Well, it’s Christmas time which means one thing; making lists! Whether you are a 7 year-old scrutinizing over which gift you want most from Santa, or you are a 21 year-old college student using calculus to figure out exactly how much alcohol you can purchase for $20, everyone is engaged in list making. So to kick off The Jagged Word’s weekly music review, let us begin with a list of best Christmas songs. So, compose a Big Lebowski special and get ready to scream at whatever device upon which you are reading.
5. Vince Guaraldi Trio -A Charlie Brown Christmas. Yes, the whole album. Already mad? No one disagrees that this belongs in anyone’s top 10 Christmas songs/albums. You could play this in prison and probably instantly reform a third. Christmas, plus real jazz, plus Charlie Brown. This is the Agent Orange of Christmas music. The light snare and twinkling piano literally causes snow to fall from the sky and revives warm memories of dreamy childhood moments. Guaraldi never really escaped this sound, but who cares. If there was no such thing as Christmas, he might as well have invented it.
4. These are a few of my favorite things – John Coltrane. I don’t know how Sound of Music became a Christmas time musical, but I do know it is the only musical I can handle. Hey, America gave the world jazz, so that must make up for the store bought apple pie we call “musicals”. Soon after Trane left Miles Davis, he formed his own quartet and allowed his newfound taste for eastern mysticism invade. It actually drones in the background realizing what jazz perhaps was meant to be; a musical stream of consciousness. Perhaps this drone is what brings to mind Christmas memories of driving home on a wintery night as the white falling flakes against the black horizon mesmerize the driver. Either way, this and most of Coltrane’s work are a few of my favorite things.
3. I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day. Whether it’s Johnny Cash or Frank Sinatra, it depends upon my mood. I assume Jeremiah sounded like Johnny Cash when he spoke, so let’s go with his version. He sings like an old red oak; true and straight. Yet the words to this song are the most surprising. Written by the decent American Poet, it took a little while for America to get good at art in general, the author deals with the irony of merry christmases while life ain’t so merry. It’s no surprise he wrote this during the American Civll War in which his own son was severely injured. Perhaps the best and most honest line of any Christmas song,
“And in despair I bowed my head. There is no peace on earth, I said. For hate is strong and mocks the song; of peace on earth, good will to men.”
Of course, the song reassures us that it will be ok because God is not asleep. Meanwhile the constant ringing of the bells go from being a cliche to a constant drum beat of God’s rescue of sinners in Christ! Come, Lord Jesus.
2. Father Christmas by the Kinks. The Kinks are severely underrated next to their equally productive counterparts, “The Rolling Stones.” And this Christmas song was sadly lost on the late 70’s, even though punk rock was already in full bloom. Not only does the song have a classic unique and catchy Kinks melody, the words are vicious. Before Bad Santa, the Kinks write about the other side of Santa Claus and real people. It’s a story about a bunch of punks mugging Santa. “Father Christmas give us some money, we got no time for your presents and toys…. Give all the toys to the little rich boys.” That should sell it to you!
1. Fairytale of New York by the Pogues. Sure, I am already a huge fan so maybe I am being biased. Oh yeah, I am being biased. Write your own list. Shane MacGowan will go down as one of the greatest lyricists of the 20th century, especially if someone could transliterate his nearly incoherent drunken mumblings. My family sings this one regularly, Christmas or summer. It contains all the earthy realities of drunken love and hope. Kirsty MacColl, R.I.P., offers a beautiful and frank vocal to Shane’s drunken plea from prison. The song is especially enjoyable since it has fallen victim to the herrenvolk political correctness police due to some language. MacGowan defends it perfectly by claiming the words were spoken by an authentic character. Anything less would have been false. Judge for yourself.
Merry Christmas my ass and thank God it’s our last.