Christmas is a time that brings people together. At least that’s the theory. In reality, there’s one thing that can often lead to stress and disharmony at this time of year.
I’m talking, of course, about Christmas music.
Some people love it, some people hate it. Even in my own family, there’s a sharp divide. I enjoy Christmas music (only if played after Thanksgiving, of course), while my daughter regards it as only slightly less agonizing than bamboo shoots under the fingernails. (Her reaction when I mentioned I was including her in this column: “Great, now everyone in town will hate me, too.”)
Part of the problem I think some people have with Christmas music is the repetitiveness of the standard Yuletide catalog. Even though I’m a fan, I confess that after about the 50th different rendition of “Do You Hear What I Hear” or “Little Drummer Boy,” I start to grow weary. So the secret is to change it up. Listen to something a little more off the beaten track. Songs like:
— Bob Dylan, “Must Be Santa.” Yes, folks, Dylan did a Christmas album. It’s called “Christmas in the Heart,” and it’s one of the stranger things you’ll hear anywhere. The album’s single, with accompanying video, sounds like a polka version of this staple of elementary school Christmas programs, rendered in Dylan’s signature croak.
The video features a house full of revelers, with Dylan wandering in and out of the frame with his long hair in his face, looking like a crazed street person. The whole thing culminates in a fight that ends with someone crashing through a window. It has to be heard (and seen) to be believed.
— The Eagles’ rendition of the old classic “Please Come Home For Christmas” has become a standard on rock radio for the holiday season. But check out Charles Brown’s 1960 original. All due respect to Mr. Don Henley and the other Eagles, but Brown’s version is way more soulful and wistful than theirs could ever be, especially on the lines “My baby’s gone, I have no friends/to wish me greetings once again.” If you’re missing someone at Christmas, this is the song for you.
— Robert Earl Keen, “Merry Christmas From the Family.” This redneck holiday anthem has it all: alcohol (“Mom got drunk and Dad got drunk/at our Christmas party”); family tension (“Little Sister brought her new boyfriend/he was a Mexican”); followed by acceptance (“We didn’t know what to think about him/till he sang ‘Feliz Navidad’”).
It has the inevitable mishaps (“When they plugged their motorhome in/they blew our Christmas lights”), followed by resolution and family togetherness (“Cousin David knew just what went wrong/So we all waited out on our front lawn/He threw the breaker and the lights came on/And we sang ‘Silent Night.’”) Bring tears to your eyes, don’t it?
— The Waitresses, “Christmas Wrapping.” This minor hit by one of the forgotten bands of the ’80s tells the story of a single girl in the city, frazzled by a tough year and a series of missed connections with a “most interesting” guy. The narrator decides to spend her Christmas relaxing alone (“I just need to catch my breath/Christmas by myself this year”).
Well, you can see where this is heading: toward a coincidental last-minute meeting (“You mean you forgot cranberries too?”) with the aforementioned guy, and a “very happy ending.” It’s a charming little romantic comedy, told in a concise five minutes, with a killer horn break.
— New York “Beer Metal” band Guyz Nite wrote and performed a song that’s a tribute to the greatest Christmas movie ever made: “Die Hard.” The song of the same name tracks the original story from the beginning (“Remember when we first met John McLain?/Argyle picked him up from the plane”) and follows it up to the triumphant refrain, where the band joyfully carols the movie’s signature line: “Yippie-Ky-Yaaay, mother-[bad word]!” Actually, you might not want to play this one for Grandma.
Hallelujah, everybody say cheese, and Merry Christmas from the family, to all those who keep it.