When it comes to Christmas songs, I prefer anonymous spooky choirs or the old timers - you know, your Bings, Dinos, and Franks. For the most part, I detest “rockin’” Christmas songs. I was going to say that the following are the few Christmas songs that came out after the year of my birth that I can tolerate, but I can see a couple that probably pre-date me by a couple years, and another few which would require research, and frankly, if you’re looking for facts (or coherent arguments) on the internet, this is probably the last place you ought to be.
“Blue Christmas” – Elvis
My mom played Elvis’ Christmas album every year while we decorated the tree. There’s a couple bad jams on there, but “Blue Christmas” is the one you’re looking for. For the most part, I require a certain amount of sadness or spookiness in my Christmas songs, and this one fits the bill nicely, especially this year, when it looks like we might not make it down to see my parents for Christmas.
You know how the news always talks about seasonal depression or holiday blues this time of year? Could you imagine anyone trying to explain such a thing to Jose Feliciano after hearing his “Felice Navidad?” Like I said, I prefer a little spooky/sad in my Christmas songs, but Jose just sounds so goddamn happy singing that I threw that requirement out.
Still on the happy song tip, I’m here to say that hate for Barking Dogs Jingle Bells is largely unjustified. Maybe because I always picture a room full of dogs sitting behind those bandstand things they had for like Duke Ellington or Count Basie. There’s a conductor in the room and he’s pointing his stick to each dog in turn who barks out his line. Hell, I even like that Chipmunk Christmas song.
“White Christmas” - Otis Redding. About halfway through you’re thinking, “Jesus, I hope it snows for poor Otis. He sounds really broken up about it.” Proof that you can sing a Christmas song without sounding like Kenny G taking a solo with Michael Bolton while being painted by Thomas Kinkaide.
When it comes to spooky sounding Christmas songs, you really gotta go with “Christmastime” from that Charlie Brown Christmas special. That thing is sort of the antidote to Jose Feliciano.
“Christmas in Hollis” - Run DMC. You know, I just like this one alright, but it’s better than Kurtis Blow’s “Christmas Rappin’.” I always like how DMC (or was it Run?) found a wallet with a million bucks in it, but turned it in to Santa, then got the money anyway for doing the right thing.
“We’re Gonna Have a Good Life”/”Slick Nick, You Devil, You” – Fishbone. This was only released on a 12”, and I searched for it for years. Thanks to the internet you can download it in like a minute. A-Side is a fast, horn-heavy retelling of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” with lines that run through my head every year I watch the movie. The B-side is done with handclaps and like two notes on a keyboard and details a kid finding the truth about Santa Claus. The song builds as the narrator observes the Santa “spilling Jack Daniels,” “playing punk rock,” and “smoking cloves” while stumbling through the house. The whole thing climaxes when the narrator finds Mad Dog in his stocking and starts screaming “I wanted candy” over and over. Finally, the narrator comes to accept the situation by the end, a little wiser, yet sadder.
“Fairytale of New York” – The Pogues. Probably the only Christmas song with the lines “You scumbag/you maggot/ You cheap lousy faggot/Merry Christmas your ass/I pray God it’s our last,” at least until they unearth some Rat Pack Christmas outtakes. The first lines, “It was Christmas Eve, babe/in the drunk tank” have to be among the best opening lines ever. This is one of those songs that can raise chills on my arms and at certain points, like that whole “I could have been someone/well, so could anyone” resolution at the end where the two battling singers realize that they’re the best they’re gonna get so they may as well stick together can, under the right circumstances give me that “It’s a Wonderful Life” eye welling. The chorus, where it talks about the NYPD choir singing “Gallaway Bay” is so uplifting that “Gallaway Bay” is one of my favorite songs, even though I have never heard it. Sort of like how that Nat King Cole Christmas song makes me want to eat some roasted Chestnuts, something I have never had in my life, and don’t really know if I’d like or not.