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"Spending Christmas," Chuck Berry (Chess)

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One would have to have been a Chuck Berry expert to extend his Christmas heritage beyond "Run Rudolph Run" and "Merry Christmas Baby," the two sides of his one and only officially released Christmas single. Turns out Christmas was briefly on his mind sometime in the mid-1960s, when he recorded this bluesy ballad that only found its way to the public via You Never Can Tell: The Complete Chess Recordings 1960-1966. And then, another box set, Have Mercy: The Complete Chess Recordings 1969-1974, yielded another blues, this one a bit more uptempo, titled "Christmas" on the box set, but Google searches turn it up under the title "My Blue Christmas" as well. I only discovered them via this 2014 compilation, Lost Christmas Holiday Rarities, but now you can grab them too.
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I stumbled over the first Noise to the World right when posting resumed in November and found it to be a great free EP of Christmas tuneage. Should have kept checking after that, because in December 2014 they rolled out #2, another fine collection that's free. (Except for the Michael Christmas cut, which has resisted all attempts at downloading. You have to go to Soundcloud and download the songs one at a time, and that one won't cough up a button.) Deer Tick's "White Havoc" steals some melody from "At Seventeen" and a bit of "Last Christmas" in a fine rocker, IamSul's "Next Season" and "Pleasant Winter" by Michael Christmas provide the hip-hop on this collection, GRMLN's "Before December (You're Alive)" is a driving indie rocker, Torreblanca featuring Iraida Noriega offer a spacey take on "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," with a duo vocal offering a bit of Lee Hazlewood with Nancy Sinatra, and the award winners for this collection are the Dum Dum Girls with "On Christmas," a nice girl group via synthpop rendition of a fine melody, getting a little help with synths from the guys in Ice Choir. That's two in a row for the makers of Chuck Taylors, so I guess I better put a note in my calendar for 2015.
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This was rattling around my iTunes library and I just stumbled over it today. Glenna is an Americana artist from Texas and this folky ballad is from her 2008 album The Road Less Traveled. Glenna has a road-weary voice that contrasts nicely with the novelty-inspired sentiment of the title, and who wouldn't want a valentine on Christmas, anyway?

Holidaze, Happy Fangs (self-issued)

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Gotta love how this San Francisco band mashed up all the year-end holidays across two songs of this 2014 single. "Fangsgiving" is their punky take on creating a substitute holiday of their own with all the Christmas trappings, although they may not have the success that Festivus has had in that regard. Then they state that "All I Want For Christmas Is Halloween," a bit more garagy-sounding appeal for a goth do-over two months later. "Bet you thought this song was going to be jolly," they sing, and actually I got a laugh out of it, which is all that matters.
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Here is the 2012 EP from which the Cherryade 10 compilation got this band's "It's Xmas, So It's OK (To Go and Hug a Turkey)." According to the info on Soundcloud, these songs are "offshoots" of songs from their 111-song debut recording, Men. The sound here is kind of skiffle-poppy and a bit twee, although they go a little Wild Man Fischer on "All I Got For Christmas Was a Bike," as in "All I got for Christmas was a goddamn bike." In addition to the "Hug a Turkey" song and this one, they also perform "The Best Gift Ever...." and "I Took a Match to the Christmas Tree." Fun stuff. The EP was reissued in 2013 as Merry Marauding Christmas, minus the "Match" song, which they apparently gave to a magazine compilation that is long gone. The original EP is on Bandcamp with a request for payment, although you can specify $0, and the updated version is on Soundcloud, freely downloadable.
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These folks are members of Les Savy Fav and the Blue Bloods, and for 2012 they came together to create this sweet pop-rock EP that remains available in the usual download locations. "Holidays Aren't the Same Without You" is a warm piano ballad, "Twinkling Lights" is a late-60s poppy confection and the title song is a solid Christmas rocker. Not much from these folks since the EP; their website URL is parked and there are no posts on their Facebook page since early 2013. Nevertheless, what they did here is worth remembering -- and playing.

