Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Merry Christmas, Baby: Favorite Christmas albums and songs

Here's a strange thing: I loathe the blues. Not in getting and wallowing in the blues. Not in a certain famous painter's awesome blue period. Not the color blue (cobalt and midnight, two particular favorites) or even Levi's blue jeans (brand loyalty - I'm big on that). No, I hate blues music. This from a former music critic. Let's not get into that. I've tried. I like some of it. But it's not my thing. And yet - and yet! - I love Charles Brown. Classy blues, someone once called that sound. Uptown blues. But I don't care about the classification. All I know is that my favorite Christmas song is "Merry Christmas Baby." It can't be Christmas in my house until I hear it. In fact, "Charles Brown's Cool Christmas Blues" is one of the all-time great Christmas albums. (As an aside, I love how really great Christmas albums always find a way, usually on the last song, to give a nod to the pending New Year.)

I have a lot of Christmas music. Too much, maybe. But I don't let it linger with my other CDs. It's a seasonal thing. Can't stand to look at it any other time. But then I play it incessantly right about December 1, which is pretty much the day I buy my Christmas tree. I am listening to Christmas music as I write this. I'm even feeling that too many nights have passed without an adequate number of red wine fueled eves sitting by the tree, illuminated only by the tiny white lights, getting deep into the mood. I've still got, what, a week? No problem. Time to soak in it.

For me, it all starts with "Merry Christmas Baby." It's like pitchers and catchers reporting for spring training. But from there, all hell breaks loose. All kinds of moods are lit and left littered about by all kinds of random songs. I'm open to interpretations. I love the classics. I love new stuff. In the right frame of mind, I'll go for cheese. (Is "Santa Baby" cheese? Say what you will, but you've gotta hear Eartha Kitt at some point before the big day.) I don't really want to hear that Santa got run over. I want to hear about chestnuts and having merry little Christmases. I just don't want it to be all Bing Crosby, even if the David Bowie duet of "Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy" is the Christmas equivalent of hitting one into McCovey Cove. I don't know how many times I've heard that, but every time I do, I stop and think: "Bowie and Bing. Wow."

With all due respect to Charles Brown, I'm going to tell you my three favorite Christmas albums - in order! - right now (you have to do it in order or you're just a gigantic wuss). And he's not in the trifecta. (How can that be, you say, if "Charles Brown's Cool Christmas Blues" is such a classic? Uh, because it's my opinion. Make your own list.)

1. "One More Drifter In the Snow," Aimee Mann. Now, this only came out in 2006, so you'll probably say it's the thrill of the new. But honestly, I've thought a lot about it, and "One More Drifter In the Snow" has all the elements of a truly great Christmas album - and then some. First, you've gotta cover some classics. Then you need to make them your own. You have to have fun but not be embarrassed to be doing a Christmas album or, alternatively, too earnest about doing a Christmas album. You should include an original so people see you're invested (hers is "Calling On Mary," and it's lovely - plus she includes a very great cover of husband Michael Penn's "Christmastime," a song they previously sang in duet.) But your selection process need be almost as precise as your renditions. And for God's sake, the woman opens up with Jimmy Webb's "Whatever Happened to Christmas." That's gold, people. That nestles up right next to "Merry Christmas Baby" in the Goodman household. There's so much to love on this album, from the beauty of "I'll Be Home for Christmas" and "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" to the bouncy hipness of "You're A Mean One Mr. Grinch," complete with Grant Lee Phillips' wonderful and nutty narration. Now, the only thing missing on this album is her "I Was Thinking I Could Clean Up for Christmas," but I guess she didn't want to send everyone to the bottle (or worse).

2. "Christmas Songs," Diana Krall (featuring the Clayton/Hamilton Jazz Orchestra). Yeah, I know what you're thinking: That I picked this because she's married to my musical hero or, thinking less of me, that she's a babe who sings and is an awesome musician (a weakness, to be sure). But no. This album came out in 2005 and, for me, struck the perfect balance of classics and redefinition. Listen, the entire album is worth the price just to hear her say, off the cuff, "I'm just crazy about horses" at the end of "Jingle Bells," the first track. That slays me every time. But there's something about the classics - and this album is all about familiarity - given over to jazz improvisation that just seems utterly perfect. I know some people take issue with Krall's vocal tonality but - odd to say - it's damned effective and near perfect on this album. Two things - other than, "I'm just crazy about horses" - sealed it for me on this album: I love her version of "Christmas Time Is Here" (don't get me started about my sentimentality for Vince Guaraldi and Charlie Brown); and she makes the room you're in feel warm. Now, a lot of people may overlook, snicker at or just plain not get that last point. But if you put this album on when you're decorating the tree, it'll come to you. And you'll appreciate it. Not only that, but there is an everlasting appeal to falling asleep by the tree (at least for me). And the one non-Christmas-specific song on the album, Irving Berlin's "Count Your Blessings Instead of Sleep" is the perfect theme song for that.

