So things are looking up–Mr. Geeky V carried the pink tree down from the attic and put up the festive skeleton lights (you know, for the “scary ghost stories of Christmases long, long ago”). We had our work “we can’t call it a Christmas party” year-end festivities, and I ate way too much pot luck food. We did a Dirty Santa gift exchange, and though I wanted to steal my present back and take it home (I brought these adorable Nesting Bowls from Gama-Go–they were a steal at $5), I wound up with a very cool board game called “Imaginiff”. I’m looking forward to playing it soon with friends and a few adult beverages. I’m definitely in full swing of the holiday spirit, and I hope you are, too!
That brings me to this post. As promised, I’m balancing my last post about sad bastard Christmas music with some musical cheer guaranteed to turn that Charlie Brown into a kid from Peanuts other than Charlie Brown who’s in one of the dancing scenes in the Christmas special.
June Christy, “The Merriest”
I discovered this loungey tune during my “Ultra-Lounge” phase, which occurred just after and as a direct result of my Swingers phase, in which I wanted to swing dance and call everyone “money” like Vince Vaughn. I became fascinated with the Ultra-Lounge CD compilations and played the “Best Of” collections (in a furry leopard case, sparkly Tiki case, and green felt with roulette wheel case, respectively) on repeat in my 3-disc carousel bookshelf stereo that was my high school graduation present. When the first holiday compilation Christmas Cocktails was released, I headed to my local Circuit City and picked it up. It contains a lot of swingin’, ginchy gems, but this snazzy tune is definitely one of the brightest.
Christy’s warm vocals atop a jazzy, festive instrumental combine with vocals indicative of the Rat Pack era and instantly transport you back to a time when everyone dressed to the nines and no one was without a cocktail. If you’ve never heard it, give it a whirl here, and add it to your holiday playlist to class up the joint.
(Incidentally, this one was also remixed for a compilation called Merry Mixmas. The remix is a bit funkier, but it stays true to the original song.)
Kay Starr, “(Everybody’s Waitin’ For) The Man With The Bag”
Once again, this tune was part of one of the Christmas Cocktails compilations. I believe it was volume 2. You may have heard this one in a commercial or while out shopping. I can speak from experience when I say that it’s super fun to sing and dance along to this one while baking cookies for work.
This is one of those songs that’s so catchy and peppy that it makes me happier when I’m happy, and angry when I’m in a bad mood and want to stay that way. It has transforming powers, turning frowns upside down wherever it goes.
Once again, spin this platter during your next holiday gathering to set a mood of mirth.
(This one, like the previous track, was also remixed for Merry Mixmas. It’s also one of the highlights of the album.)
And the remixed version:
Robert Earl Keen, “Merry Christmas From The Family”
This one, though maybe not in your face cheery, falls into the category of “Christmas songs that make me ridiculously happy”. Enjoy this one with a sixer of Shiner Bock Holiday Cheer, my favorite holiday beer. Turn it up loud and sing at the top of your lungs. The more Shiner you have, the more fun it becomes! Plus, how many Christmas songs mention things like bean dip, tampons, and a can of fake snow?
Berlin Symphony Orchestra, “The Nutcracker Suite (Baz Kuts Breaks Mix)” (And really, the entirety of Christmas Remixed: Holiday Classics Regrooved)
So take “The Nutcracker Suite”, which is one of the cheeriest pieces of classical music, and put a hip hop beat to it, along with some scratching, and you have the song that’s in my head pretty much all season. If you don’t own Christmas Remixed: Holiday Classics Regrooved, it’s the perfect holiday album. Put it on at a party, and you’ll have people saying, “Hey, what is this?” (Think Christmas meets the scene in High Fidelity when Rob says, “I will now sell five copies of The Three EPs by the Beta Band.”)
Look, I’m a fan of the classics. I play Bing and Ella all season long, but I love a modern twist, like this album. It’s a way to listen to Andy Williams without falling asleep.
Louis Armstrong, “Cool Yule”
If you’ve seen Serendipity with John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale (one of my favorite Christmasy non-Christmas movies), you’ve heard this tune as the film opens. I remember my mom buying one of those Laserlight CDs at Circuit City that was a best of Louis Armstrong Christmas songs. (We had a ton of those Laserlight CDs. They were crazy cheap, and most of them were decent compilations, especially of swing era artists.) Though it boasts a bunch of favorites, like “‘Zat You, Santa Claus?”, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”, and “Christmas in Harlem”, “Cool Yule” stands out as a beacon of joy and swingin’ yuletide adventures.
Not Porky Pig, “Blue Christmas”
Yes, this shows up on quite a few “most annoying Christmas songs ever” lists, but damn if it doesn’t make me giggle every time I hear it. The people laughing in the background, Not Porky’s stuttering speech during the instrumental break, all of it fills me with silly joy.
