Have Yourself a Strange Little Christmas

Snow in Africa, thieving Santa, and porn under the tree

Some people actually get what they want for the holidays. On a memorable episode of Homicide, Andre Braugher's character, a detective, insists that he's tired of working on murder cases on Christmas--he needs those holiday staples that can't be delivered by spiked eggnog alone. "I want my Yule log," he demands. "I want my Nat King Cole."

We at City Pages understand what the man's saying: Who doesn't want his Yule log? But as for the music, we're a little less conventional in our tastes. Give us our Leni Riefenstahl musicals! Our rap remixes of "Jingle Bells"! Our songs where Jesus rises up from the manger to say "Oi!" And in return, we'll re-gift a list of our 12 favorite carols that you'll never hear on a TRL compilation--one for each day of Christmas. Who says we're not in the spirit of giving?

--Melissa Maerz

What happens when the elves stash Santa's brown acid in your candy cane: 'A Midnight Christmas Mess'
Midnight Int'l Records
What happens when the elves stash Santa's brown acid in your candy cane: 'A Midnight Christmas Mess'


Bon Jovi, "Back Door Santa"

The real secret behind St. Nick's rosy cheeks? He ain't using the missionary position. Or at least that's what Jon Bon Jovi (unintentionally?) hints when he turns this old Clarence Carter classic into "I Saw Daddy Kissing Santa Claus." Ally McBeal's former lover kicks off the holiday single with a pep-rally cheer, "Okay boys, let's do it!" While Richie Sambora wanks his guitar, Bon Jovi gives a little lesson in anatomy: He has to use the back door because Johnny "ain't [got] no chimney in the house." Hey, that's a good enough excuse for us, Santa. Hang that mistletoe above any body part you like. (Maerz)


Archers of Loaf, "Assassination
on X-Mas Eve"

Next time your parents try to guilt-trip you by claiming you're ruining Christmas for the family, play them this and tell them it could be a whole lot worse. Eric Bachmann's twangy croak and his and co-guitarist Eric Johnson's squalling guitars would undoubtedly scare the reindeer away by themselves. But this lurching farce about a different kind of Santa sleighing ("They capped the hero/Under mistletoe") would probably encourage Rudolph and Co. to keep their distance. Thing is, Bachmann's plaintive tone lends the song an unexpectedly tragic weight: "And a traffic cop let some strangers get away," he moans over and over in the refrain. Maybe they should call in the Salvation Army. (Michaelangelo Matos)


Band Aid, "Do They Know It's

They won't have snow in Africa this Christmas because it never snows in Ethiopia, stupid. But despite the lyrics, Midge Ure's melody safely placed this 1984 single in the canon even as Trevor Horn's "Frankie Say: Suck My Candy Cane" production preserved it in hair gel. The only thing spoiling contemporary trivia games about who sang what (does Sting or Paul Young overlap Simon LeBon and George Michael?) is the not-so-trivial fact that Ethiopia faces its worst famine in 18 years. At least I got an adopted Ethiopian sister out of the Totally Decade--a huge MTV fan who went on to study medicine and might just save the world in her own small way. (Peter S. Scholtes)


Tracy Chapman, "O Holy Night"

Just as it's more or less acceptable for rockers to have their way with Santa songs (and I do mean have their way), folkers from Pete Seeger to Joan Baez give themselves plenty of leeway when reinterpreting antique traditionals. Yet Tracy Chapman's version of this Adolphe Adam hymn is almost shockingly soulful, perhaps the best heart surgery on a standard since Otis Redding sweated through "White Christmas." She pulls it off with nary a talent-show flourish--just a few switched notes, some humming, and her absolute conviction in her own, plain vibrato. (Scholtes)


Five Chinese Brothers,
"Missing Miss December"

My older brother was permanently banned from the Brown Derby convenience store for stealing porno mags. Methodology was his problem: He would simply hang out by the magazine rack until the proprietor looked away, then stuff a magazine in his shirt and walk out. The Brown Derby was just down the road from our house and it caused a lot of familial strife when my brother inexplicably began refusing to run inside and grab a quart of milk. One upside to this tale is that my brother was surprisingly successful at boosting magazines before running afoul of the Brown Derby proprietor. And when he went off to college, I became the beneficiary of his curatorial efforts. "Missing Miss December" is a song about a young man whose college-bound brother was not so generous with his pornography collection. (Paul Demko)


Victor Herbert, "March of the Toys"

My first exposure to the Christmas musical Babes in Toyland came as the result of its 1934 screen adaptation, starring Laurel and Hardy. The film's most complex set piece is one in which a cruel toy maker brings his inventions to life. They march about in lockstep, and the scene is shot like some expressionist nightmare. I was young when I saw this, and the shock of seeing what looks like a version of Triumph of the Will starring goose-stepping baubles was compounded by the toys singing the ghastly "March of the Toys." What could be a rather melancholy song ("Forget life's cares...and be a child once more") is rendered menacing by its strange minor-key arrangement. What war are these painted soldiers marching off to--and what child would dare follow? (Max Sparber)

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