Now that Thanksgiving is over we reach the season of Christmas music. It can be a harrowing time for those that have no love for these songs. I find myself somewhere in the middle of the scale on holiday music, not a hater, but I don’t like to be bombarded with it either.
I consider the start of Christmas music time the Thanksgiving playing of “Arlo Guthrie’s – Alice’s Restaurant”. I first heard this song on WABX out of Detroit and loved it. They played the entire song which blew my mind in those days of 3 minute radio rock. I never knew that it was a tradition on many radio stations. I got a copy some years ago and it is now in my Christmas music collection. As I understand it he is still playing it and has changed the second part of the song to reflect the times. The Reagan and Bush years caused rewrites and performance changes.
As a kid I grew up with some pretty traditional Christmas music that my parents played. Barbara Streisand and Johnny Mathis and I remember it on the radio a lot and in school too. Christmas performances and music class, etc. and there was nothing but the classics. You know… “Silent Night”, “White Christmas”, “Up On The Rooftop” and “Little Drummer Boy”. I have all of those in my Christmas music collection. Even I, not a full on Christmas music lover, has to accept the importance of those songs. The part I don’t like is hearing them over and over and over in a single season. That is why I rarely listen to radio… the repetition is deadly. It took me years to listen to “Smells Like Teen Spirit” when it went on like 15 minute radio repeat. It could be the best song in the world… but constant radio play is the best way to kill it. I digress.
After I left my parents house… I gave up Christmas music. For a while…
The CD “A Very Special Christmas” made it into my life one year. It was the first and only for that matter Christmas CD I have EVER purchased. Consequently, it holds a special place in my heart. It wasn’t perfect, Bob Seger doing “Little Drummer Boy”?… ugh. However, it had the Bruce Springsteen and The Pretenders and some other rock and roll and dare I say it “Santa Baby” by Madonna. Not really being a big Madonna fan I couldn’t understand why that song stuck with me, but it did. That CD made me reconsider Christmas music. The next year Elvis came to the stereo in the form of “Blue Christmas” on tape. He is the King. Then the next year I bought the Jackson 5 Christmas tape. As much as I am not a Michael Jackson fan, this was undeniably a Christmas classic. I still have that tape.
My breakout year was when I ordered a Blues Christmas tape from Ichiban Records. It was “Ichiban Blues at Christmas Vol. 1”. This included the track by Chick Willis entitled “All I Want For Christmas Is To Lay Around And Love On You”… amazing, and non-traditional obviously. The rest of the tape was full of Little Johnny Taylor and Trudy Lynn and Jerry McCain. This tape was an instant hit with me and started a once a year search for something non-traditional to add to the collection.
Subsequent years brought “X-mas With The Rat Pack” and “Dean Martin – Making Spirits Bright”. These were a bit closer to traditional Christmas music but I always liked to imagine Frank singing in his best accent “ring-a-ding-ding” and Dean recording his songs with a glass of Scotch in his hand
Jethro Tull put out a Christmas album entitled “The Christmas Album”. I stumbled onto that one and it has a nice mix of flute jams and softly sung classics. It occurs to me each time I listen to it that if I didn’t hear the word Christmas in some of the songs that it would sound much like a regular Tull album. Perfect.
“Jimmy Buffet – Christmas Island” has a remake of Mele Kalikimaka, of course. Bing or Jimmy’s version of this song may very well be my favorite of all time. I have National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation to thank for introducing me to that one.
For mellow, fireplace burning, snowing outside, warm winter mornings you have to try “Sting – If On A Winters Night”. You won’t hear Rudolph, but it won’t matter. This one is good all year round actually.
One year I found “Canned Heat – Christmas Album”. This one is full of fantastic boogie numbers and one of the only 2 versions of “Little Drummer Boy” I can actually stand called “Boogie Boy (Little Drummer Boy)”. This whole album rocks and is perfect for hanging lights or drinking outdoors in the falling snow. It does have an unfortunate duet with Alvin and The Chipmunks on “The Christmas Song”, but the other songs are SO great I am willing to overlook it.
This year I bought from Amazon “A Charlie Brown Christmas”. This is the Vince Gilardi Trio piano music from the TV show. I heard this whole CD once at a Marshall Erdman Christmas party and have been wondering about it for years. This was the year. It is going to get heavy rotation. The songs “Christmas Time (Instrumental)” and “Skating” are etched into my brain from childhood and they have a mysteriously bright yet melancholy sound. I guess that is Charlie Brown for ya.
There are the occasional songs that have to be included on any Christmas CD I create:
“Santa Baby – Madonna” (as mentioned before)
“The 12 Days Of Christmas – Bob and Doug Mackenzie”
“I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas – Shirley Temple”
“Little Drummer Boy – Bing Crosby and David Bowie” (this is the other version I can stand)
I’d like to think that if Hendrix were still alive, he would release a spectacular Christmas album.
Electric Christmas Land.