Sunday, December 20, 2009

Christmas Mix 2009

For those of you on the mix cd mailing list, this was marked as "Xmas 2009." I tried to be somewhat thematic in my organization, beginning with spoken word, then going into song's about Santa, songs about reindeer and other assorted Christmas animals, then a blending of Christmas songs, and then Christmas songs with a darker edge to them, before wiping all of that clean with the sheer joy of Mabel Mafuya. Here is a track by track break down. For the rest of you out there, some of the tracks came from Bob Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour Christmas Episode, while the rest came from my personal collection of Christmas records. Most of them you can find on iTunes or other services to make your own copy.

1. Justin Wilson – Cajun Night Before Christmas

Justin Wilson was an icon of Cajun living during the 1970s. During that time he tried his hand at just about everything, penning cookbooks and recording comedy albums. He also recorded this, his cajunified version of the Night Before Christmas.

2. Bob Seger & the Last Heard – Sock It To Me Santa

This comes from early in Seger’s career, long before the Silver Bullet Band. When Seger started, he was on the Cameo-Parkway label alongside the likes of ? and the Mysterians. The label pushed its artists to make Christmas singles and Seger recorded this and “Little Drummer Boy.” “Sock It To Me Santa” with its rollicking beat and lyrics fit for a James Brown song are a fine embodiment of Seger’s Detroit sound.

3. Bob Rivers – I Am Santa Claus

Bob Rivers is a radio dj out of Seattle who is known for his love of Christmas. He has put out several Christmas albums that rewrite the history of rock into Christmas songs or take traditional Christmas songs and spin them on their head. This song may be his best. According to Rivers, its not milk Santa wants but beer.

4. Sufjan Stevens – Get Behind Me, Santa!

Between 2001 and 2005, Sufjan Stevens recorded annual Christmas EPs for close friends and his biggest fans. In 2006 these, along with a new EP for 2006, were collected into a deluxe box set. Each EP contains a few traditional songs, often sacred carols, and then a couple new Stevens compositions to round things out. Stevens was certainly thinking of putting a copy of this in Jack White’s stocking when he recorded it in 2006.

5. The Enchanters – Mambo Santa Mambo

The 1950s R&B outfit the Enchanters are singing about Santa doing the mambo here. The fifties stereotype that pop music is for the uneducated is supported here as the Enchanters imply that the mambo is from Mexico, when it is really Cuban. They can’t use the excuse that they were trying to avoid a hearing before HUAC since this was recorded before Castro came to power.

6. Bob Dylan – Must Be Santa

Bob Dylan stole this madcap polka arrangement from Brave Combo, whose version he played on his radio show. The only real difference between the versions occurs when Dylan calls out the names of the reindeer and throws in the names of some presidents. I guess he just couldn’t resist when he realized how well Vixen rhymes with Nixon. David Hidalgo of Los Lobos guests on speed accordion. If you were going to buy one Christmas album this year, I would suggest Dylan’s Christmas In the Heart, but only because Dylan is donating his royalties to Feeding America, Crisis UK or the World Food Programme, depending on which territory you buy the album from. Aso, check out the quite strange video on YouTube. In it, Dylan is throwing a rent party, stumbling around in a long blonde wig, and making inane hand motions. Eventually, a fight breaks out and director Nash Edgerton gets thrown out of a window to Bob and Santa’s head-shaking disapproval.

7. Chuck Berry – Run Rudolph Run

With lines like “Rudolph, you know you’re the mastermind,” Berry took the teen poetry he’d created in songs like “School Days” and applied it to Christmas with a surprisingly high degree of success.

8. Lou Monty – Dominic, the Italian Christmas Donkey

The neighing on this song seems like some sort of ethnic stereotype that should make me feel horribly ashamed for listening to it, but there is something strangely intriguing about it at the same time. When I hear this, I imagine the wedding dance in the Godfather, if it had happened on Christmas.

9. Alton Ellis & the Lipsticks – Merry Merry Christmas

Rockin’ steady from Jamaica.

10. Leadbelly – Christmas Is A-Comin’

From the murderer’s best-selling album, Leadbelly Sings For Children!

11. James Brown – Soulful Christmas

James Brown has recorded dozens of Christmas songs, both as part of holiday album and as non-album holiday singles. This jam is one of my favorites, and I think that is at least partially due to it being a shameless advertisement for Brown himself. Near the end of the song, Brown tells the listener because they buy his records and see his shows, and that he’ll tell you Merry Christmas when you come to see his show. He panders his product like none other. There’s also Brown’s inane pronunciation, which makes it sound as though he sings “Merry Christmas! Have a new year. I love you! Have good chair!”

12. The Beatles – Christmas Time Is Hear Again

Each year, the Beatles would record a holiday record that would be sent out on 45 to members of their fan club. By all accounts, this is the best of the Beatles’ holiday records. It is cut from the same cloth as “Hello Goodbye.”

13. Run DMC – Christmas in Hollis

This cut from rap’s golden age always inspires wonderment at just what makes collard greens so delicious.

14. Bobby “Boris” Pickett – Monster’s Holiday

Apparently Bobby Pickett’s record company decided to cash in as much as possible on the success of “Monster Mash,” prompting them to release this sequel just two months later.

