on with your lady... which is a fairly limited viewpoint to take, but I suppose it works for many......... it might also be an "enjoy the little things" view. That's actually probably it, but it's also a little boring), but whatever. It's the music that should be getting you cheerful. And it's one of those original Christmas songs that you could imagine being a huge hit with the holiday elements removed... which is in contrast with most Christmas originals, which are usually tossed off... because their label demanded a Christmas album.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Christmas Song #15:

The Drifters--White Christmas

Sorry Bing Crosby, but this gets the nod for best rendition of "White Christmas."

I've always considered the song a little bittersweet and wistful (don't know if it's meant to be seen that way, but since my childhood did not involve a lot of white Christmases despite growing up in Minnesota... it became that way for me). So pretty much any rendition of the song is alright by me. But when you add doo-wop into the mix, suddenly the song becomes cool along with bittersweet and wistful. And that's always welcome. (And by "cool," I mean... oh whatever.)

I could listen to this song for ages. Both the bass voice of Bill Pinkney in the first verse and the stylings of Clyde McPhatter in the second verse (and with backing vocals in the first verse) complement each other so perfectly. (Don't actually know their names off the top of my head... I just pulled this from Wikipedia, so... it could be wrong.) It makes me want to go out and form my own doo-wop group, despite having no vocal talents whatsoever. But I'd love it so much.

Apparently (again, according to Wikipedia) this rendition of the song was in rotation only on the R&B stations, until its inclusion in the film Home Alone, in the scene where Macaulay Culkin is putting on aftershave. Which is how I'm familiar with the song too... but at the same time, it's kind of amazing that this fantastic rendition went unknown for so many years. It makes me realize that there is probably so many other great Christmas songs out there, and I am writing about versions of songs that pale in comparison to other versions I've never heard of.

So uhh... sorry for wasting your time and everything.


John Williams--Home Alone Theme

Cause I mentioned the movie, and because it's synonymous with the holidays for anyone that grew up in the 90's.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Christmas Song #14

NewSong--The Christmas Shoes

Perhaps the Rudolph Santa isn't the most dick-ish rendition of Santa, if you happen to consider the Grinch to be the complete inversion of your typical Santa character. I mean, he totally is.

Anyway, some people (including some others whom would be considered significant) would consider Dr. Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas to be THE greatest Christmas special of all time. But I'm going to let them down by saying that it's merely... OK. I mean, it's totally unrealistic. Of course the Whos would be pissed off that all their presents were stolen. And there's NO WAY that the Grinch's heart would suddenly grow three times its previous size... and if it did, it'd probably kill him.

Actually, the only reason I'm not as fond of the Grinch as I am of Rudolph and A Charlie Brown Christmas is mainly because I didn't grow up watching it. And it probably took me until I was 15 or 16 or so to actually watch it, back when I had access to cable and multitudes of VHS tapes and tried to tape every single Christmas special known to man. And... it's perfectly good. I just kind of prefer the scruffiness of Rudolph and A Charlie Brown Christmas.

One main difference between Grinch and the other two is that the soundtrack is fairly limited--Charlie Brown Christmas had an entire jazz soundtrack with various songs throughout the entire special, and Rudolph had a bunch of songs (albeit they were all extremely short). I can only think of two songs from the Grinch special--the one we're listing above, and the Who song that goes something like "dabu-doore dabu-doore". Or something like that. I'm going completely on memory here.

But You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch makes up with quality what the rest of the special's soundtrack lacks in quantity. I mean, you've all heard it, and so really... I don't *need* to link it up there for you. But there's also been a lot of cover versions of this particular song, but like always--the original is the best.

Of course, you should know that the person behind the vocals is one Thurl Ravenscroft, who aside from having a great name, also was the voice behind Tony the Tiger. And I dig his deep, gravelly voice for this song. It really gets across the true villainy of the Grinch almost better than anything else.

