The Christmas Music Liner Notes.

December 13, 2007 at 7:04 am (Music Mixes)

Bowing to the pressure of years past, I’ve decided to finally make the individual tracks of the Christmas Mix available for download from here. I’ll leave these up until Christmas, so if’n you want ’em, get ’em now.

You’re going to have to take some medicine with your spoonful of sugar, though. I’m going to also use this as a chance to add some comments about the various songs–so there. You’re stuck with my obsessive music prattling along with the songs. Deal with it! Just click on the song title to download, yo.

1. “Imagine Santa”-DJ BC. This is a groovy little mashup to kick things off, opening obviously with the piano line from Oasis’s “Don’t Look Back In Anger”. (Kidding!) The opening line is from the Beatles 1963 Fan Club Christmas “single”, and then “Imagine”‘s piano line takes over, while a young Michael Jackson works out his pipes on “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town”.

2. “‘Twas The Night Before Christmas”-Art Carney. Yep, that Art Carney–Norton from “The Honeymooners” and well-respected actor, Carney recorded this jazzy rap back in 1954 or so, pre-dating Kanye West by half a century. Dig that craaaazy beat, daddy-o!

3. “Christmastime All Over Again”-Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. A true oddity here, in that we have a mainstream popular rock Christmas song and…it doesn’t suck! Credit Petty for writing a killer melody and then tossing in a ton of Phil Spector Christmas production touches.

4. “I Know What You Want For Christmas”-Kay Martin & Her Body Guards. No other song on this mix caused me the consternation that this did. Wait, what? You thought this song was about what?? I resent that! This goofy, jazzy gem from 1962 (dig the hockey rink organ!) is a perfectly innocent song about getting the perfect gift from the girl of your dreams, and nothing else. Perverts.

5. “The Christmas Sound”-The Swimmers. I know diddly squat about The Swimmers other than they’re a Philadelphia band, and that this song is a brand new 2007 holiday tune…and that it might be my favorite new Christmas song on the mix. Lyrically imagining a Who-ville where a blackout may have put a damper on Christmas, instead we find that just the opposite happens. “Jumping out of cars/Emptying the bars/Coming for to hear that Christmas sound, it’s all around this town,” the town is swaying in the square to the music of the holiday. Where is all that holiday noise and music coming from? Best couplet of the season: “In the end they found/The source of Christmas sound/It was neighbors, friends and family all around”. If the lyrics don’t get you, the Motown backbeat of the chorus and Beach Boys harmonies are certain to.

6. “Super Sunny Christmas”-Redd Kross. I love this song, but I’ve always left it off the mix because for me an essential part of Christmas is bundling up against the cold, the chance of snow at any time, and your breath turning to vapor in front of your face. I figured we’d let the MacDonald brothers duel it out with the Drifters this time though…

7. “White Christmas”-Clyde McPhatter & The Drifters.
…and The Drifters take exception to Redd Kross. Nope, give us a White Christmas, please! Clyde’s gorgeous alto/tenor voice is on full display here, soaring to reach high notes that should be two octaves out of his range.

8. “Kiss Me Beneath The Christmas Tree”-Caspar & The Cookies. Accurately described by one wag as “The Royal Tenenbaums rolled into a band”, these disarmingly charming pop geeks come on like the louder, goofier cousins of folks like the Shins and Apples In Stereo and offer up a rather PG-rated version of an Archies Christmas song.

9. “Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow”-Brian Setzer Orchestra.
I’ll let you in on a secret–every year, the Christmas mix is guaranteed to contain at least three of the following songs: this one, “I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm”, “Baby It’s Cold Outside”, and “Winter Wonderland”….those are just my favorite “pop standard” Christmas songs. What I dig about Setzer’s version here is that it sounds the closer to his Stray Cats days than a lot of other stuff he’s doing nowadays.

10. “Skating” The Vince Guaraldi Trio. Another secret: every year there’s going to be a song from the Charlie Brown Christmas Special soundtrack. It greatly saddens me that Vince Guaraldi–who by all accounts would’ve been thrilled immensely by it–never lived long enough to see these songs become the popular icons they have.

11. “Winter Wonderland”-Phantom Planet. Otherwise known as “the band Jason Schwartzman plays drums in”, I really dig this almost Pavement-y take on the holiday classic.

