Sunday, December 9, 2012

Top Nine: Random Christmas Songs

Christmas is that glorious holiday that comes around once every year, starting in mid-April and ending in the last dew-glistened weeks of March, that has (in addition to presents, food, and decorative plants) the songs you can't wait to sing around the fireplace, or an oil-drum fire if you are a more "festive" type of hobo.

I mean, what could be better in these uncertain times than all those great classical holiday songs about love, togetherness, peace on earth, bdsm, non-consensual sex, and nuclear war?

Or the one written by the shampoo lobbyists.

So, keeping in the spirit of the season, this month's post cashes in on your childhood holiday memories by ruining your favorite carols and hymns in December's Top Nine: Random Christmas Songs.

Let's get to it before Santa crashes our party.


9. White Christmas - Bob Marley


Starting off this month's Top Nine is a great and raw cover of the Bing Crosby original, "White Christmas" by none other than the last guys on Earth you'd expect to be singing this song: Bob Marley and the Wailers.

Not much else to say about this one besides this.


8. Last Christmas - Q;indivi feat. Rin Oikawa


When I came across this heartfelt version of "Last Christmas", it made me so uncomfortable, I knew I had no choice but to include it.

This indescribably sappy holiday track was originally written by the tight-jeaned duo Wham! (better known as the George Michael twins) in 1984 and has been featured on countless Christmas albums ever since it seeped out of radios worldwide like some Yak! that got covered in glitter and candy canes.

But this cover, by the unpronounceable Japanese trio Q;indivi takes that sappy track and makes it so much...weirder, without even trying.

Special thanks go out to their uncomprehendably translated Wikipedia page, for giving me this tasty bit of insight:

"Now work is the concept of Christmas and winter, the famous Christmas song Winter Song and many Q; indivi it is a work that arranges seem. In addition, vocal Rin Oikawa has written the lyrics plus some."

But if this cover isn't really your cup of tea, maybe a picture of Wham! will surely suffice:

Nope, that didn't help.

7. Peace on Earth / Little Drummer Boy - John C. Reilly & Will Ferrell

David Bowie & Bing Crosby, in one of the most successful duets in Christmas music history, sang "Little Drummer Boy / Peace On Earth" together in September 1977 for the horribly named television special: Bing Crosby's Merrie Olde Christmas.

These fonts aren't helping.

I mean, seriously? "Merrie Olde" Christmas? Even in the 70's this shit must've sounded ridiculous, unless they were doing it in a tavern...in the middle ages...with David Bowie.

Okay, wait a minute, I was wrong. This sounds awesome.

Anyway, Bowie hated the idea of performing "The Little Drummer Boy" when he was asked, either in or out of a tavern, so the "Peace on Earth" segment of the tune was quickly written and added as a counter melody to placate him before he started to rage and unavoidably turn into his glam alter-ego Ziggy Stardust and probably wreck the studio with a smile.

Crosby died of heart failure on October 14 1977 (and, surprisingly no one has looked to the "Kids had killed the man" as suspects), only five weeks after performing with Bowie. But can you blame him for shutting it all down after he reached what is unarguably the zenith of his life and career? (I'm talking about being in the same room as Aladdin Sane)

But number 7 isn't about David Bowie or Bing Crosby or any combination thereof...this is the Christmas gold that I'm after:

Yeah, that was just as weird and uncomfortable as I thought it was going to be.

Well, you should probably watch the original as well, especially if you are a David Bowie fan:


6. Winter Wonderland - Cocteau Twins


The Christmas classic "Winter Wonderland" was originally written by tuberculosis-sufferer and bland-name-haver Dick Smith, of Everytown U.S.A. (pronounced: "Honesdale, Pennsylvania")but was formally recorded first by Richard Himber & His Orchestra in 1934.

The exquisite (and frequently not understandable) Cocteau Twins recorded their dreamy, relaxed and inexplicably understandable cover of the song to pair up with another holiday tune they had released, "Frosty The Snowman", packaging the two holiday tracks together on their 1993 EP "Snow".

While "Winter Wonderland" is commonly regarded as a Christmas song, the holiday itself is never mentioned in the lyrics specifically. This religious ambiguity is probably why it was chosen for the Cocteau Twins, because they would never want to offend somebody with their unintelligible lyrics.