Also, for the record... the song above really isn't called "The Christmas Shoes." That was a joke, in case you were confused.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Christmas Song #13

Santa Claus--Jingle Jingle Jingle


Rudolph and Hermey--We're A Couple Of Misfits

I couldn't decide which one should get the nod at the top and which one should be relegated to the bottom. Not that it matters. I put both at the top, as you can see.

Now, you might argue that this isn't really very good Christmas music (and... one isn't even really related to Christmas anyway). But you would be wrong... or you have never been exposed to perhaps one of the greatest Christmas specials of all time. Or you are immune to its charms. In any case, I have much pity for you.

To me, the Christmas special encompasses a lot of things I love about the holiday, from the old favorites like Burl Ives as the narrator to the delightfully odd--like the greatest prospector in the north Yukon Cornelius. And it's got catchy songs, and the story is about non-conformity in a way that doesn't beat your head over the message. And the stop-motion is charmingly lo-fi. Oh, and Santa is a huge dick in this--and thus, it's my favorite take on Santa Claus of all time.

Santa sings the song in the first video early on in the special, right about when he meets Rudolph. And of course, Santa delivers some catchy as hell jingle out of thin air for the occasion.... because he's Santa and that's the sort of thing he does. But before doing so, he just happens to deepen Rudolph's developing insecurities about his nose by essentially stating that he probably will never make the sleigh team. Because that's what Santa is all about. I really love this special, by the way.

The second song featured here involves Rudolph--after having been humiliated and psychologically scarred by all the other reindeer at the reindeer games--meeting up with Hermey the elf, who has also been spurned in his quest to become a dentist, immediately forming a bond. And they sing something that's almost--if not more--catchy as the first song above. I have sometimes considered this to be the greatest Christmas song of all time. It probably isn't... especially since it doesn't have anything to do with Christmas. But I will think less of anyone who thinks it's less than great.

The Misfits video unfortunately doesn't have one I can embed of actual footage from the special--and the only ones I can find aren't paired with the right footage and is instead supposed to be set with the song "Fame And Fortune." There's been a lot of different edits of this special, for who knows why.

Anyway. The songs are pretty great. Written by the same guy who wrote the original Rudolph song too.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Christmas song #12:

Burl Ives--A Holly Jolly Christmas

This isn't actually the one I'm familiar with. The one I'm familiar with is from the Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer soundtrack, which is much more orchestral than this version. Actually, there's two versions, as it appears at the end of the overture on the soundtrack, as well as its own 80 second long version.

But I'm posting his non-Rudolph soundtrack version, basically because I can (and because it allows me to post about other Rudolph soundtrack songs that holds no interest to anyone but me.) This is the hit--I suppose you could call it--from his Christmas album Have A Holly Jolly Christmas. Not sure why he included the "have" on the album title and not the song title, but there you go.

I don't know if I'd really listen to him any other month, but Burl Ives has this folksy charm to him that makes me question if anyone could ever really dislike him. He would make the perfect type of uncle--you're not wanting to see him all the time, but you always enjoy it when you do... just because he's so damn affable. And this is the song equivalent of that--and quite literal in its jolliness.

I think it helps that Burl Ives also sort of looks like Santa Claus. You know, it gives the song more realism... or something.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Christmas Song #11:

Weird Al Yankovic--Christmas At Ground Zero

(So this was the song I was referring I'd include in the Dr. Demento Novelty CD bit. Not that this was hard to guess, since there's probably only one world famous novelty artist... and this is the guy.)

Like many 10 year olds, I thought Weird Al was a genius. But I was the odd one out, as I didn't think he was a genius for the very thing that made him famous (that being, recording parody covers of hit songs). But rather I thought he was a genius for all the stuff on TV and film that he did. Thought AL TV was a riot, loved UHF (and still do... and I think I loved it as a wee boy too, because my first memory of Weird Al was my parents mentioning the VHS copy of this movie and how much I loved it when I was 2 or so), remember liking The Weird Al Show but can't really remember anything about it... and hell, his appearances in the Naked Gun movies were great too.