3. "The Best Christmas Ever." (Various artists). You've gotta have an anthology on your list. I mean, I could have put "Christmas Songs by Sinatra" on here and got some props, but finding an album that pulls in 10 or 12 variations on the theme - and in case you forgot, the theme is Christmas - by a disparate bunch of singers is a real labor of love. Did you think I was going to put "A Very Special Christmas" on there (all three - or were there more - compilations?). Anyway, I think "The Best Christmas Ever" is tough to beat. And here's one very good reason: A stickler for the classics could say, "Any Christmas collection must have, no matter how painful, a version of "Twelve Days of Christmas."' Now, I hate that song. It's worse than the blues. But the Harry Belafonte version is pretty stellar. Not only that, but the album includes "Merry Christmas Baby" from Charles Brown, has Nat King Cole belting out "O Holy Night," not one but two songs from Hadda Brooks (a positive spin on "I'll Be Home for Christmas" and a strangely depressing, drink-em-up version of "White Christmas" - seriously, it's a shiv in your spine that dredges up all kinds of woebegone family Christmases; you'll never hear it again in the same way); an absolutely fall-on-the-ground killer version of "Silent Night Story" from Solomon Burke; ("Let's sing it again, for the world"), Aaron Neville completely owning the rights to "O Little Town of Bethlehem" - if you're going to include the song, it had better be from him - and the live version of "Baby, It's Cold Outside" from Louis Armstrong and Velma Middleton ("give it up, give it up, give it up"), though it cuts off. It's not a perfect album and here's why - too much blues for me. I could lose Pete Fountain's "Blue Christmas" and B.B. King's "Christmas Celebration," but that's just me. Still, if you're going to outshine this compilation, you REALLY have to bring it.

So, what else? How about some songs? Let's not kid ourselves. Putting an "album" together is tough work. Throwing a bunch of singles together is easy. I've got a lot of random shit in my collection. I've heard exactly one good version of "Frosty the Snowman" and it comes from, of all people, the Cocteau Twins. Honestly, name a better version.

I also love "Father Christmas" from "The Kinks." ("Father Christmas, give us some money. We've got no time for your silly toys.") That's a classic in my book. It got tossed onto one of the weirdest collections I have, the Rhino Records Christmas Sampler from 1996. (Where else are you going to find The Waitresses right before Buck Owens?). Not an album I'd actually push, but I'd definitely cull some songs from it. Like "Merry Christmas (I Don't Wanna Fight Tonight)" from the Ramones, the original "Christmas Time Is Here" from the Vince Guaraldi Trio and the definitive version of "Adeste Fideles (O Come All Ye Faithful)" from Jackie Wilson - it is both joyful and triumphant and, need I say it - come and behold him, indeed. All told, it's a completely bizarre sampler, with LOTS of misses, but I've always loved the symmetry of "Father Christmas" as the first song, "Christmas Time Is Here" right in the middle and "Thanks For Christmas" from The Three Wise Men (aka XTC) closing things out. That's a great song.

Mrs. CrankyPants can't celebrate the season - or the day - unless she hears "2000 Miles" from the Pretenders, which is lovely and evocative. I have a soft spot for "Fairytale Of New York" from the Pogues. For my money, it's one of the most brilliant original Christmas songs ever recorded. If you want to debate that, you'd better put the 8 oz. gloves on. (Look, I'll cry at a cheesy commercial, so getting welled up over Christmas songs is nothing novel, but man that song just does it. Must be the Irish in me.)

Now, there's something about Christmas that makes pretty much every music artists at one time or another try to record a song. This is often a major mistake. You'd be surprised how many of the greats couldn't lay down a Christmas track that's worth a damn. Johnny Cash? Can't think of one I like. I so wanted to get into Otis Redding singing "White Christmas" but there is such a thing as trying too hard, even if you're a god. We could go on about this as it concerns one James Brown, but I'll give you this: "Soulful Christmas" works for me even when he name checks himself and Maceo. Why? Well, the bass line. End of story. But you could add, "Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, I love you" and praise its simplicity even when the song devolves into Norman Maileresque self promotion.

I mention these as a warning if you're going to argue for a certain song by a certain artist. You need to make the case. This is dangerous and holy territory. Many times - in many ways - a really spectacular singer just vomits on a classic. I, for one, won't stand for it.

Nah, I'm just kidding. I've got great tunes playing in the background. I've gone soft. You want to like something as your Christmas chestnut that doesn't really pass muster - why not? If it makes you happy in the holidays, then put it on. And sing it like you mean it.


Anonymous said...

Mambo, Santa Mambo by the Enchanters, goofy and wonderful.

Hear it here -- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ErwC_7nnchI

ferrethead said...

Tim - "Christmas Wrapping" by The Waitresses is a personal favorite. I'm with Mrs CP re: "2000 Miles" - Chris Martin of Cold Play does a really nice version, too. Prince's "Another Lonely Christmas" add a nice festive note - nothing says joyful celebration like a lament for a dead girlfriend...

Anonymous said...

Fairytale of New York. Best. Christmas. Song. Ever.

mep said...

Hey Tim, greetings from the 4-0-1 (otherwise known as the smallest state in the Union with the longest name) "The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations"...

