Sunday, December 25, 2016

Blessed Be

Some two thousand and two squared squared years ago today, a bloke was born a bit outside of Jersalem who would go on to say some quite interesting and powerful things.  The general gist of his instruction had to do with peace and love and favoring kindness over power, which was quite radical at the time ... and, in many ways, is no less so now.  Today is, traditionally, the day that we are supposed to celebrate his life, and his death, and what it meant and continues to mean to quite a large portion of the world’s populace.

And, sure, maybe it wasn’t exactly today, and maybe it wasn’t exactly 2,016 years ago, and maybe he didn’t say exactly the words we have written down in our holy books, and maybe he really was a divine figure or maybe he was just a guy, and, hell: maybe he never lived at all and the whole thing is entirely made up—I certainly don’t fully subscribe to the religion carried forth in his name—but the weird thing is, whether you believe that everything in the Bible is exactly verbatim true or whether you believe that it’s all crap that feeds the zeal of religious nutjobs or whether you hold one of the many positions somewhere in between those two extremes, the one thing you can’t really ignore is the message.  Here are a few of the things that this fellow supposedly uttered:

Whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.

For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Give to everyone who begs from you; and of him who takes away your goods do not ask them again.

If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.

Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to cast a stone.

Judge not, that ye be not judged.

You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.”  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

Even if all this is completely fabricated and there never was a Jesus at all—even if the whole thing is 100% fiction—those are some poweful words right there.  Read through those things again, and really think about them.  Does this sound like the typical philosophy of the times round about two millenia ago? or does it sound revolutionary—practically subversive?  The entire story of Jesus is about a person who threatens those in power by teaching people that riches and authority are meaningless and the only way to get ahead in life is to be nice to each other.  No wonder they nailed him to a piece of wood.  Even today, people who preach messages like that are treated similarly: if they can’t be marginalized or demonized, they can always be persecuted and jailed.  We don’t literally crucify anyone any more, but we have our ways.

So this is still a resounding, powerful message, regardless of its source.  It sort of makes me feel like Jewish detective William Kinderman in William Peter Blatty’s Legion, who addresses a crucifix in a Catholic church thusly:

Who are you? God’s son?  No, you know I don’t believe that. ... I don’t know who you are, but you are Someone. ...  Do you know how I know? From what you said.  When I read, “Love your enemy,” I tingle ...  No one from the earth could ever say what you said.  No one could even make it up.  Who could imagine it?  The words knock you down.

I think we forget just how unlikely those words are.  Perhaps they’ve become dulled through repetition.  But they really are quite remarkable.  This is the main reason I love Legion so much: Kinderman—unassuming, Columbo-like, stereotypically Jewish—is the perfect character to remind us that, no, those words are not ordinary just because you’ve heard them a million times.  Love your enemy?  Think of the over two billion Christians in the world: how many can you name who are practicing that philosophy?  Personally, I got to Mother Teresa and Pope Francis and then I ran out.  (And, honestly, I’m not 100% sure about the latter.)  So, yeah: pretty heady stuff there.

So even if you don’t quite subscribe to all—or any—of the bells and whistles of Christianity, it’s worth taking a few moments today to ponder the words that underlie it all.  It’s worth thinking about the fact that, if you’re supposed to be loving your freaking enemies, you can damn well take some time to love your family, and your friends, and your coworkers, and just random people you see on the street.  Take some time to appreciate what you’ve got, and I’m betting that if you’re reading this blog you’ve got a lot.  Give some thanks for it.  You don’t have to direct those thanks to a divine being if that’s not your thing.  Just direct it to someone in your house, or send it out to the universe at large.  Can’t hurt.

