Monday, November 30, 2009

Great (Mostly) Overlooked Xmas Songs!

My Ghod! It's almost Dec! Which means Xmas will B along in just a few wks, & the Holiday Season is officially underway, w/ Thanksgiving last wk & the even-more-stressful-&-perilous "Black Friday" kicking-off this past wknd. (U didn't really GO OUT in2 that madness, did U?)
So even tho it Cms like it was just New Yr's Eve a few wks ago, it's time 4 my list of Great (Mostly) Overlooked Xmas Songs!
I've bn wanting 2 do this list 4 over a yr. I've spared no Xpense 2 bring U nothing but the beast in (mostly) fairly-obscure Xmas hits. I gotta million of 'em. So, w/o further ado....
* The Carpenters: "Merry Christmas, Darling" & "It's Christmas Time" (1971) -- These R my 2 favrite trax from my fave Xmas album ever, the Carps' CHRISTMAS PORTRAIT. I can't hear this album w/o Bing flooded by tons of holiday memries, & I've gotta have it playing if some1 Xpects me 2 help decorate a tree. "Merry Christmas, Darling" got lotsa airplay when it came out & still gets played on-radio during the season, & is still 1 of Karen's best vocal per4mances ever. Even w/ the overly-lush production, it's very moving -- & there's some great sax in the middle-break!
But. When I 1st heard PORTRAIT, I wasn't ready 4 "It's Christmas Time," which at 1st is a sorta perfect miniature, Karen & a piano, at 1st it almost Cms like she's taking it 2 fast, but as the song gingerly moves 2 its subdued finish, it's a perfect moment, so sweet & quiet -- so beautiful it'll send chills down yr spine. BUT THEN the choir takes over & repeats the whole song. At 1st it Cms like it's overkill, but it's not -- their version turns out 2 B just as moving as Karen's solo vocal. (OK, in the space of a wk I've come outta the closet on both The Carpenters & Abba. I'm done.)
* The Royal Guardsmen: "Snoopy's Christmas" (1967) -- Wait, mayB I'm NOT done. This is a treasured piece from my childhood, the 1st real rock-opera (or pop-drama NEway), w/ a back-story that features a vivid picture of the battle-scarred WWI front line, an intrepid pilot fighting 4 freedom, Xmas in a foxhole, a villain who turns out 2 B not such a bad guy after all, & much more. The best thing these folks ever did (w/ LOTSA help from producers Phil Gernhard & John Abbott), & the choruses R SO joyous U can't help singing along. I haven't heard it played on the radio since 1972....
* John Lennon: "Happy Xmas (War is Over)" (1971) -- Xmas is all about getting sentimental, & this is John at his mushiest, w/ a gorgeous tune, great choral vocals, a perfect Phil Spector wall-of-sound production, & -- I swear 2 Ghod -- Yoko Ono's best singing ever. A beautiful plea 4 world peace that effortlessly gets the msg across (unlike some of John's other efforts in this area). I bot this on an Apple-green-vinyl 45 in the winter of '71 & I've still got it, & it still sounds just as great as it did back then.
* Peter, Paul & Mary: "A'Soulin" (1962) -- This hypnotic # works 4 either Halloween or Xmas, cos clearly the kids in this song R doing something like trick-or-treating, but during the holiday season. It's not Xactly a happy song (the kids R begging 4 food), but the intertwining vocals R gorgeous & the acoustic-guitar work is superb. The song closes P,P&M's '62 album MOVING.
* The Pretenders: "2000 Miles" (1983) -- I always loved Chrissie Hynde's softer side ("Birds of Paradise," "I Go to Sleep"), & this could B the most beautiful thing she ever wrote, the gorgeous bittersweet closer 2 her/their album LEARNING TO CRAWL. It's perfect, w/ the chiming gtrs that sound like snowflakes falling, the distant chill in the air....
* The Beach Boys: "Little Saint Nick" & +"The Man With All the Toys" -- "Little Saint Nick" is basically a rewrite of "409," Santa as hip drag-racer, complete w/ period gearhead jargon, & what could possibly B wrong w/ that? "Man With All the Toys" is less charming & has a less-developed tune, w/ a closing vocal "bump" apparently borrowed from Nino Tempo & April Stevens' classic "Deep Purple."
* Darlene Love/The Crystals/Phil Spector/etc.: "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" -- I'd like 2 rate this higher, but the only time I've ever heard it was during the opening credits 4 the movie GREMLINS, where it sounded just like NE of those great Crystals/Ronettes classics of the early '60s. I understand Spector's Xmas album is pretty brilliant, but I've never Cn a copy....
+ Barbara Streisand: "Jingle Bells?" -- Well now. Bet U weren't Xpecting THIS. In less than 2 mins, Barbara totally revamps "Jingle Bells," taking it at a screaming, breakneck pace, en route turning it in2 something like "Flight of the Bumble Bee." She spits the words out like a possessed woman -- she makes fun of the lyrics! It's hilarious. & tho I learned when I heard this again a coupla yrs back that it isn't quite the Lost Gem Of The Ages that I'd thot, 1nce U hear it there's nothing U can do Xcept play it again & hope 2 catch a little more of the many things this song zings right at U....
