We all know the deal, a week before Christmas the festive cheer starts to heat up. Even the most Scroogeish of us consider a festive treat, give into the charms of a Christmas tree, some egg nog like concoction minus the egg and the nog. OK, so warm vanilla milkshake made from soy with no eggs or booze out here but it IS San Francisco and I am weird. I even grabbed a festive cactus with bright pink flowers and stuck it next to my hyacinth in water that I hope is not a white one. I bet it is a pink one. It has been that kind of year. There we were, expecting things to get back to normal, and now staring down the barrel of more lockdowns, which are decidedly not festive and not cheer-making. Inflation has made the price of flour go through the roof. My old reliable King Arthur gluten free blend is now a luxury item. It is not conducive to Christmas baking. I want a pumpkin pie, damnit.
I half considered just ignoring Christmas entirely, but the kiddo put some baubles on the tiny foot high real tree I got for a 8 bucks in Trader Joe’s, and strung some fairy lights up, and put a tiny little gift wrapped box under it with ‘Ma’ written in gold pen on the side. I pulled myself together, and ‘held onto the dream’ as we always joke about, playing the few seconds of David Gilmour wailing every time one of us flags or gets sad. Except that is not a Christmas song, and I am in need of a lot of ‘getting into the spirit of things’. I am not a Christian, I merely borrow the secular side of it like most of us do, but I am not above a few lines of ‘little baby jeezus’ caroling….after all the Devil does not always have the best tunes……
I can’t believe I have to do this, but I suppose Christmas inspires the potty mouth in the best of us and this list does have a few expletives and slurs here and there…artistic license plus you can’t trust a rock star with propriety, but you can trust them to ruffle feathers, even the ones of the Angel on top of the Christmas tree.
None of them reach the levels of offensive (no, not even Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer by Home Free) racist horrendousness of Joe Diffie and his Leroy the Redneck Reindeer where, and I quote, “Santa wrapped his bag with a Dixie Flag….”…For my non American readers he is talking about the Confederate flag which is a symbol of hatred, slavery and white power kkkunts. Dress it up any way ya like, the little redneck kids in cowboy boots are getting down to some serious racial hatred from Santa flying the flag of oppression. Shame on their parents! As a sacrificial musical turkey, here is the offending track. Ill defend freedom of speech till my dying breath, but also strongly believe in consequences for what people say ….Don’t say I don’t give ya nothing! Press play at your peril…I don’t think I will look at Santa the same way after hearing this…he should probably sue for slander!
As far as I am concerned Slade only have one track worth listening to, and this is it. Considering the heavy rotation overplaying of this 3 minutes and 27 seconds of forced jollity, we are all gonna have to listen to it whether we want to or not, especially if any of us have a hope of scoring the Christmas meal of our dreams, the local grocery stores love this number…. All that aside, it is not Christmas until I hate Slade, and this song is doing its ear worm duties for the year.
Chuck Berry has been doing that hop and strut with Santa’s favorite red nosed reindeer since 1958. This song is part of his legacy. By now it is part of the Christmas landscape. I can’t hate on Chuck and his Christmas boogie. Keith Richards, Chuck Berry fan supreme also does a rather fabulous Run Run Rudolf.
I can’t help it, I am a huge fan of Christmas blues songs, a naughty edge, some spicy yet innocent lyrics about being caught with his hand in his baby’s underwear drawer, looking for his Christmas gift, and one heck of a blues groove – Sonny Boy Williamson has it going on! I might start to feel like this is not the season of hokey commercial money grab throw away tracks….
What I really need is Uncle Lou. Uncle Lou is gonna work it on out…or at least come up with a desperately bleak track about a Vietnam war vet who lost an arm. The boys are stuck in Vietnam for Christmas, and there will be no promised Christmas in February for Sam. Top depressing Christmas themed listening for any time of year. That is the true sign of Christmas song brilliance – can it be listened to at any time of the year despite rocking the dreaded C- word? Lou has got that knack. A little late. A little off center, and lot ‘Lou’.
Talking about season-free, timeless Christmas songs, River from Joni Mitchell’s Blue album, despite the plaintive piano playing jingle bells leading into the track it is one of those songs that moves past the festive references and portrays that amplified feeling of desolation and devastation that Christmas brings to the lonely, the alone, the bereaved, the love lost. Christmas sucks when you are not happy, it is only made by the people around us….and is destroyed by the lack of them. “I’ve gone and lost the best baby I ever had” sings Joni…and we believe her. Some Christmases we all just wish we had Joni’s river to skate away on.
