Since it’s the first of December, let’s bring in the month with our first Christmas shuffle of 2010. I’ve got 675 Christmas songs in the laptop music stash this year, and here’s a random selection.
“Silent Night”/REO Speedwagon. I was prepared to hate REO’s Not So Silent Night when it came out last year, and lots of other writers felt the same way. But when tracks from the album pop up at random during my day, I don’t hate them at all. Kevin Cronin’s ad-libbing over the long last minute of this gets a bit lame (“Christ the Savior is born, oh yes he is”), but up to that point, the song is OK.
“Sleigh Ride”/Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops. The second-most famous recording of this holiday song, which celebrates its 60th anniversary this year. It was written and originally recorded by bandleader Leroy Anderson in 1950, although when you hear Anderson’s orchestra play it it in stereo, you’re probably hearing a 1959 re-recording. Anderson’s biographer maintains that “Sleigh Ride” has been recorded by a wider array of artists than any other piece in the history of Western music. Could be.
“Blue Christmas”/Elvis Presley. Another Christmas essential I like hearing every year, although the first time I heard it this year was in the form of a manufactured duet with Martina McBride, which was released a couple of years ago and is not good.
“Santa Claus”/Little Charlie and the Nightcats. This band’s history dates back to 1976 when harp players Little Charlie Baty and Rick Estrin formed a band at the University of California. Baty has since left the band and it’s now called Rick Estrin and the Nightcats. This tune comes from the thoroughly ass-kickin’ Alligator Records Christmas Collection, released in 1992.
“When a Child Is Born”/Moody Blues. From the album December, which commenced to blow my mind a couple of Christmases ago, and still does. The Moodys’ approach on this album turns even the sappiest sentimental song into something lovely.
“The Sound of Christmas”/Ramsey Lewis Trio. The hi-fi boom of 50 years ago led to a lot of great holiday music, as owners sought out seasonally appropriate sounds that would show off their setups in spectacular fashion. It’s easy to imagine a hipster of 1961 inviting a girl up to his apartment on some December night to look at his etchings, and putting this album on to enhance the mood.
“Christmas Time Is Here Again”/Beatles. A single edited down from the band’s 1967 fan club recording and officially released in 1995 as the B-side of “Free as a Bird.” It could stand a little more editing, unless you’re a fan of John Lennon’s nonsensical poetry.
“It Doesn’t Have to Be That Way”/Jim Croce. From the album Life and Times, which was released early in 1973. I suppose “It Doesn’t Have to Be That Way” could have been out for Christmas of 1972, although I don’t remember.
“The Night Before Christmas”/Harry E. Humphrey. Not a singer, but an orator, Humphrey released spoken-word cylinder recordings of the Gettysburg Address, the Declaration of Independence, the 23rd Psalm, and famous poems including Whitman’s “O Captain! My Captain!” and Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” between 1913 and 1917. Humphrey’s version of Clement Moore’s famous story was released on Victor in 1913 and on Edison in 1915.
“The Christmas Song”/Bob Dylan. If you’ve ever heard Bob Dylan’s Theme Time Radio Hour on Sirius/XM, you might share with me a fondness for the sound of Dylan just speaking, no matter what he’s talking about—it has a mesmerizing appeal. It strikes me that Dylan’s Christmas in the Heart album can be enjoyed the same way. Yeah, he croaks his way through most of the songs, but it’s Bob Dylan, fer chrissakes. Just listen to him.
We’ll probably shuffle up some more holiday songs before the season passes us by, because we like holiday music around here, and because sometimes, inspiration is hard to come by.