Hey Charlie / I’ll be eligible for parole / come Valentines Day

All Christ­mas records are not tosh.

Darlene Love and Phil Spector

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 do 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, how­eve, 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 any­where (Beau­ti­ful Woman).

Chuck Berry: Mer­ry Christ­mas Baby

Very Charles Brown in its 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.

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 very famous ’64 My Christ­mas Gift To You album, but you knew that, right?

1 Comment

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Felix
December 22, 2009 at 07:12 PM

Great list. I’d add Clarence Carter’s Back­door San­ta and James Brown’s Hey Amer­i­ca.

I played a bunch of “Christ­mas-Music-That-Is-Not-Tosh” on the wire­less last night — wish I’d seen your list first though, espe­cial­ly ‘cos I’d com­plete­ly for­got­ten about the Tom Waits num­ber.

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