I was a long time bay area resident, now back in the bosom of the family in New England - but I'm a longtime reader of your columns and blog(s) ...

And you are soooo in my wheelhouse with your Xmas music fetish. I too have more Xmas music that I care to admit, but I'm more of a track listener than a whole CD listener. I made Xmas compilations for years from my collection of Albums, tapes, CDs - and the common thread seems to be that upbeat with a kicking horn section really rings my bell. Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles etc... are all keepers, but not the collections with 50s era string arrangements. Give me the swinging 40s or even 60s era horns and I'm good. For instance "Ella wishes you a swinging Christmas" is great in spite of the 60s era backup vocal group. And "Have yourself a merry little Christmas" has the swinging-est laid back horn groove ever!

That said, I keep returning to a tracks from a couple of compilations that never seem dated:

The Rhino Records compilation from 1989 called "Hipsters Holiday" is great and includes the always rockin' "We wanna see Santa do the Mambo" by Big John Greer.

Atlantic and Atco Remasters compilation disk "Soul Christmas" includes the gem of "Presents for Christmas" by Solomon Burke.

But then I'm also a sucker for Bing Crosby's version of "White Christmas". That Bing could really swing.

RegularGuyMike said...

Well, as a serious collector of the stuff, I could talk Xmas tunes all day. Darlene Love's "Xmas Baby Please Come Home" is in fact the Greatest Xmas Single EVAH, but the runners-up list is very very long. And you gaotta love the South Park Xmas CD. Genius.

ChicagoJen said...

Uh oh, I fear I am going to lose all of my street cred with TG on this one:

I'll start with the agreement: I love, love, love (!) the Aimee Mann album. I wish I could have seen her recent show although I heard she had a sore throat...

Love, love, love (!) Merry Christmas Baby!

Now the, ahem, cheezy embarrassing admissions:

The Carpenters Christmas double CD is a must-hear every year. I love her voice on the pretty standard songs but in support of your argument, the original "Merry Christmas Darling" is a total standout.

Kathy Mattea's version of "Mary Did You Know?" is fantastic.

OK, headed now to iTunes to get "Fairytale of NY".

You people.

Cheers to all!

lieber said...

Tim, thank you, thank you. Big Christmas hug. I'm off to iTunes, too.

barefootjim said...

"Christmas Wrapping" and "Fairytale of New York," natch. But, as well as Aimee Mann, look out for the Christmas EPs by Yo La Tengo and Low.

And Sufjan Stevens has put out a whole mess of Christmas EPs -- you should be able to find them on eMusic -- that combine trad songs with originals like "Get Behind Me, Santa!"

verite said...

I like Gypsy Soul's Christmas music on their CDs, "Sacred" and "Amazing Grace."

They were just at the Little Fox for a Christmas show. Really great musicians.


Anonymous said...

One of my favorites year after year is The Chieftans' "Bells of Dublin", although I always have to skip over Rikki Lee Jones' rendition of "Oh Holy Night"! Vince Guaraldi's sound track for A Charlie Brown Christmas is frequently on my stereo this time of year, as well as "James Brown's Funky Christmas", the Polydor compilation from the mid-90s.

herrdirektor said...

Classic: O Christmas Tree (O Tannenbaum) - Vince Guaraldi. Off Beat: Winter Weather - Squirrel Nut Zippers. New Fave: Baby Its Cold Outside - Leon Redbone & Zooey Deschanel

masked_superstar said...

"merry christmas from the family" Robert Earl Keen

mmmmurf said...

A modern classic: "The Christmas Song" by The Raveonettes. It just oozes crunchy guitar coolness. I'm also a fan of The Dan Band's "I Wanna Rock You Hard This Christmas." It's hilarious, completely inappropriate and drops almost as many f-bombs as Denis Leary's "Merry F-ing Christmas."

arancarlisle said...

Swedish Jul songs are my favorite of all. Many are available in various forms on iTunes as well.

"Tomtarnas Julnatt" is my all time favorite super catchy light hearted Christmas song.

I also love "Staffan Var en Stalledräng" for being in a minor key.

"Gläns över sjö och strand" is my favorite of the super cheesy sentimental songs.

Susaleenah said...

Have to play "Merry Christmas From the Family" by Robert Earl Keen every Christmas Eve as well as the Christmas album that Bruce Cockburn had out several years ago (forget the name of it) and of course have to drag out my Christmas card/record sent to me from the Beatles Fan Club in 1964. Nothing like Season's Greetings from the Fab Four singing "Good King Wenceslaus". too bad the mailmail bent it to get it in my mailbox. Little thumps throughout, but still playable.
And somewhere I have a tape of BR5-49 doing "Daddy's Drinkin' Up Our Christmas" a true honkytonk classic from a bootleg recording at the Menominee Casino in Keshena, WI. How I loved those guys.....That definitely will be played!.....

Michael said...

Great column (or whatever it's called here)! A close friend of mine always starts the season by listening to Bing Crosby and the Andrew Sisters sing "Mele Kalikimaka". For my wife and I, it's Dean Martin (and like you, we have many eclectic choices in our Christmas collection). He just makes us smile.

