Christmas Music for People Who Like Music
Four years ago, I was a cynic about Christmas music. It just seemed so full of shit. I was especially averse to the pop/rock stuff with the exception, of course, of Joan Jetts glam-rock Little Drummer Boy, which was clearly done for love, not money. It took living alone, romantic trauma, a dead dog, 9/11 and all that came after it for me to truly understand the absolute necessity dare I say the glory and righteousness of escapism through Christmas crap. That is, it took disillusionment of the most painful sort for me to finally respect the real power of illusion and to use my illusion, if you will. Thanks to oldies radio especially KOLA-99.9 FM (which has way better Christmas oldies than K-Earth) I came to know the naked, embarrassing, sentimental and mystical comfort to be enjoyed and cherished in holiday pop music. Tuning into my old 70s tube receiver over the past several years, I began to discover that the best Christmas pop of the 60s and 70s far from feeling crass or canned was some of the most genuinely inspired music of its time. Holiday music can ring so many bells at once: A song like the Peanuts Christmas Time Is Here, by Vince Guaraldi, is pretty and all, yet its so exquisitely melancholy, and beloved by so many millions of people, its become something much larger than itself. Sung by a group of children with a single piano beneath them, its a drowsy, jazzy ode to a dream about a dream that never comes true but also, magically, thankfully, never dies. Maybe its a dream of peace on earth. Peace and magic feelings and love. And comfort. Some sense of security. A longing for a security that doesnt exist. The alt-country heroes Marah open with a crackerjack version of it on their ace new record, A Christmas Kind of Town (Yep Roc). By the way, Ive sampled most of the new Christmas records out this season, and as a real record by a real band not just a compilation of hits Marahs is the best. Like all good Christmas records, its not just a Christmas record: Its a record. And its funny, engaging, familiar yet fresh even for a non-country fan. Getting back to the Peanuts: One of the other very best CDs of the season is the reissue of the original A Charlie Brown Christmas, by the Vince Guaraldi Trio, put out by Starbucks. Okay, its Starbucks, but what the fuck can I say? Its a perfect record. Perfect. Which is more than I can say for the misleadingly titled Forty Years: A Charlie Brown Christmas (Peak), a wholly unnecessary reworking of perfection by pianist David Benoit.While I was there Christmas shopping at ye olde crappy Starbucks, I also broke down and bought Elton Johns X-Mas mix, Elton Johns Christmas Party, and natch found it to be swell, and gay as hell. Why do women and gay men care about holidays so much more than most straight guys? (Rufus Wainwrights Spotlight on Christmas handpicked by Elton is one of his best songs, and the Pet Shop Boys It Doesnt Often Snow at Christmas is delicious.) Speaking of gay men: A John Waters Christmas (New Line), which came out last year, is okay but not as great as youd hope. (The best song by far is Santa Claus Is a Black Man by Akim & the Teddy Vann Production Company, some weird thing he got off eBay sung by a child a black-power take on I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus).I really wanted to enjoy Brian Wilsons What I Really Want for Christmas (Arista), a brand-new album of carols and redone hits (with various Wondermints, as usual, on vocal and other duties), but it feels sorta thrown together. The Man With All the Toys is yet another unnecessary cover of a classic, and yet its the liveliest cut on the album.But my favorite offering this year, reissued by Shout Factory after being out of print for a period of years if you can possibly even believe it is Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass Christmas Album. Just look at the cover, and you know what youre in for. A sound they just dont make anymore. No music sounds like this. How could music ever be so cheesy, and so cool, at the same time? Ah, the magic of X-mas.
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