Monday, December 23, 2013

The Baker's Dozen Best Christmas Songs Of All Time

Be warned: this is a stream-of-consciousness list that I'm, literally, composing on the fly.

In other words: don't get your frigging elf panties in a bunch because you're dumbass Christmas song ain't on the list. Be a man...or a woman, if you lack a penis...and put your own holiday favorites in the comment section.

I seldom check comments anymore (the head straight to my junk email, which makes it a more surprising read when I'm cleaning up around this joint, fingerpicking html shit I have no idea about) so go ahead and speak your mind. Just know that it's the holidays, my wish is for everlasting peace and it's only a fucking list on a blog.


Anyways, the list is a pretty spot on account of my favorite Christmas songs ever. These are the ones I never get tired of and present at least a modicum of coolness, if you're into that kind of thing.

My parents have long since abandoned any notion of "coolness," and I can tell you that the first example of this is in their holiday music selection.

Keep in mind, this is a Baby Boomer couple, so they should know better.

Every year, the old man takes out all of the Cd's in his Honda Accord (which is funny in itself, because growing up he only bought American vehicles. He was in politics, so he had to consider the union votes in our blue-collar town) and replaces them with holiday music. I should stress that these amount to at least 18 discs, since neither parent has ever operated a digital device, other than their individual laptops. My dad then will proceed to listen to only Christmas music until the first of the year.

When I visit during the holidays, I'm amazed at the amount of shit that comes out of their car speakers or from their primary audio source: a Bose Wave Radio with a CD changer. My dad had to send it in to Bose once for a repair, instead of following the modern tradition of devices: if it's broke, throw it in the landfill and buy a new one. I actually kind of admired his stubborn loyalty of familiarity in that case.

Inevitably, I hear the (unfortunately) familiar refrains of Christmas With Babyface and I understand how bad it has gotten. There's a fear that, if I dig deeper, I'll find a stray Michael Bolton or Kenny G Christmas record in their CD piles, and then the holidays would be ruined.

If one thing is certain, none of the titles on the Baker's Dozen List of the Best Christmas Songs of all time will cause you the amount of embarrassment of now publicly admitting that my parents own a fucking Babyface album.

Full disclosure: for some reason I continue to reach for Bob Dylan's Christmas From The Heart release every Christmas, cruelly torture myself with at least one listen of Merry XXX Mas (it's getting worse with age, the homophobic lyrics really reflect a stunning level of hatred) and unexplicably watch the Flaming Lips' awful Christmas On Mars film every year.

What I'm saying is to totally take the following list with a grain of salt. Everybody's got their own favorites for the holiday and if "Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer" is your thing, then have at it.

But you are open season, however, the moment you admit to liking Christmas With Babyface.

There is most certainly a rock and roll flavor to my favorites and a healthy blend of the obscure, not-so-obvious and annual favorites. Some are fueled by nostalgia and others are included because their holiday spirit is either hidden or downright absent. For whatever reason, they feel like the holidays to me and they provide me with what any decent holiday track should automatically promote: a little bit of warmth, reflections on another year that's passed and the hope that the new year will foster a few decent moments you can recollect again next Christmas.

1.) BING CROSBY & DAVID BOWIE - "Little Drummer Boy/Peace On Earth"

When this clip and song was new-and yes, I'm old enough to remember the actual special in which it originates-the "weird" factor was immediately noted. As a kid, it suddenly made Bing a bit hip, tolerating such a groundbreaking and strange artist like Bowie onto the crooner's scene. The reality is that it may have been nothing more than Bing's devotion to the RCA label and their strange idea of cross-pollinating roster artists, regardless of how different they were. In the end, the professionalism of the pair wins out with a passionate melody of two holiday classics that overcomes the scripted corniness of the scene just prior to the music starting. I still have the vinyl copy of this single, b/w "Fantastic Voyage" from Bowie's Lodger. Crosby died shortly after recording the track/scene with Bowie with the song itself being rehearsed a mere hour before the tapes rolled. Thankfully, this once-a-lifetime moment was captured and it continues to dominate my holiday music list.

