Sunday, November 30, 2008

A Month Of Christmas

Louis Armstrong (with Velma Middleton)--"Baby, It's Cold Outside" (mp3)

For the next 25 days, imagine that we have given you one of those wooden box Advent calendards with all of the little doors with the days of the month on them, except that each day when you open one, it will be a Christmas song. Oh, we'll be doing our regular posting each week, but expect a little aural gift from us each day as well.

Come Thanksgiving, it's hard to get anything but Christmas music on a public cd player in my household. We're often slow to decorate, but we get the music going pretty darn early. There's a pecking order, too.

1. A Charlie Brown Christmas--Vince Guaraldi. I do claim with some pride that long before this became ubiquitous holiday listening, this was a favorite. We even own this baby on vinyl. The beauty of it is that you can listen to it a billion times and it never gets old, so you never care that you hear it in the grocery store.

2. The Bells of Dublin--The Chieftans. John introduced us to this one, and it has been a key to the playlist ever since. Brilliant guest contributions from Jackson Browne, Burgess Meredith, Nancy Griffith, Rickie Lee Jones and others. All of the songs run together and create an old world Christmas vibe that feels timeless. In my humble opinion, it is the best Christmas cd to play at night in front of a fire, though it is also the soundtrack to any present-opening festivities.

Beyond that, it's pretty hard to break through. Shawn Colvin has had some success, as has a compilation called Have Yourself A Jazzy Little Christmas. Also, a cd of a full choir doing traditional classics like "In The Deep Mid-Winter."

A guy who made big inroads into the playlist last year is Sufjan Stevens. His "homemade" cds, Songs For Christmas, that he made his family over the course of several years are guaranteed to become family favorites for us, too. As you would expect from Stevens, he not only touches on or reinterprets some classics, but he also writes several soon-to-be classics of his own.

And that's the point, isn't it? I don't think the world needs a new version of "Blue Christmas" at this point. Try if you must, but Elvis pretty much owns that one. Same with many of the other classics. So the challenge becomes to offer either 1) a stunningly-different reinterpretation, 2) a traditional Christmas song that no one else has been recording, or 3) a new song. I'm partial to all three and find that the most successful Christmas cds contain at least two of the three types of songs. As group like Brooks and Dunn have proven, though, you can do all three on a cd and still put out pure crap.

Good Christmas music is tougher to create than you might think.

Based on the last week down here in Florida, there is a chestnut that has been roasting on the open fire for decades and is now ready to be shared once again. Everywhere we have gone, it seems we have heard someone's version of "Baby, It's Cold Outside." I can't believe how many times I've heard it in the last 5 days. Of course, Florida does have its share of senior citizens, so that may skew the TJMaxx playlist, who knows? But maybe that's a good place to start--with a light, sexy, funny, and fun holiday song to get everyone in the mood.

I promise you, though, from here it goes to the weird to the wonderful to the obscure to the slacker versions of that ultimate commercial endeavor--the Christmas song.


John said...

It's funny, but I find myself drawn even more to Advent music than the actual Christmas songs. "Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel" can nearly always bring me to tears (Hint, hint, Robert, that Suf Stevens rendition of it is blog worthy). Our tree just went in the house and though it's as bare as the original Charlie Brown sapling, the Chieftans and Vince are going to help us restore it to its potential glory this very evening.

Dan said...

I am a huge fan of holiday music and start listening before Thanksgiving. THE Christmas CD for in front of the fire is Bruce Cockburn's. Let me know if you've heard it.

Dan said...

Of course you keep hearing "Baby, It's Cold Outside" all over Florida. Old people are always cold.

Bob said...

I have not heard the Cockburn, but will be on the lookout. I like to add one quality cd to my Christmas collection each year. Thanks for the suggestion.

Dan said...

I think you'd love this. As a matter of fact, I'm sure you'd love this:

Bob said...

Awesome link, Dan. Thanks.