+ The Jackson 5: "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" (1971) -- Charming, joyous rendition from back in the days when Michael still Blieved in Santa. I understand Bruce Springsteen borrowed this arrangement when he did this song at seasonal concerts.
= The Smothers Brothers: "The Bell That Couldn't Jingle" -- When I was growing up, everybody in the family had Smothers Bros albums. I thot their singing was almost the weakest part of their act, the stuff that connected their comedy bits. But this cute, modest little # is pretty charming in its cozy early-'60s sorta way.
= Andy Williams: "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year" -- My Mother is 2 blame 4 this. His voice is actually pretty good, & I think the song should B played on an Ndless loop during all those ugly "Black Friday" sales....
BONUS TRACK:
* Jose Feliciano: "Feliz Navidad" -- The best thing he ever did. It's so joyous, how can U resist it? & the emotion in his voice on the choruses -- he means it.
BONUS CLASSIC:
It's probly no suprise that my favrite Xmas song ever is "Carol of the Bells." But it's important 2 find the Right version. Trans-Siberian Orchestra does a version that's just 2 much, 2 overblown -- Phil Spector w/ super-heavy gtrs. When I was a kid, I think it was the version by Eugene Ormandy & the Philadelphia Orchestra that my Mom always played. But I have yet 2 track this 1 down....
...I'm sure there's plenty I'm missing, like NEthing from the past, oh, 30 years....
...The Beatles' annual Xmas msgs 2 their Fan Club were always hysterical, & Apple released a limited-edition album of them in the early '70s -- but where can U find them now?
...I also Cm 2 remember a kitschy # by Steve Lawrence & Edie Gorme called "Hurry Home for Christmas" that my Mom was a sucker 4, & that I liked enuf that I can still recite the choruses from memry -- but after including Barbara Streisand & Andy Williams in this countdown, I'm not gonna push my luck.
...Dolly Parton did a song called "Hard Candy Christmas" that was pretty great....
...I'm also aware there's no Elvis in this list -- "Blue Christmas" has a certain kitschy charm (love those swooning-Gulf-breeze backing vocals -- by The Jordanaires?), but it ain't Xactly obscure, & I've never heard "Merry Christmas, Baby."
...The Harry Simeone Chorale's "The Little Drummer Boy" is such a Xmas Classic it won't fit in2 this list either, but I'd agree it's a timeless piece of brilliance, still moving after all these yrs. Joan Jett's flat rendition of it can't come close (& I like her).
...The Moody Blues, Jethro Tull & The Beach Boys have all released Xmas albums, but I've only heard bits & pieces of each....
OH CRAP, I ALMOST 4GOT: *Cheech & Chong's "Santa Claus and His Old Lady" (1971) -- This isn't a SONG, but it sure is hilarious, among the Very Best things they ever did, & 4 a lotta yrs, trying 2 obtain a copy of this 45 woulda cost U about $2K (tho U can now get this on C&C's 2-CD best-of anthology WHERE THERE'S SMOKE...). Why didn't I grab a copy of THIS 45 back in '71 when I picked-up Lennon's "Happy Xmas"? Musta bn part of that early-onset Alzheimer's that I'm now suffering-from WAY WORSE....
...& I really DID 4get: *Jethro Tull's "Ring Out, Solstice Bells" (1977) -- I must REALLY B losin it, or I haven't had enuf coffee.... This is a cute little folk-dancy-style holiday song, w/ great singing, acoustic-gtrs & lutes, flute of course, jingling & clanging bells, jumpy handclaps & lots more. It's gotta really nice, lite folky feel that I thot Tull hadda superb touch 4 (WAY better than mosta their heavier stuff, I still can't take mosta AQUALUNG), & U can probly even Riverdance 2 it, if that's yr thing.... SONGS FROM THE WOOD is probly still my fave Tull album....
...MY SON (ADD) REMINDED ME THAT I 4GOT A REAL CLASSIC:
* Kate Bush: "December Will be Magic Again" (1980) -- Told ya the Alzheimer's was gettin me. Basically a series of sorta-goofy surreal images of summa the things that make Xmas special, sung w/ a bright, childlike innocence & absolute confidence that All Is Right w/ the world, this is 1 of the most gorgeous songs Kate has ever done, & woulda topped the above list if I had NE brain left AT ALL. It's so pretty, & so crystal-clear, that w/ the jangling bells U can hear the snow falling on the city's black-soot-icicled roofs. It's on her 2-CD THIS WOMAN'S WORK best-of, along w/ a lotta other great stuff -- go get it. U won't B sorry. & Many Thanx 2 ADD 4 reminding me about it. Talk about saving the best 4 last....
YEEZUS, HERE'S ANOTHER 1:
* The Pogues: "Fairytale of New York" (1983) -- This really is a modern-day Xmas song, Mphasis on the "modern." & it's hilarious. Starts out as a sweet, mournful, nostalgia-packed ballad. Sorta. & then the verses get a little (more) twisted.... Singer Shane MacGowan's vocals R his usual slurred stuff, tho U can almost follow the words 4 a change, & the backup vocals by the late Kirsty MacColl R wonderful, even when she's swearing. I won't spoil the fun 4 U, but 1nce it gets going, the verses R hysterical. Probly not 1 4 the kids. The song's been used recently in the great romantic-comedy movie P.S. I LOVE YOU, & possibly some others. Right up there w/ "Lorelei" among the very best things the Pogues did....
Your thoughts?....

