People have asked me over the years, "why does a nice atheist Jewish boy like you love Christmas music so much?" To that I have several answers, but here's 3:
1) About 60% of all holiday music [Editor's note: percentage not determined via any remotely scientific method] is different versions of the same song. I love cover songs for the way that a good cover can bring out what is unique about a band's sound. So it's not a big leap that I would really love hearing a bunch of different bands/composers/etc. all try their hands at the same handful of songs.
2) If you're going to imply that a Jew can't love Christmas music, you should probably tell that to the Jews who wrote many of the Christmas songs that are so famous today.
3) Most of these songs are not about Christmas. Seriously, why do the goyim get a monopoly on riding in a one-horse sleigh? Or letting it snow? Or walking through a winter wonderland? Or date-raping your girlfriend when it's cold outside?
So I guess my point is, music is music, and good music is where you find it. And this music is good.
What are you listening to his holiday season? Tell me in the comments, and have a happy pagan December holiday!
- The Yule Ghoul - Sleigh Ride
The Yule Ghoul was one of my favorite Christmas music bloggers, though he/she (I think it's a he) seems to have abandoned the site last year. A couple years ago, he posted cover art and a track supposedly from an album called "The Merry Moog," which would be fantastic - if it existed. Turns out it was just a little joke, and this fantastic take on Sleigh Ride is actually a homegrown production by the Ghoul himself.
- Moses Kahumoku - Joy to the World
A lovely example of Hawaiian slack-key guitar playing by one of the masters, this peaceful rendition is perfect for sipping some eggnog by the fire (or in my case, by a TV showing a DVD recording of a fire). I love the pizzicato bits in the second verse.
- Barenaked Ladies - Hanukkah O Hanukkah
This version is feisty and joyful, enough so that I can overlook the fact that apparently Steven Page doesn't know the word "sivivon" (Hebrew for "dreidel") and so substituted something that probably sounded right to him, but sounds like the name of a character from the Star Wars prequels to me.
- Benny Goodman - Santa Claus Came In The Spring
I love the way the singer says "Santey Claus" in this one. And I love the arrangement. And the fact that it's really just a love song masquerading as a Christmas song. I like to think this song answers Dean Martin's question in "Marshmallow World" of "what if spring is late?".
- Half Man Half Biscuit - It's Clichéd To Be Cynical At Christmas
Come for the title, stay for the mournful melody and clever lyrics from these sardonic Brits.
- Atmosphere - If I Was Santa Claus
This song strikes a nice balance between aspirational and depressing, just like the holiday season itself. Fun fact: the guy rapping goes by the stage name "Slug."
- Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings - Ain't No Chimneys in the Projects
This song makes a good counterpoint to James Brown's "Santa Claus Go Straight To The Ghetto." The horns get me every time, as does the "Jingle Bells" tease in the sax solo (which of course is also a callback to the aforementioned James Brown tune).
- Black Prairie featuring Sallie Ford - (Everybody’s Waitin’ For) The Man With the Bag
This was one of only a couple stand-outs on the Starbucks "Holidays Rule" compilation. The Shins cover of Paul McCartney's "Wonderful Christmastime" is decent, Paul McCartney's version of "The Christmas Song" is lackluster at best. Fun.'s "Sleigh Ride" is an overproduced saccharine nightmare, but I usually like that sort of thing, so maybe I'm just being Grinchy. I love the syncopation on the "if you've done everything you should, extra special good" part of this version, but it took me several listens to be able to sing along on the beat.
- DJ John - The Christmas Massacre of Charlie Brown
Charlie Brown like you've never heard him before. I love how the samples describe what's going on in the song musically.
- The Kinks - Father Christmas
A classic that's been absent from my playlists for far too long. Favorite part is when he asks Santa for a machine gun.
- Darlene Love - Winter Wonderland
Another classic from the amazing "A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector." To be honest, all the songs on there kind of sound alike, but that's OK, because they are all absolutely fantastic.
- Jimmy Butler - Trim Your Tree
This one's a great entry in my favorite musical genre: songs that are supposedly about Christmas but are really about getting down. Way down. Sample lyric: "I'll bring my beautiful Christmas balls/And sprinkle snow up on your tree." Yeah.
- Matisyahu - Happy Hanukkah
Matisyahu released this song in conjunction with a Hurricane Sandy relief donation site, so go pay for a download and help out the good people of my adopted hometown.
- The Raveonettes - Come On Santa
A simple comma would have dramatically changed the perceived meaning of this title. This one's got a nice repetitive drone, but the drums liven things up a bit.
- Ukulele Christmas - Deck The Halls
I don't know who this really is, I couldn't find the artist information, but it's a really nice little version of Deck The Halls - it's nice to hear ukeleles not trying to sound precious.
- Dawn McCarthy & Bonnie 'Prince' Billy - Christmas Eve Can Kill You
This Everly Brothers cover is sad and beautiful and really rewards repeated listens to catch all the detail in the lyrics and arrangement.
- Six by Seven - I Believe in Father Christmas
A nice cover of a sad Christmas song by Greg Lake (of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer fame). According to Wikipedia, Lake never intended for this to be a Christmas song. Huh.
- Blitzen Trapper - Christmas is Coming Soon
I don't really have any idea what this song is about, but it's pretty.
- Jordan Hirsch - Xmas Medley
I arranged and recorded this in December 2010 and I love it. It's a mix of "Angels We Have Heard On High," "Good King Wenceslas," and "Do You Hear What I Hear?".
- BONUS TRACK!
Be sure to check out previous years' playlists!