From all of us here that make up this fractured, flawed, fantastic, fortunate family—all five humans, two dogs, three cats, one guinea pig, one bearded dragon, multiple fish, snails, shrimp, and an African dwarf frog named Jeff-O—we wish that everyone reading these words is as blessed as we seem to be, even when we can’t remember that we are.  Even if today is not your flavor of end-of-year celebration, we hope that you’re having (or have had, or will have had) a celebration of some kind, and that it was joyous, and loving, and that it lasted exactly as long as you needed it to.  And that it continues to warm you well into the future.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Descent into Holiday Madness

The time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s is typically a pretty crappy time for blog posts.  Generally speaking, I’m lucky if I can manage two solid posts in that month-and-a-half, which I have already delivered unto you (last week and the week prior).  Sure, they were both posts in my music mixes series, which I find moderately easy to write, even though I know they appeal to a limited segment of my audience, but, as I continually remind you, you really shouldn’t be reading this stupid blog anyhow.  And also plus anyway, one of those music posts was actually totally holidayily relevant, as it presented my second yuletide mix, which kicks some major butt.  So you gotta be happy with that.

And I’m going to admit right up front that I’m writing the next two posts, which are scheduled to appear right on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day (respectively) right now, because, damn: it’s not like I’m going to take time to throw up even an excuse post on a major holiday.  I mean, I like you guys, but I don’t like like you guys, knowwhatImean?  Give a brother a break.  Take some time off from reading silly crap on the Internet and go spend some time with your family.  Next week (and the week after) I’ll have abbreviated posts for you, but nothing to get too excited about.  Please take the opportunity to continue to spend time with your family.  If you find yourself getting sick of your family, feel free to direct your efforts elsewhere, but hopefully somewhere still relaxifying and spirit-refreshing.  Because you deserve it.  No, I mean it: you really do.  You gotta do you, at least every once in a while.  Relax, refresh, and reset.  Come at the new year with a new vim and vigor and vitality.  It’ll be good.  Trust me.

Till then, clink a glass with me and inhale deeply and picture your happy place.  I’m right there with you.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Salsatic Vibrato IV

"Hot Ginger and Dynamite"

[This is one post in a series about my music mixes.  The series list has links to all posts in the series and also definitions of many of the terms I use.  You may wish to read the introduction for more background.  You may also want to check out the first volume in this multi-volume mix for more info on its theme.

Like all my series, it is not necessarily contiguous—that is, I don’t guarantee that the next post in the series will be next week.  Just that I will eventually finish it, someday.  Unless I get hit by a bus.]

For the fourth volume of my brassy, upbeat mix, I decided to open with a stretch about that favorite theme of retro-swing (and swing, for that matter): drinking.  Now, back on volume II, I had already experimented with this in a very small way by following Joe Jackson’s “What’s the Use of Getting Sober When You Gotta Get Drunk Again” with “You and Me and The Bottle Makes 3 Tonight” by Big Bad Voodoo Daddy.  But there’s no shortage of songs about drinking, of course, and I began to slot several of them to form a great little run of tunes praising—or condemning, or occasionally both at once—the joys of alcohol.  Eventually, I came up with what I think may be the finest stretch of tracks on a modern mix.

We kick it off with “Party Life” by Eight to the Bar, who we were introduced to last volume, then take it down a notch with our old friends Asylum Street Spankers singing “D.R.I.N.K.,” a (mildly) more reflective tune.  Then we start to pick back up with “Whisky & Wine” by newcomer to these mixes Matt Costa, who was recommended to me by a coworker, and whom I now in turn recommend to you.  And of course no treatise on drinking would be complete without hearing from Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, who advise us to “Gimme That Wine.”  The ever-excellent Atomic Fireballs follow that up with “Drink Drank Drunk,” a rollicking bit of boogie-woogie that comes in with a bump and ends the same way.  And, just for kicks, after all that drinking I thought you might be seeing a few “Bedbugs,” so I sent the Squirrel Nut Zippers to put you to bed.  Overall, it’s a magnificent six-song-run that has lows, highs,1 and a little bit of hot jazz psychedelia to close it out.  I’ve always been quite fond of it.

