The Best Christmas Songs That They Never Play
December 22, 2010 Leave a comment
I don’t know about you but I have just about had it with the secular Christmas music that’s pumping out of every available speaker. We’re constantly entreated to enjoy “the most wonderful time of the year,” but the overplayed anthems simply remind me of 50% off sales at the department store chains and all the stresses of holiday shopping.
I’m tired of being regaled with bogus tales of magical snowmen, the preposterous conceit of a “marshmallow world,” and being forced to endure the cringeworthy date rape anthem known as “Baby It’s Cold Outside.” Even worse are the songs that make me feel bad about poverty and the rotten things going on in the world, like I really need a downer like that when I’m driving through the snow to the insanely crowded mall. And I can barely hold in a barf when I hear some harlot cooing about “Santa Baby.” GROSS, keep your fat old man fetish to yourself!
Traditional, religious Christmas music is fine with me: the best of the best has been distilled out of centuries’ worth of composers’ reflections upon the sacred mystery of the infant deity. Tough to argue with that.
I have no beef with a well-written Christmas song, especially if it has poignant lyrics and an iconic vocal. A few often-played songs from the modern era will truly stand the test of time…I’m thinking about gems like “White Christmas” by Bing, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” by Judy G, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” by Perry Como, and “The Christmas Song” by the Velvet Fog. (Also, I used to hate “The Little Drummer Boy,” but this version redeems it for all time.)
The rest of the stuff you’re hearing incessantly this month, on the other hand, constitutes a poo-borne disease. These rarely-heard songs are the antidote.
CHRISTMAS UPDATE! Now with Spotify playlist.
Rufus Thomas – “I’ll Be Your Santa, Baby”
This song is awesome. Recorded in 1973, it opens with a roar and doesn’t let up “until 1984.” Hide your wife, Rufus Thomas is coming to town!
The Youngsters – “Christmas in Jail”
This is a fantastic, forgotten doo-wop Christmas carol from 1956. It’s about a young man who had too much to drink, unadvisedly took to the wheel, and now finds himself pacing the cold, concrete floors of a jail cell. Don’t let this happen to you.
Lou Monte – “Dominick the Donkey”
I heard about this one from the special lady in my life. But when she first sang it to me, I could hardly believe such a song could be real. The Italian Christmas Donkey? Apparently, this 1960 hit chronicles an actual Christmas character in the Neapolitan homeland. I also love the video put together by Youtube’s Park Slope Films.
Otis Redding – “Merry Christmas Baby”
Do I even need to explain why this is awesome? It’s a soulful Christmas song recorded by Otis Redding in 1968. That should be all the encouragement you need to check this out.
Elvis Presley – “If I Get Home on Christmas Day”
There’s nothing quite like a great Elvis song from the 70s (in this case 1971), even if they were the exception rather than the rule by then. Hip Christmas calls it “pristine 1970’s studiocraft, understated in a way that Elvis’ best work rarely was.” This one will def. grow on you, especially if you revere the King like I do and have your Christmas tree adorned with emblems of Him. OK, maybe that’s just me.
Clarence Carter – “Back Door Santa”
This slamming soul tune from 1968 features a bawdy Clarence-Claus who makes his runs at the break of day — and unlike Santa, comes more than once a year. Not only is this song a gem, it also provided the key sample for Run DMC’s “Christmas in Hollis.”
Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, Trudy Stevens – “Snow”
Everybody knows the title song from 1954’s White Christmas, but some of the deeper cuts from that soundtrack are almost as good. I especially love this number, which the characters sing as they head to Vermont on a train (Bing having been coerced by Danny Kaye). Rosemary Clooney is especially awesome on this one. (Vera-Ellen, cast for her dancing skills, lip-synchs Trudy Stevens’ vocal.) It’s not purely Christmas-themed, but I couldn’t resist including it. I dare you to not have this song stuck in your head the next time it snows.
Billy Squier – “Christmas is the Time to Say I Love You”
I might be on the path to becoming the Internet’s foremost Billy Squier apologist. Yes, his hairstyles, clothing, and antics quickly went from hip to incredibly, incredibly lame, and he made the most embarrassing music video of all time.
But before you dismiss the balladeer from Wellesley Hills, recall that Squier recorded kick-ass songs like “Lonely is the Night,” “Don’t Say No,” and “Everybody Wants You,” to say nothing of the timelessly fierce “The Stroke.” He also made this terrific 1981 Christmas sing-along, captured here in a video from MTV’s halcyon era. It’s a winner.
Have a great Christmas, everybody — and remember, ROTI loves you.
I highly recommend the Top 100 Christmas Songs list at Hip Christmas, which I relied on for research into forgotten Christmas gems.