All Christmas records are not tosh.
Well, that’s only slightly true as the overwhelming bulk of those foisted upon the public by hungry record companies are complete rubbish, and are best discarded, or set aside from the things that are supposed to make us feel good at this time of year. In 2009 Bob Dylan decided it was his turn and, while I’ve not heard it (and am unlikely to) beyond a track or two, plus this shocker of a video, I am happy to conclude that my life would be fuller if I didn’t.
But we’ve been blessed (I can use words like that since it’s Christmas and once upon a time I was forced to go to church every Xmas eve by a long past girlfriend, so I feel I’ve earned the right to use the word at Christmas, even if I’m happy being a non-believer in all that twaddle at any time of the year, Xmas especially..I remember standing outside the Catholic church in Northcote in 1981 with The Screaming Meemees, various Ainsworths, Regulators and assorted other North Shore bands, having a fag whilst the families thought we were at the back of the crowded room..the things you do for love and rock’n’roll) with the odd tune that stands above the morass of quickie, knock ’em out for that quick buck fodder that covers the sale tables outside your average mall record store for weeks before December 25th. Or fills the for a good cause compilations that labels get their acts to contribute to (royalty free of course although the label still gets the marketing and warehousing fees deducted before the returns get divvied up).
No, some are actually made for the right reasons..fun, jollity, and because the song itself has legs.
So, not all Christmas records suck but, really most of them do, however to prove a point, here are a few that don’t:
The Maytals: The Christmas Song
Produced by the great Byron Lee, this came out in 1972 on a 7″ and, yep, it’s affectingly lovely..but then Toots was the man who stood up on stage at Mainstreet in Auckland in tears, thanking New Zealand for his first, and only I’d imagine, number one (Beautiful Woman).
Chuck Berry: Merry Christmas Baby
Very Charles Brown in it’s execution, this bluesy wee gem, which dips into White Christmas in the middle, dates back to 1958.
Marvin Gaye: Purple Snowflakes
This was a single in 1964, and a flop. Why Marvin’s pre-What’s Going On period is so overlooked is beyond me. His live cut of The Christmas Song, recorded at The Apollo in the mid 60s, is a lost gem too.
Tom Waits: A Christmas Card From A Hooker In Minneapolis
From his ’73 album, Blue Valentine, there was a push to get this to number one in Ireland in 2007, which given the lyrics would’ve been, uhh, a miracle. They didn’t get there but they managed to get a huge blip in his sales in the region. I can think of worse records to hit the top spot at Christmas. And I could name a few….
John Cale: A Child’s Christmas In Wales
From ’73’s gothic masterpiece, Paris 1919. This is Cale’s lovely lyrical reworking of the Dylan Thomas short story of the same name.
Chet Baker: The First Noel
Yeah, it’s well cheesy, and it’s from his declining years and it was likely done for all the wrong reasons (see above), but I like it, and it’s Chet.
Run DMC: Christmas In Hollis
Of course. It doesn’t age too badly, and it’s a record I play every yule season as a ritual.
Alexander O’Neal: The Little Drummer Boy
Produced by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis and long since deleted, this was taken from an album called My Gift To You. Side one, the Jam & Lewis side, was actually ok. This is like Fake with sprayed on snow. Side two sucked.
Darlene Love: Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)
The greatest Christmas record ever, end of story, no discussion. Phil Spector may be what he is, but, man, could he make a record. From the correctly famous ’64 My Christmas Gift To You album, but you knew that, right?