So we’ve already had a few of our old Salsatic Vibrato favorites, but there’s more to come, as always.  Always reliable, the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies give us two tracks, and, for the first time, I’m straying from their retro-swing compilation Zoot Suit Riot to their follow-up album, Soul Caddy, which (like their previous, non-compilation ablums) features far more than retro-swing.  Although I’m sticking to the retro-swing cuts off that album, to be fair: both “Swingin’ with Tiger Woods” and “So Long Toots” fall comfortably into that bucket.  SNZ not only give us their contribution to the drinking run, but also another bit of odd psychedelia, “Ghost of Stephen Foster,” whose lyrics are so bizarre that it might have just as well fit in over on Bleeding Salvador.  BBVD also give us another track towards the end of the mix, in this case their take on the ultra-classic Louis Prima tune from Disney’s Jungle Book, “I Wanna Be Like You.”  And we hear again from the Atomic Fireballs for our closer, “Calypso King.”  Hell, even Eight to the Bar comes back in our second half, giving us our volume title with their remake of “Nagasaki,” from way back in 1928.  “Hot ginger and dynamite: that’s all there is at night.”  Very fitting for this volume, I thought.

Other returning favorites include the Brian Setzer Orchestra, with the best cut off what may be my least favorite album of theirs (proving that even a “bad” BSO album is still pretty good), “Gettin’ in the Mood” off Vavoom!, and Lee Pres-On and the Nails, with the classic “It Had Better Be Tonight.”  Both are covers.  The latter was originally composed by Henry Mancini in 1963 for The Pink Panther, sung in Italian in the movie by Fran Jeffries.  The English version has been sung by everyone from Sarah Vaughan to Michael Bublé; LPN’s Leslie Presley is no Sarah Vaughan, but she sounds pretty amazing here.  The former is, of course, the classic Glenn Miller instrumental tune “In the Mood,” often considered one of the greatest swing songs ever.  Setzer adds some lyrics of his own devising here,2 which are somewhat reminiscent of his Stray Cats days.  But they’re pretty fun lyrics, so it works well here.

We also have Swingerhead, back from volume II.  Swingerhead isn’t my favorite retro-swing band, but they hit it every now and again, and “She Could Be a Spy” is probably their best.  Then we have Diablo Swing Orchestra returning from last volume.  As I said when I first introduced them, DSO is a bizarre mash-up of swing, metal, and opera singer that almost always doesn’t work ... but, when it does, it’s transcendant.  “Voodoo Mon Amour” isn’t quite as good as “A Tap Dancer’s Dilemma,” but it’s damn close, and provides a powerfully rockin’ transition from the six-song drunken tear into the center stretch of the volume.

We’re also hearing for the first time from electroswing favorites Caravan Palace, one of Europe’s many bands in that subgenre.3  The Paris natives could more properly be classified as “electro-gypsy-jazz,” if such a thing existed.  But I don’t think it really does.  But possibly the most amazing thing about Caravan Palace as regards this mix is that many of their songs (this one included) don’t actually include any brass.4  CP technically has a saxophone/clarinet player, but, if she’s doing anything on this track, I certainly can’t hear her.  But I still feel like “Jolie coquine” fits this mix, in spirit if nothing else.

We have less deviation from the retro-swing this time around (except what SNZ and DSO are providing, of course).  Mad Caddies are back to give us a touch of New-Orleans-infused ska with “Tired Bones.”  And Devil Doll, who so far we’ve only seen on Moonside by Riverlight, shows up here for the first time with her distinctive sound which I’ve tried (and failed) to describe for two volumes now: it’s 50s-adjacent, but not retro-rockabilly nor even psychobilly; it’s high-energy, spiritually descended from Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis, but with very modern sensibilities; and, like all the best 50s rock-and-roll,5 it makes generous use of saxophone breaks.  Of all Devil Doll’s tunes of this nature (which is almost all of them), “Driven to Distraction” is the best.  It serves as our centerpiece for this volume.