12. “Calling On Mary”-Aimee Mann. Every holiday mix needs a downer moment, a song or two for cryin’ in the beer. This year that duty falls to Aimee Mann, who put out a kick-ass Christmas record last year which this track is lifted from. (Aimee, what I want for Christmas is for you to release that duets album you and Scott Miller recorded a bunch of years ago. Please?)

13. “Christmas With The Snow”-Marah Featuring Felicia Navidad.
…and we’re back to happy, with the giddiest, goofiest, silliest, most-wonderful Christmas song in recent memory. Yeah, this song starts off sounding like a total lazy, drunken goof-off…but there’s just a palpable joy, an utter, stupid happiness bordering on rapture that carries this track. If it annoys you the first time (it annoyed me!) listen again and again, and you’ll hear that these folks have managed to tap into that feeling you had when you were 8 and school had let out for the holidays and maybe there was snow on the ground and sledding and presents and family in a day or two…this song gets all that nostalgia exactly right. And listen to the verses, too–as stupid as the chorus is, the verses are just glorious, exuberant fun: “I just want a castle made of snow/I hope it never thaws/I wanna marry Santa Claus!” This isn’t a song; this is a force of nature. Just give in and enjoy the ride!

14. “Valley Winter Song”-Fountains Of Wayne. It really is a shame that for most folks, FoW are known for salacious fare like “Stacey’s Mom”, because Adam Schlesinger and Chris Collingwood know their way around a classic pop tune and are able to toss off gorgeous, touching songs like this one almost effortlessly.

15. “Waking For Winter”-Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci. If there was a band in this mix that I’d hope hearing them would inspire folks to check out more music from, it’s the Gorks. Although they’ve disbanded now (lead singer Euros Childs has a wonderfully prolific solo career going), these Welsh folk-rockers are one of the most wonderfully winning music enterprises of the last 20 years. With a large number of songs written in their native language (Childs was raised in a household where Welsh was spoken), the Gorkys manage to always sound both whimsical and wise, joyful and melancholy, just like they do on this song. When the whole band comes in after the quiet middle eight, it reminds me of Schroeder banging away on his toy piano while the rest of the Peanuts gang dances around heedless of Charlie Brown’s attempts to direct the Christmas Play…

16. “Merry Christmas My Darling”-Jason Ringenberg. Mr. Ringenberg made his name as the eponymous leader of Jason & The Scorchers, a band who was marrying country music to punk a few years before Uncle Tupelo or Wilco or Son Volt happened along. Possessing an amazing voice that sounds as dry and forlorn as the Texas prairie (and which leaves jackasses like Toby Keith sounding like the country frauds they are), Ringenberg sings this plaintive and hopeful Christmas song from a soldier’s point of view in heart-tugging earnestness. You can tell this dates from 2000 or so–if Ringenberg would update the “jungle” in the lyrics to “desert”, I think he’d have a Yuletide hit on his hands.

17. “Christmastime Is Here Again”-The Flirtations. Written and performed in 1970 or so, this song sounds as if it should’ve been on Phil Spector’s Christmas Album–walls of sound are everywhere, and that backbeat is just killer. The Flirtations had a minor hit back in the day, and this song has largely been forgotten…until now, anyway. I love this tune to death.

18. “Merry Xmas Everyone”-Slade. I guess Slade figured their best bet for misspelling the title of this song was in using “Xmas” instead of “Christmas”, this is still a great beerhall singalong for the scousers in the audience.

19. “I Saw Three Ships”-Don Dixon. Yeah, that Don Dixon–the guy who produced the first three REM albums with Mitch Easter back in the day, and the guy who had the minor hit in 1987 with the sublimely soulful “Praying Mantis”, he does a nice job of giving this traditional English Christmas carol a jazzy, swinging update.

