Our Favorite Holiday Records
Year-end lists— you can’t live with ’em, and you can’t live without ’em. But wanting to at least provide an alternative to all the "Best Records of 2003" countdowns you’ll be seeing, we thought we’d offer a more timeless list of our Holiday favorites. So, in no particular order, here they are…
o The Fall, "Jingle Bell Rock": Yes, Mark E. Smith and gang really did this (and "Hark the Herald Angels Sing," which ain’t as good). If a grinch like him can get the Xmas spirit, there’s hope for us all. (JG)
o Yo La Tengo, "Rock ‘n’ Roll Santa," from the Merry Christmas from Yo La Tengo E.P. passed out at their 2002 Chanukah show at Maxwell’s. For those on your list who’d prefer buzz-saw guitars to harpsichords. This record will frighten the reindeer off your rooftop. (TS)
o Duke Ellington, Three Suites: Ellington’s nine peppery reinterpretations of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker comprise a more swell and less sweet retelling of the tale. (KK)
o "Jingle Bells," from Don Charles Presents the Singing Dogs, directed by Carl Weismann: Danish sound engineer Weismann stumbled head-over-heels into the novelty-song hall of fame in 1955. Using the dog sounds that he was continually editing out of his legendary singing bird tapes, he pieced together— one "ruff" and "woof" at a time— a Christmas recording for children that, depending on your perspective, is either the most cheerfully good-natured or unbearably single-minded seasonal tune of the ages. (DS)
o The Watersons, Frost and Fire: A "calendar of ritual and magical songs" performed by the rousing, unaccompanied voices of the first family of traditional English song. (DM)
o Arvo Pärt: especially Tabula Rasa, which sounds like the end of the Soviet empire. Really makes you want to go out and sing "Joy to the World." Which I never have. (EP)
o Phil Kline, "Unsilent Night": Released by boomboxes, magical tones float in the ether. (FC)
o Lol Coxhill/Phil Minton/Noël Akchoté, Christmas 7": Too bad I can’t remember the Christmas tracks on this French 7" (which even has a guy named Noël on it), but no one I know has a working turntable in her house right now. I tried to set up my beat-up Technics and listen to the whole thing, but technology fails me, and this is the best Christmas record I’ve never heard. (BR)
o Allan Sherman, "The Twelve Days of Christmas": Even an oldie like this reminds us what a bad commercialized joke the holiday’s become and as such, worthy of a good joke like this. (JG)
o U.S. Saucer, Tender Places Come From Nothing: "Begging Song" is good, "Cowboy Song" is better, "Ride Away Vaquero" is the best, but nothing nestles me into the holiday spirit quite like these cowboyed-out Thinking Fellers spin-offers singing "Silent Night." Rumors out of the U.S. west swear this is played over loudspeakers during Christmas Eve rodeos. (NS)
o Laura Nyro, Christmas and the Beads of Sweat: My favorite Nyro album. Extremes of emotion, like its black-and-white cover. The lady brings you down with obscure, heavy stuff about Jesus (title track), and then resurrects you with a burst of early-morning euphoria ("Brown Earth"). Also features fiery playing by Duane Allman (!). (DB)
o Steve Reich, Tehillim: Psalms 19:2–5, 34:13–15, 18:26–22, 150:4–6, set to Reichian chamber music, sung in Hebrew. Uh, Nat King who? (NS)
o David Bowie and Bing Crosby, "Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy": Recorded during Bing Crosby’s 1977 television Christmas special. They may have looked like they came from different planets, but their voices were tuned into the same frequency. It’s just crazy and weird enough to work. (TS)
o Run DMC, "Christmas in Hollis": A classic, if only because it’s what the holiday’s like for most of us. (JG)
o Nat King Cole, "The Christmas Song": Nat’s voice is ever smooth and adds sophistication to these traditional carols and tunes. (KK)
o Anything by chanting Tibetan Buddhist monks. Usually I try to go away for the Christmas holidays to tropical repressive dying Communist dictatorships where the hype is just not allowed. Really. It’s that annoying. (EP)
o Jethro Tull, "Pan Dance," from the 1976 Christmas E.P.: An understated (and sadly overlooked) seasonal gem, recorded when Ian Anderson’s infatuation with fairies, forests, and Olde England was still refreshing. (DM)
o Christmas with Buck Owens and His Buckaroos: It just wouldn’t be Christmas without Buck and the boys, weaving their flawless, pinched-nasal harmonies through songs about blue Christmas trees, tear-drenched snowmen, and Santa Claus arriving in a stagecoach. (DS)
o Elvis Presley, "Merry Christmas, Baby": The smuttiest holiday song you’ll ever hear, and he never swears once. (JG)
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Camera shy: Sam Carter, Alan Lockwood, Grant Moser.
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