Wednesday, December 07, 2005

It's much better with than without it

Since TRP opened the debate about what Christmas songs should be forever banished, I'm going to put in a plug for my favorite Christmas albums. Every time the radio plays something off that list, we ought to call up and ask for a tune from this one.

I first saw Vinx opening for Sting during the Soul Cages tour in 1991. It's an amazing thing to watch one man, alone but for a drum and a hell of a baritone voice, hold the attention of an entire arena. Seeing him live a few years later at Blues Alley remains one of the top five mind-blowing music moments of my life. So I was thrilled two years ago when he released a Christmas album, Little Drummer Boy.

I think of Vinx's work as jazz, although I've seen it called "world music" too. (What does that mean, anyway... is someone out there listening to music not from the world?) Both are fair descriptions of this album, full of syncopated rhythms and resettings of classic carols. Vinx's lush voice can croon The Christmas Song or rip the roof off of We Three Kings. His New Orleans shuffle version of Jungle Bells and his reggae Winter Wonderland are among the highlights of my holiday.

Hipster's Holiday is a Rhino Records compilation which I bought for one song, my absolute favorite Christmas song: Pearl Bailey singing Five Pound
Box of Money
. The album is a fun compilation of jazz and R&B, mostly from the '50s. Some of it is very accessible, like Louis Armstrong hamming up 'Zat You, Santa Claus or Lionel Hampton hollering Merry Christmas Baby. Other tracks may have to grow on you, like Lambert, Hendricks and Ross' Deck Us All With Boston Charlie or Leo Watson's scatted Jingle Bells.

I think the reason I like this album is what it reminds me of. I used to love to do my Christmas shopping with my Walkman on, listening to WPFW Pacifica Radio. When Pacifica wasn't railing against the corruption inherent in the system, they had the best blues and R&B DJs in DC. Those guys would dig up the most magnificently soulful holiday one-off singles and play them non-stop the week before Christmas. As soon as I got out of the malls and away from their Muzak versions of "Carol of the Bells," I went to 'PFW for the antidote.

Hipster's Holiday also reminds me of the Dr. Demento show. When we'd just started going out, Herself and I used to stay up until 1 or 2 AM on Sunday night listening to Dr. Demento on WHFS. It was a great wind-down from the weekend, even if it did mean we dragged a bit on Monday morning. The good Doctor used to do Christmas songs every week from Thanksgiving until the New Year's countdown, and every year at this time, I wish somebody near me carried him.

'HFS dropped Demento, and eventually changed formats entirely, and I moved to the boonies. But whenever I hear We Wanna See Santa Do The Mambo or Be-Bop Santa Claus, I can't help but think fondly of those old days.


Blogger Matt said...

I'd like to suggest that we ban the revised version of "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" while enshrining the original Judy Garland (and latterly James Taylor) version in some kind of song Hall of Fame. The original lyrics make for some of the most melancholy, fatalist imagery in any Christmas song, and you have to love that in today's hyper-saccharine "Xmas" environment. (It's also rather more explicitly Christian than anything else on the preapproved mall playlist, at least as originally written.)


(Old) In a year we all will be together
If the Lord allows
Until then we'll have to muddle through somehow
And have ourselves a merry little Christmas now

(New) Through the years we all will be together
If the Fates allow
Hang a shining star upon the highest bough
And have yourself a merry little Christmas now

Actually, come to think of it, just check out this Wiki article. I'm especially fond of the early lyric that goes, "Have yourself a merry little Christmas / It may be your last / Next year we may all be living in the past." Mmm, that's good Yuletide angst!

4:04 PM, December 11, 2005  
Blogger Joe said...


5:08 PM, December 11, 2005  
Blogger Matt said...

I accuse you of anticipatory plagiarism. I can't be responsible for reading everything in the world before I come up with new thoughts, so the burden falls to you to withhold your own thoughts until I've had a chance to think them.

You're on notice, bub.

5:17 PM, December 11, 2005  
Blogger tommyspoon said...

Try this instead:

In a year we all will be together
If the Fates allow
Until then we'll have to muddle through somenow
And have ourselves a merry little Christmas now.

I lobby for keeping the Fates in there because they're the ones who are gonna determine whether or not you'll be around in a year, not Jesus.

And I still like the line "Hang a shining star upon the highest bow". It smacks of melancholy while being hopeful at the same time. But I'm willing to part with it.

10:04 AM, December 12, 2005  

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