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?