Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Xmas Music Library: Elvis P, Ramones, Raymond Scott, Richard Davies, Shonen Knife, South Park, Squirrel Nut Zippers, Star Wars, Stiff Little Fingers, Stylistics, Sufjan, Summer Hymns, Thurl Ravenscroft, Trashmen, Vince Guaraldi

Elvis Presley - Elvis Christmas (originally released 1957 and 1971). This collection includes two Elvis Christmas albums.  The 1957 one is absolutely fantastic until Elvis gets bogged down in over-serious hymns at the end.  But most of the traditional Xmas songs cook, and "Santa Bring My Baby Back To Me" is a stone classic.  The 1971 album is a thick slice o' Xmas cheese.  Be forewarned.  It may cause constipation.  OK, the version of "Merry Christmas, Baby" (which I always associate with Otis Redding, but I don't know if it's his song) is pretty great.

The Ramones - "Merry Christmas (I Don't Want To Fight Tonight)."  This is a different mix than the classic version of this song on Brain Drain.  I have no idea why or where it's from, but it's about 40 seconds longer, and the sections are mixed up.  It's nowhere near as effective, either.

Raymond Scott - "Christmas in Harlem."  It's Raymond Scott, so it cooks.  Not particularly Christmas-y, but we'll take it.

Richard Davies - "Feed the World."  I love Richard Davies, the Aussie singer-songwriter behind The Moles and Cardinal.  His fractured art-roots-rock songs hit me in my happy place.  And yet this is an electropop version of the famous charity song that Davies recorded for a Kindercore compilation back in 1999.  And it suuuuucks.

Shonen Knife - "Space Christmas" and "All I Want for Christmas."  Xmas, Shonen Knife-style.

South Park - "The Most Offensive Song Ever" and "Merry F***ing Christmas."  Their schtick has worn thin over the years, but "Merring F***ing Christmas" is still a little bit funny.

Squirrel Nut Zippers - Christmas Caravan (1998).  The Zippers do their neo-swing thing on most of these tracks, but the Carter Family treatment on "Gift of the Magi" is swell.  Their version of "Sleigh Ride" is super-fun, too.  Most of the other tracks are originals, and pretty fun for what they are.  In fact, I think the Zippers are more fun doing this kind of music than their regular gig.

Star Wars - Christmas In The Stars: The Star Wars Christmas Album (1980).  Making one long for the relatively high quality entertainment of the Star Wars Christmas Special, Christmas in the Stars features Anthony "C-3PO" Daniels "singing" in character, a certain Jon Bongiovi (sound it out), and a bunch of wookiee and random robot noises. Allmusic says, "Because of its general meaninglessness and obscure commentaries on the holiday, this could be the worst Star Wars related album on the market. To those who enjoy bad music on a camp level, this album is priceless."  Now here's the messed-up thing: George Lucas, the man who has disowned the Star Wars Christmas Special, actually sought to put his name on this monstrosity.  I guess that should have been an early warning about where he was going with the three prequels.  And I can't quite get rid of it, although it actually scars my ears when I listen to it.

Stiff Little Fingers - "White Christmas."  This is the song you think it is, but with buzzsaw guitars and snotty authentic punk delivery.  Necessary to clean one's palate after the amazing shittiness of Christmas In The Stars.

The Stylistics - "When You've Got Love, It's Christmas All Year Long" and "Auld Lang Syne."  I rather like the Stylistics' 70s Philly Soul, but this godawful smoove-synth bullshit recorded long after their heyday (1992, to be exact) would actually sound better if Anthony "C-3PO" Daniels were the lead vocalist.

Sufjan Stevens - Songs For Christmas [Vol. 1: Noel (2001), Vol 2.: Hark! (2002), Vol. 3: Ding! Dong! (2003), Vol. 4: Joy (2005), and Vol. 5: Peace (2006)].  Now that's how you do a Christmas album (or albums, as the case may be).  Five EPs that mix traditional songs and originals with creative arrangements, a flow that moves easily from upbeat to solemn and back again, and songs with titles like "Get Thee Behind Me, Santa!"  I'm tempted to play this occasionally outside of the holiday season but I don't, because that would be just weird.

Summer Hymns - "Santa Couldn't Fit You Under My Christmas Tree."  From another Kindercore comp, this is a Georgia-based mildly psychedelic folk-rock band doing a wispy original.  I have a few of their non-Xmas albums, which are also pretty good.

Thurl Ravenscroft - "You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch."  Includes some of the voiceover from the cartoon.  Yes, it's delightful.

The Trashmen - "Dancin' With Santa."  Doo-woppy early rock song that's fun as all get-out.

Vince Guaraldi - A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965).  This is the best Christmas album of all time, sure to give you that bittersweet holiday feeling from the first chord of "O Tannenbaum."  "Christmastime Is Here" is so absolutely wonderful that I can hardly believe it.  And the versions of "What Child Is This"/"Greensleeves" are unsurpassed.  I say this as a man who just listened to the brilliant Coltrane versions on The Africa/Brass Sessions.  And who has also just listened to John Fahey's versions.  But you know this music.  I don't know what else I could possibly tell you about it.  Just go listen.


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