A Very Quarantine Christmas!

Stay safe, Santa!
Hi, everybody! So, what's new with you? If you're like me, you're adjusting to life at home [Editor's note: I've been working from home and using videoconferencing for a portion of my social plans for years now, so I'm more adjusting to the rest of the world adjusting], and if you're like me, you could maybe use a pick-me-up right now. So rather than wait for the traditional Christmas-in-July (or the more traditional Christmas-in-December), I've decided to release an out-of-cycle playlist to help you get through the long days ahead. Welcome to A Very Quarantine Christmas.

I had to pull a lot of things that were going to be on this year's official playlist, which will make it a fun challenge later this year to start with fewer tracks in the tank. I don't know if anyone will want to listen to this in March, but it made me feel a whole lot better to have a project to throw myself into, so I hope you enjoy it too.

Also available on Spotify! 
  1. Elton John - Step Into ChristmasI've toyed with putting this song onto the playlist for a couple years now, ever since I discovered it. Somehow despite being a Christmas song by one of the most famous musicians alive, I'd never heard it until 2018. Even though many of you may already know it, I like the idea of opening this playlist with an invitation to step into Christmas. We could all use a little holiday cheer right now, I think.
  2. Elvis Presley - Silver Bells This isn't the first time I've dipped into the Elvis well on a playlist, and it won't be the last. The King does Christmas right. His version is a little sentimental, but I love how it conjures up scenes of crowded city streets bustling with people, something we likely won't be seeing for a while. Plus I just realized this song is in 3/4, which is kind of a rarity on these playlists, so that's cool ("cool").
  3. Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings - Big BulbsAnother song I've almost put on the playlist for a while now. It's silly, it's funny, and it's got a good beat. The sleigh bells and the jaunty 4-on-the-floor guitar keep the whole thing moving, and the backing vocals provide a lovely music bed for the catchy-as-hell vocals and that playful little horn part that pops in from time to time like a jolly little elf.
  4. Whitehorse - Merry Xmas, Baby (I Hope You Get What You Deserve)Canadian husband-and-wife duo Whitehorse released a lovely holiday record a couple years ago, and this song in particular grabbed me the first time through. A beautiful arrangement with nice clean pop production, this song makes the most of a few simple pieces. And the "Merry Xmas" chorus can easily get stuck in your head for days. Put this one on while you sip your "Irish whiskey and condensed milk" (and please let me know if that's actually a thing one should drink, if you try it).
  5. Lucy Dacus - Last ChristmasRemember that Spotify playlist of 100 versions of Last Christmas I mentioned last year? Of course you do. Well, I think that's where I found Lucy Dacus's decidedly non-traditional version of this modern addition to the holiday canon. This is a fast, distorted, head-banging version that Dacus released in 2019 as part of her year of holiday-themed songs. It took a while to grow on me, but I think this might be my favorite version of this song I've heard so far.
  6. Nadia Vaeh - Holidazed and ConfusedShout out to Nadia Vaeh's publicist, who reached out to me about this song last year. It was too late to include it on the 2019 playlist, but I ended up listening to this song a ton last December. The lyrics aren't profound and the grammar is a bit strained, but fuck it, it's got a good beat and the harmonies are dope and it all happens in only 4 chords. And it has that cool trap-rhythm staccato bit in the pre-chorus. It's also timely; this song features the line "I've been staying home alone" - me too, Nadia. Me too.
  7. The Raveonettes - The Christmas SongNo, it's not The Christmas Song, but this little peppermint goody is just the thing to put you in the holiday spirit, even in the midst of the zombie apocalypse [stage 1]. This Danish indie-pop duo brings the goods here but keeps it light, throwing plenty of tremolo on their chords, laying down a guitar solo that just echoes the melody, and dare I say making subtle use of sleigh bells. Plus it's a tagline song, and no one writes those any more.