20. “Sometimes You Have To Work On Christmas”-Harvey Danger. First off, I love this song–just clever and winsome as hell, with a killer hook in the chorus. Secondly, though, for those of you who don’t think about the folks who work their asses off on the holidays (yeah, I’m one of ’em, sue me) so much, please remember them a little, huh? Be nice to these folks. Smile. Wish them a happy holiday. Don’t be the asshole type-A personality who never learned not to throw a temper tantrum when they couldn’t get their way. Yes, lady who couldn’t understand why she couldn’t get a reservation for 15 the day before she wanted to come in during the holidays and couldn’t believe that the folks who already had reservations had made them as much as six months prior and who proceeded to call my hostess a liar because she couldn’t bend time and space–I’m talking to you. Jacob Marley awaits, that’s all I’m saying.

21. “The Caroler’s Song”-The Green Pajamas. Another perennial favorite of mine, for reasons I can’t really fathom every time the verse about “All those at war, all ships at sea” comes up, I just get all choked up, thinking about the young men and women who’d love to be with friends and family but can’t be because they’re up to their necks in blood and war and death this season. Here’s hoping that the folks I know overseas this year are well and get home safe and soon.

22. “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”-Hem. Legend has it that Hem lead singer Sally Ellyson auditioned for Hem by providing songwriter Dan Messe a cassette with her singing lullabies she’d recorded for a friend’s baby. Hearing her luminous reading of this melancholy Christmas standard, that story seems incredibly believable. I wanted to use this song and listened to maybe 20 different versions of it, including Judy Garland’s original. Maybe it’s blasphemy, but I think this one is the best of the lot.

23. “Fairytale Of New York”-The Pogues featuring Kirsty MacColl.
I was watching the excellent BBC Three documentary on the creation of this song, and the band opined that the ending of this song was rather ambiguous–after all, he’s spending Christmas in the drunk tank, and she’s a junkie “lying there almost dead on a drip in that bed”, and the dustup they have is legendary. (I’ll say it again: it isn’t Christmas until Kirsty’s called Shane a “cheap lousy faggot”.) Still, anyone who’s heard the last line and who can picture the Boys of the (nonexistent, it turns out) NYPD Choir singing “Galway Bay”, and hears that full orchestra come swelling up like a tidal wave, well, they know that the ending isn’t ambiguous at all.

24. “May Your Dog Talk”.
“Chris in the Morning” on KBHR in Cicely, Alaska: Walt Whitman of the (fictional) airwaves. Merry Christmas!

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The Christmas Sound Is All Around This Town!

December 13, 2007 at 6:54 am (Music Mixes)

Yep, it’s that time of year again–time for the annual Christmas Music mix. This year I reprised some old favorites (a few that I haven’t used since 2002 or so), added 13 or 14 brand new songs…and still managed to make sure that there’ll never be one of my Christmas mixes that doesn’t include “Christmas With The Snow” and doesn’t end with “Fairytale of New York.”

First off, the mix:

The Christmas Sound Is All Around This Town!

(Download me here!)

Track List:
1. “Imagine Santa” DJ bc
2. “‘Twas The Night Before Christmas” Art Carney
3. “Christmas All Over Again” Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
4. “I Know Just What You Want For Christmas” Kay Martin & Her Body Guards
5. “The Christmas Sound” The Swimmers
6. “Super Sunny Christmas” Redd Kross
7. “White Christmas” The Drifters
8. “Kiss Me Beneath The Christmas Tree” Caspar & The Cookies
9. “Let It Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow” Brian Setzer Orchestra
10. “Skating” Vince Guaraldi Trio
11. “Winter Wonderland” Phantom Planet
12. “Calling On Mary” Aimee Mann
13. “Christmas With The Snow” Marah Featuring Felicia Navidad
14. “Valley Winter Song” Fountains Of Wayne
15. “Waking For Winter” Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci
16. “Merry Christmas My Darling” Jason Ringenberg
17. “Christmastime Is Here Again” The Flirtations
18. “Merry Xmas Everybody” Slade
19. “I Saw Three Ships” Don Dixon
20. “Sometimes You Have To Work On Christmas” Harvey Danger
21. “The Carolers Song” Green Pajamas
22. “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” Hem
23. “Fairytale Of New York” The Pogues
24. “May Your Dog Talk.”

Merry, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, or may this time of year find you in a joyful mood!

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Winter Wonderland

December 6, 2007 at 5:52 am (dull real life stuff, Music Mixes)

So today it snowed all day here in Virginia, and by nightfall we even had about 3 inches of powder on the ground.

