By Glen Creason, History & Genealogy Department with Marc Horton, Wilmington Branch
The yuletide is the time for much merriment including rich food, spending money you don't have , seeing family and making mix tapes/CDs of obscure tunes dug from the bins. While, there are haters out there who recoil from Christmas music (and puppies and kittens I would suppose) I view each holiday season as a challenge to replace those old chestnuts you just can't stand to hear again with new songs that will make any mix sparkle. In the 1960s I went where most Americans found Christmas mix LPs, to the tire stores and then found them a decade or two later in the thrift bins. Still, I had to pay a buck a piece for these finds. As a Christmas present to our patrons, LAPL and Freegal offer an easy and inexpensive way to expand the collection without causing a single charge on your Amazon account. Once again, I am joined by young maestro Marc Horton who represents those X-gen folk who don't remember seeing Burl Ives speak-singing "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" on the Ed Sullivan show or shuddering through that Judy Garland Christmas special.
Maestro Horton has been more particular and includes only cuts he really, really wants to hear repeatedly. His words:
STOP THE PRESSES! Freegal has a 2-disc best of by Paul Kelly, who I can only describe as the Australian Springsteen and Dylan rolled up in one, and whom you NEED TO CHECK OUT FORTHWITH!!!
How to Make Gravy - Paul Kelly
The Australian Springsteen and Dylan rolled up in one. Warning: this story-song is not one that'll make the family gather 'round the fire and carole, but rather, will make you curl up and weep alone under the coffee table.
Lo How a Rose E'er Blooming - John Fahey
The enigmatic folkie iconoclast recorded a minimalist Christmas record that is fairly respectful of the original melodies and still sounds nice over the sound of the crackling of the fire and the snow settling on the window pane.
Christmas is Coming Soon - Blitzen Trapper
This wistful modern small-town fable from these Portland experimental folkies imagines the real Santa living in a double-wide, drinking schnapps, which is not terribly difficult to imagine to be true.
Christmas Without The Creole - Irma Thomas
"is just another winter day," sings the N'Awlins soul legend; this track is pretty convincing.
I being older and more full of vintage hot air have more. Here are my twelve days of gems sparkling on the mix-tape tree:
- "Christmas Aint Like Christmas Anymore"- Kitty Wells on "Kitty's Christmas" Appropriate to the Country and Western genre "the Queen of Country Music" wallows in waves of pedal steel and somber bass while lamenting spending the holidays without the one she loves...wishing her listeners a not-that-merry, actually kind of miserable Christmas.
- J.S. Bach Christmas Oratorio (Finale) - Pittsburgh Symphony Brass on "the Spirit of Christmas. This is a wake the hell up and sit up straight blast of brass and thundering organ that will brighten any Yule disc sliding down a dull chimney toward mellowness. Nice clean recording of a powerhouse classic.
- "Be-Bop Santa" by Babs Gonzalez on "A Soulful Christmas" If you have never heard Mister Gonzalez then this is a nice starter where the be-bop/story teller translates a classic Xmas tale into jive around 1954, wherein Santa Claus puffs king size cigs, drives a red Cadillac and listens to Dizzy Gillespie while making his rounds.
- "We Three Kings" by Brave Combo on "A Brave Combo Christmas Present" A true bacchanal for the ears in the yuletide spirit translated into polka-meringue-salsa-klezmer-zydeco-blues-cha-cha-cha romps, sometimes all on the same cut. This Texas band brightens any "turntable" and I can be fairly certain plays the best damn "Oy Chanukah" ever recorded.
- "Christmas Present Blues" by Jimmy Reed on "Christmas Present" Tied for the most danceable tune on the list, Jimmy Reed puts his half the time understandable lyrics atop a percolating funk that makes you want to shake off the egg nog and get on your feet and bite that lower lip while doing the funky Christmas chicken.
- "Merry Christmas Baby (I Don't Want to Fight Tonight) by the Ramones on "Twas the Night Before Chanukah" While I am not a punk aficionado I can appreciate a great rock and roll Xmas tune and this is one that makes me want to go get a holiday themed tattoo and Mohawk. Also, what can you say about a compilation that offers Lou Reed greetings, Woody Guthrie singing a Chanukah song, "Mo Oz Tsur" by Sol Zim, Bob Dylan singing "Little Drummer Boy" and "Jingle Bells" by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass.
- "I Remember Sky" by Barbra Streisand on "Christmas Memories" Charging 180 degrees away from the Ramones is this ethereal and exquisite reading of a lesser known song from the treasure chest of Stephen Sondheim. Written for a little TV show in the 1960's the song puts a beautifully bittersweet longing into the memories of seasons past. A classic done exactly right.
- "Papa St. Nick" by Beausoleil on "Christmas Gumbo Tied with Jimmy Reed for most danceable Xmas tune is this rip-snorting Cajun carol where Santa Claus seems to hail from Louisiana and probably makes a helluva gumbo.
- "O Come All Ye Faithful" - Billy Eckstine on "The Boys Sing You a Merry Christmas" The elastic and sensationally sonorous voice of Billy Eckstine can make almost any song remarkable but this is a version of the sanctified Christmas carol that makes you feel like you are in a night club celebrating "midnight mass" with some juice and gin.
- "White Christmas" by Junior Mance on "A Chiaroscuro Christmas" While Bing Crosby's version is most certainly on the Jukebox in Xmas Hell as it is played ten times a day in every mall in America this ultra-cool jazz reading makes you forget that surfeit and just groove on the notes that flow from Mister Mance's 88's as plentiful and delicious as the calories consumed in the holiday season.
- "Blue Christmas" -Ernest Tubb on "the Best Christmas Album" While many might believe there is but one version of "Blue Christmas" soaked in azure tears by Elvis Presley I present the original 1948 hit that drove many to take to the Christmas spirits poured over ice.
- "Swing Into Christmas" by Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grapelli It doesn't take much of a composition to sound good with two of the greatest musicians who ever lived creating magic at every turn. While "Swing Into Christmas" may not be covered by any other bands it sounds awesome played by these two.