4 comments:

bearockr said...

Though I am not much of a listener to Xmas songs specifically, but John Lennon, The Jackson-5 and Jose Feliciano's tracks are the ones that I really enjoyed listening too ... Good list you prepared above Tad, and also a suggestion from my side: Try not to use excessive short forms of words , like 'ur', 'favrite' etc... It makes your posts a bit annoying to read, since you write really well, but make it more neat too...
and Thank you very much for mentioning my name in one of your comments on Layla's blog ! I greatly appreciate it ...

tad said...

NEtime, B. When I 1st looked at yr blog, the 1st thing I thot was that yr site & Layla's hava lot in common -- yr Nthusiasm, 4 1....
& U know, I'm just trying 2 have some fun here, even when I'm Bing dead serious. The on-purpose mangling of English is partly a holdover from my newspaper-reporter days (invented my own shorthand 2 keep up w/ people talking), partly a play on "text-speak" (I've never sent a txt msg in my life!), & just mostly a way 4 me 2 have more fun w/ this.
I also tend 2 type pretty fast 1nce I get going, & the "shorthanding" makes it faster -- when I start staying up til 5 am cos I'm typing a post, this Bcomes important. I liketa kid myself that it's also a way 4 me 2 get across more info in less space.
+ this is the Internet, & we're all sposta B friendly & informal here, right? I do try 2 watch the shorthanding if I think there's gonna B a problem w/ clarity, I do sometimes spell stuff out if I think things R gonna get foggy -- I do wanna B understood & not always come across as a raving nutcase. I also hope the lite tone & occasional bad jokes & silliness help balance-out the sometimes-heavy reviews & analysis....
But this mangling of English 4 fun does put some people off -- I've bn accused (elsewhere) of Bing a spammer, I've had people make judgements about my intelligence based on the way I write (Bn doing this kinda thing 4 more than 10 yrs on the Net, tho only 4 a yr w/ my own blog/site -- Mark Prindle's record-review website was the 1st place I ever submitted a comment, back in 1998, in the same style I'm using right now) -- 1 blogger edited/rewrote a long comment of mine w/o asking 1st & (minorly) changed my meanings. I'd never do that 2 NE1.
Not that it's really NE big deal. If I'm REALLY SERIOUS I'll write in Real English. Mosta the time I'm just trying 2 have fun -- getting Real Serious here is usually about the last thing on my mind, even if I'm trying 2 urge U 2 try some new music or a new book U might normally not bother w/. Life's 2 serious, don'tcha think? This is my way of trying 2 Lighten Up. I don't care much about the Rules of Proper English NEmore, after having 2 follow them every day 4 20 yrs.
...& by now U're probly sorry U brot this up. Sorry 2 get so danged wordy, but U Dserved an Xplanation, however lame or feeble it is.... -- TAD.

bearockr said...

Well Tad, Just got one thing to say ,... Rock On Buddy ! What I like the most about someone is his ability to stand-up for himself, and reading what u wrote above, You are truly a Great Man, and I am really proud to have you as a friend here ! *cheers* ... I'll also be adding you to my blogroll too...Your Confidence and enthusiasm inspires me a lot Tad ! Keep Rocking

tad said...

Thanx, B, even tho I feel like I hit U over the head w/ some of this stuff & I didn't mean 2. Obviously U kinda hit a nerve.... But thanx 4 reading me & drop in NEtime! & I'll B watchin yr site 4 more neat off-the-wall stuff....-- TAD.