A little over two years ago I was working office temp jobs. At one particular job, my temporary co-worker was making nice and asked if I liked music. As the lite-rock station played in the background, the conversation went something like this:
Co-worker: So what kind of music do you like?
Me: Oh, you know, all kinds.
Co-worker: What radio station do you listen to?
Me: Um, I don’t know. I don’t really listen to music on the radio.
Co-worker (in a slightly worried voice): Really? Not even to listen to Christmas music?
Realizing the conversation was potentially heading in a direction I didn’t want it to, I came up with a Sarah Palin-worthy non-answer; “Yeah, but the good thing is you can hear Christmas music wherever you go.” Which my co-worker responded with; “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to offend you if you don’t celebrate Christmas.” Damn, so my lack of enthusiasm over Christmas music immediately busted me out as a heathen or a heathenous follower of one of those non-Santy Claus and Baby Jesus-believing religions?
Little did my co-worker know that I really do like some Christmas music. I just can’t stand the standard, grody, schlocky, puke-inducing drivel that gets played more incessantly the closer it gets to that special day when we celebrate the birth of Santa Claus … oops, I mean Baby Jesus. I dig the Crystals’ and Ronettes’ Christmas songs (more about this later). I can definitely deal with Chuck Berry’s “Run, Run Rudolph” or “Father Christmas”, the Kinks’ irreverent take on juvenile delinquents getting into the spirit of the season. Also, I always get a chuckle out of Bob and Doug McKenzie’s “Twelve Days of Christmas” and never get tired of Cheech and Chong’s “Santa Claus and His Old Lady.”
“Father Christmas” by the Kinks:
“Santa Claus and His Old Lady” by Cheech and Chong:
There are also a number of Christmas albums that I genuinely enjoy and are worthy of playing throughout the whole year. The songs on these compilations range from sincere to irreverent, straightforward to incredibly strange but, ultimately, are so much easier on the ears, nerves and stomach. I’ll highlight a few of these for you:
Happy Birthday, Baby Jesus and Happy Birthday, Baby Jesus – The Second Coming
These two special Christmas collections were originally issued in the late ‘90s by the Sympathy for the Record Industry label. Each comp has ten different bands performing their rock/punk/garage/scuzz take on Christmas originals, standards or variation on a standard like The Red Aunts’ “Little Drummer Bitch” for instance. My favorites are Man or Astro Man’s surfin’ version of “Frosty the Snow Man”, New Bomb Turks’ punked-up cover of “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” by Darlene Love, and The Go-Nuts ode to Santa Claus’s appetite called “Snackin’ Santa”. My all-time favorite Christmas song appears on the 2nd Happy Birthday, Baby Jesus: “Feliz Navi-Nada” by El Vez. El Vez, The Mexican Elvis, does a seamless mix up of Jose Feliciano’s “Feliz Navidad” and Public Image Ltd’s “Public Image” resulting in a fist-pumping sing along of “Feliz Navidad”.
A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector
Originally released in 1963, A Christmas Gift for You captures all the classic Phil Spector groups at their artistic height. Featured are: the Ronettes, The Crystals, Darlene Love and Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans. To this day, Spector’s huge, layered, “wall of sound” production using strings, brass and sleigh bells adds such a great quality to these songs. The stand-outs for me are “Marshmallow World” by Darlene Love, “Sleigh Ride” by the Ronettes and “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” by the Crystals. The album ends with a heartfelt holiday greeting from the man himself to you, the listener, delivered over the strains of “Silent Night”.
Surprise Package is in the same vein as the Happy Birthday, Baby Jesus comps. 16 bands primarily from Detroit knock out some down and dirty rock’n’roll Christmas jams. These cuts are all originals to boot. The album starts out appropriately with the Paperbacks’ “Let’s Get Lit”. The chorus is “Let’s get lit like a Christmas tree”. Speaking of things that we should do for the holidays, Bantam Rooster ups the romance ante with “Let’s Just Fuck for Christmas”. Play that one for your grandma while you’re opening presents. I’ll just let some of the other song titles do the work from here: The Mistreaters’ “Santa Stole My Baby”, Rocket 455’s “Santa Ain’t Coming for Christmas”, The Dirtys’ “Cocaine Christmas” (it should be noted that the Dirtys’ singer OD’d from coke) and Happy Supply’s “Young Snowman Got It Bad ‘Cause He’s Round”. Surprise Package is an ideal listen as you’re working up the gumption to go to the dreaded family gathering or gettin’ lit like a Christmas tree after that dreaded family gathering.
A John Waters Christmas
I’ve got a feeling that this might be the be-all end-all of Christmas records. Schlockmeister John Waters (director of such cinematic gems as A Dirty Shame, Pink Flamingos and Female Trouble) handpicked these 16 songs with the goal of compiling the “motherload of crackpot Xmas carols”. It’s all here too. There’s a few doo-wop and R&B wonders like “Fat Daddy” performed by Fat Daddy, “Christmas Time is Coming” by Stormy Weather and “I Wish You a Merry Christmas” by Big Dee Irwin and Little Eva. There’s the country tear jerker of Roger Christian’s “Little Mary Christmas” – a story about a little orphan girl of the same name who couldn’t walk like the other boys and girls and smiled away her tears while waiting to get adopted. Then there’s a real stomach-turner: “Happy Birthday Jesus (A Child’s Prayer) recited by Little Cindy. Boy, is it adorable. Possibly the greatest moment of the disc is Rudolph and Gang’s venom spewing take on the commerce of the season titled “Here Comes Fatty Claus.” Here’s a taste of the lyrics: “Here comes Fatty with his sack of shit/and all them stinkin’ reindeer” or “here comes Fatty with his ho ho hos/and there my money go go goes”.
With that said, please feel free to share the Christmas songs near and dear to your heart.