By Jesse Roth
Every holiday season, the media never fails to deliver its audience the unwelcome gift of what I’d like to call the “and your point is?” story. From what I can tell, the big story this time around reflects on this new phenomenon known as “people other than Bing Crosby recording Christmas music.” Thus far, most of the stories have gone along the lines of “Oh. My. God. You mean Bob Dylan released a Christmas album?! And Mariah Carey released one in 1994?! And wait? What’s this? Andrea Bocelli has one too, and he’s singing with MUPPETS?!? What a craaaazy decade we’re suffering through!”
At this point, I shut off my TV and wonder why the hell I bothered to actually sit through that story. (Twice. On different networks.) I then remind myself that this holiday season represents yet another missed opportunity to compile my “ultimate” Holiday mixtape, a plan I’ve been hatching (and failing to act on) for at least four or five years now. So in order to celebrate the spirit of music that does not fit the media’s definition of a holiday classic, and allowing myself to feel like this trivial goal of mine is halfway accomplished, I will now present to you a list of some of my favorite Holiday tunes (with bonus associated random seasonal memories!).
1. “Fairytale of New York,” The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl
A dark yet hilarious ode to a doomed relationship played out in the city where many a-romantic notion of Christmas (and everything else) were born. The banter between singers Shane MacGowan and Kirsty MacColl flows beautifully over a classic Pogues melody. Sadly, it seems as if “Fairytale” is somewhat forgotten when it comes to compiling the classic/contemporary mix of Christmas music forced upon the masses each year. Hopefully someone thinks to add it to his or her rotation this time around.
2. “Christmas Time is Here,” Vince Guaraldi from A Charlie Brown Christmas
Composed by the Vince Guaraldi Trio and sung by the Peanuts gang, this striking piece sucks me into A Charlie Brown Christmas each and every time I view it. The song conjures up the memory of solitary yet spirited winter days spent taking in the holiday season, good and bad. Though my love of Christmas strays far from the meaning Linus asks us to remember in the special, this song will always get to me and remind me of the more beautiful aspects of this time of year.
3. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” Various Artists
I suppose I have a thing for haunting Christmas tales. Premiering in the film Meet Me In St. Louis in 1944 (which, sigh, I still have not seen), it has gone on to depress and captivate millions over the years. I’d be hard-pressed to pick a favorite rendition of this song, but I’m pretty sure my heart melted when I heard Robin (Kermit the Frog’s red-hooded nephew) briefly serenade the rest of the Muppets with it in A Muppet Family Christmas. Seriously, what is more heart-breaking (and strange) than a quietly singing tiny frog? OK maybe I’m the only taker on that question…
4. “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” Mariah Carey
Cnfession time. I like Mariah Carey. You will find her in my iPod mix among such luminaries as The Smiths, The Beatles,and Black Flag and that is where she shall stay so long as that device’s battery holds out. Since about age six or seven, I have consistently found myself belting out at least one of her songs while driving, cleaning my apartment, or just being in the proximity of a radio playing one of her songs. Her holiday offering is no exception. It’s a predictable, perfectly poppy MC song, yes, but it also has fantastically cheery lyrics and seemingly fits next to all those old, stodgy classics on the Christmastime radio. I look forward to hearing it each season and thanks to its appearance in the movie Love Actually, I now visualize half of Britain’s contemporary actors when I hear it.
5. and 6. Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime” and “Christmas Wrapping” by The Waitresses
Why are these totally different songs lumped together? Because when I hear one, I automatically think of the other. Maybe it’s because I spent one or two Christmas seasons wrapping gifts (for charity—er, high school literary magazine fundraising) at a Barnes and Noble that lumped them together on their Holiday music loop. Both are rather funky and somewhat dated-sounding, but I always smile when they come on. The wonderfully cynical but redeeming story in “Wrapping” (with the Patty Donahue vocals I fell in love with when I first heard “I Know What Boys Like”) contradicts the dopey but sweet McCartney tune, yet hearing them together each year always seems appropriate. An added bonus is the video for “Christmastime”, which always makes me feel like I’m watching the McCartneys’ home movies, or at least a smorgasbord of terrible late 1970s computer graphics layered on such footage.
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