Happy Holidays, yeah that's what I said
Getting that out of the way, let's talk
I have two lists and the first is what I'd call my essential list of
- Backdoor Santa, Clarence Carter. FUN song, not necessarily kid friendly; see sample lyrics: I ain't like old Saint Nick/He don't come but once a year. Years ago, trying to find this song I googled (or maybe it was Altavista - it was a long time ago) "Backdoor Santa." I do not recommend this from a work computer, as I was surprised warning bells didn't sound and support didn't show up to remove my computer for decontamination.
- The Nutcracker Suite, Duke Ellington & Billy Strayhorn. This can be found on the Three Suites CD and is a wonderful arrangement that even Tchaikovsky approved of. This isn't just a jazzing up of the classical arrangement, it's a reimagining. For example, the Sugar Rum Cherry (Dance Of The Sugar-Plum Fairy) is a perfectly drunken, slurried stagger that always makes me laugh. Factoid: first learned of this when a Minneapolis cabaret performed a tap version of the Nutcracker set in 1940's Harlem with this as the music.
- The Jackson 5 Christmas Album, Jackson 5. This is the perfect Christmas album with every song a gem. It starts with a traditional rendition of Have yourself a merry christmas, then 3/4 of the way through there's a pause, someone strums the bass, and the Jackson 5 breaks out to finish off the song. If you could only have two, go with I saw mommy kissing santa claus and Up on the housetop and Some day at Christmas and Give love on Christmas.
- A Nightingale sang in Berkeley Square, Manhattan Transfer. This song is probably responsible for any Manhattan Transfer albums I purchased - and by album I mean vinyl. I heard them perform this on the Johnny Carson Tonight Show before Christmas and have always associated this with the
holidaysChristmas. It's a nice tonic for those offended by Backdoor Santa.
- Fairytale of New York, Pogues with Kirsty McCall. Everyone should have a
holidayChristmas song about despair and hope: "I've got a feeling this year's for me and you/so happy Christmas I love you baby/I can see better times when all our dreams come true." Excuse me, I think I have something in my eye. And Kirsty is an underappreciated gem.
- A Charlie Brown Christmas, Vince Guaraldi Trio. The spareness of this is like walking in the woods on a cold winter day. Soft brushes on the drums, tinkling pianos, the unobtrusive yet insistent bass, it's music that's long surpassed the original show. In fact, I'll even suggest that "A Charlie Brown Christmas" would not be as beloved as it is if not for this music. Face it - the animation is kinda crappy, the kids are loud and basically jerks, there are frequent patches where nothing is happening but the music. What makes Charlie Brown is the music.
- Christmas Wrapping, The Waitresses. My favorite Christmas song. A minor 80s band with a few pleasant songs created a masterpiece with this. Few songs tell a story as well as this one does. Patty Donahue, their lead singer died in 1996. Here's more on songwriter, Chris Butler
That's first team, the following aren't essential, just songs I always enjoy listening to.
First, let me offer up two honorable mentions.
- McGarrigle Family Christmas Hour. This is a new CD I've only been listening to for a day and I'll recommend it. It's Kate and Ann McGarrigle, joined by Kate's children Martha and Rufus Wainwright, plus a few others, like Emmy Lou Harris. I can see this becoming a classic.
- Santaland Diaries, David Sedaris. The chronicle that launched Sedaris' career. This funny and occasionally poignant tale of working at Macy's Santaland never grows old. You can read it in his first collection, Barrel Fever, or listen in realaudio on NPR. It's also available in CD on Holiday on Ice. It's good...to have...a dream...
Here's 36 more:
- Another Lonely Christmas, Prince
- Auld Lang Syne, Michael Doucet
- Baby, It’s Cold Outside, Petula Clark and Rod McKuen. Is it just me or does this song remind anyone else of date rape? Insisting the women doesn’t leave, practically barring the door, and actively engaged in getting her drunk? Anyone?
- Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis, Tom Waits.
- Christmas in Heaven, Charles Brown
- Christmas Is, Run D.M.C.
- Christmas Piglet, Presidents of the United States
- Christmastime, Aimee Mann & Michael Penn
- Dueling Christmas Carols, Joe Soucheray and Pat Ruesse
- Gee Whiz, It’s Christmas, Carla Thomas
- God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, Jimmy Smith. He's king of the Hammond organ
- I Believe in You, Sinead O’Connor
- It Came Upon a Midnight Clear, Beausoliel
- Jingle Bells, Rockin Dopsie and the Zydeco Twisters
- Jingle Bells, Singing Dogs
- Kozatsky till you Dropsky, Shirim (Klezmer Nutcracker)
- Little Drummers Boy, Vienna Boys Choir
- Little Jack Frost Get Lost, Frankie Carle
- Mele Kalikimaka, Poi Dog Pondering with the Dirty Dozen Brass Band
- Merry Christmas (I don’t want to fight tonight) , Ramones
- Merry Christmas Brother, Gordon Gano and Cythnia Gayneau
- Merry Christmas, Baby, Otis Redding
- Night Before Christmas, The Chipmunks
- O Little Town of Bethleman, McGarrigle Christmas Hour
- Put One Foot in Front of the Other, Mickey Rooney and Keenan Wynn
- Rudolph the Manic Reindeer, Los Lobos. It’s Rudolph crossed with Jimi Hendrix and lots of accordian!
- Santa Baby, Eartha Kitt
- Santa Claus is Coming to Town, The Chipmunks
- Santa Clause, Go Straight to the Ghetto, James Brown
- Santa’s Blues, Charles Brown
- Sleigh Ride, The Ventures
- Some Children See Him, Rufus and Martha Wainwright (McGarrigle Christmas Hour)
- Twelve Days of Christmas, Bob and Doug McKenzie
- We Wish You a Merry Christmas, John Denver and the Muppets
- We’re a Couple of Misfits, Rudolph
- White Christmas, Otis Redding
- You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch, Thurl Ravenscroft