I don't really remember my opinion on his actual music, but nowadays... I'm more likely to be drawn to his original songs (or his polka medleys) than the parodies he's actually famous for. The above song is one of his originals. It's also one of my favorites.

Weird Al actually has another Christmas song, called "The Night Santa Went Crazy," but I don't find it as subversive as "Christmas At Ground Zero"--and it doesn't really sound Christmas-y at all (although I have absolutely no idea how to quantify that). But "Christmas At Ground Zero" nails every last bit of it. The lyrics take all the cliches of usual Christmas songs of carolers caroling and kissing under the mistletoe--and applies them to an apocalyptic post-nuclear war. It's spot on to the point where I can totally imagine a paranoid 8-year old living through the 80's being absolutely terrified by this song.

Of course, what I find to be the best part is how it apes the sound of the Phil Spector Christmas songs completely perfectly. That glossy, overblown cheerfulness and exuberance that you can hear in the bells and saxophone gives the song a great juxtaposition against the dismal outlook in every other inch of the song. And of course, the Christmas jingle that eventually gives way to the sounds of bombs dropping and sirens blaring--great touch.

It's a song the radio stations should play in December all the time, but since certain terms in the song's title have taken on different meanings in the past 10 or so years, the likelihood of this playing in between Mariah Carey and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra have dropped significantly. Not that a song based on the Cold War was going to get much airplay anyway... but it's still somewhat unfortunate. But it's still here for us to enjoy--all we have to do is head on over to YouTube if we ever want our fix of Weird Al caroling with gas-masked children.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Christmas Song #10:

Spinal Tap--Christmas With The Devil

Because, f*** yeah.


It's Spinal Tap.


Thursday, December 8, 2011

Christmas Song #9:

Bob & Doug McKenzie--12 Days Of Christmas

And now we reach the part of this series in which I write about the greatest Christmas novelty CD of all time. I am, of course, referring to Dr. Demento’s Greatest Christmas Novelty CD Of All Time.

So, when you’re 12, and you have a really stupid sense of humor, you tend to like silly and stupid things. And so this album comes into your life, after years of listening to John Tesh and Amy Grant at Christmastime, and you think you’ve discovered the only Christmas album that will ever matter. And over time, that assumption will inevitably prove wrong, and the album will lose the sort of charm it had when you were younger. But it’ll always have a place in your heart, just because of how it delighted you so years and years ago.

So that’s Dr. Demento’s Christmas album, in a nutshell. I’ve been listening to it a couple times this week, and it brings up some nice memories. I wouldn’t go out and recommend you buy it right away: rest assured, a lot of the novelty Christmas songs you have over time become extremely irritated by after hearing them for the 5046th time (i.e. “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer,” “The Chipmunk Song,” “Jingle Bells” by The Singing Dogs) are all here.

But there are also some gems. There’s a couple by Stan Freberg that I like such as “Nuttin’ For Christmas” and “Green Christmas” (which is more a radio skit turning A Christmas Carol into a modern ode to commercialism). There’s this really weird song called “I’m A Christmas Tree” which is basically a guy wailing out of tune about how depressing it is to be a tree. There’s something by Tom Lehrer, Cheech & Chong, and also a song that I’ll write about in a couple of days (you could probably figure it out if you tried).

But the best—of course, is the one I’ve chosen for all of you. I’m not actually a fan of usual renditions of this song—it’s either because I can’t remember all the various gifts for each day or because it’s just kind of boring. And I’m only vaguely familiar with the Canadian comedic stylings of Bob & Doug McKenzie. But nonetheless, it’s great.

I think what really makes this amusing to me is how terribly inept the brothers are at recording this song. They go through three verses before they decide to change a lyric. They can’t keep up with the Casio keyboard backing and often lose their place. They often get dominated by the backing singers, who actually know what they’re doing. I don’t know what it is that makes this so amusing to me, but… it works, I suppose.

