This Week’s Theme: Merry Xmas
We have a tradition at the Faux household that requires a little bit of explanation. Before we met, Ms. Faux spent every holiday season singing – performing in small groups, choirs, churches, and public venues. She started as a child and continued to sing into her adulthood. Although I can’t sing very well, I applied a little bit of my Outsider Artist personality into the home-recorded production of annual holiday albums. I recorded on an old 4-track and distributed the music on cassettes (and later CDs) to friends. In other words, we both brought a love of holiday music into our relationship. For this reason, beginning with our first year together, Ms. Faux and I have followed a very strict rule: we listen to holiday music, and only holiday music, from the day after Thanksgiving through Christmas day. Our holiday season begins on Black Friday by putting up our vintage 1950’s aluminum tree while listening to holiday albums by Brian Setzer, The Carpenters, and The Osmonds. We then spend the next month listening to holiday music.
We have been together for over twenty years, so this tradition has led to our becoming extremely knowledgeable in holiday music across decades, styles, and artists. Before streaming was available, we built a holiday music collection that allowed us to play constant songs for weeks without repeating albums. Now that streaming makes the entire universe of holiday music available, we have broadened our knowledge even further and continue to discover more each year. The end result is the ability to create diverse holiday music Faux Shows for the next four weeks without breaking a sweat!
For those of you who are groaning due to a lack of interest in holiday music, fear not. We are true believers: when vetted appropriately, holiday music is often great music that just happens to be about xmas. The next month’s worth of shows will cover a wide spectrum of music, and at times barely feel holiday-themed at all. This week’s show focuses on songs that fall on the “out there” side of the usual joyous, spirit-filled realm of holiday music. This includes songs that may be sad, angry, depressing, and/or negative toward the holidays and the topics addressed in the songs may be unusual compared to normal holiday fare. If the songs are based on more common holiday themes, they may be songs that one may not normally associate with the holidays and/or ones that are not very well-known to most people. In other words, if you wander into a Michael’s over the next few weeks, you probably won’t hear many of these songs playing over the store’s speaker system.
Welcome to Radio Faux Show volume two, number forty-three.
First things first – click a link to start listening and then come back to read about this week’s songs.
Why Christmas music, or what the hell is wrong with you people? A Special Ms. Faux Theme Introduction
I can’t remember what my first conversation with DJ Faux about xmas music was, how we discovered that we shared a similar strange interest, or when we started in earnest to become “COLLECTORS.” For me, as a non-Christian person, holiday music has been the focus of most of my xmas celebrations and I have been surrounded by holiday music since the moment of my existence for one primary reason: I am the Kid of a Band Director (who was also a musician). For those in this peculiar club, which also intersects in this case with Children of Clergy, starting in September, everything in your life is centered on PREPARING FOR THE CHRISTMAS (NOW HOLIDAY circa 1980?) CONCERT. My dad selected music in the fall and then started rehearsing mid-October, which meant that at home, I was also preparing. He was a school band and choir director, and also the choir director of the church I was raised in which had a huge multi-denominational family Christmas concert/service every year. I also did band and/or chorus in school starting in kindergarten. So from early childhood, I was listening to but also performing in multiple holiday concerts myself every year, into adulthood.
The xmas concert cycle shapes your entire experience of the year, and the holidays, in both wonderful and extremely unpleasant ways. But at the end of it, I know and have come to love a lot of xmas music. More than many humans ever will. For some people in my situation, it can go the other way – you come to detest holiday music (and in some cases, the holidays) so much that you ban them from your life forever. But for me it has remained a lifelong love, source of joy, and passion. Some of my most precious memories and most powerful and moving life experiences are connected to xmas music in one way or another: singing it in groups both enormous and very small, sacred and secular, hearing it all around me, and hearing DJ Faux or Faux Jr. play it. For me it does symbolize all of the hope and joy, all of the peace, and even its sentimentality, weirdness, silliness, and cynicism.