Salsatic Vibrato IV
    [Hot Ginger and Dynamite]

        “Party Life” by Eight to the Bar, off Behind the Eight Ball
        “D.R.I.N.K.” by Asylum Street Spankers, off Mercurial
        “Whiskey & Wine” by Matt Costa, off Songs We Sing
        “Gimme That Wine” by Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, off Rattle Them Bones
        “Drink Drank Drunk” by The Atomic Fireballs, off Torch This Place
        “Bedbugs” by Squirrel Nut Zippers, off Bedlam Ballroom
        “Voodoo Mon Amour” by Diablo Swing Orchestra, off Pandora's Piñata
        “25 or 6 to 4” by Chicago, off Chicago II
        “Everyday Sunshine” by Fishbone, off The Reality of My Surroundings
        “Swingin' with Tiger Woods (The Big Swing)” by Cherry Poppin' Daddies, off Soul Caddy
        “Jolie coquine” by Caravan Palace, off Caravan Palace
        “Driven to Distraction” by Devil Doll, off Queen of Pain
        “It Had Better Be Tonight” by Lee Press-On and the Nails, off El Bando en Fuego!
        “The Perpetual Bachelor” by Jet Set Six, off Livin' It Up
        “So Long Toots” by Cherry Poppin' Daddies, off Soul Caddy
        “She Could Be a Spy” by Swingerhead, off She Could Be a Spy
        “Ghost of Stephen Foster” by Squirrel Nut Zippers, off Perennial Favorites
        “Tired Bones” by Mad Caddies, off Keep It Going
        “Nagasaki” by Eight to the Bar, off Behind the Eight Ball
        “I Wanna Be Like You” by Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, off This Beautiful Life
        “Gettin' in the Mood” by The Brian Setzer Orchestra, off Vavoom!
        “Calypso King” by The Atomic Fireballs, off Torch This Place
Total:  22 tracks,  76:19

Just to prove I’m still exploring new retro-swing bands, I’ve thrown in a tune from Jet Set Six, whom I also discovered via Pandora.6  After a brief perusal of their catalog, I found that much of it wasn’t particularly stand-out.  But there’s something about “The Perpetual Bachelor” that is just magnificent.  Oh, sure: it starts out as a pale copy of “Sing Sing Sing,”7 and its lyrics are vaguely sexist,8 and the addition of fuzzed out guitars is nothing that BBVD hasn’t done before them, and even the faux ending that kicks back in with a roar isn’t particularly original, but man ... the beat is pulsing, the trumpet work is outstanding, and lead singer John Ceparano’s voice is particularly smooth here.  I couldn’t pass it up.

In the category of less likely candidates, I threw in my favorite Chicago tune, “25 or 6 to 4.”  Chicago is not necessarily unlikely on a mix that focuses on brass, of course, but they often have a mellower bent than fits well here.  But I’ve always found this song to be pretty rockin’.  Plus it’s just a classic.  I’ve followed that up with Fishbone, which also commonly features at least a little brass on most of its songs: its two co-vocalists Angelo Moore and Walter Kibby play saxophone and trumpet, respectively.  But typically Fishbone is more funk than brass in the Salsatic Vibrato sense.  “Everyday Sunshine,” however, is a pretty powerful song that works very well here.  And it gives us some good variation from the strong retro-swing tendency of this volume, while still providing a good transition back to that tendency with its lead-in to “Swingin’ with Tiger Woods.”  Plus it adds just a little bit of funk.

Next time, we’ll add another fourth volume to one of our long-running mixes.


1 No pun intended.

2 Note that “In the Mood” has gotten lyrics before, such as Al Donahue’s version featuring Paula Kelly.  These are not they.

3 Others include Koop, Caro Emerald, Waldeck, and Parov Stelar.

4 Remember, I have a very liberal definition of “brass,” including not only the saxophone, which is not technically a brass instrument, but also the clarinet, which is not even remotely a brass instrument.

5 As distinguished from “rock” in general.  See also Wikipedia.

6 I had a brief discussion of my use of Pandora as a music discovery service last volume.

7 You may recall that I noted that every swing band has at least one song that starts out that way.

8 Although certainly no more so than other bands I like, such as the Violent Femmes.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Yuletidal Pools II

"Baby Jesus, Born to Rock"

[This is one post in a series about my music mixes.  The series list has links to all posts in the series and also definitions of many of the terms I use.  You may wish to read the introduction for more background.  You may also want to check out the first volume in this multi-volume mix for more info on its theme.

Like all my series, it is not necessarily contiguous—that is, I don’t guarantee that the next post in the series will be next week.  Just that I will eventually finish it, someday.  Unless I get hit by a bus.]