Anyway, the video above is actually the shortened version of the song (I chose it because it’s animated and not just a static image—even if the last two minutes is essentially just an ad). You miss out on some discussion on how there got to be 12 Days Of Christmas when there’s just Christmas Day and Eve, New Year’s Day and Eve, and Boxing Day. As well as an argument as to why one of the brothers forgot to include donuts as part of the gifts. They’re not necessary per se, but… just so you know what you’re missing.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Christmas Song #8

Flaming Lips--Christmas At The Zoo

The Flaming Lips seem like a perfect fit for Christmas, in my opinion.

The band has this exuberant, joyful, optimistic and life-affirming spirit that also acknowledges the drudge that life can sometimes be. Which is what the holidays are all about to me. I mean, we slog through our lives the entire year just trying to essentially survive without all our problems overwhelming us, and yet here is this one holiday where we're supposed to forget about that, spend time with family, give out gifts for the sake of giving, and just try to be happy. And although it's a rather silly idea to essentially devote a day to being happy, and although many forces try to ruin and exploit that day in a variety of different ways, at it's heart it's rather a beautiful idea.

That's the sort of feeling I have for the Flaming Lips.

Which, I guess then makes sense that the band loves the holidays.

Let's just ignore the above song for a bit. For one, the band worked years and years on their own Christmas movie, called "Christmas On Mars", complete with its own score and everything. (I haven't had the chance to watch it... which seems like a massive oversight on my part.) And just this year, not only have they collaborated with Yoko Ono for a Christmas original (not my first choice for a Christmas collaboration, but oh well), but they've set up this site which constantly streams all the Christmas music they've done.

I'm sticking with the "original" (though I have no way to prove it was the first) Flaming Lips Christmas song, though.

It comes from the band's 1995 Clouds Taste Metallic album, which floats in and out of my list of top 5 albums of all time. And it's versatile in the fact that you don't really have to associate it as a "Christmas song", even if it features that jingling Christmas sort-of-sound. But it's a pretty great Christmas song nonetheless.

The lyrics are about the singer deciding to release the animals locked up in the zoo, only to find out that the animals would rather find a way to save themselves. It's kind of silly, yeah. But it kind of fits what I describe above, in that it sounds wonderfully joyous and romantic while also sounding kind of defeated at the same time.

In any case, it's one of my Christmas favorites.


This is probably a rendition you're only going to find lovely if you actually like the band. But I do, so screw anyone who doesn't.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Christmas Song #7:

Sparks--Thank God It's Not Christmas

OK, so technically... it's not a Christmas song. Because that's the point of the song--that it's not Christmas. But it at least mention the dang thing, which is more than I can say about a lot of so-called Christmas songs... and it sounds vaguely seasonal. So there you go.

I doubt many of you know this band, so a couple of quick facts. Sparks are essentially two brothers from LA who played what could be loosely described as glam rock (although I've also heard them described as new wave--which they predated by about 8 years) who hit it big in the UK with their catchy melodies and dark and insanely dry humor. They never hit it big in the US, which is either because A) they were ahead of their time, B) the public was too busy buying Queen albums (not that I dislike Queen, but...), C) their sense of humor was too dry for America.

I'm assuming it's C. Which is unfortunate, because... despite the fact that lyrics aren't all that important to me... I appreciate a good sense of humor. And on Kimono My House (the album that this comes from... and the record holder for most I've ever spent on an album (it was out of print here, I was wanting to hear this band... and I was still buying CDs.)) there's plenty of this in spades. My favorite is an ode to a lover who chickened out on the promise of jumping off a cliff together, after the singer had already jumped. You know, that's the sort of thing we're talking about here.

But about this song (since... you know... I'm supposed to be writing about the Christmas songs and all). It's another one for the people who mostly regard the holiday season with bitterness, as the song is about a guy who hates the holidays because it's the only day in which he can't get out of spending time with his wife. It's not a sentiment I necessarily agree with (I mean, I have my less than ideal family members, but not enough to dissuade me from dreading the day), but I can appreciate it in song form. Plus, it's pretty much the perfect song for any holiday mix for any family member you hate. I can't think of any instance when you'd find yourself making a mix for someone you dislike, but...