Bing Crosby, “Christmas In Killarney” and “Mele Kalikimaka”
Ah, der Bingle. Your Christmas album has brought me joy since I can remember. It’s not Christmas until I hear your version of “Jingle Bells” with the Andrews Sisters or these songs. I assumed everyone had heard these, but I learned in high school, when we sang “Christmas In Killarney”, that most people didn’t know it.
I love these because they come from a totally different era, when featuring Christmas in a different locale wasn’t out of the ordinary. (It may not be today, either, but my knowledge of new Christmas music is limited. I think we got all of the Christmas music we needed sometime in the ’80s, and for the most part all new music allowed should be creative remixes of that music.) Plus, it’s fun to sing “Mele Kalikimaka” and think about how it was released before Hawaii was even a state.
Wayne Newton, “Jingle Bell Rock”
I have an unabashed love for young Wayne Newton. His version of “Strangers In The Night” trumps Frankie’s any day. Once again, I have Ultra-Lounge to thank for this Christmas miracle. Sure, Bobby Helms’ version is groovy, but this one is ginchy. (And believe me, there’s a big difference.)
Blackalicious, “Toy Jackpot” and Blazer Force, “Electronic Santa”
Remember a few years ago (2010, I believe), when Target had all of those cool commercials with different songs? Well, they also provided these tracks as a free album called The Christmas Gig that you could download from their website. It’s actually a good album, definitely worth the price, and it includes these two gems.
“Toy Jackpot” is my second favorite Christmas rap song (“Christmas In Hollis” is #1, natch). It does include one of my favorite topics, toys, and it’s all about a greedy little bugger who gets all of his desired toys and then some.
Here’s a dare. Listen to “Electronic Santa” wherever you are, and try to make it to the end of the song without doing the robot. It’s impossible. I’ve tried. That’s the power of this song! Handle with care, kids.
Ella Fitzgerald, “Jingle Bells”
I struggled whether to use this version or Bing’s, but ultimately, since ol’ Bing already made the list, and because I think this version may have edged to the top as my favorite, here’s Ella. This song is peppy, jazzy, and warm, like some hot cocoa with a candy cane. As I mentioned in the previous post, Ella’s Christmas album is one of the essentials, and this track embodies why.
Bonus points for this song for using one of my absolute favorite words: tintinnabulation.
Mike Relm, “My Favorite Peanuts”
I love “Linus And Lucy”. Any time of year, it’s a perfect song, but this time of year, along with a couple of other tracks from Vince Guaraldi’s soundtrack of the special (“Skating” and “Christmas Is Coming”), these are staples in my playlist.
This version is a remix by DJ Mike Relm. If you’re not familiar with his work, he is a visual and audio DJ. He does these fantastic video remixes. This particular track is from a mix called Radio Fryer.
Squirrel Nut Zippers, “Carolina Christmas”
I’m a huge fan of some SNZ (as a result of tweeting about them, Katharine Whalen started following me on Twitter, and I nearly croaked). Their Christmas album, Christmas Caravan is a ton of fun. Gems include “Winter Weather”, “Indian Giver”, and the tear-jerking “Gift Of The Magi”. My favorite is this track, a fun glimpse into the Zippers’ Christmas. Come for the peppy tune, stay for the lines like “We’re chillin’ in our underwear.”
(Incidentally, SNZ had a holiday tune before this called “Santa Claus Is Smoking Reefer” that’s a lot of fun. Not entirely appropriate, but totally fun.)
Billy May, “Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer Mambo”
Another entry from Christmas Cocktails, this one is primarily instrumental, though the band occasionally says things like “Close your eyes real nice and tight–Santa comes tonight” and randomly, “Kris Kringle!” and “Holly berries”. It’s loungey, it’s fun, it’s a perfect addition to your party playlist. It’s far less annoying than any version of “Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer”.
Mavis Staples, “Christmas Vacation”
I have one rule at Christmas. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is my favorite Christmas movie, and I’m not allowed to watch it until I’m actually on Christmas vacation. (That means this year I have to wait until at least Friday to join in the good old-fashioned Griswold family Christmas.) I’m always ready to watch it, so sometimes it’s hard to wait, but this rule means that as soon as I hear the opening jingles of this song, I’m in “I don’t have to return to work until the new year” bliss.
And finally, for the Grinches, The Mad Tea, “Oh Shit, It’s Christmastime”
Cheery in tune, but not in tone, this song by Asheville-based band The Mad Tea is great for those times when you’ve elbowed your way to the toilet paper aisle and are questioning your life choices for entering any store any time between Thanksgiving and Martin Luther King’s birthday.
Wow, this is a long list! I could keep going, since I have approximately 174 favorite Christmas songs, but we all have things to do. I sincerely hope you’ll give at least one of these tracks a spin and that they add to your holiday cheer!
What’d I miss? Any tunes I didn’t list here you think I should give a try?