The “out there” group of songs is especially important to me for a number of reasons. First, I think every one belongs at the table, in every kind of music; this applies to xmas music as well. In our song selection criteria we had to have a place for this less obvious kind of holiday expression: the unusual, the not-very-Christmasy, and the “You never would have heard that but it’s great so here it is.” Outsider music is welcome, as well as humor, and difficult listening. These are songs that many people might not want to listen to at Christmas. As much as I anticipate Santa Claus coming to town, I am especially attached to sad holiday music, songs about wistfulness, longing, and loss. For many people, the reality of the holidays is one of sadness, and for many more ambivalence at best. It’s good to think about that, and maybe even embrace it on the days when you are not feeling jolly and can be present with your own sorrow or cynicism. I love listening to these songs as much as the joyful ones.
There aren’t very many Thanksgiving tracks in the holiday music canon, and it is not a holiday commonly associated with music. However, I threw in two tracks to show all of those dead turkeys some love.
Stan Freberg “The Thanksgiving Story”: Have you ever tried bald eagle? It tastes like chicken. I learned of the Stan Freberg album Stan Freberg Presents the USA while researching the National Recording Registry Faux Show series, including selections in the Registry from before 1955, selections from 1955 to the present, and my personal favorite Top 25 albums that have gained inclusion.
Arlo Guthrie “Alice’s Restaurant”: If Thanksgiving has a theme song, it is this.
Blues Legends and Songs
Blues artists have a long connection to holiday music. Some of the best known holiday songs are blues, such as “Please Come Home For Christmas” and “Merry Christmas Baby.” Holiday blues songs have been available since the earliest days of recording, and most of the great blues performers have at least one or two tunes in their repertory. I’ve included some lesser known holiday blues by a variety of artists, including some legends.
Count Basie (featuring Jimmy Rushing) “Good Morning Blues (I Wanna See Santa Claus)”: This is an early recording by Count Basie’s orchestra with his long-time vocalist Jimmy Rushing.
John Lee Hooker “Christmas Time Blues”: This is one of the first recordings by this legend.
Clarence Williams Orchestra (featuring Eva Taylor) “The Santa Claus Blues”: This is one of the first holiday blues recordings, recorded in 1925.
Sonny Boy Williamson “Santa Claus”: This is my favorite holiday blues by my favorite blues artist.
Jimmy Witherspoon “I Hate To See Xmas Come Around (Christmas Blues)”: This is a song I discovered this year, by one of the great blues shouters.
Songs about the negative aspects of the holidays
One of the sad, universal truths about the holiday season is that it often leads to depression, sadness, anger, and disappointment. For some, listening to joyous holiday music helps them feel the peace and joy of the season. For others, joyous holiday music just adds to their sorrow and depression. This lack of joyous outlook applies to musical artists as much as it does to everyone else, so it is no surprise that one of the most common holiday themes is songs about the negative aspects of the holidays. This week’s show includes four examples of this subset of holiday fare.
Black Pumas “Christmas Will Really Be Christmas”: This funky gem was released in November 2021 by one of the best neo-soul bands out there. It’s an updated, 21st century tune reminiscent of Stevie Wonder’s classic “Someday At Christmas.”
LCD Soundsystem “Christmas Will Break Your Heart”: This song builds and builds and builds. It isn’t very happy.
They Might Be Giants “Santa’s Beard”: This is now an indie rock holiday classic and has always been one of TMBG’s most popular. Upon it’s release in 1988, it was just one of many great tracks on their second LP Lincoln.
“Weird Al” Yankovic “The Night Santa Went Crazy”: It’s Weird Al, so the title pretty much gives it way. It doesn’t end well for the reindeer.
The argument about whether songs that aren’t originally written about the holidays should be considered holiday songs will most likely never be resolved. I believe they should be, if for no other reason then that is strengthens the diversity of music we can all listen to during this time.
Black Country, New Road “Snow Globes”: This is from their 2022 album Ants From Up Here, one of the best albums of this year.