The music itself here sounds kind of like a mix between your typical classic rock sound and what you'd expect a bad 80's Christmas song to sound like. Which, in this case, I think makes me like the song more. But it's really the tone of the song that sells it for me. If the lyrics was washed in the usual sentimentality and schmaltz that permeates through the worst Christmas music--then screw it. The song's catchy, but it's not THAT catchy. But the bitter and annoyed tone the lyrics have give it that little bit of edge that makes it extremely listenable.

Also, I would like to state that Ron Mael (the keyboardist) has had some of the best staches in music history. That's all, really.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Christmas Song #6:

SONG #6:

Jethro Tull--A Christmas Song

Another one for the bitter Christmas crowd.

As far as I know, Jethro Tull recorded two versions of this. One was a B-side to a 60's single that I can't remember, then released on the 1972 singles compilation Living In The Past. The other was a re-recorded 2003 version for their Christmas Album(!). I'm putting the Living In The Past version here because it sounds better, but I was quite tempted to do otherwise. (Well... not really. The cover made for this video is pretty excellent.)

I haven't exactly made it through the 2003 Christmas album (never really got around to it... but taking a listen now), but anyone who is familiar with the group knows how anti-religion the band is, so of course it makes sense they would make a Christmas album (although it's not really as if anyone recognizes the Christian implications of the holidays that much anyway...) But apparently the album is more about embracing the holiday as a way to embrace and spend time with family, so it's not as if song after song is filled with bashing the church and holiday (for better or worse, I guess, depending on your point of view). Especially since a handful are pleasant instrumentals of holiday standards.

But this song is pretty damn cynical, at least towards those who are using the holidays for their own excess. It's pretty humorous, to boot.

I don't really have much else to say about the lyrical matter, but the song does really reinforce what I like about Jethro Tull. They've always been lumped into the progressive rock fold--because I suppose they made a couple high-on-concept records later on (and maybe because it's just cool to hate both prog and the band...)--but I've always enjoyed them more when they were kind of just a more adventurous folk band. And this song is just that--starts up with just some captivating mandolin strumming, before the strings kick in during the second verse (which, of course, I love.) It's nothing that reinvents the wheel... but it's quite lovely.


If you are looking for dorky prog Christmas tunes, though... I'm assuming this is what you're looking for.

Video complete with footage from the Vietnam War, because... you know.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Christmas Song #5

SONG #5:

Tom Waits--Christmas Card From A Hooker In Minneapolis

OK, so this only slightly qualifies as a Christmas song. I mean, if you just listen to the song without any knowledge of the song title, you wouldn't assume it's a holiday song (I mean, it mentions Valentine's Day in the last lyric of the song, but... um, wrong holiday.) But, it includes Christmas in the title... as well as Minneapolis. And it's about a hooker. So obviously it has to be included.

I guess it sort of ties in to the holiday, since the hooker in question is doing the whole "recap the year's events" that you get from families around this time of year. But it's pretty much your classic Tom Waits song (I actually think it might be one of his more popular songs from this time), weaving a tale about a peculiar character over a simple piano backing. This includes the clever twist that the entire thing was a ploy to get some money from the recipient to pay off her lawyer after getting thrown in jail.

Again, not *really* most evocative of the holidays, but you know... who cares. And actually, in reading around the internet about favorite holiday songs, least favorite and the what not, a decent amount of people listed this song as the only song that they can listen to in order to make it through the season (and by decent amount of people, I mean probably two... but I at least remember them mentioning it). Which is probably because the radio plays a lot of crap (or, to be more accurate since no one willingly listens to the radio nowadays, stores play the crappy holiday songs as everyone goes out shopping), and Tom Waits could record pretty much anything, slap a holiday title on it, and it'd be a welcome reprieve. So there's definite value in helping the less cheerful to make it through December.


