Christmas was a wonderful time when I was little: waiting for Santa Claus, helping Dad string up lights, the dog chasing the cat up the Christmas tree, traveling to see kin folks, and of course, getting presents. I have a little image from some long ago Christmas Eve, the living room lit up with different colors, music on the stereo, everyone in the family just enjoying one another’s company. The night just radiated happiness. I can recall plenty of other images like that if I try.
Over the years, the holiday has become less joyful. Getting older and having to worry about things like earning a living, persevering through a few painful Christmases where people were ill, watching the holiday become more and more commercialized, and probably worst of all: Christmas music. Countless renditions of the same old carols, year after year after year, generic-sounding Muzak versions, out-of-tune church choir versions, piecemeal bits in TV commercials. Try as you might, you can’t avoid it. You have to go to the grocery store, stop in a convenience store now and again.
Yet I do sometimes stumble on some Christmas-themed music I actually enjoy. Doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. I put together a little playlist of songs that I’ve been enjoying for the last several days. Some celebrate the holiday, some lampoon it, some just touch on it, all are great music. That’s a must for me.
Big Star – Jesus Christ — lovely song from a ’70s band that influenced a lot of people. You could take it as a pastiche or a straight up carol. Either way it’s really pretty.
Michael Doucet – Bonne Annee — actually a New Year’s song, taken from Alligator Stomp Vol. 4 – a Cajun Christmas.
Colin Meloy – Cherry Tree Carol — from the lead singer of the Decemberists, covering a song by Shirley Collins. It contains a lovely image of cherry trees bowing down to the virgin Mary.
Legendary Pink Dots – Rainbows Too? Really good Dots song from Plutonium Blonde. Contains the line, “It’s Christmas on the Moon.”
May Blitz – The 25th of December 1969 — a sort of jazzy number from one of those bands at the crossroads of hard rock, prog and metal.
Built to Spill – Linus and Lucy — live instrumental rock ‘n’ roll version of the song I associate with the Charlie Brown Christmas special.
Fountains of Wayne – I Want an Alien for Christmas — I Fight Dragons did an awesome cover of this. I love both versions just about equally.
Robyn Hitchcock – Winter Love
Jim White – Christmas Day — sad song about reuniting after a breakup.
We Were Pirates – Merry Christmas 3 — great breakup song.
Inspiral Carpets – Commercial Rain — a song about commercialism. Go figure.
Robert Earl Keene – Merry Christmas from the Family — really fun song about a white trash Christmas gathering.