I love Pink Floyd. Nick Mason, the drummer, might be one of my favorite people in rock and roll, if his public persona, sweetly hallucinogenic expressive drumming performances and stellar car collection are anything to go by. Here is a slice of Floydian quintessential English, lsd soaked festive high jinx, sung by Nick, I think. It is a small treasure. As an aside, everyone talks about Syd being troublesome and high all the time, but no one noticed the quiet drummer (an oxymoron if ever I heard one) rocking the thousand yard lysergic stare at the drum kit, looking like he was staring at a giant mouse called Gerald somewhere above the audiences head. Poor Nick. Yacht. Ask Rog. Almost killed the poor little drummer boy with his wicked humor and a cup of tea (and a currant bun)…
We are getting into the heavy hitters. Christmas in the Heart by Dylan is the only Christmas album anyone could ever actually need. It contains this perfect little bubble of Christmas party heaven, the delightfully cool Dickensianly dressed Dylan chanting “Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen
Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Carter, Raegan, Bush, and Clinton.” in the most messed up incantation ever put to festive vinyl. Only Dylan can pull off such coy name dropping. He doesn’t even name check the Big Ru. Respect. It is a jewel of a caper movie chase distilled into a warm nostalgic drop of Christmas spirit. Perfection. Second best Christmas song ever.
Yeah. I know. We are all meant to cancel Shane for dropping a homophobic F bomb. I am not down with name calling or slurs. That said the dialogue between the delightfully Irish and pissed couple, exchanging insults, wistfully looking forwards to a better time, and backwards to a better time, whilst existing in a present which is deprived of love, of safety, of money, of christmas cheer, is an act of festive genius. There has never been such a real, funny, tender and messed up party of a song, that takes the listener on a tour of drunk tanks, New York Irish culture, and a relationship that in which ‘you old slut on junk’ is a term of extreme endearment, whilst reminding us that Christmas will come what may. This is literature. This is James Joyce, Bukowski, a beat poem, a lost slice of something smoky, drunk and lost in longing. “I could have been someone. Well so could anyone.” Shane writes about the futility of a love that doesn’t fix everything: whether that is the love of a faulty messiah, the love between two deeply flawed human beings, the love that exists for a place and a time and a sound, whether that is the NYPD choir singing Galway Bay, or Shane singing Fairytale of New York, is a fragile and twisted emotion. A sensation of extreme nostalgia for a past that is flawed and cracked and crazy is worth the price of admission. This is Christmas perfection. Blessed are the Pogues for they write humanity at its most devastatingly flawed and therefore stunningly beautiful. There is beauty in the dirt and the sadness and the drunk, fucked up, smacked out poverty of survival. How do we know the light when we don’t even look into the darkness? Happy Christmas, Shane McGowan.
BB was the King of Smooth Blues and Merry Christmas, baby is a whole case of them. Not everything has to be gritty, or wild or high energy bop. What is more festive than wishing yer lover a merry Christmas, even when they don’t ‘treat you nice?’ This is music to kick off those dancing shoes and cancel the party. There is no blues that a bit of hugging and kissing can’t fix, or at least the sweet caress of BB King’s velvet vocals, sweetly funny lyrics and laid back vibe. He ‘ain’t had a drink this evening, but he’s all lit up like a Christmas tree’….Pass the Mistletoe!
I love Chrissie Hynde. Anyone who can marry a Kink, pull off looking like a Keef Richards tribute act and sing about getting from the cab to the curb without some little jerk getting on her back is my homegirl. This song is an entire vibe. Cool doesn’t have to mean miserable, even though it helps. Instead a minor key, a twisted lilt and some longingly sweet lyrics that paint a snowy picture of festive feeling, brings the twelve days of christmas, ‘love the ones you are with, and the ones you can’t be close to’ masterpiece of the pain of December longing alive. After all, sometimes in this age of commercial buy buy buy we need to be reminded that there is only thing that really makes Christmas special..and that is our people.
Lennon. 60s idealistic wasted pacifism. Iconic sound. Slightly clichéd lyrics that are high on the cringe factor, and Yoko Ono bringing the weird. His heart was in the right place. Probably.
I remember watching this when it was released. Now I watch it and pull the elderly woman act on the boy. “He’s dead. He’s dead. He died a few years back. He’s alive, but fuck he is old now…” He has the same bemused reaction I always had when my elderly relatives pulled the depresso-nihilistic mortality act on me. Fact is this song always makes me feel my mortality in a way that I am never quite comfortable with. It is a deep and justified guilt for having food, shelter and the privilege of continued existence. Rock stars as saviors make me a little queasy. Did it even make a difference? Probably only to their careers. Good publicity, innit?
Dig that Stax sound funk! That bass is slapping, the track boogies its woogie. Santa Claus wants some lovin’. Pure 70s disco soul!
The Band are always a sure thing for a folky jam. Christian flavored hootenanny chill.
Garcia doing a jazzy hip instrumental freestyle jam to drop a tab and turn on, tune in, drop out and boogie to. It still won’t make the endless family Christmas dinner trial any easier to bear, but life is always better with Jerry.
Up next are two unlikely duet-ers taking on The Little Drummer Boy. Johnny and Neil have it by a man in the long black coat. Bing Crosby looks vaguely freaked out by Bowie. Worth it for the banter alone. I can’t really hear Neil on his duet, but apparently he is there letting Johnny do the heavy hitting. Worth it only for the novelty factor.