Also, Tom Waits could record any sort of old hymn, and it'd be great. I mean, you might not think it's great if you don't like his voice. But then you'd be wrong.

I might prefer this over the other song posted here.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Christmas Song #4

Tomorrows might not show up until the late night... or the early morning the next day. Going to go see a production of A Christmas Carol, and I don't know what tomorrow's schedule will be like aside from that. I mean, I might just get it done in the morning tomorrow as well... but uhh, to allow myself some leeway...

SONG #4:

The Ventures--Jingle Bell Rock

To be honest, I've never really liked this song. It always sounded to me like a song that would attract some boring rocker that wanted add an "edge" to the holiday season, except completely failing to do so, because it's kind of a boring song.

This one kicks, though. I'd like to think it's because the version lacks the vocals, and that the reason the song bothers me so much was that everyone who sung it screwed the rest of the song up. It's probably just that The Ventures can really play, though.

So they were an instrumental surf rock group from Tacoma, Washington, and may be most famous for their recording of the theme music to Hawaii 5-0. I had heard the above song and "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" (which is below) before listening to the album. Which is where I realized that The Ventures did something really cool. They took popular rock songs of the day (or just their own songs) and combine it with a Christmas track.

So, for example, I believe for the above song, they laid their own version of "Memphis Tennessee" (originally by Chuck Berry) as the basis for a version of "Jingle Bell Rock." Or, taking The Beatles' "I Feel Fine" as the basis for the below song. Or "She's Not There" serving as the basis for "What Child Is This" (although here it's called "Snow Flakes"...)

At first I thought it was kind of funny how the riff for "I Feel Fine" was just completely stolen without remorse, but as I listened to the album it became kind of brilliant. And something that shouldn't really work as Christmas music, but does very well...

Some of you might be tempted to call the songs a "mash-up."

But, since we're in the holiday spirit, where the Ventures have taken these classic pop songs and wrapped them up anew with a Christmas bent, I propose that we call these songs "regiftings."

Yeah, that's kind of stupid.

I'm sticking to it.



Friday, December 2, 2011

Christmas Song #3:

Before anything, I want to say that the only reason I know the following song is because we sang it in some preschool Christmas carol event years and years ago. I don't really remember anything else from preschool... except singing this song. And so the song has a certain connotation for me--one that does not involve a guy nearing his 70's attempting to combine polka and punk.

SONG #3:

Of course, my reaction... like everyone else's... when I heard that Bob Dylan was doing a Christmas album was an obviously enthusiastic "sign me up!"

Well... actually, most people were probably wondering what a Jewish guy was doing recording a Christmas album (answer: he converted to Christianity for three of his worst reviewed records of his career). Or maybe they were wondering what the hell the point was. Answer: who knows? He's Bob Dylan. He's earned the right to record any album he wants, whether it's a Christmas album or... I don't know, one for Arbor Day.

Unfortunately, I probably could not recommend the album to anyone--except if you have the same type of humor I do.

I've gotten into a couple of arguments about Bob Dylan's talents as a singer. I usually maintain that he's pretty great, and the other person complains about how nasally and gruff his voice is. Which always annoys me. Good voice ≠ good singer. And my arguments have been (or should have been) that he knows how to use his limited vocal skills in the best way possible, with his inflection wringing out meaning in every single word that he sings, to the point where it's impossible to imagine anyone singing his songs any better (best case in point: his sneer in "Like A Rolling Stone.")

...this album doesn't help me in this matter. Cause Bob Dylan tries to sing all these old standards as straight as possible--you know, going so far as to trying to hit the notes. Which doesn't work, because A) his voice was never all that great, and B) it sure ain't gotten any better as he's approaching 70.

...which I think is the point of the whole album, but I can't prove it in anyway.

I mean, if I were an aging rock legend, and my whole career had been pretty much defying expectations left and right, wouldn't I record a Christmas album while singing in a style that has never suited me ever before? I probably would. And so the album strikes me as pretty humorous, as I'm not really sure if Dylan's trying too hard or not trying at all. Which is... a good thing.

