American music gives us more than enough to provide a great list of songs to play this Christmas. Since I was unable to finish my own Christmas single - maybe I'll have the time and money next year - I dug up twelve songs from a variety of styles to inspire you on the holiday. One for each day of Christmas ...
- "Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto," James Brown - "... and tell 'em James Brown sent you." A solid funk groove creates the foundation for the Godfather of Soul's exhortation to the airborne saint.
- "While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks," Louvin Brothers - The harmonizing, songwriting Alabama antecedents of the Everly Brothers tackle a classic hymn. If you like it (and their brother harmonies are among the richest ever) you can dive deeper into their Fundamentalist songbook: "Satan's Jeweled Crown," "The Angels Rejoic'd," or even "Don't Let Them Take the Bible Out of the Schoolroom." (When it comes to politics, music is a demilitarized zone.)
- "Christmas Done Finally Came," Jerome Alexander - A New Orleans acapella doo-wop Christmas party song. Exactly what the doctor ordered to lift spirits after a rough few weeks in politics.
- "Nothing But a Child," Steve Earle - Emmylou Harris provides harmony for this tune's evocation of the Nativity story, childhood innocence, and the long road back to redemption. Gets to me every time.
- "Away in a Manger," Emmylou Harris - Speaking of Emmylou, nobody can breathe new life into an overly familiar song like Emmylou can. This should prove it.
- "American Jesus," Bad Religion - For the atheists among us, this song's worth a spin any time of the year. And despite my past political differences with a couple of the New Atheists, there are other great atheist anthems where this one came from. (Anybody heard "No Voices in the Sky" by Motorhead?)
- "He's Alive," Dolly Parton - If Dolly had been a man, she'd have been recognized as one of the greatest songwriters and singers country music has ever had. Instead she had to become more glittery and over-the-top every year. This retelling of the Crucifixion is pretty over the top, too, and maybe she could have dialed her reading down a notch or two. But melodrama and all, it can make your hair stand on end. Which was the real point of the original story ...
- "Mary," Patti Griffin - The Christmas story retold with the mother - in fact, the eternal Mother - as the protagonist. A lyrical, feminist, mystical recasting.
- "Hymn to Her," the Pretenders - While not specifically about Christmas, Chrissie Hynde nails this song, also about the feminine principle. And for a straight-up Christmas song there's always the Pretenders' "2,000 Years."
- "What Do the Lonely Do at Christmas," the Emotions - A soul ballad for wistful Yule moments.
- "The Rebel Jesus," Jackson Browne - JB joins the Chieftains to sing praises for a Middle Eastern insurrectionist, from "a pagan who stands with the rebel Jesus." We could do with a little driving the moneylenders from the Temple these days, don't you think? (In fact, let's give an honorable mention to "When the Dollar Rules the Pulpit" by the Dixie Hummingbirds.)
- "Merry Xmas/War Is Over," John and Yoko - Yeah, I know you're sick of it. Too bad. Their unique genius in this tune was to make it sing-songy so that it can live forever (just like "Give Peace a Chance.) There's also Yoko's beautiful snowbound ballad, "Listen the Snow Is Falling," with John's graceful Reggie Young riffs in the background. And in this interview with my friend Denise Sullivan, I love the way 77-year-old Yoko explains that she's too busy to write a memoir. Maybe later, she says. That's what I call a role model. (And don't tell me they're British or Japanese. They're New Yorkers, and that's still America, no matter what Sarah Palin says.)
That's our twelve. Oh, but how could I forget this one? "Would They Love Him Up In Shreveport" by George Jones, written by the great Bobby Braddock. "If they knew He was a Jew/and a Palestinian, too ..." So let's make it thirteen, if that's all right with you.
I know that others, like David Wild, have taken up the habit of creating blogger playlists. They've done a great job. But as an early adapter of the genre (for a defense contractor's lavish party and Valentine's Day, for example) I felt I had stayed away for far too long.So this was my Christmas present to myself. Hope you like it, too. Happy holiday, haloday, Christmas, Hanukah, Festivus, solstice (soulstice?), or Friday (pick one).