Do you like Christmas music?
That’s a trick question, of course you don’t! No one likes Christmas music!
Let’s get real, shall we? The holiday season might be filled with family and friends and hopefully a ton of drinking… and that’s great and all, but it’s also filled with this:
Most Christmas songs epitomize only the worst part of the holiday: cheap, soulless, consumerism. Trying to escape it is a fools errand. The best you can do is to try to play stuff that doesn’t bother you too much. I, for one, cannot abide another season of FM 100, or worse still, Harry Connick Jr. So I’ve dug deep for you, sifted through what is by any standard a daunting sea of crap, and I now present to you what probably seems like an easy thing to achieve, but isn’t: a tolerable Christmas play list.
I’m not going to say that everything here is great, but these songs don’t suck and that’s saying something. So without further ado, here is my holiday gift to you.
A Christmas Playlist For Heathens
Whenever someone says, “Hey, let’s put on some Christmas music.” I like to take the reigns and start out with this. For one thing, it’s a crowd pleaser, but more importantly, it isn’t really a Christmas song. Best of all, you can just let this whole album roll and in all probability no one will ever notice the difference. That’s my first rule of Christmas: don’t play holiday music. Ella and Louis is my personal favorite, but that’s just one way to go. There’s a lot of jazz records that double as holiday music, if you know your stuff. Inevitably, though, someone will ask you, “Oh is this Michael Buble? I love him!” When that happens, just smile, nod then hand them some eggnog, because you can’t help that person. Just be glad they’re not the one in charge of the music.
Phil Specter is the most un-Christmas person I can think of (he’s a bona fide murderer). Still, dude was a musical genius and his A Christmas Gift For You might be the best Christmas album ever made. This cut is a barn burner. You’ll be singing along in spite of yourself, “ring-a-ling-a-ling a-ding-dong-ding.” The Ronettes crush this joint, and it sounds like they’re not even trying.
Like most of the soul musicians of his time, Otis Redding recorded some Christmas music. There’s a good chance you’ve never heard this one before because it never really caught on. Whatever. That says more about America’s taste in music than it does about Otis anyway.
Some things are universal. The Nat “King” Cole Trio’s “The Christmas Song” is one of those things. If this were the only Christmas song ever made, I’d be good with that and the world would be a much better place for it. I don’t want to overstate it, but this is one of the greatest moments ever laid to tape. There’s the Nelson Riddle Orchestra (that all string sections should aspire to) and that unbelievable guitar tone. But more than anything, there is Nat Cole–a better human being than Santa Claus could ever be, who just so happened to be endowed with the voice of the Almighty.
In my arduous search for decent Christmas music I came across only three albums that didn‘t make me want to put a bullet in my head. I’ve already mentioned two of them (Phil Spector and Nat “King” Cole). Believe it or not, the last one is, A Charlie Brown Christmas by The Vince Guaraldi Trio. To my ears, Guaraldi sounds an awful lot like Bill Evans–and that’s a good thing. This tune is the musical equivalent of someone handing you a thermos of hot chocolate right after winning a snowball fight. Which is to say, it’s a nice way to relax and it warms you up, too.
9 out of 10 Moms agree: this song is just wonderful. There’s just one problem with it: it’s more than a little bit rapey. I suppose this is the price we have to pay to avoid bad Christmas music–we’ll just have to condone rape, that‘s all. Considering how awful most Christmas music is, it’s a fair trade if you ask me (joking). The trick is, so long as you don’t point it out, everything should be fine. Indeed, as a rule of thumb, unless you want to ruin Christmas maybe it’s best to avoid rape talk in general during the holidays. So I guess I’ll shut up now.
Some people will tell you that Bing Crosby’s version is the best. I don’t know what white stuff those people are smoking, but they‘re wrong. This is clearly the best “White Christmas” of all, probably because it‘s a helluva lot less “white“ than the original. Personally, I’m dreaming of a green Christmas–and by green I mean grass, naturally. And by grass, I mean marijuana of course (hint, hint, Santa).
Never mind that there‘s no such thing as a “new old-fashioned way.” Unless your talking about fixing me up another old-fashioned in which case I completely I support what you’re doing. All I ask is that you don’t be shy with the rye.
I don’t believe in George Michael. I think he’s going to give his heart to someone not special this year. In fact, I think he’s going to give it to you again. Try not to fuck it up this time.
My big brother, Paul, was born in Hawaii and maybe because of that he loved this song. In any case, he loved Christmas more than anything. I’ll never hear this song again without thinking about him. I love you, brother. Merry Christmas to you.
Listen to the full play list here.
is a freelance writer and hipster emeritus. His work has appeared in various impressive publications including the one you’re enjoying now and he has his own music blog where he reviews music both old and new: oldnewborrowedblew.blogspot.com