Your Holiday Hit Parade

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday because it has the spirit of Christmas but without the pressure of giving gifts.  With Thanksgiving come three things – weight gain, football, and the start of Christmas music on the radio, 24-hour Christmas songs until a day or two after the 25th.  Also happening on Thanksgiving, and happening only once a year as far as I know is the traditional playing of “Alice’s Restaurant” by Arlo Guthrie – found at the end of this post.  It’s a wacky yet poignant anti-war song that I love, but I don’t want to hear it more than once a year so it’s all good, but let’s go back to the Christmas music.

Before anyone complains, I prefer not to hear any lectures about the injustice that “we” inflicted upon the Native Americans after they so nicely kept us from starving.  Of course it’s true and appalling, but I don’t want to hear about it. Not this week.  I also don’t want to hear about any insensitivity regarding Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, the Winter Solstice, or any other cultural significance.  I’m not insensitive to those events, but I don’t celebrate them either.  I celebrate Christmas, so that’s what I’m writing about.  To be more specific, I’m writing about the songs, and to be even more specific, I’m writing about my favorite Christmas songs.  Just as I did with the great movies, I’m breaking the songs down by category, but luckily there is a small enough group that it’ll fit into one post.  Categories:  rock, country, classic, soul, and fringe.  Before you ask, “fringe” is something that is sort of rock but on a more alternative level.  I’ll explain when I get there.  Also, about the videos, they’re not official but just something to see while the song is playing.

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Rock – “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” by Bruce Springsteen.

Written by John F. Coots and Haven Gillespie

You can argue all you want, but there’s no better rock n roll Christmas song.  He takes a holiday classic, gives it a beer, and turns it sideways.  Also, he made sure there were sleigh bells.  Usually, I don’t want to hear a Christmas song without sleigh bells.  There’s more than one version of this song, but the best is the first one released, recorded at CW Post College in New York in 1975.  It was very well recorded with one fractional moment of feedback early in, and then it just kicks ass from there.  The sax rips when necessary and Bruce screams when necessary, but I wouldn’t call it screaming.  It was early enough in his career that he could belt and hold a note and an actual musical note at that instead of something that sounds like car tires on gravel.

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Classic – “Winter Wonderland” by Tony Bennett

Written by Felix Bernard and Richard Smith

By classic, I mean the vocalist and not the song.  Tony Bennett has a voice that just makes me smile, like tea with honey in front of a fireplace.  I smile because I can hear the smile on his face when he sings.  It’s not impossible that I chose this particular song because of the movie When Harry Met Sally, when Meg Ryan is struggling to bring home a Christmas tree and stumbles in the snow.  However, I grew up with Bing Crosby, Elvis, and other artists on the record player while decorating the tree and trying to find the hidden presents, so Tony was in there for me many years before Harry and Sally.  What finishes the song for me is the excellent use of flutes or clarinets, horns, and strings to really highlight his voice.

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Inspirational – “Christmas Canon” by Trans-Siberian Orchestra

written by Johann Pachelbel

I’m going to let the category “Inspirational” speak for itself.

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Soul – “Someday at Christmas” by the Jackson 5

Written by Ron Miller and Bryan Wells

I had to have at least one song that was more about the Christmas spirit, peace, and good will instead of Santa and snow, so this song certainly fits the “soul” category in both style of music as well as meaning.  It could be argued that it’s more like pop music than soul, but I don’t care because nobody is going to successfully argue that the Jackson 5 did not have soul.  When Justin Beiber had a chance to sing a Christmas song in the White House for President Obama, this is the song he chose.  It’s not a black thing, it’s a soul thing.  It starts with sleigh bells (Yes!) chiming out a little “White Christmas” before a drum beat turns it into a heartfelt plea for peace, but you can dance to it.

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Country – “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” by John Mellencamp

Written by Tommie Connor

Yes, yes, John Cougar Mellencamp Ayers Allen Rashad is often thought of as rock, but he’s got fiddles and harmonicas mixed in his Indiana/Farm Aid roots.  You can take the boy out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the boy.  His version of this song is nothing but country, and it’s a foot-stomping good time.  It starts with a slow guitar, then kicks from first right into fourth gear with touches of variation from the regular tune, jumping in a little early and a little late a couple of times just to keep you from getting too comfortable.  Like Bruce’s song, this was recorded early enough in his career not to protect you from his audio voice but from his attitude voice.  Today, with the anger he’s got stored up, I doubt he could record this same song.  He’s been through too many love and career roller coasters, so we’re lucky he taped this while he was able.  Another reason to classify this as country is that I don’t listen to country music, I love this song, and it was the only way I could work it in.

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Fringe – “Little Drummer Boy” by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts

Written by Katherine Davis

Want raw?  Joan Jett.  Want attitude?  Joan Jett.  Want someone who stays on key 24/7?  Okay, not Joan Jett, but she makes up for it with power.  A very traditional-sounding snare drum keeps pace throughout a very non-traditional version of what’s all about the Nativity, but the barn will be shaking during the bitching guitar riffs.  It’s a song rarely heard on the radio by those month-long Christmas stations, so you’re better off finding on iTunes or something like that.  What really dots the “i” is when she replaces “the ox and lamb kept time” with “the ass and lamb kept time.”  And when she sings “rum pa pum pum,” any Spanish teacher would be jealous of how she can roll her R’s.  If you’re driving while it’s playing, pay attention to your speedometer because it’ll start climbing without you even realizing it.

