Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Blogidays!: A Bakers Dozen of Winter Tunes

If you are like me, and I know I am, than you likely find yourself, not that you'd lost yourself mind you, but from a figure of speech point of view you likely find yourself preferring the cold and wet winter months to their sunny, over-heated summer opposites save for two notable factors.

1. There is no baseball.

2. Christmas Carols.

Don't get me wrong, I respect the existence and importance of celebrating the importance of the holidays through music, but typically by December 3rd or so I've heard enough hall-decking, tree-trimming, birth-celebrating tunes of joy and happiness to make make Santa sick of the Christmas season. I also recognize the cherished place these songs have in the hearts of many, many people in this world, and as such, I cannot simply choose to drown out music for 1/12th of the year any more than I can choose to ignore the existence of the holidays the songs represent. It is for this reason that I have devised a plan.

Namely, if you can't beat them, join them.

With this in mind I unveil thirteen holiday/winter tunes that will allow the carol'ed out among us to continue to share in the merriment of the winter holiday season without subjecting ourselves to countless renditions of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas ad-nauseum.

The only qualifications for the list are that all the tunes feature winter, or winter holiday themes throughout, and that they transcend prototypical shopping-mall-overhead-speaker-classics to achieve some deeper or at least more captivating message than say, Jingle Bells.

Before I commence with the listin', I would like to note that both Christmas Wrapping by The Waitresses and Paul McCartney's (Simply Having) A Wonderful Christmas Time have intentionally been excised from this volume. If the opportunity arose in which I could control the whole of the universe, one of the very first things I would do is place a moratorium on these two songs until now earlier than the year 2030. If possible, I'd like to find a way to access the Phantom Zone from Superman II so I could send these tracks hurtling through space until an atomic explosion on the sun creates another super-being to challenge my... Oh... I just jumped from Superman II to Superman IV...

Anyhoo, I totally don't ever want to hear either of those songs again. It's not that they weren't good the first time, or even the first fifty times, but once you hear a song about three thousand times you're going to get sick of it, and I think I'm at about the five thousand times mark on these two. I blame my Christmas season mall employment during the late 1990's...

No matter the reason, just know full well that I did not 'forget' either of those songs. I fear I could never forget them no matter how much time or alcohol I put between myself and my last listen...

So without further adieu, or further noted exception, here's The List:

13. Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer- Gene Autry

This is the only actual 'Christmas Classic' to make the list, and it has very little to do with the song itself. The tune was popularized by The Singing Cowboy, Gene Autry who purportedly used the money he made from the song to purchase The Los Angeles Angels. Countless years of grief and a few short moments of elation and entered into my life thanks to this song and the baseball team in purchased. Sometimes, I wish Mr. Autry had instead just chosen to purchase and disband the Boston Red Sox instead. It likely would have been more satisfying.

12. Wintersong- Sarah McLachlan

From the winter release of the same name, this is McLachlan's only original tune on the CD, the rest being standards or covers of other holiday themed tracks by contemporary artists. Two of them are further down on this list in their original forms. The reason I went with this selection is partially because it's a good song, and partially because if you're going to put out a holiday CD, at least put an original cut on it. That's what Sarah did, and she thereby earns a spot on the list.

11. 6:00- Dream Theater

This is not really a holiday song. It is certainly not a folk holiday classic, and it's not found on an album full of holiday tracks, but it's a short (for Dream Theater) rocking progressive track that's well worth a listen. It qualified for the list because the opening line is '6:00 on a Christmas morning'. That's good enough for me, especially when you throw in a John Petrucci guitar shredding solo...

10. Deck the Stills- Barenaked Ladies

I've oft assumed that if I was randomly blessed with some sort of musical talent, and I used that talent to start a band, that band would likely end up sounding a lot like Canada's Barenaked Ladies. I consider their take on the holiday classic Deck the Halls, in which all the words are replaced by the names of the members of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, as a perfect example. This is exactly the kind of silly irreverent holiday song I would make up while standing in line at the Best Buy, or stuck in traffic on the way home from work. Before you start thinking that this sounds pull-your-hair-out-annoying, it's only a forty second long track...

9. Happy X-Mas (War is Over)- John Lennon

I imagine a number of [people feel about this one the way I do about The Waitresses and Paul McCartney tunes noted above, and I agree, it does get a whole heck of a lot of airplay. Combine that with the presence of Yoko and there's every reason to never want to hear this tune again. It makes my list however based solo on the song's intro. The clean and crisp acoustic chord followed by Lennon's raw and un-amplified vocal "...So this is Christmas, and what have you done? Another year over, and a new one's just begun..." For that simple and poignant expression of what The Holiday's mean to me, this song will always remain on my listenable list. Even if I skip past it after the first 15 seconds...

8. Jacob Marley's Chain- Aimee Mann

Another one like the Dream Theater track above that is really not a holiday song. Aimee also put out a holiday album that is very good, but I couldn't decide on a specific tune to take from it and my mind kept coming back to this one. Besides, what better way to ring in the season of good cheer than the line "Now there is no story left to tell so I think I'd rather just go on to Hell where there's a snowball's chance that the personnel might help to carry Jacob Marley's chain." Aside from being a brilliant songwriter, an excellent singer, and a great guitar player, Aimee is also married to another brilliant musician Michael Penn. They have no children together, which may actually be a good thing, as those children would likely be SO much more talented then any other children on the planet that they'd be destined to go mad under the weight of their own geniuses... Kind of like Prince...