It’s been five years since I first introduced my holiday-themed mix, Yuletidal Pools.  You may recall that one of my main goals for this mix was to make sure I had some “fresh” Christmas music to listen to, because the standard fare was getting a bit old.

Unfortunately, if you listen to the same thing over and over again for five years, even if it’s only for a month or so out of the year, then that’s going to get old too.  You need some fresh blood.  We need even more upbeat, non-sappy, non-silly holiday tunage up in this joint!  So, just in time for the upcoming holiday season, I present: volume II.

Volume I was 25 tracks long, which (although it didn’t occur to me at the time) made it sort of perfect as an advent mix.  You could play one song every day, if you liked.1  This time around I’m throwing in an extra tune, for Boxing Day.

There are lots of other parallels with volume I too.  As before, we’re light on the covers: no actual traditional songs at all (although there are two based on traditional tunes), 3 covers of songs originally recorded in the 50s, which you may or may not have heard before,2 and one song from an animated Christmas special.  The songs are mostly upbeat, leaning towards rockin’, with just a few slightly more serious tunes right in the center.  There’s a bit of absurdity, a bit of decrying of the despoilment of the season, a bit of over-the-top lunacy, and a bit of genuine emotion covered up by power chords and silliness.  I have to admit that volume II is not quite as strong as volume I—it’s difficult to top the sheer perfection of “Oi to the World”—but we’ve got some absolutely great tunes, and I don’t think you’re going to be disappointed.

A lot of the specific songs have correlations too.  Our volume opener, for instance, is this volume’s “Oi to the World”: a strong, upbeat track that starts off lyrically a downer, but overcomes that to instill a positive message in the end.  In this case, that message is that Christmas is a time for redemption, and it doesn’t matter how much of a shit you were all year—you can still come together for the holidays.  The Hives, a great punky-thrashy band from Sweden, are absolutely perfect for this, and you can never beat Cyndi Lauper for bringing the pipes.  “A Christmas Duel” is definitely my new favorite song of the season.

After that, you can see a pretty strong correlation between numbers like Bob & Doug McKenzie’s “Twelve Days of Christmas” and Elastica’s “I Wanna Be a King of Orient Aah”: both are mangulations of classic Christmas tunes with new life breathed into them.  In the case of the veteran SCTV characters, the new life was unadulterated silliness; Elastica, however, takes a holiday standard and takes it to truly new and interesting places.  As does Yellowman, with “We Wish You a Reggae Christmas,” which is, as the Brits say, exactly what it says on the tin.

It’s also pretty easy (and obvious) to contrast South Park’s “Christmas Time in Hell” with Monty Python’s “Christmas in Heaven.”  Both are tongue-in-cheek; both feature outrageous characters; both are in some odd way odes to commercialism and excess.  And of course it’s hard to miss that there’s a rap song for each volume.  I didn’t choose “Christmas Is” just to have a rap song on volume I—I just like Run–D.M.C.  However, for volume II I’ll admit that I did go looking for one, because I really liked the vibe the Run–D.M.C. tune imparted to the mix.  What I eventually settled on was Kurtis Blow’s “Christmas Rappin’.”  Now, I’ll admit that I’m not a Blow fan by nature.  And “Rappin’,” from 1979, is pretty old-school rap, by which I mean it’s reminiscent of things like “Rapper’s Delight”: fairly simple rhymes, nothing too tricky in the meter or flow ... overall pretty basic.  But it also has a funky bassline which strongly recalls “Another One Bites the Dust,”3 and some clever lyrics, so I think it works well in the final analysis.

