Musical Chairs – Holiday Music

Posted on December 4, 2011 – 11:02 PM | by Admin
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This month’s guest music nut worked for Tower Records for 21 years – from 1986 right up to the bitter end.  In those two decades (and up to the present) he amassed a huge collection of music, including the 80+ holiday CDs he had to choose from for this column. “I love Christmas music…” he says, noting that artists like Kate Bush, The Ramones, XTC, Beck, Squeeze and Sonic Youth have all recorded Christmas and seasonally themed songs. And then there are full albums by James Brown, The Ventures, Johnny Cash, The Beach Boys and others. “Add it all up and there’s definitely plenty of cool stuff…. At the very least, it should make up for Kenny G and those goddamn Jingle Cats!”

Jim Reeves –
12 Songs Of Christmas

In Please Kill Me, the celebrated oral history of punk, rock manager Leee Childers recalls that he wept when he heard this album playing at a Christmas dinner in London because it reminded him of being home with his family in Kentucky. I can understand how he felt because I also grew up listening to this, and it haunted me like the ghost of Marley (Jacob, not Bob) until I was able to find it on CD. In fact, I associate Jim Reeves so thoroughly with Christmas that I refuse to separate him from the season by delving any further into his catalog.

Mojo Nixon And The Toadliquors – Horny Holidays

Mojo Nixon sounds like a drunken reprobate with a Tom Waits fixation as he gleefully trashes a few classics while offering more reverent takes on songs originally done by James Brown and Chuck Berry. We have here the only recorded version of the schoolyard rendition of “Jingle Bells” that I’m aware of, and a hysterically sloppy “Sleigh Ride” will be an absolute delight for those who could care less about rockers who play it straight. A raunchy bastardization of “Twas the Night Before Christmas” brings the album to a close and justifies its title. My mother will never hear this!



Various Artists –
Hillbilly Holiday

I could put together a list of five great Xmas albums issued just by Rhino  Records alone. This one is my favorite. Although I wouldn’t consider myself an expert, I love classic country music just as much as I abhor contemporary country radio. Thankfully, Hillbilly Holiday serves as a who’s who of country legends: George Jones, Loretta Lynn, Buck Owens, Willie Nelson, Bill Monroe, and so on. Some of these songs are admittedly hokey, but that’s just part of their down-home charm. And I think it’s kinda cool how Rhino managed to bookend this with identically-titled but completely different tunes.



Sufjan Stevens –
Songs For Christmas

Some musicians undoubtedly record Christmas albums just to make a quick annual buck while others (like novelty specialist Bob Rivers) seem to subsist solely on their holiday output. Sufjan Stevens gets along perfectly fine the other eleven months of the year, but the scope of his Songs for Christmas makes it quite apparent that this was a true labor of love for him. This box set contains five discs, each covering a different year of carols and originals performed with lush harmonies and folk-pop arrangements, as well as a few stories, a songbook, some comics, and stickers. What more could you ask for?



The Chieftains –
The Bells Of Dublin

If your idea of traditional Yuletide music involves a crooner named Bing or a rodent named Alvin, the Chieftains will introduce you to music so steeped in Irish tradition that it’ll sound as alien to you as a Residents album. Welcome to a world where the wren is king and St. Stephens Day is still celebrated as it was generations ago. Guests include Elvis Costello and Marianne Faithfull, but the Chieftains are the ever present hosts keeping the party alive. For some reason, I can’t start Christmas dinner with my family without this playing in the background.                            

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  1. 2 Responses to “Musical Chairs – Holiday Music”

  2. avatar

    By Wayne Chapman on Dec 8, 2011 | Reply

    Don’t know what the etiquette is when it comes to commenting on your own column, but I just wanted to expand on it a bit. First off, it goes out to Juju, Autumn, Gerri, and everyone else who digs Christmas music as much as I do. My thanks to Tim for giving me the opportunity to feel like a real writer. Special thanks to Anton and Kepi for keeping us entertained on Christmas Eve for so many years. A shout-out to Susan, whose enthusiasm for this little project of mine rivaled my own. And, as always, there’s Daniel . . .

    The purpose of my column wasn’t to compile a definitive list of must-hear Xmas albums but to share a few lesser-known favorites that I think deserve a listen. If you don’t have Phil Spector’s “A Christmas Gift for You” or Vince Guaraldi’s “A Charlie Brown Christmas” in your collection at this point, then I’m guessing you’ll have no interest in anything I’ve recommended unless you’re already a fan of the featured artist or musical style.

    For those who just can’t get enough of this stuff, there’s a terrific website called Hip Christmas for you to explore: I discovered it while in the process of writing the column, and the fact that the site’s owner has acquired “well over 1000” albums really put things in perspective for me. I’m up to 90 titles as of this writing, and most people I know seem to think that’s quite a lot. As much as I’d like to believe I’m an expert on the subject of holiday music, there will always be someone out there who can undoubtedly put me to shame. On the other hand, not everyone can appreciate Mojo Nixon’s contribution to the genre like I do, so at least I’ve got that over Hip Christmas’ Randy Anthony. But yeah, definitely check out that site if you’ve got a little time on your hands.

    And speaking of Mojo, I’ve recently learned that he’s not the only one to have recorded that version of “Jingle Bells” that comments so eloquently on Batman’s horrific BO. Barenaked Ladies have reportedly done the same, although Mojo got there a good dozen years prior, and I doubt the Ladies knocked it out with nearly as much gusto.

    And finally, just cause you’ve read this far and might want to read more, here’s my local music blog:

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