If there is one man who might honestly be having a wonderful Christmastime, and actually mean it, it is the nicest man in the business, Paul McCartney. I can’t even look at him without smiling, even if I can’t stand the Beatles, Paul is a legend. He radiates happiness, contentment and nostalgia. Looking at a pre-pandemic, 1970s perfect Christmas minus the technology, the phones, the damn fucking everything linked to everything else, proper human connections being made, drinks being drunk, fun being had, makes me even more convinced that progress is bad, and people we done fucked up. The world is getting worse and worse and further and further away from free, happy, truly connected and innocent. Too much, too easy, too distant. I wish I could dive into the music video, pull up a chair and exist in a reality other than this one. Preserve Christmas 1979 at Paul’s place in amber. Crystalize it. Times won’t ever be that perfect again. Where’s my Tiny Tears doll and my dad’s bitey Jack Russell terrier? I think there might be some space headband bobbly things somewhere around here.
Dropkick Murphy’s. The other great Irish band with a great reminder that everyone’s family is fucked up. Timely reminder. “If you think yours is crazy, well you should see mine!” Appreciate them while ya have em, even if they are irritating as heck at the time, these are the days we all look back on with affection.
Kiss and make up everybody! The Ramones with a public service message. The gravy might be lumpy, the pressure intense, but you know you love each other really. This might be the most wholesome that the boys have ever got.
Some real Spinal Tap crap here, but trust me, you need this on your playlist. If this doesn’t raise a smile, nothing will.
Remember when rap meant Run DMC? Yeah, me too. Give the guys some love, this is some heartwarmingly lovely stuff!
Yeah, OK…So I have overdosed on wholesome, heartwarming and being nice. Santa doesn’t give out gifts to bad boys and girls like Sonic Youth. He also apparently doesn’t ‘cop out on dope’. “On Donder, on Blitzen, but never on smack…” Sonic Youth reckon he never even tried it. I guess he is more of a snow/blow kinda dude….Gotta get the energy to go and deliver all those gifts to the good boys and girls of the world, I guess!
OK, so I am pushing it on the Christmas theme, but hey I have to get my snow fix whereever I can get it, living out here in sunny California. OK, so not quite sunny. Foggy but mild? The Red Hot Chilli Peppers have my ‘yayo’ apparently. Mountains of fluffy fishscale are more their speed than the flakes that fall from the sky. My favorite drug band de jour. It is not Christmas without a bit of snow..Anthony sings“In between the cover of another perfect wonder/And it’s so white as snow/Running through the field/where all my tracks will be concealed/And there’s nowhere to go.” All his tracks will be concealed, huh! I don’t think he means the ones left by Santa’s sleigh. All he wants for Christmas is a long sleeved shirt. Simple request really….
Because no list is ever complete without the beautiful and bonkers Nick Cave. Dig that dad dancing and the creepy uncanny David Lynch vibe. He took all the subtlety the Red Hot boys didn’t want. Call it a palate cleanser. It is standard dark murder rock from the Birthday Party leadman.
…and if you invite Nick to the party, it only makes sense to bring on Tom Waits. I have had enough of Christmas already and we have barely got started. Misanthropic heaven from the man with the gravel and whiskey voice.
Alien Sex Fiend have a little advice…Stuff the Turkey…or how about let the turkey live unmolested and have a nice nut roast instead? The veg is the best part of any Christmas dinner anyway…
Vicious rock duel between Lauper and the Hives of Veni, Vedi, Vicious fame. Offensive. Funny. Festive. Cyndi has no chill. She is savage. Showed those punks a thing or two about roasting chestnuts oven an open lyrical fire.
I didn’t choose Shonen Knife. Shonen Knife chose me. Delightfully off center, fast, powerful girl punk. Cute well played space pop punk fun.
Are you still with me? It has been quite a marathon. Bah Humbug, but at least a bit of distraction from the fact we are living in a world that is not happy or merry, and we are still having to keep the heck away from each other because the world got all fucky. Merry Christmas to all…and to all a good week. As for all these wishes for a happy new year, not so fast my festive friends, let’s not tempt fate! After the last two years singing “I have a feeling this one’s for me and you” and being sorely tried each time, I am eyeing 2022 with extreme caution.
Happy holidays, let’s try and not have a totally nightmareish new year, and have a couple of sherries for me!
Over and out…
Oooh! There are a few lovelies in this batch. Thanks!
I’m a sucker for the cover by Metal Gurus (Mission UK alter ego) performing Slade’s “Merry Christmas Everybody”, more than Slade’s version. And I used to perform “Fairytale” back in my Irish folk music days around this time of year. Nice selection.
I’m impressed that you stayed with it to the end! I haven’t heard the Metal Guru’s version, Ill go listen to it now! I love performing Fairytale, it just has that energy to it that is a blast to immerse in.
As you say, Fairytale is poetry. I love it’s grit.
There is a real affection to its grit though, Shane is very good at affectionate grit.