We also have smooth upbeat Big Bad Voodoo Daddy originals in both volumes: last time it was “Last Night (I Went Out with Santa Claus),” about a drunken bar crawl in the company of the man in red; this time we have “Christmas Is Starting Now,” which I first heard on the Phineas and Ferb Christmas special.  The latter song is a bit simplistic, compared to the former, but it’s catchy and it’s happy, and that’s really all I’m looking for.  And, in the category of “songs that sound happy but are really about missing someone during the holidays,” volume I gave us “Santa’s Coming Home” by the Cocktail Slippers, whereas volume II goes out to Sweden’s Hello Saferide for “Ipod X-mas.”  The twee-pop of Hello Saferide is evocative of Pomplamoose, and this song, even though its lyrics could rightly be called depressing, is still somehow fun to sing along with.  Then there’s the “sort of serious but also not” category, which last time was represented by the Ramones, with “I Don’t Want to Fight,” and this time is povided by Timbuk 3, they who are so famous for “The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades.”4  “All I Want for Christmas” has a very serious message (about the prevalence of violence in toymaking), but it also contains some surreal lyrics, like “deck the halls with great balls of fire” and “chestnuts roasting on the VCR.”

In the category of punked up and/or funky versions of animated holiday classics, last volume gave us “Mr. Heatmiser,” “The Chipmunk Song,” and especially “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” in a fantastic version by NJ punks the Whirling Dervishes.  This time Asylum Street Spankers5 give us a low-key version of “Linus and Lucy,” which isn’t exactly a Christmas song, but you can’t deny that, even without using any words, it will put you in mind of A Charlie Brown Christmas, which is a pretty great thing to be in mind of around the holidays.  And as a sort-of-but-not-really version of the same motif, I couldn’t help but include the Brian Setzer Orchestra’s crazy—but very fun—Christmas mash-up of the theme to The Flintstones, “Yabba-Dabba Yuletide.”  This is one of the great examples of a silly song which is not silly: that is, the whole concept of rewriting the Flintstones theme to be a Christmas song is silly, but, once you move past that, it’s actually quite a fun song with happy, heartfelt lyrics.

When it comes to borderline-too-silly infectious pop, last time we heard from “Weird Al” Yankovic and the Vandals.  For this volume, tempted as I was to include Weird Al’s other Christmas classic, “The Night Santa Went Crazy,” it’s just way too over-the-top ... it lacks the fun of “Christmas at Ground Zero.”6  So I went with “Don’t Shoot Me Santa” by the Killers, which I found vaguely annoying the first time I heard it, but it has a tendency to grow on you, and the absolute best song in this category (appropriately enough): “The Best Christmas Song,” by Canadian comedian and YouTuber Jon Lajoie.7  Lajoie brings an infectious, nerdy joy to his Christmas song, which is obsessed with mittens and Santa’s never-seen neck, and contains gems such as

This is the best Christmas song that ever existed.
If you don’t believe me, well ... you should believe me.
‘Cause this is the best Christmas song, so listen to it now.

Then there’s the category of “catchy songs that remind us that the holidays can be kinda stressful.”  Whereas last volume we had blink-182’s “I Won’t Be Home for Christmas,” this time out we get “Scary F**ked Up Christmas” by the amazingly talented musical comedy duo Garfunkel and Oates.  The thing about musical comedy is, generally speaking, you can sing good songs, or you can tell good jokes, but it’s genuinely difficult to do both.  Not many people can pull it off.  Garfunkel and Oates (a.k.a. Riki Lindhome and Kate Micucci) are among the few that can.  Besides being an insanely catchy tune, the words are hilarious—in fact, this volume only narrowly avoided being subtitled “You’re Totally Tripping Balls.”

But, in the end, the honor of being volume namer went to the Eels.  “Everything’s Gonna Be Cool This Christmas” is a straight-ahead rocker that is reminiscent of last volume’s “I’m Getting Pissed for Christmas.”  The fact is, the Eels don’t generally do straight-ahead rocking ... they’re much more often prone to songs which are slightly off, like “Novocaine for the Soul” or “Beautiful Freak.”8  In fact, “Everything’s Gonna Be Cool This Christmas” almost didn’t make the cut for this volume: I listened to it with half an ear, made a note in my file that it was a happy little tune but nothing special, and had officially resigned it to a prospective volume III, but then one of my volume II songs unfortunately hit the cutting room floor.9  So I needed a replacement, and a rocker seemed like it would fit in perfectly.  So I auditioned it, and I finally listened well enough to hear our volume title, muttered half-audibly between verses.  Could there possibly be a more appropriate title for a volume of this mix?