Jebediah said...

Here are some of my christmas classics: "Happy Xmas (War is Over)" by John Lennon; "Christmas Song" by Jethro Tull; "I Believe in Father Christmas" by Emerson, Lake and Palmer; "Christmas" by the Who; "Do They Even Know It's Christmas" by Band Aid.

A beautiful, melancholy song that always gives me shivers is "Christmas Day" by Dido.

One holiday CD to have is South Park's Mr. Hankey's Christmas Classics. Nothing beats "Merry F*king Christmas" for that true holiday spirit. A few others you should have are "I Won't Be Home for Christmas" and "Happy Holidays, You Bastard" by Blink-182, "Christmas Time for My Penis" by the Vandals and one of my all time favorites "I am Santa Claus" by Bob Rivers.

Anonymous said...

OK, I just stood online for 1/2 hour in the mall to buy the Aimee Mann CD. I can't wait to listen to it!

Many thanks for the great list!


pizzadrone said...

I agree with regularguymike about Darlene Love, and actually, I love the whole "Phil Spector Christmas Album"--lots of good stuff on there.

The Man in The Grey Flannel Shorts said...

I forgot one...

Christmas in Hollis - Run DMC
I loved the scene in Die Hard when they're in the limo on the way to the ill-fated Nakatomi Tower when Bruce Willis asked for Christmas music and is told that "This IS Christmas music!"

Now I have to go and re arrange my nine hour iTunes playlist for streaming on Christmas day...

The Man in The Grey Flannel Shorts said...

Sir Tim,
Though it's a bit chilly for the shorty robe, I'm sure you've got the politically incorrect fire blazing while you contemplated this delectable time of conspicuous consumption and the music that comes but once a year.

And so, I humbly submit my list.

Well, for sheer cheekiness, you gotta love:
1. Oi! To The World - No Doubt
This came out a few years ago and it's great fun.

Not cheeky in the same way:
2. Punk Rock Christmas - Sex Pistols
Aside from the rather impressive absurdist aspect of this one, it's actually a great song.

I discovered this one years ago while working holiday retail (one of the awful jobs one takes when young):
3. I Want a Rock and Roll Guitar - Johnny Preston
This is just flat-out cool.

Found this while on the hunt for the original and it's a favorite now:
4. Mr Heat Miser - Big Bad Voodoo Daddy
Hey, it swings...

While we're on covers of much loved classics, here's another piece of blasphemy that works spiffingly:
5. You're a Mean One, Mr Grinch - Ru Paul
I know, I know, a drag queen taking on Boris Karloff's classic - but it's effing sublime...

And finally, because it's absolutely necessary:
6. Christmas With The Devil - Spinal Tap
Tap into the Holidays!

It was hard keeping it to only six because there are so many great (for many, often perverse reasons) that should be mentioned. Spike Jones and Gene Autry come immediately to mind...


Brian said...

Someone beat me to Darlene Love's Christmas (Baby Please Come Home). That one leads my "Top 25 Played" iTunes list this time of year. I can't get enough of it.

Also love The Waitresses "Christmas Wrapping."

Some good suggestions to check out here. Nice topic Tim!

Jon Delfin said...

That's "Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep." Baa.

TeaLady said...

If "Santa Baby" by Eartha Kitt is cheese, then it will be a very dairy Christmas (sorry!). Love that song! Also John Lennon's "War is Over (Happy Xmas)" ~ we were singing along in the car last week, amazed (and saddened) that, almost 40 years later, we still need to sing it. But the Christmas song that always gets to me is Mel Torme's "Christmas Song" ("Chestnuts roasting on an open fire") ~ the Nat King Cole version, of course. It always stops me in my tracks.

LauraLu said...

Well, I posted this already at the BM, but it bears repeating. Chris Isaak's Christmas sends to me a very happy place. That voice.....

rktrix said...

Hey, Tim, Merry Xmas!
I'm liking Chris Botti's album "December" - it has a nice reflective mood. On the other end of the spectrum, Christmas Remixed from 2 years ago still gets me in the mood. And what would Christmas be without the Chipmunks? Seriously, I'd like to know because I can't get them out of my head.

tunnza said...

I kinda hate to go all traditional on you, but I love "Ding! Dong! Merrily On High" from "Carols from Trinity." Any song with "swungen" in its lyrics has to be cool.

Oh, and Eartha Kitt's "Santa Baby" is seriously not cheese, unless it's fine, aged brie.

Tweedy said...

Fairytale of New York tops my list. In my house, singing along while swaying back and forth with a pint of Guiness in hand is mandatory.

After that, I gotta go with:

Happy Xmas (War Is Over) - John Lennon; Christmas at the Zoo - Flaming Lips

Merry Christmas (I Don't Want to Fight Tonight) - Ramones (good call, TG)

Santa Claus Is Coming To Town - Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band (I'm not sure where you can find this, but the NYC radio stations used to play it a lot in the mid-'80s; fun version, which I liked a lot even though I found Springsteen annoying back then).