Aretha Franklin “First Snow in Kokomo”: This is from her 1972 album Young, Gifted, and Black.
The Moody Blues “December Snow”: This is from their 2003 Holiday album December. The Moody Blues are one of my favorite artists, and this was their last studio album. While most artists release mediocre holiday albums as a money grab when then are well past their prime, this record is actually wonderful and sounds much like their ’80s and ’90s material.
Van Morrison “Snow In San Anselmo”: This is from his 1973 album Hardnose The Highway.
Itzhak Perlman & The London Philharmonic “Winter: Vivaldi’s Four Seasons”: This is as good as classical music gets.
The Rolling Stones “Winter”: This is from their 1973 album Goat’s Head Soup.
The Waterboys “December”: This is from their 1983 self-titled debut.
The song poem is one of the most unique and interesting styles of American music. At their core, song poems are songs in which a professional musician sets music to lyrics submitted by someone from the general public. The most common method for receiving the lyrics (or poems) was through advertising in magazines and newspapers that allowed people to submit their lyrics and a small fee in order to receive a completed song. Dating back to the early 20th century, the practice started with lyrics being set to music and sent to the customer as printed sheet music. In the ’60s, the practice shifted over to recordings of the songs by session musicians and the production of a cheap vinyl disk. Due to the rarity of these recordings, only one record produced for each customer, song poems are highly collectible and near impossible to find. Luckily for us, collections of song poems have been compiled into CD and streaming formats and made available to the public.
Song poems can cover all variety of topics, but it makes sense that one of the most common topics was holiday themes. The collection The American Song-Poem Christmas: Daddy, Is Santa Really Six Foot Four? is a wonderful introduction to song poems and an annual favorite at the Faux household. I’ve included one of the greatest song poems ever recorded, the title track to the collection, “Daddy, Is Santa Really Six Foot Four?” but all of them are worth a listen.
Kay Brown “Daddy Is Santa Really Six Foot Four?”: Everyone knows “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” and some even know “Santa Looked A Lot Like Daddy,” but no better words were ever written about a child’s confusion over seeing Santa Claus kissing their mother.
Comedic Holiday Parodies
It is a holiday tradition to write funny lyrics to Christmas songs. Here are two you may not know.
Allan Sherman “12 Days Of Christmas”: It isn’t as well-known as the Bob & Doug McKenzie version, but it’s just as funny.
Carla Ulbrich “Let It Go”: Don’t obsess over gifts you never received.
At least they’re trying…
Some holiday songs are good simply because the artist is trying to produce a nice holiday song. Others defy explanation.
Hasil Adkins “Santa Claus Boogie”: Hasil Adkins is an outsider rockabilly performer who gave the world decades of his unique musical vision. It is fantastic that he recorded some holiday tunes late in his career. Brilliant!
Beat Happening “Christmas”: This is from the debut album by the masters of minimalistic indie rock. K Records ruled college radio in the late ’80s and this was the label founders’ band.
Babs Gonzales “Teenage Santa Claus” is about a Santa Claus who brings gifts that teenagers really want…at least that is what Babs appears to be saying. I’m not so sure about what teenage boys are supposed to expect from their teenage girlfriends, though.
Dickie Goodman “Santa & The Satellite Parts 1 and 2”: Goodman is best-known for his ’70s song “Mr. Jaws.” His gimmick was to conduct fake radio interviews with characters from popular culture and use snippets of current hits to represent the interviewees response. This is one of his first recordings, featuring music from the late ’50s.
Slim Pickens “Christmas In November”: Oh…my…god. The man who rode the nuclear missile at the end of the Kubrick film Dr. Strangelove and led the farting scene in Blazing Saddles recorded this song in 1980. It is a spoken word lyric over ridiculously sentimental music, and it tells the story of a 7-year old boy whose family celebrates Christmas in November because he is going to die of some unnamed illness before Christmas. Oh…my…god.