15. Patsy Raye – Beatnik’s Wish

Patsy Raye sounds like one way-out happening chick on this doozy of a tune. The drumming is radical, mirroring Raye’s pulse as she is “wiggin’” for a man. The one thing that makes me question this song’s beatnik authenticity….. since when do the Freshman Four swing?

16. Kay Martin & Her Bodyguards – I Want A Casting Couch For Christmas

This is the Christmas theme for pin-up models everywhere. It is a lot of kitschy fun, but it is also a bit problematic. This song appears to assert women’s sexual agency, and their ability to use that sexuality as a means to achieve economic agency. The problem with this approach is that in the porn industry the means of production are owned by males, as the song playfully illustrates. All of the managers and agents are men. There are also two troubling verses. The first is the one about the manager who believes women should “be obscene and not heard.” At first glance, this disrupts the traditional misogyny inherent in the phrase “women should be seen and not heard,” but women are still “not heard” in this song, and by being obscene, though they may be censored, the desire for them to “be seen” will increase, so rather than disrupting the misogyny this phrase enhances it by further objectifying women. The other troubling verse is about the agent whose office “even ha[s] a movie script projected on the ceiling.” The problem here is that, in order for the speaker to know this, she would have had to have been on the bottom, which is where women are really kept by this kind of song. The numerous double-entendres are certainly fun, but in many ways this song has been dated by its sexist views of women. This song is merely product, and product created for men at the time. Though it appears on the surface that it could be reclaimed, efforts to do so fall short. Also, what’s going on at the end of the song, when she offers to “show a Jew some jitsu?” Rather than coming across as a Kill Bill move, it just serves to stereotype Jews as wealthy misers.

17. Gayla Peevy – I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas

I’m with ya, Gayla. I wouldn’t mind a chimpanzee either, come to think of it, though the SPCA may have other ideas.

18. Ray Stevens – Santa Claus Is Watching You

Nothing is wilder than hearing about Clyde the camel and Rudolph breaking his hip in a twist-contest. This song perfectly embodies the American Graffiti ethic, with Ray Stevens sounding more like Wolfman Jack than the Wolfman himself.

19. Willie Nelson – Little Dealer Boy

Willie Nelson recorded this for Stephen Colbert’s Christmas special, which also featured the likes of Elvis Costello and Toby Keith. It is a great song, especially the slant rhyme of “herb” and “myrrh,” but would have been even better without Colbert’s annoying attempt at providing background vocals. A music video can be seen on YouTube featuring Willie Nelson dressed up as a wise man from the east.

20. Ry Cooder – Christmas In Southgate

This sounds like a scene straight out of Woody Guthrie’s Bound For Glory, but instead it came from My Name Is Buddy, Ry Cooder’s conflation of “Wind In the Willows” and Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath set during the second Bush administration. What it does recall is Guthrie’s vision of Christ as a socialist, outlaw martyr in “Jesus Christ.”

21. Prince – Another Lonely Christmas

Since Prince couldn’t do any wrong in 1984, he decided to release this as a b-side to one of the singles from Purple Rain. The song painfully recalls the death of a dear lover. “I drink banana daquiris ‘til I’m blind” is Prince’s equivalent of Ezra Pound’s “the monkeys make sorrowful noise overhead” – a perfect image of infinite sadness, and a line too silly to carry any pathos if it were sung by anyone else.

22. Stevie Wonder – Someday at Christmas

This has the feel of Stevie Wonder’s earlier music, before he discovered funk and fused it with his soul sound. The lyrics, however, are all peak period Wonder and wouldn’t have been out of place on Songs in the Key of Life, perhaps released as a double-A-sided single with “Pastime Paradise.”

23. The Staples Singers – Who Took the Merry Out of Christmas?

The merry/Mary pun is obvious, but it is still more fun, or at least less cring-inducing, than “put the Christ back in Christmas.” This was recorded during the peak of the Staple Singers’ mainstream popularity in the early 1970s, and Mavis is dominating this classic cut while Pops is throwing in some jammin’ lines too.

24. Bob Dorough & Miles Davis – Blue Xmas

Bob Dorough would later become famous for penning songs like “Conjunction Junction” and “3 is the Magic Number,” but while waiting for Schoolhouse Rock to become a hit he recorded this song with Miles Davis. It followed right on the heels of DavisKind of Blue and the horn lick bears a definite resemblance to “So What.” This is perhaps the best of the anti-consumerist Christmas songs.

25. Thurl Ravenscroft – You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch

From the soundtrack to the 1966 animated favorite.

26. The Sonics – Don’t Believe In Christmas

Rather than cover “Run Rudolph Run,” the Sonics decided to rip off another Chuck Berry song – “Too Much Monkey Business” – and supply it with a new set of lyrics. Theirs is one of the finest legacies in garage rock with great songs like “Psycho” and “Strychnine.”

27. Simon & Garfunel – Silent Night

This song closed out Simon & Garfunkel’s seminal lp, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme. I know I’m in the minority, but I feel it is their strongest album. It is certainly their most diverse, and “Silent Night” is one of the highlights due to the way the song counterpoints the traditional carol with contemporary news reports of the National Guard marching on Dr. King and the growing military presence in Vietnam.

28. Mabel Mafuya – Happy Christmas, Happy New Year

After the seriousness of “Silent Night,” I thought it would be good to end the album on a happy note, and I couldn’t think of any better way to do that than with the earnest joy of South African singer Mabel Mafuya.