I Believe In Father Christmas - ELP (sometimes the bombast works); the South Park Christmas songs; the Beatles fan club Christmas singles (which I unfortunately don't have copies of); 'Twas the Night Before Christmas - Henry Rollins (from the Lump of Coal compilation. The Dive would pick The Odds' version of We Three Kings, which is also quite good); and Little Drummer Boy - Jimi Hendrix.

The Temptations' Christmas album is also very good.

I need to pick up James Brown's Funky Christmas and Prince's "Another Lonely Christmas," based on these comments.

TeaLady said...

Tweedy, thanks for reminding me about Springsteen's "Santa Claus is Coming to Town." I remember a DJ at a New York station once saying that, while Baby Boomers grew up singing "Santa Claus is coming to town" (equal emphasis on all syllables), succeeding generations would only know "SAAAAAAAAAAAn-ta Claus is coming to town!" thanks to Bruce (and, I might add, the Crystals, who did that version first on the wonderful Phil Spector Christmas album).

Tweedy said...

Tealady, thanks for the NY DJ story. Also, I forgot to mention Steve Earle's Christmas in Washington, although generally I prefer that politics and Christmas don't mix.

djnightowl said...

I was going to mention both "I Believe in Father Christmas" by ELP, cause it's good, and always sounded very odd sitting in the middle of the album it was originally released on...

I also am partial to "Merry Christmas, Baby" to the point where I had it put on the jukebox where I used to work...and then drove the teenagers who worked there crazy by playing it a couple of times a night, every night, from Thanksgiving to Christmas- just like they did with their latest hip-hop songs...and Bruce Springsteen does a pretty fair version of it, too.
What else? It ain't Christmas without "Merry Christmas (War Is Over)" which I signed off my dj shift on Christmas Eve with for about 7 years in a row..."Get Some Santa Claus" by the wonderfully witty ex-cowpunk band from Sacramento, the Okra Pickles...my bootlegged radio recording of an all-star cast doing a live broadcast of "A Christmas Carol" on the Mark & Brian Show a few years ago (and also, their Newsman reading "The Polar Express", long before it became a movie)...and "Smoke On The Water" by Deep Purple, not cause it's a Christmas song, but because the first time I ever danced with a girl,(and later kissed), was to that song at a Christmas Dance in 7th grade.
And of course, I have to listen to "Christmas Card From a Hooker in Minneapolis" by Tom Waits a couple of times a week, but that's pretty much the case year-round.
Oh, and Cheech and Chong riffing on Santa Claus and his bitchin sled..."Hey-I know that dude-we jammed together in front of Woolworth's-but the dude only knew one song, man"

Eric said...

Tim where are mp3 links???? You are a blogger and all music bloggers must include mp3's so I can scam free music....err I mean sample and seasonal musical wonders.

Here is a should out for Keb Mo's Jingle Bell Jamboree. I first heard it several years ago on KFOG

Eric said...

.....err shout out, I should say

Gene Frenkle said...

"Christmas Wrapping" by The Waitresses and "Christmas, Baby, Please Come Home" by Darlene Love (and apparently a favorite of Dave Letterman's to keep the TV theme here) are transcendent and stand alone as great pop tunes. Lennon's "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" embodies the spirit of the season possibly better than any other song (another year over, what have you done, peace on earth, goodwill to man, etc. etc.), but I can't help cracking up whenever Yoko really starts to belt it out in that song. A great Xmas song shouldn't register so high on the unintentional comedy scale.

But "Fairytale of New York" kills 'em all by about five horse-lengths.

pnm said...

I (the M in PNM) love love love Merry Christmas Baby AND Santa Baby, both of which on my Xmas compilation playlist. But the absolute bestest Christmas song ever that will never fail to get me in the holiday spirit is Jingle Bells by Booker T and the MGs. Actually, it kind of sounds like Green Onions, but Christmasy-er.

I also have to give an honorable mention to Harry Connick Jr.'s "(It Must Have Been Ol') Santa Claus" if for no other reason than the "Happy Ho Ho Ho to you"'s at the end.

The P in PNM says Tom Waits' Christmas Card from a Hooker, but he always defaults to Tom Waits.

girlina said...

Oh Tim, Christmas music is the chink in Hard Hearted Girlina's armour. I can take Diana Krall in small doses, but when you hear Ella's version of Jingle Bells, then you know where the tag line was stolen. I lean towards the sappy or melancholy, like the Pretenders (which I overheard on 'October Road') or Vince Guaraldi's 'Christmastime is Here (currently my ringtone, too). Then, somewhere in the lower 3rd of the single malt bottle, I realize life can't be that bad. Cue Pearl Bailey's 'Five Pound Box of Money', please. And, if a song used in a Gap or Target commercial in the past 3-5 years, it's in my library.

Charles Brown's version of Merry Christmas Baby was my grandfather's favorite....sigh.

I'm also thankful for songs that celebrate winter, like Rosemary Clooney's 'Snow' or 'Baby, It's Cold Outside'.