Millie Small “I’ve Fallen In Love With A Snowman”: This one is not going to become a classic. Small is best known for “My Boy Lollipop,” one of the first reggae/ska songs to be heard internationally.
The Trashmen “Dancin’ With Santa”: This is the group that gave the world “Surfin’ Bird.” This holiday tune is very different from their classic.
Dan Zanes “I’m Counting The Days (Until Christmas)”: Dan Zanes was a founding member of the forgotten ’80s rock band Del Fuegos. He later became one of the most successful kindie rock artists. If you have kids, get some of his children’s albums. They are great. This song is wonderful.
The most confusing song on this week’s show…
…is definitely “The Laughing Record” by Otto Rathke. I learned of this song while researching the National Recording Registry Faux Show series. The song itself is a definitive novelty recording. Some find it amusing, others find it disturbing. It was never supposed to be a holiday recording, but thanks to Jean Shepherd it is now considered by some to be part of the canon. Jean Shepherd is the writer of the 1966 book In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash, which was used to create Shepherd’s beloved film A Christmas Story in 1983. This ridiculous song enters the tale because before he wrote the book, Shepherd was the host of a radio program that featured his holiday stories, and he used this song as part of the background audio for his radio show. That is good enough for me. Let’s just assume that the couple on the record are drinking eggnog at the Griswald house out of those reindeer antler glasses and watching the cat get electrocuted just before the Christmas tree goes up in flames.
Artist of the Week: All of Them
Any artist who records holiday music is the artist of the week.
That wraps up the first of four holiday-themed Faux Shows for this holiday season. Next week’s show will feature more standard holiday music. If you need more holiday music before then, you can also check out last year’s holiday Faux Shows.
RFS Volume 1, Number 39: Merry Xmas
RFS Volume 1, Number 40: Happy Holidays
RFS Volume 1, Number 41: Ring Them Jingle Bells
RFS Volume 1, Number 42: Most Wonderful Time Of The Year
Thanks for listening (and reading)!
|1||Kay Brown||Daddy, Is Santa Really Six Foot Four?|
|2||Black Pumas||Christmas Will Really Be Christmas|
|3||Babs Gonzales||Teenage Santa Claus|
|4||Sonny Boy Williams||Santa Claus|
|5||Hasil Adkins||Santa Claus Boogie|
|7||Trashmen, The||Dancin’ With Santa|
|8||Steve Miller Band||Winter Time|
|9||Van Morrison||Snow In San Anselmo|
|10||Aretha Franklin||First Snow in Kokomo|
|11||Black Country, New Road||Snow Globes|
|12||LCD Soundsystem||christmas will break your heart|
|13||“Weird Al” Yankovic||The Night Santa Went Crazy|
|14||They Might Be Giants||Santa’s Beard|
|15||Millie Small||I’m In Love With A Snowman|
|16||Carla Ulbrich||Let It Go|
|17||Allan Sherman||12 Days of Christmas|
|18||Jimmy Witherspoon||I Hate To See Xmas Come Around (Christmas Blues)|
|19||Count Basie & His Orchestra||Good Morning Blues (I Wanna See Santa Claus)|
|20||John Lee Hooker||Christmas Time Blues|
|21||Itzhak Perlman & London Philharmonic Orchestra||Vivaldi, Four Seasons, Winter: Largo|
|22||Dan Zanes||I’m Counting The Days (Until Christmas)|
|24||Moody Blues, The||December Snow|
|25||Rolling Stones, The||Winter|
|26||Slim Pickens||Christmas in November|
|27||Dickie Goodman||Santa & The Satellite (Pt. 1)|
|28||Dickie Goodman||Santa & The Satellite (Pt. 2)|
|29||Clarence Williams Orchestra||The Santa Claus Blues|
|30||Otto Rathke||The Okeh Laughing Record|
|31||Stan Freberg||The Thanksgiving Story|
|32||Arlo Guthrie||Alice’s Restaurant|