I also decided to throw in a few modern remakes of mostly-forgotten holiday songs.  Last time that was primarily in the form of “Is Zat You, Santa Claus?” by Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, which I was completely unaware was a cover until well after I’d fallen in love with it.10  This time I’m going with the Reverend Horton Heat.  “Santa Bring My Baby Back” was originally an Elvis holiday tune, which Wikipedia tells me was very popular back in 1957, although I swear I’d never heard it before.  The second track from the good Reverend is the Chuck Berry classic “Run Rudolph Run,” which I absolutely was aware of, but I just think it’s great anyway.11  I’m not claiming Heat is bringing anything super-special to these remakes, but, c’mon ... it’s the Reverend Horton Heat, fer cryin’ out loud.  As an added bonus, the Reel Big Fish update of Bing Crosby’s 1950 Hawaiian-themed “Mele Kalikimaka” is absolutely a fresh (some might even argue a bit too fresh) take on a crusty old once-classic.

And of course I wouldn’t forget to throw in a few genuinely pretty songs.  I won’t tolerate mush for mush’s sake, but that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate a song or two which just makes you feel happy inside.  Last time I chose Enya’s “White Is in the Winter Night” and “Peppermint Winter” from twee-pop band Owl Eyes.  This time around I was surprised to stumble across a holiday tune from a band I first heard from a couple of my college roommates: Carbon Leaf, who I always thought were from Illinois,12 but it turns out they’re actually from Richmond, Virginia, which is near where I grew up.13  “Christmas Child” is a sort of countdown song which skips merrily through the days leading up till the big day, and it’s quite fun to sing along with.  Whereas “Snow Angels,” by Pittsburgh alt-country band Boca Chica, is just a beautiful song which manages to exactly capture the feeling of a snowy Christmas night without ever once mentioning the holiday by name.14  While in general I find Boca Chica to be not nearly enough “alt” and way too much “country,” this tune is just perfect.

I also couldn’t resist a certain amount of parallelism in our closers.  For volume I, I went with “Merry Merry Merry Frickin’ Christmas”; for volume II, I find Denis Leary’s “Merry Fuckin’ Christmas,” as cynical as it is—and it’s a good deal more cynical than its counterpart—just plain fun.  If a bit NSFW.

Yuletidal Pools II
[ Baby Jesus, Born to Rock ]

“A Christmas Duel” by The Hives & Cyndi Lauper [Single]
“Santa's Beard” by They Might Be Giants, off Lincoln
“Merry Something to You” by DEVO [Single]
“Yabba-Dabba Yuletide” by The Brian Setzer Orchestra [Single]
“I Wanna Be a King of Orient Aah” by Elastica [Single]
“Santa Bring My Baby Back” by Reverend Horton Heat [Single]
“Scary F**ked Up Christmas” by Garfunkel and Oates [Single]15
“We Wish You a Reggae Christmas” by Yellowman [Single]
“Christmas in Heaven” by Monty Python [Single]
“Christmas Child” by Carbon Leaf [Single]
“Snow Angels” by Boca Chica [Single]
“Don't Shoot Me Santa” by The Killers [Single]
“All I Want for Christmas” by Timbuk 3 [Single]16
“Christmas Rappin'” by Kurtis Blow [Single]
“Santa's Lost His Mojo” by The Lost Fingers, off Coconut Christmas
“I Want an Alien for Christmas” by Fountains of Wayne [Single]
“Chiron Beta Prime” by Jonathan Coulton, off Thing a Week Two
“Ipod X-mas” by Hello Saferide [Single]17
“Everything Is One Big Christmas Tree” by The Magnetic Fields [Single]
“Linus and Lucy” by Asylum Street Spankers, off A Christmas Spanking
“Mele Kalikimaka” by Reel Big Fish [Single]18
“Everything's Gonna Be Cool This Christmas” by EELS [Single]
“Christmas Is Starting Now” by Big Bad Voodoo Daddy [Single]
“Run Rudolph Run” by Reverend Horton Heat [Single]
“The Best Christmas Song” by Jon Lajoie [Single]
“Merry Fuckin' Christmas” by Denis Leary [Single]
Total:  26 tracks,  77:54

