Silver Bells: Steve Martin, Paul Simon & Billy Joel
From the moment Martin says that his child asks “Uncle Steve? What’s does Christmas mean to you?,” you’re right to infer that something is about to go very very wrong in this Saturday Night Live rendition of Silver Bells, which featured three artists at the top of their game in the 70s. Pay attention to the eggnog and booze gags, and mind your dime store Santa Clauses, they may be “laying a little groundwork for the future.”
Twelve Days of Christmas: Bob & Doug Mackenzie
Way back in the very first episode of this podcast, Bob & Doug came up (pursuant to Geddy Lee and his Canadian-ness): here we note their take on the Twelve Days, which include lots of beer, five golden touks (a Canadian word, look it up), and plenty of back bacon. It’s a hilarious (if sloppy) rendering.
Centro-matic: Fuselage (It’s Starting to Look Like Christmas Once Again)
Producer Mark drops in as we tackle Will Johnson and company’s take on the holidays, in which he coins the phrase “nicefully” (and it kind of works) and talks up strange family traditions. As someone who comes from a house with a few of those, this rang a little true for me.
James Brown: Santa Claus Goes Straight To The Ghetto
The Godfather of Soul lays out a laundry list of requests for Santa, specifically the stops he might make in the poorer parts of town, where kids don’t have as much to look forward to. Shane’s surprised by his ability to hear James Brown with fresh ears, while Kevin reminds us that James Brown put out all kinds of Christmas albums. The man was, after all, a cottage industry.
The Pogues: Fairytale of New York
Arguably one of my favorite Christmas tunes, the real fairytale here is that Shane MacGowan’s toothless mug and drunk-tank mumblings could romance Kirsty MacColl into such a beautiful duet about New York City. Our Shane reveals that he has something in common with MacGowan (other than name) in that he spends way too many Christmas days drinking in bars, while Ryan helps us with the pronunciation of Nihilism.
The Pretenders: 2000 Miles
Released as a B-side to Middle of the Road in 1983, this is NOT Chrissie Hynde’s expurgated version of the Proclaimers Scottish hit about walking a tremendous distance, although Hynde does admit “2000 miles, it’s very far.” The guys were clearly expecting something very different going into this one, even questioning why I would list it as a Christmas song. In the end, it all coalesces into agreement that this is a pretty song about Christmas.
Wham: Last Christmas
You know who writes a bad-ass Christmas song? Irving Berlin! His little known (and all forgotten) holiday nugget “White Christmas” seems to be the template upon which George Michael based the 1984 classic Last Christmas…Look I make no apologies for my love of WHAM! Shit, this isn’t just one of my favorite Christmas songs, it’s one of my favorite any-time songs.
Bing Crosby/David Bowie: Little Drummer Boy/Peace On Earth
Just as fucking weird and uncomfortable as i remembered…Funny or Die has a word for word re-make of it starring Will Farrell and John C. Reilly that highlights how truly odd it was.
Elmo and Patsy: Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer
Hadn’t heard it since I was 10. Not as funny as it was when I was 10.
The Waitresses: Christmas Wrapping
It’s rare that a novelty Christmas song reaches the ridiculous American cultural zeitgeist, yet proves itself as a tune that I’d like to listen to the other eleven months of the year. This is that song. While it’s undeniable that they’re mining similar territory as their most well-known non-yuletide hit, I Know What Boys Like, it still works. It’s infectious, and I look forward to hearing hit cut through the parade of rote sentimentality surrounding the season every December.
REM: Christmas Griping
What would you get if you crossed the percussion from Fleetwood Mack’s Tusk with a Christmas-themed version of The Beatles’ Revolution #9 and a cranky-pants approach to the holiday season? This. You’d get this. Not as unimpressive as I’m making it sound, this is still mostly notable as a novelty, released to their fan club in 1991.
Lou Reed: Xmas in February
A beautiful, if devastating, song, Xmas in February is barely a Christmas tune. It does contain the word “Christmas,” however, so I’ll take it. It’s Reed at his post-Velvet Underground best, chronicling the hardships of a Vietnam vet. It manages to be both beautiful and heartbreaking, and so evocotive of the gritty worldview he became synonymous with. Merry (post-) Xmas!