And - ahem - Motown Christmas anyone? Ok - minus the Supremes.

Trixie said...

Am I the only one who grew up with An Andy Williams Christmas?? Come on! "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" and "It's the Holiday Season." Oop de doo and dickery dock!

The Muppets Christmas with John Denver. Now THERE's a version of the twelve days of Christmas ... Miss Piggy belting out five golden rings and Beeker just being uninteligible.

Almost any version of "I'll be Home for Christmas" gets to me. There's a song with a time and place meaning. Thinking about the men and women during WWII, listening with heavy hearts.

Christmas Time is Here. YES. Fairytale of New York. YES, YES - have it on my iPod. Gray Flannel Shorts guy: Run DMC + Die Hard. We have that Very Special Xmas Album and it always makes me think of John McLean pulling into Nakatomi Tower.

Thanks for this posting, I, too, will be doing some sampling from iTunes. Didn't know Prince had a Christmas song.

Trixie said...

Oh! And Kenny Loggins, "Celebrate Me Home" makes me cry. That's just me.

mdg said...

1. Ave Maria - I don't think I/ve ever heard a version I didn't like. It's just... ethereal.

2. The Christmas Song (Christmas Don't Be Late) bt David Seville and the Chipmunks - yes, it's a novelty song, but it instantly transports me back to my childhood. It reminds me of the anticipation and impatience we all felt while waiting for The Big Day to arrive and life with three younger brothers and a mother who was not always successful in riding herd on us all.

3. The Nutcracker. Any competent orchestra will do. Every time it moves to a new dance this sends a little jolt directly to the pleasure center of my brain.

4. O Holy Night. If you want a version, how about Mahalia Jackson & Nat King Cole. This is just powerful music. I'm not a religious person, but listening to this almost makes me want to be.

5. Un Flambeau Jeannette Isabella is a song I learned in 5th grade that I've always liked. I bought a cassette of French Christmas songs a few years ago just to have a recording of this song. Now my cassette player is broken and I miss this song, so maybe that's why it made the list.

Merry Christmas to all!

lieber said...

Trixie, you're not alone.

• Andy Williams, Bobby Vinton and Johnny Mathis created the Christmas sounds of my childhood. I bought Bobby Vinton's "Christmas in Killarney" on iTunes and my boys went all Flatleyesque around the living room. Can't beat a good Christmas jig.

• "I'll be Home for Christmas" and "Celebrate Me Home" get to me every time. I left home at 18, but always looked forward to a week or two of Christmas vacation spent back in the dysfunctional fold.

• The room got mighty quiet during the episode of Ally McBeal when Robert Downey Jr. sat down at the piano and sang Joni Mitchell's "River." I didn't even know the man could sing. And I've always been partial to the lyrics "And he loved me so naughty made me weak in the knees."

Holly said...

seconded, the Muppets 12 days of Christmas - it's the only version I'll listen to. The Christmas Season doesn't officially start until I've listened to John Denver and the Muppets "A Christmas Together". Jewel's "Holy Night" is a must, too.

Michael Taylor said...

Wait a minute... Tim Goodman, Cultural Commissar to the Greater Bay Area and Beyond, doesn't like the blues?

How can you not like the blues? How can anybody with a pulse not like the blues?

Some things are beyond the comprehension of Man (or Woman) -- and I suppose "de gustibus non est disputandum" is one of those things.

Goodman doesn't like the blues. Bah, humbug.

I'm getting dizzy here. Must... lie... down...

novelera said...

Anything Christmasy by Rosemary Clooney

The Messiah

AND I do love the religious ones sung by a really good choir, such as the Mormon Tabernacle. I forgive them their strange religion when I hear them sing Hark the Herald Angels Sing or O Holy Night.

I have a hokey Costco five-CD set which has all the most popular versions of carols, including Feliz Navidad by Jose Feliciano which I actually like, as long as I only hear it a couple of times. This set is great, along with my chili pepper lights, when trimming the tree.

eastcoastKaren said...

First of all, Tim, I hear you re the blues. Can't do it, just can't. Makes me itchy and twitchy and have to leave the room.

My current favorite xmas cd is Loreena McKennit's A Winter Garden. It's short, only five tracks, apparently recorded on the side while doing something else. Track 2, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen with a middle eastern/south asian drums thing going on knocks me out every time. I stopped in my tracks first time I heard it. I play it everyday, my 3yo dances to it in a very trance-y kind of way, but I suspect my husband is getting a little sick of it...

Most of my own Christmas music is stuff like medieval English country carols. Picked up some great discs when we were on our honeymoon over there.

Charlie Brown is always in the cd tray this time of year.

Glad someone mentioned the Springstten Santa Clause is Comin'... Since I was a teenager, it wasn't Christmas until I heard that on the radio. I was afraid it was an east coast thing and not nearly hip enough for the rest of you and you Waitresses and Chris Martins and whatnot.

My favorite carol is The Holly and The Ivy, especially more period takes on it; my favorite modern song is Baby It's Cold Outside, and I'm partial to a Steve and Eydie version of it.

jamester said...