5. Silent Night - Bela Fleck & The Flecktones


A decidedly different take on the Christmas standard "Silent Night", Bela Fleck puts his trademark banjo to good use a-pickin out this holiday tune from his rather unorthodox Christmas album with the orthodox name of "Jingle All The Way".

In addition to having no reference to Arnold Schwarzenegger whatsoever in the liner notes (believe me, I checked twice), the album is also unusual due to the inclusion of the Alash Ensemble, vocalists who specialize in Tuvan throat singing, which kind of sounds like Robert DeNiro if he wanted to break into the music business.


4. TIE: Carol Of The Bells - The Bird And The Bee / Muppets


The Bird and the Bee
The Muppets

Coming in at number four, we have a two-way tie between L.A. duo The Bird and the Bee, and some colored felt that encompasses the entirety of the good times I had in my childhood, covering what is possibly my favorite Christmas song, "Carol Of The Bells".

Originally an Ukrainian folk song called "Shchedryk" (meaning "bountiful") about the coming of spring, the song was redesigned to fit in with the holiday season, because someone on the planet was thinking: "Man, we could definitely use some more Christmas songs!"

While Inara George & co. do an respectable job putting their own spin on the track (similar to their marvelous reworking of Hall & Oates oeuvre), The Muppets version is particularly notable because Beaker is crushed by a huge bell.

So, yeah, this was a tough choice.


3. Little Drummer Boy / Silent Night / Auld Lang Syne - Jimi Hendrix


A surprising choice for one of the most acclaimed guitarists of all time, Andre 3000 impersonator Jimi Hendrix, lends this medley of seasonal songs (including the year-ending "Auld Lang Syne") a tenderly distorted touch, but the track was only released posthumously in 2010 on the themed album, titled (unsurprisingly) "Merry Christmas and Happy New Year".

While it's not quite on a Electric Ladyland level, "Little Drummer Boy / Silent Night / Auld Lang Syne" definitely has its moments, especially if you like your Christmas songs riddled with feedback and backed up by greats like Billy Cox and Buddy Miles, which I'm sure all of you do.


2. Silent Night รก la Frippertronics - Robert Fripp


King Crimson guitarist and "Frippertronics" pioneer Robert Fripp decided to go fucking crazy one cold and snowy night in 1979 and record a beautifully ambient version of "Silent Night". Produced through Fripp's own label EG Records, the song was initially released in the third issue of the Chicago-based Art & Music magazine Praxis in the form of a festive 6" red flexi-disc.

"Silent Night" showcases an extensive use of what Robert Fripp un-ironically calls Frippertronics, essentially a loop-delay system that uses two reel-to-reel tape decks to provide eerie tones. Another departure from the original is found in the source material itself; Fripp picks apart the arrangement, omitting the "Mother and Child" melody line for a more distinctive, and yet still moving, performance.

Who else would you want playing you a Xmas song?

1. This Christmas - The Whispers


A silkier and slower take on Donny Hathaway's 70's classic, the Whisper's version of "This Christmas", was probably recorded right next to a fireplace, a bear skin rug, and a $15-dollar bottle of bubbly wine.

While the Whispers hardly got any recognition for this track, their number one single "And The Beat Goes On" from 1980, was well-known enough to be sampled for Will Smith's shitty popular track "Miami", but no one cares about that anymore now that the song was featured on the Grand Theft Auto: Vice City video game soundtrack.

I bet the mothers of The Whispers are proud, wiping away a single tear every time that song comes up on Fever 105 in their Blista Compact as they run over a dozen pedestrians in a wholly unnecessary street race on the way to slaughter a incompetent drug dealer with a chainsaw.

It just warms the heart.




Conclusion:

I found out that there are over 74 different holiday songs, each one covered dozens and dozens of times by multiple artists (with new renditions every year), and it made me think of a brilliant idea: I wanna do that too.

Throwing my skates onto the ice rink, is my freshly festive reworking of the Vince Guaraldi classic "Christmas Time Is Here", which you can listen to, and even download right here:

So there you go. In the spirit of Christmas I tacked on one of my songs to a Top Nine list (which is not the first time I've done that, though) in a self-serving grab for your attention this holiday season.

I'm still better than Black Friday.

See you next month, and until then, have yourself some Happy Holidays.

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