Friday, December 23, 2016

Merry Ho-Balls! The 10 Greatest Christmas Songs

A list is a hell of a thing, especially when limited to a number as puny as 10, and when based solely on personal opinion. Throw together something as seemingly innocuous as "My Top 5 Favorite Meals" and sure as sugar biscuits some fucker'll rank up the comments with "Where's spaghetti and meat sauce, you dimwitted cunt?"

A writer puts on their bib, someone else is bound to mess up all over theirs.

Ranking two lucky hands worth of the very best in "Christmas music" proved a pleasant challenge. Such an undertaking invites antagonism from those aggrieved over an excluded favorite or flustered at an unworthy inclusion. Not to mention the people who can't fathom the existence of ten decent Christmas tunes.

I've had it up to the tits with misdirected ire.

A top ten--twenty!--of the most grueling holiday recordings would have been both easier and a monumental waste of energies. This is the season of love and affection, of receiving and giving, all that jazz in a children's television special.

And of me writing about great art without actually creating any of my own.

"Where's 'All I Want For Christmas Is You,' you dimwitted cunt?"

On the radio somewhere in the world as we speak. Great song. To placate the prickly, I present a picture.

10. "Frosty the Snowman," The Ronettes (1963; original, 1950)

Who has three balls, smokes a pipe, and is on the run from the po-po?

The very day that JFK's brains decorated Jackie O's dress like so much waterlogged fruit cake, A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector hit shelves. The "Wall of Sound" technique is ideal to recreate the joyous chaos wreaked by Frosty and the luckiest brats in the 'hood as they thump to each corner of the village square. A nasty wind blows the snow so it's fairly unbelievable they can even see their own hands in front of them, but then again, a snowman just came to life, so what's really incredible?

(Confession time: I have never had a hand in the construction of a snowman, outside of Super Mario 64.)

9. "What Child Is This?," John Denver (1975; original, 1865)

Carols are so quaint. Stubbing your toe and exclaiming, "Golly, that smarts!" type quaint. The phrasing, the vocabulary, the insistence on honey-voiced do-gooders, farm animals in such close proximity to a newborn baby. I don't believe in God, but I believe in melody, and "What Child Is This?" might have the finest of any so-called "holiday" song.

I prefer Denver's rendition over those of Bing Crosby and Josh Groban since he sounds like a human being--folksy, damn near haunted, just a man and his guitar (for the most part).

The original has three distinct choruses, but at some point the last two fell out of favor. One of them references the crucifixion, so I'd say that's mystery solved, Petey Brown.

8. "Christmas Wrapping," The Waitresses (1981)

New Wave chicks were busy. The process of shake-bake-make took anywhere from an half-hour to a full hour, then factor in the responsibilities of both work and play, who's got time for the rigamarole of baby Jesus' birthday party?

There's no time for love, Patty Donahue, no matter how nonchalant you rap. (Those horns aren't there just to sound cool; she's siphoning the air from the bell into her lungs.) People are expectant and entitled and stressed the eff out, and while I personally have never had any day of mine saved by the last-minute purchase of cranberries, "Christmas Wrapping" has pulled me out of more than one slushy pit.

I hope it worked out for those two. 

7. "Skating," The Vince Guaraldi Trio (1965)

Bundle up, it's time to slice designs.

146 scintillating yards of frosty flakes sparkle and beautify. The unpleasantness is not gone, merely away, hidden beneath the soft white. Enjoy it.

"Skating" isn't a Christmas song, fair enough, but undeniably it is a winter song. This separates it from another Guaraldi powerhouse that's all over the radio this time of year, "Linus and Lucy," a masterpiece that despite being so closely associated with the season, evokes most powerfully a bunch of kids dancing. "Skating" evokes not only the art of ice-skating, but the actual fall of snow from the sky.

6. "Little Saint Nick," Beach Boys (1963)

Despite misrecalling the reindeer, this rewrite of "Little Deuce Coupe" (just replace the hot rod with a gorgeous red sleigh, adorn with some Chuck and Phil) is two tinkling minutes of elves in three-toned outfits prepping the Big Guy for a long night of defiance and delight.

How could any negativity intrude on such a cheerful tableau? Easy. Mike Love. I hope he gets diarrhea for Christmas.

Or, better yet, all winter long.

5. " It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas," Johnny Mathis (1986; original, 1951)

One of the most versatile vocalists of the last century, Mr. Mathis has recorded six albums of Christmas music. He's a strong contender for the definitive version of quite a few standards, but when it comes to "It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas," his is the undisputed champion. Put a wreath and a bow on it.

Would we appreciate the heat without the chill? A roaring fire can soothe the extremities, and a gorgeous scene underneath winking stars and blinking lights can work wonders for the soul. It can even ease the bitterness over not getting everything you wanted on the 25th. Trust me.

(Sometimes I'm convinced Mom just didn't think a Millennium Falcon was a proper toy for a young girl.)

Shouts to Jen and Ben! I'm not talking Swedish super-pop when I tell you that ABBA is the ideal for these type tuneskies.

I hope they never make Home Alone 6.

4. "Step Into Christmas," Elton John (1973)

A card to the fans that made '73 such a phenomenal year for the John/Taupin juggernaut: two #1 LPs, a slew of hit singles, millions moved and made. There's nothing insightful or tender about an Elton Christmas party. Everyone's looped on the quick and the dandy. The host won't shut up, and keeps turning "merry" into a one-syllable word.

Ba-da-dum, da-da-dum, trying to beat into my noggin the notion that all the ancillary crap is worth the hustle and hassle. I mean, it ain't, but what's pop music for if not to smush our faces up against some sheep butt?

3. "Feliz Navidad," Jose Feliciano (1970)

One verse, one chorus. For three minutes. If it hasn't gotten old by now, it never will.

All that is resolutely happy and shiny rings from the blind man's band. Put some tighter, louder drums underneath the infectious strum and blare, you got a certified banger. Bob your head, tap your toes. Spike your egg nog. With what? No, spike it like players do a football after crossing the goal line.

I hope this Christmas you have someone who will fuck you as good and hard as Melvin Gordon fucked me in my fantasy football playoff game.  

2. "Ave Maria," The Carpenters (1978; original Bach/Gounod version, 1853)

Oh yeah, I just went back-to-back "other than English" on that ass. A Latin "Hail Mary" from way before the Southern star led boys and men, "Ave Maria" is alongside "O Holy Night" when it comes to holiday songs that separate the grown-ups from the kiddies. Karen Carpenter had a voice capable of halting the Earth in mid-spin, and that's exactly what happens here, for two and a half minutes. Technically, her performance is amazing. Emotionally? Those angels heard on high have next to nada on this.

Get Christmas Portrait in your life, if it's not already there. One of only two holiday albums you absolutely need.

1. "Christmastime Is Here," The Vince Guaraldi Trio (1965)

No disrespect to the lyrical talents of Lee Mendelson, or the vocal talents of the St. Paul's Episcopal Church choir, but an untouched six minutes of carpet angels with the thermostat set to 75 is the celebratory melting away of eleven hellish months I crave. No hustle, nor bustle. The essentials remain untampered and I am contented, surrounded by the flickering familiar. What happened matters less than what may happen, than what is happening. Thus blocked, the energy accumulates, the glow expands and spreads, until I'm more spirit than flesh.

I hope.

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