If I haven't convinced you yet, Aimee also played the German nihilist who sacrificed her toe in The Big Lebowski... THAT'S star-cred...

7. Do They Know It's Christmas?- Band Aid

Due in part from the incredible selflessness of Bob Geldof and Midge Ure, and in part because it was the British Isles, and therefore much cooler, version of We Are The World, Do They Know It's Christmas? is another track that no matter how often it's repeated from November 15th to January 1st it still resonates with me. Keep in mind, this group was formed before We Are The World became a world-wide phenomena, so convincing all these artists to take time from their recording and touring schedules to do something to shed light, and much needed money on the conditions in Africa was somewhere between painstaking and miraculous. Many people have forgotten the music of Geldof's Boomtown Rats and Ure's Ultravox in the ensuing decades, but their contributions to pop music are etched in stone for at least one month a year.

If you are not familiar with the video for this super group classic, do yourself a favor and play spot-the-80's-icon...

6. Winter- Tori Amos

I could not make a list of Holiday/Winter songs without including Ms. Amos' nod to the coldest of the seasons. Her definitively idiosyncratic song style, signature piano, and memorable lyrics lead to some level of familiarity for the listener, even if you happened to grow up in sunny southern California only ever having to put on gloves to play baseball. We've all lived through the anxiety of growing out of our family, and the holidays are a perfect time to reestablish those connections, even if it means accepting that no matter how much you've grown, or how much you accomplish, you were once a child, and once shaped by the hands of your parents, grandparents, and siblings.

5. The Hanukkah Song- Adam Sandler

Not only a great holiday tune, but rivals Red Hooded Sweatshirt and Dancin' and Pantsin' for the best Adam Sandler tune of all time... OK, Lunch Lady Land is pretty good too... Damn, that Sandler is one talented comedy-song writing dude... Props to him as well for reminding us all that the holiday season is about more than just Christmas. After all, there's so many Jews in the show biz, Tom Cruise isn't, but I hear his agent is...

Here's the video...

4. River- Joni Mitchell

Kind of like Tori's 'Winter', this is not exactly a 'feel good' holiday season tune. I wouldn't call it depressing either, but it's definitely more reflective than celebratory. I guess that's a common theme among a lot of these tunes. I tend to think of the holidays as a chance to not only look back on the year that has passed, but also to remember many of the years that have passed, and many of the years that are to come. I guess it's understandable that when you take the time to consider your life at this specific moment when compared to all those moments that came before, and will come since, that it could be comforting to have a river to sail away on...

3. Father Christmas- The Kinks

OK, this one tends to fall more on the side of 'riotous' than 'reflective'. The Kink's ode to Christmas commercialism, and a warning tune to all the spoiled boys and girls who scream and cry when they don't get just the right toy. I think what stands out for me about this tune is that it's not a sob-story, but rather a rallying cry for the have-nots. Father Christmas, give us some money... Save your toys for the little rich boys...

Here's a poor-quality video, but the audio's not bad, and that's all that matters...

2. Merry Christmas (I Don't Want to Fight Tonight)- The Ramones

A refreshingly realistic take on the toll the holidays play on our closest relationships. Fights over money, fights over presents, fights over which house you're going to eat dinner at, fights over whether to turn on the heat or open the window when going to bed... The stresses of the holidays put us all on edge, and we all tend to blow up irrationally at least once per holiday season. The Ramones remind us that whatever you're mad about, it'll probably pass when all the presents are opened, the tree is taken down, and January returns life back to normal.

I needn't say more, the video does all the talking for me...

1. 2000 Miles- The Pretenders

Every single time I find myself listening to a Pretenders tune, I end up liking them more and more. Perhaps it's the mix of classic rock & roll combined with the ahead-of-their-time vocals of Chrissie Hynde that would have been just as at home on a New York club stage in the early 2000's as they were on the streets of London in 1978. As deep and rocking as so much of their catalog is, this track has that open and reflective quality that is common in so many of these wintertime favorites.

It also helps that it's another tune that's not immediately thought of as a 'holiday song'.

Enjoy the #1 Winter track by The Pretenders...

Have a wonderful end-of-the-year and I'll see you... well... digitally... in 2009!

4 comments:

CRwM said...

I said I would register my discontent if you snubbed Eartha Kitt's "Santa Baby." And not only did you snub her, it apparently killed her!

Consider my discontent strongly registered, sir!

OCKerouac said...

It is with great remorse that I accept some blame for Ms. Kitt's passing... Alas, I cannot tell a lie, she was a much better Cat Woman than she was holiday songstress...

CSD Julie said...

The No Doubt covered Vandals' song Oi to the World is woefully left off because OCKerouac apparently has never listened to KROQ at Christmas time.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=20M2BqwH-go
This would have to be one of my all-time favorites.

A Long December by Counting Crows should also recieve an honorable mention in the "not really Holiday music" category.

OCKerouac said...

You're a contributer here too CSD, you'd have been welcome to write your own list... :)

Get ready for holidays 2009!