Trixie: Oop dy do and dickory dock right back at ya... my mom was CRAZY about Andy Williams and his Christmas album always seemed to be playing at our house.

Other favorites: Nat King Cole's version of "The Christmas Song" (but only Nat King Cole's) and Ray Charles singing "That Spirit of Christmas."

Finally, anyone else remember "Snoopy's Christmas" by The Royal Guardsmen? Loved it then, love it now.

cringer said...

there's a version of Rockin' around the Christmas Tree by some random rock band and sung to the tempo and style of "I Saw Her Standing There" that is so infectious that i can play it over and over. Maybe I just like that tune cuz the one you hear in the dept stores is great too.

Others? Coltrane doing My Favorite Things for over ten minutes cannot be topped, especially great at dinner while Mother-in-law babbles on about non-Christmassy b.s.. I agree that all singers and musicians with an ounce of fame feel compelled to put out a christmas album (bad idea), but anything done by bebop and similar jazz styles from 40's thru the 60's is great too. Ramsey Lewis' album and Vince G. are classics.

Almost forgot Jacob Miller's Natty Christmas for all you reggae and herbal loving types. I bought it in college like 20 years ago and has such Christmas staples as "We wish you a irie Christmas" and "all i want for Ismas" where he repeats over and over that all he wants is some Cali herb.

Also, not sure if "there ain't no sanity Claus" by the Damned is actually a Christmas song but it's a goodie and don't forget "f*ck Christmas" from Fear or the Dickies version of "silent night".

Trixie said...

My peeps are down here at this end of the blog. I feel all warm and gooey inside. Merry Christmas.

Ron R said...

Anything from the UK version of The Office Christmas Special is great. Mainly Mary's Boy Child by Boney M - especially is you picture Ricky Gervais dancing to it.

Skelly said...

Fairytale of New York is fabulous, but for sheer welling-up -on BART power, my money's on "O Holy Night". I'm ashamed to say I'm rockin' the version from the "Home Alone" soundtrack, but Charlotte Church does an amazing job also. Some new finds that have been awesome are The Smithereens doing "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and the Dandy Warhols KILLING "Little Drummer Boy" from "Alternative Rock Xmas". My Christmas miracle this year was the birth of my first sweet baby iPod. I'm deeply in love with it and iTunes.

Anonymous said...

I have a new christmas favorite.....Chipmunks roasting on the Open Fire by Bob Rivers. it is hilarious! here's the lyrics - go ahead - sing along! You know you want to!!

Chipmunks roasting on an open fire
Hot sauce dripping from their toes
(“Oh! That tickles!”)
Yuletide squirrels fresh filleted by the choir
They poked hot skewers through their nose
(“Ow! Wrong end, ya cowboy!”)
Everybody knows some pepper and a garlic clove
Help to make them seasoned right
Tiny rats with a crisp golden coat
Will really hit the spot tonight

And now when Santa sees his tray
(“Ho ho ho ho ho ho”)
There’ll be some homemade chipmunk jerky for his sleigh
(“Mmmm…Hey, look at that!”)
And every hungry child is gonna spy
To see if chipmunks really sing when they fry
And so I’m brushing on some honey glaze
To keep them crisp and juicy too
Let’s hope they get served many times many ways
Tasty Chipmunks; good food

“On that, Mr. Cole, ”
“Yes, sir, Mr. Seville?”
“Would you mind handing me the barbeque sauce? I am starved!”
”Oh,no problem Dave. Hey listen, you best be havin’ two of those drumsticks, because they’re oh-so tiny and there ain’t much meat upon ‘em”
(“What about animal rights, Dave?”)
“Put a sock in it Melvin”
“You know, for years people said you over-rated hamsters were my meal ticket. Now I guess you could just say you’re my meal!”
“That’s a good one, Dave…I always knew you was the funny one in the group!”
“Damn straight!”

And so I'm offering some recipes
From chipmunk pie to chipmunk stew
I’m not really sad that it ended this way
Furry chipmunks screw you

“Did you hear that Melvin? Melvin? Mellllviiiiin?"
“Why, I’m sorry Dave, did you want Melvin? There’s plenty of Thagadore left though…”

And to all - A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!!

TheDive said...

Have to put in a second for two great Christmas albums - Lump of Coal (Tweedy is right - I love the Odd's We Three Kings) and Temptations Sing Christmas (every track is simply perfect, but I particularly love Someday at Christmas).

karmasartre said...

1) Phil Spectre XMAS album. Yep to everyone re. Darlene Love. Hal Blaine's inspired drumming on Frosty the Snowperson is magical, paved the way for Keith Moon and countless others. You can skip the final cut.
2) Father Christmas, preferably on 45 rpm vinyl. Ray's vocal is perfectly snarky, it shouts out greed and commercialism, and Dave's guitar eruption matches it.
3) Bruce Cockburn's XMAS album, especially the completely irresistible "Mary Had a Baby" -- the whole household will want to sing along.
4) Rejoice! (volumes I and II) -- beautiful string quartet versions of standards and spirituals (on John Marks Records).