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Novelty – “Dominic the Italian Christmas Donkey” by Lou Monte

written by Ray Allen

I guess it’s my Italian heritage that makes this song so much fun.  The references to the “hills of Italy” reach home because my family extends from a mountain village in southern Italy where to this day there are only 50 families and three have my same last name.  It’s a catchy tune that pops into my head in the middle of summer if I’m not careful.  It starts – like a couple of others – with sleigh bells and recounts how Santa was helped by a little Italian donkey because the reindeer couldn’t handle the terrain.  Of course, if the reindeer fly, then the terrain is a non-issue.  But shut up.  It’s a fun song with a brief scattering of some Italian vocabulary that you’d here – or I would hear – at pretty much any family wedding, birthday party, or holiday gathering.

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Happy Holidays

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41 Responses to Your Holiday Hit Parade

  1. I’m glad you can hear these songs with fresh ears! Your post was invigorating.

  2. One, I would listen to Joan Jett sing anything.
    Two, I liked Dominic
    Three, Alice’s Restaurant was cute.
    Scott
    Also, all the older stuff is great – Sinatra….etc…

    • rich says:

      yeah, it’s hard to pick from the older stuff, dean martin too.

      • Oh, yeah, I enjoyed the “Rat Pack” and many, many of the great vocalists.

      • rich says:

        It is difficult not to include Elvis. To me, he is the greatest singer ever because he could sing absolutely any kind of music Let’s say a 9.5 out of 10. But in each type of music, there is somebody else who is the 10. However, those tens can only be a 10 in that 1 type, And all of his 9.5′s add up to greatness. I’m not sure if I explain that well.

      • It does. To me, he was “very good”. His fans and all made him a “10″. That’s truly important because they are the determiners. What I like was he could sing, play guitar, dance, and act. I enjoyed his movies more than his songs. Frank, I think, is my 10.

  3. bulldogsturf says:

    Great post and enjoy Thanks Giving… enjoy the day and all it means to you…

  4. highly entertaining – both the music and the commentary

  5. Kimberly says:

    Love it. I have a gigantic list of favourites, it’s nice to add a few new ones. Along with Dominic, Lou Monte does an incredibe Jingle Bells. My great grandpa grew up in Lapanno in Calabria. My sister and I like to pretend we are more than fractionally Italian when we belt out Lou Monte’s renditions. Great post!

  6. Tin Woman says:

    My absolute favorites are:

    Jingle Bell Rock – Brenda Lee
    Rockin Around the Christmas Tree – Also Brenda Lee
    Walking in a Winter Wonderland – Bing Crosby
    Little Drummer Boy
    Felis Navidad
    The entire Elvis Christmas Album that was produced in neon green vinyl
    All I Want for Christmas is You – Mariah Carey
    Do They Know It’s Christmas – Band Aid (*shrugs* sue me ;-) )

    I could go on forever!

    Happy holidays!

  7. aFrankAngle says:

    Fun musical list … and I’m listening to Dominic as I write this as it provides a good rhythm for typing. Gotta love your second-paragraph rant. Meanwhile, for me, too many favs to pic! Well done … and Happy Thanksgiving.

  8. Kris Kennedy says:

    Dominic, The Christmas Donkey…definitely! Fun post…my list would include Mele Kalikimaka as well…Happy Thanksgiving.

  9. Hi Rich,
    Well, excuse me, as Steve Martin would say. Didn’t mean to be a killjoy by focusing on the phoniness of the Pilgrim Thanksgiving. That won’t keep us from getting together with our kids and their spouses and eating too much and watching Arkansas get their butts kicked by LSU. How about Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer? Or how about about Cheech and Chong’s hilarious take on Christmas? Enjoy your holiday! Ron

  10. The Hook says:

    Awesome post, Rich! You never fail to come through…

  11. I think I may steal your idea and do a British version if you don’t mind :D I was talking to a friend of mine from America about my favourite Christmas songs and he had no idea what I was on about!

  12. I had never heard “Christmas Cannon”, very pretty. Something new to add. The little girl at the end of Mellencamp’s version of Kissing Santa Clause is precious and I think you are dead on in your write up on this one.

    The rest, I have seen and enjoyed before. Alice’s Restaurant, I played this one to death in my war protesting, chain me to a fence days. But one more time is just as good as the last.

    Thanks for the memories and a great kick-off to the season.

  13. Michael Fishman says:

    I can forgive the inclusion of Mellencamp because you listed Bruce first! :) It’s a good list of songs, some, like the Mellencamp and Dominick the Donkey, I’d never heard before. I’d probably swap out the Mellencamp for Elvis’ “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and Dominick for Mel Torme and “The Christmas Song”. I don’t celebrate Christmas but I love the spirit of the holiday and it bugs the crap out of me whenever people start arguing to remove Christmas displays from wherever they might be. Anyone who gets upset because there’s maybe a Christmas tree or a crèche outside of a government building for a couple of weeks a year needs to, in my opinion, examine their priorities in life.

    • rich says:

      The problem is that some people think that when you celebrate and recognize one holiday you are dismissing others. That’s just not the case. When I put up a Christmas tree, I am celebrating Christmas, but I am not simultaneously giving a thumbs down to Buddhism or Hinduism.

      • Michael Fishman says:

        Exactly! Just because I don’t celebrate a particular holiday doesn’t mean I can’t share in the joy and spirit of the holiday. It’s possible that if we all shared in all of our holidays we might find more similarities and reasons to respect each other rather than giving importance to, and taking joy in, our differences.

      • rich says:

        Conversely, as obama attempts to enforce the constitution and show no favoritism to any one religion, he gets accused of waging a war on Christmas. For him it is a no win situation. What I am not sure about is if this was something he decided to do on his own or if certain religious group complained about a disparity in holiday displays on government property and buildings.

  14. [...] Just recycling a wonderful idea by Rich [...]

  15. aFrankAngle says:

    TSO’c Christmas Canon is swesome!

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