With snow still flurrying around outside, what better time, I figured, to “road test” a bunch of songs for the annual Christmas CD I try to do. I loaded up the prospects on the iP0d, bundled up, and decided to hike up to the bookstore (picked up a few gifts) and back. It was a great way to figure out what worked (suffice to say, if a song is sweet enough to put a lump in my throat walking around in the snow in early December, that sucker is a keeper) and what didn’t (early rejects: Simon & Garfunkel’s “I Am A Rock”, Teenage Fanclub’s “December”, and Richard X. Heyman’s “Winter Blue”).

It also got me thinking about the nature of Christmas songs that appeal to me personally. I know that the current hotness regarding massive Holiday CD sales is stuff like the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. I guess it sounds all cool and stuff, and I guess it has appeal for a lot of folks, but I have to admit: I don’t get it. For me, Christmas music has to have an emotional appeal or nostalgic tug to it. I don’t hear emotion in Mannheim Steamroller or the TSO, or even really in George Winston’s December-themed piano releases. Pretty? Absolutely. But…I dunno.

There are folks out there for whom Christmas is all about religion. There are even more folks out there for whom Christmas is a time of commerce and cynicism and irony and “I can’t wait for this to be over.” For me, I guess, Christmas is about personal things; it’s about being 6 years old on the couch with all three brothers including Phil wearing those ridiculous red, white, and blue striped denim bell-bottom pants. It’s about coming home from Christmas Eve dinner at Grandma’s house and there’s a Lionel train chugging around the base of our Christmas tree. It’s about seeing the red warning light atop the radio tower a half-mile up the road and wondering if it’s Rudolph’s nose. It’s about “Lights please”, Herbie the Elf, and the spirits working their magic all in the same night, about the smell of spritz cookies and snickerdoodles cooking in Mom’s kitchen, and about having to memorize lines for a school Christmas Pageant.

Every year for the past 10, December has been the time of year when my workdays become ten times more hectic and last long, long, longer. Days run together and become blurs, and there never seems to be enough time to catch up and get things I should be getting done, done. But every Christmas I look for music that puts me in the mood of the season, stuff that possesses the emotion to take me to my own Christmas Town. That’s the theme of this year’s mix, and I should have it posted fairly early this year.

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Happy All Hallow’s Eve!

October 31, 2007 at 5:39 pm (Music Mixes)

Had a cool shindig with some old friends here in the District over the weekend, a small get-together with about 20 of us in a sort-of Halloween Party theme, although I can’t recall anyone wearing costumes (I went over after work, so I was dressed as a restaurant manager…)

Anyway, I get there, and I’m met with far more of a warm welcome than I’m ever really due. “You bring tunes?”

“I said I would.” My friends know me well enough to know that if one of them requested a mix CD for changing cat litter, I’d make one.


So here’s the scene: we’re in a fairly cool part of DC (Georgetown), we’re in a cool townhouse, we’ve got a bunch of cool, hip folks drinking beer, wine, and assorted scotches and bourbons….

….and for some reason a bunch of really crappy music is playing. I’m pretty sure we were listening to Cradle Of Filth, but I can’t be sure. What I am sure of is that it didn’t work for Halloween music for a party. Apparently they’d started off playing it fairly loud, but that was met with protests of “turn this shit down”.

And so we add another person to the large group of folks who have no concept at all of how to make a Halloween mix CD. Scary is good–but scary is relative, and should be good creepy fun, too. Let me try to give you an example.

Way, way back in the college daze, Marc, Dan-O, Grant, and I came up with the brilliant idea of going on a camping trip where we’d be as far away from civilization as possible. I guess the other three guys had done a similar camping trip a few months before, and it was a good time, so we ended up giving it another shot.

Sadly, we were unable to procure the intoxicants of our choice, and we were left with having to “settle” for beer. Lots of beer. We found this isolated thick Ozarks woodland, managed to get Dan’s ’86 Ford Tempo to do some serious off-roading, and found ourselves completely removed from civilization. We set up tents, got beer in the cooler, and started a fire. The other three guys had made the brilliant decision to bring a huge boombox along, (with extra batteries!), and that weekend was the first time I can remember hearing the Beach Boys presented as something else besides the fat pop hacks doing “Kokomo” on the National Mall on holidays. No, Marc played “Sail On Sailor” for me, and I thought it was brilliant. Another moment of musical discovery that day: Marc also had Superchunk’s “Cool” and “Fishing” on a tape, and it ruled.

