Good morning. A measured start to the week in the guise of Yo La Tengo’s ‘You Are Here’. It’s the opening track off the LP There’s A Riot Going On that they released earlier this year. Have a good one.
This year’s Christmas day highlight is Run-DMC’s ‘Christmas in Hollis’. It samples Clarence Carter’s “Back Door Santa” and features the frosty cool declaration: “My name’s D.M.C. with the mic in my hand/And I’m chilling and coolin’ just like a snowman”. Merry Christmas everyone!
‘I Wish It Was Christmas Today’ was originally a Saturday Night Live skit featuring by Jimmy Fallon, Tracy Morgan et al. back in 2000. A decade later, it was given an indie makeover by hero Julian Casablancas. The result sounds like a Strokes song with jingle bells and more than a hint of rebellion: “I don’t care what your momma says, Christmas time is near”.
Good Christmas music is an oxymoron, but if you look hard enough, you can find. And so I serve up another slice of melancholy with James Brown’s 1968 cut ‘Santa Claus, Santa Claus’. Brown is someone that invested in the festive season with a trio of Christmas-themed albums James Brown Sings Christmas Songs (1966), A Soulful Christmas (1968) and Hey America It’s Christmas (1970) during a time when he was reinventing soul. “Santa Claus, Santa Claus/Please, don’t make me suffer so.”
Before be became Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, Will Oldham recorded under many pseudonyms. As Palace Songs, he released Hope in 1994. The EP includes the fans’ favourite ‘Agnes, Queen of Sorrow’ and the melancholic ‘Christmastime in the Mountains’. The latter opens with the heartbreaking lyric “Should I play ball with the dogs, or should I walk away?”. It’s a forlorn start to the festive week, but it’s a beautiful piece of music and I’m spending Christmastime in the mountains.
In 2006, Sufjan Stevens went several steps further than the F’lips when he released his ‘Christmas gift to us all’, the five-volume Songs For Christmas. On Volume 4 ‘Joy’, he features his whimsical banjo-laden song “Did I Make You Cry On Christmas Day? (Well, You Deserved It!)”. It sounds like the sad end of a relationship, but the brackets hint at something else. “I didn’t mean to yell, I said I couldn’t tell. I only grabbed your wrist, or would you rather we kissed?”
Let’s push on through the weekend. It’s a decade since The Flaming Lips released the Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell EP as an interim between the full length Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots and its follow-up At War With the Mystics. It was late November, and at the end of the extended play, they snuck out a festive track. Unlike ‘Christmas at the Zoo’ off Clouds Tastes Metallic and anything off their freakout film Christmas on Mars, ‘A Change At Christmas’ mixes the trademark synthesizers, drum machine and heart-swelling positivity with sleigh bells and chimes. It all culminates in some joyous sentiment: “I think it’s all going to work out just fine”.
Written and performed by Tom Waits, this festive song uses his trademark whiskey-soaked growl to its fullest. ‘Christmas Card From A Hooker in Minneapolis’ is off his 1978 album, Blue Valentine. The opening line “Hey, Charlie, baby, I’m pregnant” kicks off a storytelling masterpiece of americana. “Hey Charlie for chrissakes, if you want to know the truth of it/I don’t have a husband he don’t play the trombone/I need to borrow money to pay this lawyer and Charlie hey/I’ll be eligible for parole come Valentine’s Day.”