Bill Goodykoontz said...

Run Rudolph Run. Many versions, but I'll take Dave Edmunds.'
All of Motown Christmas.
Sap alert: Celebrate Me Home by Kenny Loggins (I know, I know, can't be helped).
Entire soundtrack of Charlie Brown Christmas. C'mon. No-brainer.
Any John Coltrane take on a Christmas song.

BrandoMonkey said...

Judy Garland singing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" always brings tears to my eyes. Gotta stick with the original on that one.

I also love the Temptations' version of "White Christmas" - just the right amount of do wop cool. Hear it with adorable graphics here:


Gotta love the reindeer solo!

lieber said...

bill goodykoontz,

how goody of you to weigh in.

i like writing and saying your name.

i'm off to sample some Coltrane Christmas on iTunes.

Anonymous said...

Greeting from the Eastern Shore of Maryland:

It's not Christmas to me without Charles Brown. My mom had a different Charles Brown album called "Charles Brown Sings Christmas Songs" and it included his "Merry Christmas Baby", as well as his "Please Come Home For Christmas." A one-two punch that I have to hear to prove that it's Christmas time for me.

Also love many of the entries here, including Bing's "White Christmas" and Nat King Cole's version of "The Christmas Song." But hearing Booker T. & The MG's "Jingle Bells" and their backing on Carla Thomas' "Gee Whiz, It's Christmas" always make me smile.

Merry Christmas to all, and have a happy holiday season!

Jen said...

I second Judy Garland's version of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" - that song has always encapsulated the holiday season for me. I just found a new remixed version of Nancy Wilson's The Christmas Waltz that I'm really liking - the original classic song is still preserved and enhanced with a modern dance beat.

Anonymous said...

If you're old-school with a turntable and the 45rpm single, play the Chipmunks' "Christmas Don't Be Late" at 33 1/3rpm so they sound like ordinary guys and Dave Seville sounds like a monster. It's the best.

suzyq2 said...

I am loving the Aimee Mann album, thanks Tim for the recommendation, I hadn't heard of it before.

Some very fine music listed on this page, I'll have to check out the ones I don't know for next year.

Thanks everyone and have the Merriest of Christmases!

girlina said...

Y'all have a wonderful Christmas with your families! I will be making a trip to Ballbuster to see if they have Deadwood, Dreamgirls and the Bourne Trilogy. Later in the week, it's to see Atonement.

If you can, spread some love down South, in spirit and in action:


sfamylou said...

I am not wild about the Aimee Mann album although I love her. It may be that I first listened to it during a very bleak season, last year, and have associations.

This year, I've been over the moon with the Hall and Oates Christmas cd. I love their version of Children Go Where I Send Thee. It's very gospel-y and great. I'm serious. I'll mail you a copy if you don't believe. Last year, I was all over the Db's Christmas cd, and it held up to this year. (I've got that holiday spirit, gimmee gimmee gimmee gimmee gimmee!) Of course, I'm a fool for Mel Torme (It Happened in Sun Valley, anyone?) and the Christmas with the Rat Pack cd. Baby it's cold outside! Swoon Dean Martin....And of course Phil Spector is a classic, along with the Charlie Brown, and wow. If you like something of a whole other world, check out the Waverly Consort Renaissance Christmas. It's so haunting and gorgeous.

Bay Radical said...

Shilling with Santa from the awesome WFMU blog.

Scott said...

Hi Tim,

Cheers from the 412 (Question Boy will know where this is), although I'm originally from the 510 when it was the 415.

At any rate, here are a few of my favorite Christmas songs -
Happy Holiday/The Holiday Season - Andy Williams
Sleigh Ride - Johnny Mathis
A Holly Jolly Christmas - Burl Ives
I'll Be Home for Christmas - Carpenters
Let It Snow - Chris Isaak
Frosty The Snowman - Cocteau Twins
Three Ships - Cyndi Lauper
Old Toy Trains - Dean & Britta
Mele Kalikimaka - Jimmy Buffett
Up On the House Top - Gene Autry
Feliz Navidad - José Feliciano
Christmas In Hollis - Run-DMC
Merry Christmas (I Don't Want to Fight Tonight)- The Ramones
Christmas Time Is Here - Vince Guaraldi Trio
Pretty Paper - Glen Campbell
Someday At Christmas - Stevie Wonder
Silent Night - Willie Nelson

Owl said...

Albums, always with the exception of Guaraldi's oft-mentioned and sublime "A Charlie Brown Christmas" soundtrack, don't work for me (too much substandard filler), but two singles, polar opposites in mood and tone, anchor my season:

1) Fountains of Wayne, "I Want an Alien for Christmas" -- ridiculously catchy pop.

2) Calexico, "Gift X-change" -- the most hauntingly beautiful meditation on the often mixed feelings the season brings that I've ever heard.

The latter won't work for tree-trimming, Tim, but is perfect for 2 A.M. eggnog-sipping in a darkened room....

C. said...

Thanks for the heads up on the Charles Brown Christmas album. I downloaded it off ITunes and LOVED it!!!

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