Then of course we have the above song, which I am assuming Dylan tossed off one drunken evening, then woke up the next morning so tickled by it that he decided to put out an entire Christmas album. In any case, I love it.

I mean, I don't know why he's doing a polka version of a song with some of the most banal lyrics even for the Christmas genre. I don't know why he spouts off a list of recent presidents after getting sick of listing reindeer. I don't know what the hell's going on in the video. I don't know what he's doing with his hair.

But it's gleefully dumb. And deranged as hell. And I guess if you're going to cover some Christmas song that seems designed to appear on children's holiday albums for the rest of eternity, that's probably the best way to do it. It's also a kick to hear Bob Dylan try his hand at polka.

I mean, really. Bob Dylan is doing polka. Obviously he just doesn't give a crap about what anyone else thinks.

OK. I feel better about liking this.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Christmas Song #2:

Continuing on, delivering Christmas music that isn't the crappy Mariah Carey versions you hear at the malls.

SONG #2:

(I've been on a Beach Boys kick for the past 6 months, so we're just getting this out of the way now.)

So listen: right around the height of the Beach Boys' popularity, and probably right before Brian Wilson started to make the giant artistic leap that had him making ornate and beautiful compositions that rivaled anything Lennon/McCartney was producting... The Beach Boys' Christmas Album was released. It's a bit of a mixed bag.

The album is a tale of two halves: the first has Brian Wilson writing 5 original songs (well, Mike Love co-wrote three of them... but screw him) as well as handling all the production and arrangements, so it replicates the band's sound pretty effortlessly. The second half--and weaker--is arranged by a guy whom Wilson admired, which has the group tackling more of your old holiday standards, and sounding much more traditional with strings replacing their traditional surf rock. Not that there's anything wrong with that (especially since the first side is dominated by a genre that is essentially meant to evoke summer on an album meant for winter), but it's a little boring as compared to the fun (albeit more slight) first side.

Anyway, this was produced during a time in which--despite their music's growing complexities in terms of arrangements and harmonies--the modus operandi of the band was to write songs about girls, cars and surfing. And songs that your usual clean-cut teenager could listen to in order to feel rebellious without actually being so. Thus, these songs don't possess the bittersweet quality that a lot of great Christmas originals have, and wouldn't sound too out of place on your usual radio station playlist designed to make you feel unarguably cheerful as you're out buying way-too-expensive things. Which... makes it sound like I don't like this album. Which I do... but it's mainly because it still sounds (for the most part) like The Beach Boys.

Anyway, the main song you'd recognize from this is "Little St. Nick," which I'm not putting on here because it is a bit overplayed. Which isn't going to stop me from posting other overplayed songs, but in this case... I like Santa's Beard better anyway. The harmonies are still top-notch, and the lyrics are much sillier, dealing with a 6-year-old brat being disappointed with a department store Santa. It's kind of the song I would have gotten a kick out of as a 10-year old, and there's a bit of value in that.

(It also sounds like something that could have come from Dr. Demento Presents The Greatest Novelty CD Of All Time, which was another favorite as a kid. It will be making an appearance later on too... so look forward to hearing the song where dogs bark in the tune of Jingle Bells.)

(Well... I'm not going to make you listen to that one.)


So Brian Wilson, after finally recording and releasing his version of the Smile album after 37 years, decided that the best way to follow that was to--of course--return to another go-round of Christmas music. Which was either because the record company demanded a holiday album--or because the dude really likes Christmas music! (Which isn't necessarily out of the question, since apparently Wilson lists Phil Spector's A Christmas Gift For You as his favorite album of all time.)

It's actually not that half-bad, and even improves on a couple of tracks on the original Beach Boys album, such as the above The Man With All The Toys and the a capella Auld Lang Syne, which was interrupted on the Beach Boys release by Dennis Wilson doing the whole "on behalf of the band" deal. Quite unfortunate.