We also have a few just plain weird tunes in both places.  Last time that was provided by the Psychobilly Christmas sampler (specifically, “Halloween on Xmas” and “Shot My Baby for Christmas”).  This time I’m going even more bizarre by reaching for They Might Be Giants and Devo, who give us “Santa’s Beard” and “Merry Something to You,” respectively.  Both are fairly upbeat, musically; TMBG’s contribution is more like the volume I tunes in this category in that its poppy melody belies its darker themes, but the Devo tune is pretty uplifting, I’d say.  Plus they transition beautifully into each other.  Then, towards the end of the set, we stumble across “Everything is One Big Christmas Tree” by the Magnetic Fields, an eclectic band from Boston that’s been called everything from synthpop to Baroque pop (whatever that is).  I’m not sure I can properly describe “Everything is One Big Christmas Tree” ... you really just need to experience it for yourself.

And we need a few tunes that are as surreal as they are poppy and fun to sing.  Last volume we got that from the ultra-classic “Elf’s Lament” by Barenaked Ladies.  This time around I discovered “I Want an Alien for Christmas” by Fountains of Wayne, which is exactly as catchy as it sounds, and as you’ve come to expect from FoW.  I defy you not to sing along.  I preceded that with “Santa’s Lost His Mojo” by Québécois band the Lost Fingers (introduced to me by a co-worker who hails from France), and I followed it up with amazing songwriter and NPR host Jonathan Coulton’s “Chiron Beta Prime,” which is exactly as clever and hooky as you’ve come to expect from him.  Plus the triple-threat of Fountains of Wayne, Coulton, and Hello Saferide is just a beautiful trill leading into the closing stretch of this holiday mix.

Have fun with it, and have an excellent holiday, no matter what your festival persuasion may be.

Next time, it’s time to get back to the brass.


1 Personally, I don’t have that sort of patience, but your mileage may vary.
2 I had only ever heard 2 of the 3, personally.  But then I was never much of an Elvis fan.
3 Although, technically, “Christmas Rappin’” preceded Queen’s The Game by six months, so it’s difficult to tell who was influenced by whom here.
4 We’ve already heard from them twice before: once on Tenderhearted Nightshade, and once on Porchwell Firetime.
5 Who we heard from on Salsatic Vibrato III and Zephyrous Aquamarine I.
6 Well, as much fun as a song about nuclear holocaust can be, anyway.
7 Wikipedia tells me that you might know Lajoie from The League.  I’ve never watched that show so I wouldn’t know.
8 Which we heard on Bleeding Salvador.
9 Not that it matters, but it was “Santa Claus” by Throwing Muses.  In the end I decided that, despite the name, “Santa Claus” just isn’t a holiday song at all.  And that’s sort of a prerequisite for this mix.
10 Specifically, it was a Louis Armstrong song from 1953.
11 And, yes, I’m cognizant of the fact that the lyrics of “Run Rudolph Run” have some lingering sexism—the boy wants a “rock-and-roll electric guitar,” while the girl only aspires to a “baby doll that can cry, sleep, drink and wet.”  But I’m willing to move past this, as it was a product of its time, and also the rest of the lyrics are pretty cool.
12 I assume I got this mistaken impression from the fact that one of the aforementioned roommates had previously attended college there.
13 See, sometimes I even learn a thing or two about the bands I feature here in these blog posts.
14 In fact, you can make a very strong argument that this isn’t a holiday song at all: just a sort of winter song.  But it has sleigh bells in it, so I say “pooh-pooh” to that.
15 As far as I know, YouTube is the only place to get this song, which is the only reason I’m linking to it there.
16 This is another one that’s very hard to find.  You can buy the CD from the link I’m giving you, but you can’t download it there.  But try searching YouTube if you really can’t wait.
17 Yet another obscure one: it’s only available on a Swedish holiday sampler.  And on YouTube.  Of course.
18 Ditto the above, except substitute “Universal Records” for “Swedish.”