I Like Xmas Music, and So Do You (Oh Yes, You Do)
If you like music, then you like Christmas music. You just may not be aware of it yet. I’m not talking about the crap you hear at the mall or the post office. That stuff, by and large, is thoroughly horrifying. No matter your genres and eras of personal preference, I guarantee there’s a healthy dose of magnificent holiday music for you.
Everyone’s making holiday albums these days, but that’s always been the case. Just in the last couple years, such unlikely artists as Twisted Sister, Bob Dylan, Bootsy Collins, Billy Idol, and the Dan Band have done it. Historically, this is something pop artists do. “Christmas With The Rat Pack” features holiday tunes from Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. (I like Deano’s version of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”). Judy Garland’s televised Xmas special was released as an album (I enjoy her closing number, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas / Meet Me In St. Louis”). Stars of yesteryear like Rosemary Clooney and Lena Horne have cranked out plenty of Xmas schlock.
Just as some artists release children’s’ music, many (most?) put out some holiday music. Sometimes, it’s an aging artist trying to shamelessly move a few units among its core audience (REO Speedwagon). Other times, a curious release ends up being an earnest collection of thoughtful classics best heard fireside with some hot cider (Billy Idol). We often find a holiday album to be exactly the kind of mercenary cornball cheese we’d expect from the artist (Neil Diamond). Then, there are those holiday albums which are simply awesome, stuff that stands on its own legs a great album whose lyrics just happen to be seasonal (James Brown). As such, much of it sucks, but some is awesome. If you’re a real music fan, you wholly accept having to kiss a few toads for every prince.
This is the tenth year in which I’ve assembled, in lieu of Xmas cards for family and friends, a packaged set of music which comprises one disc of tunes released during the current year and another of holiday stuff. As the implied pressure of delivering a compilation that’s good with a certain balance of the familiar and the obscure snowballs each year, the annual process has me scouring a bit for some musical holiday gems. As this is a personal experience, very rarely do I download anything for this project. I buy some of it online (not mp3 or iTunes, but music on CD and vinyl) but mostly enjoy the far richer experience of finding things in record stores.
In terms of independently owned and operated record stores, Seattle is among the world’s finest cities. Sonic Boom, Easy Street, Everyday Music, Bop Street… to see a list of Washington stores participating in Record Store Day, click here. And for the true Holy Grail of ‘em all, especially if you’re a vinyl appreciator – I can’t believe I’m sharing this because it’s hands-down the Mecca of rare, obscure, and out of print Xmas music… oh my… Golden Oldies, in Wallingford. Prepare yourself for a bacchanalia of old school music browsing and shopping. Then ask to be shown the back room, the very residence of the most magnificent vinyl holiday booty this side of anywhere.
The key to enjoying Xmas music is to stick with the stuff that doesn’t necessarily sound like holiday cheese, stuff that actually holds up as music. It’s out there. You can find it. Go get some.
Five Obscure Holiday Tunes Worth Seeking Out
Grandaddy – “Alan Parsons in a Winter Wonderland”
Elton John – “Ho Ho Ho (Who’d Be a Turkey at Christmas)”
Ben Hinds – “All I Want For Christmas Is A Go-Go- Girl”
Francis Smith – “Solar System Simon, Santa’s Supersonic Son”
The Sisterhood – “The Rocking Disco Santa Claus”
My Personal Holiday Top 25 (in no particular order)…
Darlene Love – “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)”
Run DMC – “Christmas in Hollis”
Elvis Presley – “Santa Claus Back In Town”
Eartha Kitt – “Santa Baby”
Chuck Berry – “Merry Christmas Baby”
Material Issue – “Merry Christmas Will Do”
Billy Squier – “Christmas is the Time to Say I Love You”
The Pogues – “Fairytale of New York”
Harvey Danger – “Sometimes You Have to Work on Christmas”
The Ronettes – “Frosty the Snowman”
James Brown – “Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto”
John Prine – “Christmas in Prison”
John Denver – “Please Daddy (Don’t Get Drunk This Christmas)”
The Staple Singers – “Who Took the Merry Out of Christmas”
The Kinks – “Father Christmas”
The Waitresses – “Christmas Wrapping”
Tom Waits – “Silent Night / Postcard from a Hooker in Minneapolis”
eels – “Everything’s Gonna Be Cool This Christmas”
Fishbone – “Slick Nick, You Devil You”
Wesley Willis – “Kris Kringle Was a Car Thief”
Beach Boys – “Little Saint Nick”
The Chieftains w/ Elvis Costello – “St. Stephen’s Day Murders”
El Vez – “Mamacita Donde Esta Santa Claus”
Bob Dylan – “Must Be Santa”
Joey Ramone – “What a Wonderful World”
Some Album Recommendations:
Roots & Americana
The Christmas Jug Band, “Uncorked”
Asylum Street Spankers, “Christmas Spanking”
Squirrel Nut Zippers, “Christmas Caravan”
“New Wave Christmas”
“The Big ’80s Christmas”
“Ho: A Dan Band Christmas”
“The Dina Martina Holiday Album”
“A John Waters Christmas”
“Punk Rock Christmas”
“Monster Ballads Xmas”
Los Straitjackets, “‘Tis the Season” (all instrumental)
Vince Guaraldi Trio, “A Charlie Brown Christmas”
Elvis Presley, “If Every Day Was Like Christmas”
Christmas Remixed, “Holiday Classics Re-Grooved”
R&B / Soul
Charles Brown & Friends, “Merry Christmas Baby”
James Brown, “The Christmas Collection”
“A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector”
“Holiday Sing Along With Mitch Miller”
“Hipster’s Holiday: Vocal Jazz R&B Classics”
“Songs for a Big Band Christmas”
Rather than shaft you with the Jelly of the Month Club, Mr. Griswold, let’s hook you up nice. As if the Golden Oldies tip wasn’t enough, in the season of giving I also give you my recipe for a delightful Xmas dessert bread.
Eric’s Christmas Bread
2 tbsp white sugar
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 cup finely chopped walnuts
2 cups all-purpose flour
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
½ cup margarine, softened (remove from fridge)
1 cup white sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp buttermilk
1 cup chopped apples
½ cup walnuts
¼ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
Set oven to 350
Topping: combine sugar, cinnamon, and chopped walnuts into a bowl and set aside.
Dry mix: combine flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and nutmeg into a bowl and set aside.
Wet mix: cream margarine and sugar (mash and mix together with spoon). Add eggs and vanilla extract and mix well (best done in Kitchen Aid mixer). Gradually beat in Dry Mix alternately with buttermilk. Stir in apples, walnuts, and semi-sweet chocolate chips. Pour mixture into a greased 9x5x3 inch loaf pan. Sprinkle with Topping.
Bake 50-60 minutes.
Cool for 15 minutes. Remove from pan. Cool on wire rack for at least 30 minutes.
RECORD PHOTO BY BUNKY’S PICKLE; PHOTO OF ERIC MALONEY COURTESY OF THE AUTHOR