2.) CHUCK BERRY - "Run Rudolf Run"

Melodically identical to Berry's own "Little Queenie," "Run Rudolf Run" is an excellent example of a basic 12-bar blues pattern and how Chuck Berry was so inventive that he could get away with things like taking a song he'd already done, re-working it with different lyrics and then releasing it as something completely new. Over a half-century later, the song continues to be used for commercial means and covered by different artists (personal favorite would be Keith Richards' version, which would come in at #14 immediately after the Baker's Dozen list) as a lasting testament to this songs undeniable appeal.

3.) BOB & DOUG McKENZIE - "12 Days of Christmas"

SCTV came during a time when I had no driver's license, no girlfriend and no social life outside of a friend who lived down the street and who shared a love for the 90-minute TV show that aired on NBC every Friday night after Carson. Both of us grew into a certain amount of social charm after our awkward middle school years and SCTV managed to turn a pair of recurring characters name Bob & Doug McKenzie into household names thanks to a hit album and a major motion picture. As a side-note, my friend and I went to the Bob & Doug movie Strange Brew when it was released and the film broke about half-way through it. We walked up to the projection room and filled our pockets with frames of the broken celluloid and had to wait until the thing was released on VHS before we could enjoy the entire movie. The album The Great White North was released in the fall of '81, and SCTV actors Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis had the foresight to include a Christmas song in it, a track that continues to be played around here every year since the early 80's. And every year I chuckle at the lines "There should be more there," "And a a tree," and the observational deadpan of "That beer's empty." And like all good Christmas songs, I am so ready for this to be done by the 26th.

4.) CHARLES BROWN - "Please Come Home For Christmas"

If I recall, those shitbirds called The Eagles covered this for no apparent reason other than they're douchebags and nobody gave a shit about their original "Funky New Year" that appeared as the b-side. So remember, you're looking for Mr. Brown's original and nothing that features bearded members of the SoCal lite country-rock outfit hanging out by the pool on the cover. Charles Brown, the originator of this tremendous Christmas tune, also contributed another swell holiday track called "Merry Christmas Baby" with Bonnie Raitt in the early 90's, but Brown's original take from 1960 is the bee's knees-a slow ode to what happen when your old lady ain't home for the holidays and your Christmas spirit is as cold as the winter solstice.


Welcome To The Pleasuredome is a bloated mess that merely confirms Frankie Goes To Hollywood's lack of talent rather than enhance it, which is something they should have considered before releasing a fucking double as their debut. Sure, the band struck big with "Relax" and "Two Tribes," but it was with their third single where the band really shined. Released in the UK during the 1984 holiday season, the song became FGTH's final chart topper (in England, at least) before the band's quick descent. Listening to it today, it's the kind of fluke that makes it hard to comprehend that this is the same band who gained prominence with such lines as "When you wanna suckittoit?" The message of "make love your goal" should have been more realized outside of the U.K. and it is a song that may be the band's nagging reminder that their history is notable for the wrong song.

6.) ROBERT FRIPP - "Silent Night"

This came to me a few decades ago tucked in some record label sampler that I received. Originally released as a flexi disc in 1979 for the Chicago magazine Praxis, Fripp unleashes a very notable Frippertronics version of the classic Christmas song that is mysterious and just as traditional as you remember it. This became a favorite of mine the moment I heard it, and the track's secretive release deserves a wider audience.

7.) THE KINKS - "Father Christmas"

Love it. Recorded when England was just beginning to hear the first wave of local punk talent, these rock veterans captured the economic strife prevalent in their country at the time while mirroring the noisy racket of discontent of their younger musical cousins that was unheard of before. It's no wonder why the Kinks were so revered by punks while other bands of similar backgrounds were cast off as dinosaurs and bloated relics. Hell, even the b-side was "Prince Of The Punks." "Father Christmas" took on greater significance during the 80's when the gap between the halves-and-have-nots grew wider, which may make the track the most relevant Christmas song of this year, now that I think about it.

