(Pictured: the family gathers around the piano to hear Mom bang out a few holiday tunes, rather like what we’re doing here.)
Once again I’ve put the laptop Christmas stash on shuffle to see what comes out. The wonder is that the first 10 that popped up are not especially schizophrenic. Certainly not as much as they could be.
“Jingle Bell Rock”/Bobby Rydell & Chubby Checker. A couple of Cameo-Parkway’s biggest stars get together for a not-bad version of the Bobby Helms tune. It charted on the Hot 100 in both 1961 (#21) and 1962 (#92).
“Jingo Jango”/Bert Kaempfert. One of those holiday instrumentals you know, even if you don’t recognize the title. It made Billboard‘s Christmas chart in both 1963 and 1965.
“A Winter Snowscape”/Jethro Tull. The Jethro Tull Christmas Album (which you can hear here) is the last record Ian Anderson made under the Tull name, in 2003. It contains new recordings of “A Christmas Song,” “Bouree,” and “Ring Out Solstice Bells,” all of which were first released in Tull’s heyday. Of all the established rockers to make latter-day Christmas records, Jethro Tull is one of the best suited to it. So much of the season’s music comes from England and English traditional forms; Tull worked that same side of the street for 35 years.
“Driving Home for Christmas”/Chris Rea. Recorded in 1986 but written years before, “Driving Home for Christmas” was more popular in Europe than in the United States; it’s been used in commercials over there and was revived for a charity single a few years ago. It’s got an easy pop feel, but if it had been recorded in the States, it would have been slathered in sleigh bells. Which frankly it could use.
“Christmas Time Again”/Extreme. Few bands are so quintessentially 90s as Extreme, from their once-trendy name to their generic brand of pop-rock, which got them two Top-10 singles and two Top-10 albums in 1991 and 1992. Against all odds, “Christmas Time Again,” which appeared on the 1992 compilation A Very Special Christmas 2, is crazy good. The lyrics are awkward and the production is overdone but damn, the whole mess just works.
“Every Day Will Be Like a Holiday”/William Bell. The original version of a song we dig a lot around here, first heard at Christmas 1967. The version we dig the most, of course, is by the late, lamented Chicago jump-blues band the Mighty Blue Kings. Play it loud.
“Silent Night”/Charlie Musselwhite. If the famously snowbound Austrian church that gave birth to “Silent Night” in 1818 had been on the Delta, the original version of the famous carol might have sounded like this.
“The Christmas Song”/John Edwards. A David Porter production from a compilation titled Funky Christmas, released in 1976 by Atlantic with the dual purpose of selling records at Christmas and pushing artists who were new to the Atlantic stable. Appearing along with Edwards (who would eventually join the Spinners) is a group called Luther, led by Luther Vandross, plus soul singer Margie Joseph, the Impressions, and jazz players Willis Jackson and Lou Donaldson. The album got a CD reissue last year, and I gotta go find it.
“Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town” (Asbury Park 2000)/Bruce Springsteen. A few years back, the bootleg site ROIO put up a collection called Santa Boss Is Coming To Town, which collects a bunch of live performances, holiday and otherwise, recorded around Christmastime mostly between 1996 and 2001, although one version of this song goes back to Winterland in 1978. If you’re sick of the original 1975 recording of this, some of the live ones are better.
“O Come All Ye Faithful”/Cochise. This is a band I’ve written about before—their 1971 single “Love’s Made a Fool Of You” barely scraped into the Hot 100 but was a Top-10 single on WLS. Their lead singer had been in Bluesology with Elton John, one member would later join Procol Harum and another would be in Foreigner, and the other guys became prominent session players. And for some reason, their album Swallow Tales (which includes “Love’s Made a Fool of You”) includes a barely recognizable version of “O Come All Ye Faithful” that runs 1:15.
We may do this again before Christmas. Or we may not. Life’s a gamble.