  8. Tracy Chapman  - O Holy NightListening to this song feels like curling up next to a roaring fire, snuggling under a blanket, sipping cocoa (with peppermint schnapps, of course). I love that hummed intro so much. Chapman's unique voice works particularly well here, milking emotion out of its lower register while the steel string guitar plucks out the high melody. Not sure if that's a harmonium on top of it or what, but it blends perfectly with that guitar and that electric bass, and of course her voice. This might be my favorite version of this song, which is usually not a favorite of mine. A triumph of simplicity. "The weary world rejoices" - I look forward to that day.
  9. Loretta Lynn - Oh, Come All Ye FaithfulThis comes from Lynn's 2016 Christmas album, and it's a delight. That classic country bassline and the pedal steel guitar sliding around on the chorus are just the thing for a cold winter's night - or a warmish spring evening, which you are no doubt enjoying from inside. The little piano bits sprinkled here and there complement the strings nicely, like sprinkling a little cocoa on your coffee. And of course Lynn's voice is still as sweet as a christmas cookie.
  10. Tony Christie - Merry Xmas EverybodyBritish crooner Tony Christie channels his inner Tom Jones to cover British glam rockers Slade's Christmas classic, replete with big band horns, tinkling piano, and a walking bass line that keeps you moving right on towards December 25th. If I'd heard this song before the original, I would absolutely believe that it was written in this style, that's how well it works. "Look to the future now/It's only just begun" sounds a little more sinister nowadays than it was intended, but what the hell, this song is still a jam.
  11. Aloe Blacc - Tell Your MamaSpeaking of jams, this Xmas album opener from California's Aloe Blacc is the definition thereof. Only a little bit about Christmas, and more about getting up off your quarantine couch and shaking your booty to that infectious beat, this song was on the shortlist for this year's December playlist, but what the hell. Can't keep all the good things for tomorrow, what if tomorrow never comes? Yes, I am an optimist, why do you ask? Listen closely for the extremely odd "Happy Chanukah" in the middle of this song, that has nothing to do with anything.
  12. Virgin of the Birds - Christmas in the Borough of our BirthI read a blog post that referred to this song as "the BEST Destroyer yet-not-Destroyer Christmas song" ever, and I have to agree that not only does this song kick ass, but it really sounds like someone picked up a discarded Dan Bejar demo and decided to make a finished version. This band hails from either San Francisco or Seattle, depending on whom you ask, and I know nothing else about them other than this song is killer. I always latch onto the synth piano running in the background, which anchors the song even more than the bassline, in my opinion. The opening line "Brutalist doesn’t mean what you think it does" is pretty much unparalleled in Xmas song opening lines.
  13. Letters to Cleo - Father ChristmasThat's right, it's Ben Wyatt's favorite band!
    Merry Quaranchristmas, Ben!
    The 90s stalwarts do a pretty straightforward cover of the Kinks' classic, besides altering a few lyrics here and there in the name of gun safety. The harmonies are nice on this one, and the guitar solos are pretty much note-for-note, but hey, why mess with a classic?
  14. Chris Mann - Auld Lang SyneYes, Chris Mann is a former contestant on The Voice. Yes, his Xmas EP was sold exclusively at Walmart. And yes, dammit, he has a gorgeous voice and knows how to work with a producer to get the most out of it. Expect to hear more Chris Mann in December, suckers!
  15. BONUS TRACK: Elton John - Ho! Ho! Ho! (Who'd Be a Turkey at Christmas)So apparently this is the B-side to Elton's Xmas single Step Into Christmas (see above). I think this should have been the single - it's twice and catchy and three times as weird. "Sitting here on Christmas Eve with a brandy in my hand/Oh I've had a few too many and it's getting hard to stand" - yeah, Elton, me too, except instead of Christmas Eve it's Corona March, and instead of brandy, it's whatever bottle I grabbed first. This song refers to Santa as "the bearded weirdie" so it's OK in my book.
Well, kids, as the current crisis stretches out in front of us with no end in sight, I hope this playlist has brought a little Xmas cheer into your homes and your ear canals. Stay safe, stay healthy, and stay home. See you in December!

-DJ Jordan Claus

1 comment:

Elizabeth said...

I love how you say you're adjusting to the rest of the world adjusting. That is so relatable!