Sunday, December 9, 2007

The Lights Are Coming On Now

It's taken a little while longer this year, but I have succumbed to the holiday spirit. I've been sucking down Starbuck's Peppermint Mochas for a few weeks now, but it was not until today that I sat down and completed my annual Christmas mix CD. When it comes to modern day Christmas songs, I've got a few favorites - and then I track a few new ones down each year. This year's mix has a little bit of both.

Undoubtedly, my favorite Holiday tune is "The Christmas Song" by The Raveonettes. Not to be confused with "chestnuts roasting on an open fire," the Raveonettes jingle is an original built around sleigh bells and those tight Jesus and Mary Chain-like harmonies. In fact, this song easily distances itself from novelty value and I've been known to bring it out a few times long after the holiday has passed. On the subject of "novelty value," that's really the only way to justify The Killers new charity single, "Don't Shoot Me Santa Claus." At least it's for a good cause.

Look back a bit into the late nineties, and you will uncover a Smashing Pumpkins Christmas classic, "Christmastime." This one is earnest nostalgia, free of irony and far superior to the band's new "reunion" material. Also fun and nostalgic is Low's "Just Like Christmas" which has found it's on to virtually every recent holiday collection. I've just uncovered a take on "White Christmas" from the Pipettes, which is maybe not quite as bouncy as you would hope for from these girls - but still a good tune for the middle of your mix. Also new discoveries for me are Erlend Oye's briliant (and earnest) take on "Last Christmas" and a hilarious Neko Case tune - "Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis."

Sadly, there just isn't much out there in the world of Christmas rap, with the exception of some explicit Snoop Dogg tunes from his Death Row days. Really, though, you have to dig back to the eighties, where the crown is still held by Run-DMC's memorable contributions - "Christmas in Hollis" and "It's Christmas." I prefer the latter, as "Hollis" (video below) is a bit played out for my taste. Other way, both fit nice on a compilation.

Sometimes the holidays lead some to get political - Rufus Wainwright's "Spotlight on Christmas" teeters on the verge of self-rightousness, but it has a good bounce to it and his point is well taken. "A Change at Christmas (Say It Isn't So)" by The Flaming Lips is a touch more effective, with Wayne Coyne pleading for that kindness and generosity of the holidays not to disappear in the following months.

Of course, it's also a rather depressing and melancholy time, and thankfully there are plenty of songs out there to capture this. Conor Oberst sounds though he could break down at any minute for crooning "Have Yourself a Merry Little Chirstmas" for Bright Eyes' now out-of-print Christmas album. I much prefer his take to Chris Martin's widely circulated performance. Skip Bright Eyes' "Blue Christmas" - I just never cared much for that song. I have long despised Paul McCartney's "Wonderful Christmastime" (now I appreciate it's "so bad it's good"-ness), but Tom McRae managed to brilliantly find the sad longing in the tune. McRae can make virtually anything sound depressing, and he achieves this magnificently with his cover. Equally sad is Rilo Kiley's "X-Mas Cake." It's completely joyless - all about sleeping in your car and "wrapping presents in the car" because you couldn't afford the electric bill.

And what else am I missing ... I just found Arab Strap's "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home" - easily my favorite version of the song- and a terrific downer! Also new to me: Nellie McKay's "Christmas Dirge" - and frankly I cannot think of another person more fitting to perform a song with that title. Also worth a download: Sufjan Stevens' "Get Behind Me Santa" (one of his far too numerous Christmas originals), Feist's "Lo, How A Rose E're Blooming", "Christmas Time (Don't Let the Bells End)" by the Darkness and -of course - how can I forget my second favorite ... Badly Drawn Boy's "Donna and Blitzen" which you may recall from the closing credits of About a Boy.

I do not have the time to post the MP3s, but if you're dedicated to some searching, you can find most of them on Hype Machine. The mix CD over at The Late Greats is certainly worth a download as well, as it includes several of these.


Jamie said...

I was just playing your '06 Xmas mix the other day! My roomies were digging it as well.

Will said...

Thanks Jamie, I can't say the 2007 mix is all that different, but I'll hand off a copy of it to you sometime if you wish.