‘Zat You, Santa Claus?

Some Christmas songs are just purty, others are purty awful but giddy fun. John Waters assembled a Christmas CD some years ago which had a number of tunes that straddled the line of sublime and shitty. Shockingly, there were two truly bad songs that I kind of love that didn’t make the cut.

“The Little Drummer Boy” is a “classic” Xmas song, but unless it is the Bing ‘n Bowie rendition, most folk give it a pass. Harry Connick Jr. did a passable if incredibly overwrought version- but the most jaw-droppingly WTF recording is of Marlena Dietrich’s teutonic mumble speak-singing the lyrics and the “rum-pum-pum-pums”. Exquisitely bad. Sadly, not on youtube.

Red Sovine was a solid if non-remarkable country & western crooner who did some solid work until he suddenly became a break-out star in the early 70s due to his “trucker” songs. Most of them are awful- but his biggest hits were these saccharine spoken word sob stories- most famously the tale of the crippled kid whose trucker-daddy is dead who gets on the CB to talk to truckers and say thanks to them for being truckers. Seriously.

Red Sovine did a couple of Xmas “songs”, the grandest and most batshit awful was “Well Here It Is Christmas” in which a half-drunk narrator breaks down on Christmas Eve in a letter to his ex-wife. It is terribly and it makes me laugh which makes me a terrible person. Wait, does that mean I like it ironically? Oh god- am I a hipster?

Louis Armstrong recorded two fantastic Xmas songs- ‘Zat You, Santa Claus?” which might be an unhinged horror story of holiday paranoia in a shitty neighborhood. His more serene “Christmastime in New Orleans” is vintage Louis.

The Staples Singers (especially belt-out artist Mavis Staples) recorded an up-beat pseudo gospel Xmas tune called “Who Took the Merry out of Christmas?” it is a bit tongue-in-cheek (or is it?) but a solid groove.

Speaking of solid grooves from female vocalists, what about The Flirtations “Christmas time (is here again)”? Or the raucous Japanese grrl-pop-garage growl of the’s doing “Rock & Roll Santa”? Liz Phair did a catchy earworm version of “Winter Wonderland”

This year Noirbettie’s favorite holiday song is “(Don’t Call Me) Mrs. Christmas” by the superlatively named Emmy the Great. I don’t know how Emmy is the rest of the time, but she is pretty damn great on that little number- currently available for free download at Amazon.

But I’ve barely touched the surface. More soon.

Marshmallow World

There are probably always multiple levels to what makes a song or a particular version of it “good” to the listener. I know there are for me.

Case in point, the gooey earnestness of

“Marshmallow World” might turn some folk off immediately. If it is Dean Martin’s version, I’m a sucker for it.

Now whether Dean Martin was a factually-and-truly for real heavy drinker or not has been called into question. Was he usually buzzed on stage or off- it doesn’t matter. That his image was always half-in-the-bag does. And on his recording of “Marshmallow World” you can practically smell the bourbon wafting through the speakers. The song itself is treacle, but Martin’s grinning good-natured drunk (act or not) performance is the lovable Holiday lush, and the fun is infectious.

And speaking of drinking and Christmas Music, what about Clyde Lasley & the Cadillac Baby Specials “Santa Came Home Drunk”? A mostly forgotten old rhythm and blues classic, and possibly the greatest boozed-up travelogue ever.

And while we’re talking about rhythm & blues, I would be remiss to pass over Elvis Presley’s “It’s Christmas Time Pretty Baby”. Terrible title, great rockin’ bluesy song. Skip “Mama liked the Roses” and “Why Can’t Every Day Be Like Christmas”. Hell, skip the in-constant-rotation Blue Christmas (Johnny Cash did a fun up-tempo version of “Blue Christmas”) and just listen to “It’s Christmas Time (Pretty Baby)” for your Elvis quotient of the holiday mix.

And speaking of the blues, Tom Waits recorded a version of “Silent Night” which sounds like a New Orleans jazz funeral that got crashed by a boy’s choir. It isn’t for everyone, but I love it. And he loops his vocals on it, so it’s like four or five or six Tom Waits are singing to you. Bonus!

Otis Redding did a cover of “White Christmas” that knocks Bing down a few notches, and Solomon Burke’s incredible energy suffuses his “Presents for Christmas” and both of these performers cause me to question whether James Brown really was the hardest working man in show-biz like his press claimed.

Now how the hell did Dean Martin lead me into the rhythm and blues with a slight country detour?

Christmas Comes (but once a year)

Now abouts this time of year, some folks start to bitching.

“I hate christmas music”

“I’m just so sick of this fucking christmas music”

“Gah. Stop it. Please stop the christmas music.”

I’m not writing this post to bury these folks- but rather to sympathize with them. It is difficult for me to do, because I truly enjoy Christmas Music. I spend months ahead of November searching out any unique recording or one-off single from some recording artist neither me, you, my father, or the other Will have heard of.

And then at some point in November I start listening to these tracks. This can be a painful but occasionally rewarding process because- as has been pointed out- there are a lot of Christmas songs.

But as Shelby points out, there are seemingly about 17 Christmas songs re-recorded (and re-recorded, and re-recorded) by about a hundred acts.

That some Xmas tunes get overplayed is undeniable- but a lot of times there is a reason these songs get repeated so often. Some of them are fine pieces of songwriting, that have just gotten overplayed.

Others are just piles of shit.

How many covers of Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime” have you heard? I’ve heard exactly two. They both sucked just as much as the original.

But there are some great christmas tunes. Even for the discerning listener!

For the next few days I’m going to spend some time talking about the Christmas music that makes me happy, make me dance, make me laugh, make me sing.

I might touch on the songs that don’t (thanks, Paul McCartney. Fucker. Laugh all the way to the Scrooge McDuck room in your private mountain island) but I’d rather stay upbeat.

So put on your footie pajamas, get a glass of egg nog (or a cuppa coffee, or if you are me a glass of bedside whiskey) and settle down by the yule log.

I’ll be wearing my Santa hat the next few days.