Have Yourself a Strange Little Christmas
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?
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)
Low, "Little Drummer Boy"
Further evidence that Mormon is another word for drug-free stoner. (Scholtes)
The New Christy Minstrels,
"Tell It on the Mountain"
White gospel was never so giddy, so infectious, so white. (Scholtes)
The Pogues, "Fairytale of New York"
Not just Shane MacGowan's "Blue Christmas" but his It's a Wonderful Life, this sweeping ballad of dreams and co-dependency in Irish America is so graceful and disarming, it could make Maggie Thatcher choke up. Sung as a duet by the late Kirsty MacColl and the nearly late MacGowan (currently doing his best Bob Stinson impression), the song tells the classic story of drunk meets junkie, drunk loses junkie, drunk talks junkie into believing his bullshit again. Raise your glass to the strings, which MacGowan arranged. Here's to him seeing another Christmas. (Scholtes)
Run-D.M.C., "Christmas in Hollis"
It's a rapper's delight: Chicken and collard greens on the table, a Yule log in the fireplace, and a million dollars of stolen cash in Run's pocket. (If anyone asks where the money came from, tell 'em Santa put it there!) In this Christmas classic, which uses samples from "Jingle Bells" and the original "Back Door Santa," Run-D.M.C. describe Kris Kringle as a random Queens resident who's chillin' with his dog in the public park, lugging around a big bag. It's only a matter of time before the kids start asking, "Mommy, is Santa homeless?" (Maerz)
The Tryfles, "Gloria (In Excelsis Deo)"
In this stroke of high-concept genius, the now forgotten garage rockers somehow came up with the idea to meld two standards, the old Van Morrison war horse "Gloria" and the even older Mozart Christmas pageant classic "Gloria (In Excelsis Deo)." The effect is both funny and strangely uplifting: As the male vocalist shouts out the letters "G-L-O-R-I-A," the female singer overlays the heavenly refrain, "Glo-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-ri-a, in egg-shells-this-day-ay-ay-o." I discovered the song after an impulse purchase of A Midnight Christmas Mess, a 1984 anthology of novelty holiday songs put out by Midnight Records. There are other memorable numbers on the album (which skews heavily toward obscure East Coast garage rock). But none are so, um, glorious as the Tryfles' contribution. (Mike Mosedale)
The Vandals, "Oi to the World"
Just in time for Jesus' birthday, Dave Quackenbush asks the tough rhetorical questions: What if God gave a shout-out to both the Southeast Asian kids and the skinheads? Must we all kill one another with nunchakus and Indiana Jones swords? Why can't all multicultural punks just get along? Somewhere in a synagogue far away, God's answering, Oi vey. (Maerz)
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