We’d all brought other music too. As the fire filled the black, inky night, the music led to some pretty funny discussions. Who’d be the best band to go camping with? (We decided that Teenage Fanclub would be the most fun, but Uncle Tupelo would really rule….and then someone mentioned that Neil Young would rule even harder, and that was that.) What REM song would be the perfect cover for another artist? (Consensus: Dwight Yoakam should’ve covered “(Don’t Go Back To) Rockville”)

Marc had brought a ton of CD’s. Seems he’d won a bet with a Sony promotions rep, and as part of it was allowed to pick a bunch of stuff from Sony’s music catalog. One of the things he’d picked was the then-recently released “Roots N Blues” series box of Robert Johnson. The fire started to go to embers, the sky a blanket of stars, and the woods were filled with Mr. Johnson wailing into the Ozark night about hellhounds on his tale, and deals with Ol’ Scratch himself at The Crossroads. Someone (I think it was Dan, but it could’ve been Marc) wondered aloud: “What would you do if Robert Johnson just strolled into our campsite right now?”

Someone else (Dan, maybe?) said “He’d probably say ‘Howdy boys! I been dead nigh-on fifty years right now, and I’m fixin’ to take y’all to hell with me!'” Perfect answer. We cracked up, drank more beer, and listened to Robert wail into the pre-dawn hours.

What does that have to do with Halloween Mix CD’s? Well, the perfect Halloween mix should sound like something you’d play on a dark, star-spattered night in the middle of nowhere; it should be music that not only chills, but thrills, music that is more than anything: fun. If you’ve seen the crappy Twilight Zone movie, there’s a scene at the end where poor John Lithgow is loaded into an ambulance, and a smiling, demonic Dan Aykroyd is revealed as the driver. He’s playing “Midnight Special” on the cassette deck, and as Lithgow says “I love Creedence!”, Aykroyd asks him if he wants to see something really scary.

A good Halloween mix should sound like the rest of the cassette tape Aykroyd would play for Lithgow as he took him down the night road to hell.

So. I brought a couple of Halloween mixes, they went over well, good times were had by all, and that’s how we do that.

Except I figured that since you read this far, I’d better share with the whole class. So here it is, Chris’s 2007 Halloween Mix for your ghoulish enjoyment (or, enjoyment of your goulash for dinner.) It always works best if you don’t peek at the tracklist ’til after you’ve given it a listen once…..

GRAVEST HITS, 2007! (Click me, I’m one 80-minute mp3 already mixed, normalized, and crossfaded…)

1. …..
2. “How Far Can Too Far Go” -The Cramps
3. “Sympathetic Noose” Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
4. “She’s Not There” The Zombies
5. “Pentagram Ring” Chavez
6. “That Ol’ Black Magic” Sinatra
7. “Mr Greaves” The Pixies
8. “Modified Frankenstein” Cobra Verde
9. “Slow Hearse” Son Volt
10. “Grave Architecture” Pavement
11. “Little Ghost” The White Stripes
12. “Monkey Man” The Rolling Stones
13. “Voodoo Train” The Bellrays
14. “Vampire” The Blakes
15. “Feeling Gravity’s Pull” REM
16. “Black Cat Bone” House Of Freaks
17. “Spooky” The Classics IV
18. “Black Heart” Calexico
19. “You Passed” Neutral Milk Hotel
20. “Charlotte’s Remains” The Fuzztones
21. “Halloween” The Dream Syndicate
22. “Highway To Hell” AC/DC
23. “Go ‘Way Devil” Blue Mountain
24. ….

(BTW, it’s all in one ginormous mp3 file because this mix ain’t here to condone snagging the hard work of the musicians involved as freebies. Everything’s crossfaded, so even if you really did go to the trouble of trying to split the mp3 to get a certain song, you’d still have the intro and fadeout borked by the songs in front of and behind it. If you’re an artist with a song in the mix, thanks in advance for the enjoyment of your hard work, and rest assured this file will be pulled in a few days.)

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