23 December 2007

Christmas Songs

The photo at right is mine, from a few years back when we had a White Christmas. And speaking of "White Christmas", how about some of my favorite unknown Christmas songs?

These are songs you're not likely to hear on the radio, in a Christmas special, or in the mall. Not terribly obscure, but not famous either. Here I've posted links to the lyrics and videos where available, though if you want high quality audio you'll have to get them from the iTunes store or other online music store.

Christmas Jazz in General: There's lots of covers of all the traditional favorites, both secular and religious, but some are truly outstanding. Look for amazing albums by Chet Baker or the solo piano work of Dave Brubeck, including rarities like "Cantos para Pedir las Posadas".

"Fairytale of New York": In 1987, Irishman Shane MacGowan (front man for the Pogues and general example of what not to do with your life) recorded this Christmas song with Kirsty MacColl. It's the tale of two old drunks yelling at each other interspersed with happy Irish folk Christmas music. It's one of those reminders that if you find yourself depressed for even a second during the Christmas season, listen to this and you feel 100% better about yourself. Sort of an Irish blues song, also the source of some controversy this holiday season due to the un-PC lyrics. Here's the classic 80s video

"Christmas Wrapping": 1981 novelty hit by Ohio New Wave band The Waitresses. This one does pop up on the satellite music channels used by shops from time to time. It's a five-and-a-half minute long stream of consciousness story about a single woman at Christmas who eventually gets together with her dream guy. I enjoy it more for the peppy beat than the story, even though I smile every time I hear this part:

A&P has its pride in me
With the world's smallest turkey
Already in the oven, nice and hot
Oh damn! Guess what I forgot?

I'll pull off a glorious dinner party and then while cleaning up I'll find something like roast hazelnuts that I forgot to include in a dish. Audio only, no video

"Oi to the World": California punk band The Vandals recorded this in 1996. It's the story of two warring British bands (the punks and the skinheads) who nearly kill each other yet come together on Christmas. As violent as it is, it's oddly touching. It's also really fast, which means it helps to read the lyrics before hearing it. I tend to prefer the 1997 No Doubt version, which includes a ska trumpet section and is a little easier to understand. Vandals Live Video / No Doubt Version

"Il Est Né, Le Divin Enfant": Had to have one obscure classic in here. This is a lovely French carol about the birth of Christ. Recorded versions include a lot of boys choirs and hippie-folk Quebec arrangements, but I like the one by the Abbey Road Ensemble. Here's one arrangement from a church chorale

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