8.) THE PRETENDERS - "2000 Miles"

Originally released as the b-side to "Middle Of The Road," the Pretenders' lead-off single to their third record, Learning To Crawl, "2000 Miles" became associated with the holidays thanks to the single's holiday of '83 release date and also for Chrissie Hynde's mournful refrain "Our hearts were singing/It must be Christmas time." The UK had the right idea by putting "2000 Miles" as the lead-off single in their neck of the woods-the track is certainly worthy of its own emphasis-but with the U.S. single, you had a very complete picture of the band after tragically losing half of its original members. The new line-up belted out a declaration of Hynde's intention to keep moving forward on the "Middle Of The Road" a-side while "2000 Miles," a loving remembrance of original guitarist James Honeyman Scott, seemed to be the most appropriate song to acknowledge the tragedy in which she just left a year prior. In short, the single perfectly encapsulated the headspace of Chrissie Hynde at that moment while "2000 Miles" continues to be utilized for its Yuletide message to this day.

9.) THE RAMONES - "Danny Says"

Not really a Christmas song, unless you count that line "It ain't Christmas if there ain't no snow," which is the only reason that I give this awesome track from End Of The Century a nod for inclusion. Plus, I'm not a fan of the bruthas' more notable Christmas track "Merry Christmas Baby (I Don't Want To Fight Tonight)" from the abysmal Brain Drain release. Another great thing about "Danny Says?" It uses the same chord progression (G-C-D) as "Blitzkrieg Bop." And "Beat On The Brat." And "Sheena Is A Punk Rocker." And...

10.) RUN - DMC - "Christmas In Hollis"

Any kid that grew up in the 80's also grew up with this modern day Christmas classic from our brothers from Hollis, Queens - like we in these landlocked states know what the hell that even means. I'm sure there are tons of people that hate this track, but these are the same people that don't believe that black Santas are capable of global travel fueled by the magic of a dog with antlers tied to his head. If you believe, you'll understand that "Christmas In Hollis" is amazingly catchy, deliciously kitchy and a head-bobbing entry that can bring a smile even if you don't believe that Santa has an old Merlin electronic game that he's converted into a device that identifies all the children of the world on if they have been "Naughty" or "Nice."

11.) OTIS REDDING - "Merry Christmas Baby"

It's been done before...several times, in fact...but nobody does it like Otis. One of the things I love so much about Otis is that his entire professional career was based on a fluke. In 1962, Redding was the driver for a representative from Atlantic Records who happened to be visiting their subsidiary Stax in Memphis. Otis picked him up from the airport and drove him to the studio, in which time Redding had convinced the man to let him come inside and sing. They recorded two cuts using the label's infamous backing musicians with the second one being "These Arms Of Mine," which went on to sell over 800,000 copies the following year. To think that this man's golden gritty voice would have been would have been just as unfathomable as not being able to hear his version of "Merry Christmas Baby" at least once during the holidays.

12.) ELVIS PRESLEY - "Santa Claus Is Back In Town"

This tune is required on my list if only for the fact that our tree has not one, but two Elvis ornaments that play this song on our Christmas tree every year. I've got lots of decorations for the king, but none are as irritating and continually played by the children for at least the first 12 hours this ornament is found each holiday. The best part is that one is obnoxiously loud and plays the song at a slightly different speed, so when both ornaments are played at the same time, it sounds like a Butthole Surfers acid trip. And nothing says the holidays like either Elvis, the Butthole Surfers, or this smokin' track by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. The b-side of this single was "Blue Christmas," and I thank the Baby Jesus for never giving me an ornament that plays that song.

13.) TOM WAITS - "Christmas Card From A Hooker In Minneapolis"

If you made me choose between that Pogues "New York Fairytake" and this one, the Waits tune would win every time. It's the spiritual father to that song, for sure, but it's also a got a bit more depth and bite to it. These are characters that I wouldn't mess with for fear of their demeanor's, while MacGowan's are harder to empathize with because of their pointless inebriation. Plus, I like the locale of the song-Minneapolis is a lonely place to be during the holidays if'n you don't have a main squeeze to help warm your nights. "Christmas Card" offers just a tad bit of hope in its content as warmth, and when Waits adds a touch of "Silent Night" and "Goin' Out Of My Head" to the proceedings, well forget about it.

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