One of my biggest failings in recent weeks has been not providing you with my guide to modern Christmas music. Initially, I wanted to review Band-Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas” and John Lennon’s “So This Is Christmas”. Then, on my drive from San Jose to Monterey, as I listened to the CD I made for Christmas a year ago, I thought of doing a little blurb on each song I added to that disk. Finally, I decided to pick the highlights from the disk rather than each song. This began in my hotel room in Tucson while watching Rudolph. Sadly, I’m just finishing it now. Hopefully you can use this to prepare for next year’s holidays.
“The 12 Days of Christmas” – Bob & Doug McKenzie – I just discovered what a toque is. So after 20 years, the song finally makes sense. To an 11 year old in 1982, this was the height of comedic genius. Who would have imagined that Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara, not Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas would be the most visible stars of SCTV two decades down the road (Not to mention John Candy, RIP)? For those not familiar with the Canadian version:
A Beer in a tree
Three French toasts
Four pounds of back bacon
Five golden toques
Six packs of two-fours
Seven packs of smokes
Eight comic books
They got distracted and missed the last four days.
“Father Christmas” – The Kinks: Full of classic Davies Brothers smarminess, a great song that just happens to be about Christmas. “Father Christmas, give us some money. Don’t mess around with those silly toys. We’ll beat you up if you don’t hand it over. We want your bread, so don’t make us annoyed. Give all your toys, to the little rich boys.”
“Santa Claus is Coming to Town” – Bruce Springsteen. Pure holiday joy. “He’s coming up through Philly. Flying over New York. He’s flying down the Jersey Turnpike.”
“Do They Know It’s Christmas” – Band-Aid: The song that launched 1000 tributes. It’s not possible to underestimate how important this song was, how perfectly it fit its times, and how great a song it is to boot. Pure pop simplicity, if you had to pick one song that summed up all the best of the New Wave, pick this. It trounces the utterly ridiculous US counter “We Are the World”. Where the US singers were all made up following the Grammy’s, and the video was heavily produced, Band-Aid was done on low budget, with many of the artists looking as if they had just rolled out of bed to be there. Forget Ethiopia in 1984, it’s a timeless message that deserves to be repeated each year. The only downsides to the song: Phil Collins’ visible presence and allowing Sting to sing a line with the word “sting” in it. “There’s a world outside your window, and it’s a world of dread and fear.”
“So This Is Christmas (War is Over)” – John Lennon: Band-Aid’s older brother, a classic song of the season with a social message. Yoko’s completely over-the-top singing actually makes the song. I’ve always loved the drums coming out of each chorus and the big, bouncing bass line. It just destroys Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime” once again proving John was the better Beatle. “And so this is Christmas, and what have you done?”
“Chanukah Song” – Adam Sandler: I’m not a huge Sandler fan. This works nicely, however. “OJ Simpson, NOT A JEW!”
“I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” – John Cougar Mellencamp: A great example of taking a classic song of the season and converting it to an artist’s sound. The bluesy, southern sound Mellencamp provides here is gorgeous. Adding JCM’s then toddler daughter for the closing chorus was an excellent touch.
“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” – Various: I’ve always thought this an odd Christmas song, because when sung properly, it’s actually kind of sad and somber. An extremely popular song, I have versions by Coldplay, the Pretenders, Mr. Hanky the Christmas Poo, and Diana Krall. Mr. Hanky tugs at the heart with his emotional reading (complete with toilet flush at the end), but Coldplay’s rings truest.
“Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” – U2: Darlene Love’s original version is arguably the greatest rock era Christmas song ever (Bonus trivia: Love was Danny Glover’s wife in all four Lethal Weapon movies). David Letterman has said as much. U2’s version is both true to the original, and modern in sound. More a song about lost love than Christmas, you can hear the pain in Bono’s voice. The band is in extremely fine form as well.
“Christmas in Hollis” – RUN-DMC: There were hip-hop Christmas songs before, and since, but it’s never been any better than the masters from Hollis. I love DMC throwing typical MC stylings in, like “the rhymes that you hear are the rhymes of Darrell…” “It’s Christmas time in Hollis, Queens. Mom’s cooking chicken and collard greens.”
“O Holy Night” – Eric Cartman: South Park kids + cattle prod = genius. “Those aren’t the words, Eric!”
“Mr. Hanky the Christmas Poo” – South Park: A modern icon for Christmas, suitable for all religions, colors, and creeds. I hope all of you remembered to eat your fiber on Christmas Eve and got a visit. “Sometimes he’s nutty, sometimes he’s corny, he can be green or greenish brown.”