Thursday, December 14, 2006

Christmas Music - It Ain't All Schlock

Ok, Christmastime is here, and Christmas music is everywhere. You've got your classics, and your new renditions. Now, most of it is pretty schlocky I admit - however, there is still quite a lot of amazing Christmas music out there that can all fit on one cd. Or, if you're a Sufjan Stevens fan, it can all fit on five cd's. Excluding Sufjan, here's a guide to some of the good stuff...

Run-DMC: When it comes to Christmas songs, Run-DMC are the undisputed champs. "Christmas in Hollis" (on A Very Special Christmas) is a total classic, which is why you still hear it a lot around this time of year. Yet far underappreciated, but equally awesome is "Christmas Is" (A Very Special Christmas, Vol. 2). I may like this one even more than "Hollis." While DMC felt that he had spread enough Christmas cheer with those two, the Rev. Run continued by teaming up with Puff Daddy, Mase, Snoop, Salt-N-Pepa, Keith Murray and Onyx for "Santa Baby" (A Very Special Christmas, Vol. 3). I don't like this one as much, but it is funny to hear, "On December 25, I knew I wasn't getting jack/When I saw Santa Claus on the corner buying crack."

Depressing Christmas: Now in a future blog, I plan to totally rip on Paul McCartney's "Wonderful Christmastime" (I believe I called it the worst Christmas song ever). Now if you listen closely in that song, you can find a hint of sadness, and Tom McRae found that soundness in a cover that improves 100% on the original (Maybe this Christmas Tree). No synth for McRae, just lovely piano, and it is sure to put anyone at your Christmas party in a downer mood. Downer Christmas songs are the way to go. I also like Rilo Kiley's "Xmas Cake" (Maybe this Christmas Too) - it's an uplifting song about a relationship gone bad, losing your job, having your electricoty cut off and wrapping your presents in the dark. Travis do a fine cover of Joni Mitchell's "River" (Christmas Calling), a song about driving your baby away at Christmastime. You can count on Conor Oberst for a depressing Christmas, and he did it, with the saddest, yet best ever, cover of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" (Bright Eyes Christmas Album). There was sadness in that song and he found it.

Indie Rockers Make the Season Bright: But there are happy Christmas songs as well. I think the Raveonettes' "Christmas Song" (The O.C. Mix 3: Have a Very Merry Chrismukkah) is the best Christmas song ever. Something about the harmonies just gives the song a warm, winter feeling. The same could be said for Low's "Just Like Christmas" (Low's Christmas). It's upbeat, with an old school sound and a new school flow. I can't forget about the Walkmen's "Christmas Party" (Little House of Savages EP). It sounds like it was recorded in one drunken take. Rufus Wainwright rips into rich boys and rich girls with his "Spotlight on Christmas" (Maybe this Christmas Too), while the Polyphonic Spree plead for world peace in their cover of John Lennon's "Happy Xmas (War is Over)" (Maybe this Christmas Tree). Badly Drawn Boy's "Donna and Blitzen" (About a Boy) is a great Christmas love song, while Kanye West's "Family Business" (College Dropout) lets us in on what happens at a West family gathering.

The Flaming Lips: You know who also loves Christmas - Wayne Coyne and Co. They have done tons of Christmas songs, but for my money, I'm going with a couple of Yoshimi era b-sides. The first is "A Change at Christmas" (Ego Tripping EP), an earnest song about how the world embraces peace and love and Christmas and forgets about it the other eleven months. It may sound cheesy but he pulls it off. And, if you think by my Christmas mix that I am not celebrating the birth of Jesus, well then, you should listen to "Thank You Jack White for the Fibre-Optic Jesus that You Gave Me" (Fight Test EP).

You see, Christmas music can be listenable. Now, if they would just put all of those songs on one cd, we would be set.


Allison said...

That was an excellent run down Will.

I'd never heard that Run-DMC track before! Clearly, I'm lacking in my Christmas song education. Loved the video.
Agree with you on the Raveonettes front, and you've just reminded me I missed the OC. Ah well.

I think you need to put all those onto one cd my friend, it would make one hella mix.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

This is certainly not your standard list of Christmas songs, Will. Most of these I have never heard of. You can't Joni's River for a mournful Christmas song.