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I remember trying to track this down when it first came out and coming up empty. In 2009, the Toronto band recruited a bunch of minor musical celebrities to re-enact the Geldof-Ure holiday special in a more indie-rock vein. Participants included Andrew W.K., Bob Mould, David Cross, Ezra Koenig, GZA, Kevin Drew, Kyp Malone, Tegan & Sara and Yo La Tengo. It remains available as a download. There was a vinyl single, though I'm betting it's reasonably rare now. Like the original, this was a charity project, in this case benefitting three organizations who assist in finding missing and murdered indigenous women. Only place I could find it was iTunes, so no link-through for purchase.
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From Pittsburgh, this guy wanted to do some punk rock Christmas songs, so he started knocking them out until he ran out of time. Literally; this dropped on Christmas Eve 2014 on Bandcamp. "Good King Wenceslas" gets a driving thrash rhythm, "Feliz Navidad" is rendered in a punk-ska arrangement, "Two Front Teeth" is a midtempo rendition with plenty of scratchy guitars, "Blue Christmas" is pretty close to a typical rendition, and "Father Christmas" is mostly faithful to the Kinks original. Vocals are a little pitchy and it definitely sounds home-recorded, but the energy is good and the collection is listenable.

"Pitter Patter," Dana Alexandra (Think Loud)

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A late 2013 release, this fine poppy holiday confection comes from this rising singer from York, Pa. Solid work, featuring a nice shuffle rhythm that kicks in after the first verse, clean crisp guitars and Dana's distinctive singing voice.

North Pole Vault EP, Ian McGlynn (Bailey Park)

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Ian's a professional musician with a career doing film & TV soundtrack work as well as a bit of acting. This carries over to the songs on this 2013 EP in that they are lushly produced synth-pop creations with ample instrumental breaks, but they're fine pop-rock meditations on the holiday. "Christmas Sleep" is the single, because it's catchy and also less than three minutes. "Christmas Morning," after a long instrumental intro, offers nostalgic lyrics about remembering childhood holiday events. "Our Favorite Christmas Movie" isn't about any particular film, the better that listeners can substitute their own favorites in this mellow ballad. There's a double dose of "Meet Me Where the Bright Lights Shine," a sweet waltz, and the title song is a slow instrumental featuring layers upon layers of keyboard melodies. Click to get it at Amazon. Ian previously recorded "The Snow Angel and the Icicle Sword" in 2010 and "Listen to the Choir Sing" in 2009 for the holiday, but neither seem to be available for download anywhere at the moment. UPDATE: North Pole Vault is free at Noisetrade.

"Let It Snow," George Ezra (self-issued)

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This Englishman had a 2014 hit with "Budapest," and in 2013 he put this up on Soundcloud, a folky-pop take on the popular Christmas song. It's just for streaming, so stream away.
 

"Christmas Day," GFOTY (PC Music)

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The acronym means Girl Friend Of The Year, and this 2014 slightly-off pop confection only dropped on Dec. 26 from this singer and producer who is, according to Stereogum, part of what's known as the PC Music collective of contemporary hit record makers. I really like this. It's downloadable from Soundcloud.

"O Holy Night," Osaka Popstar (Caf Muzeck)

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These guys are nominally a punk rock supergroup (their term), as their membership is a rotating cast of former associates of the Ramones, Misfits, Black Flag, the Voidoids and others. Although they got together in 2006, they persist to this day with this pop-punk take of the classic carol released in 2014. It's a good production, and you'll want it if a punk rock carol is what you need for your mix disc.
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Old-school hard rock is this Massapequa, N.Y. all-girl band's forte, and for 2014 they bust out this fun talk-sing number in which the verses are letters to Santa demanding he come more than once a year. Write your own joke here. Still, this is great uptempo rocking fun and you should grab it.
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The Glass Child is Charlotte Eriksson, a Swede by birth and a current Berliner via London, and need I add, a singer and songwriter as well as a published author with a memoir of her struggle to make it as a musician. She's been giving this EP away via Noisetrade this year, although it's not clear when she originally recorded it, but I don't think it's new in 2014. It's not exactly a rocker, more of a solo folkie thing. She contributes three originals, the dramatic "A Haunted Acapella" and the ballads "Winter Song" and "Where Are You Christmas,", an a capella "Silent Night," and a fairly conventional "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." A little mellow for my taste, but well done.

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Another new alt-rock boy-girl duo from New York, these folks do a spacey, lo-fi reconstruction of the Beach Boys' classic for 2014. It's an interesting take, although it's only on Soundcloud, and then only if you access it from Paste Magazine. Maybe they'll let it out next year.
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This is actually the second Christmas mixtape compiled by Diplo and Mad Descent, the first being called, wait for it, A Very Decent Christmas, from 2013. Of course, I'm just getting hep to this for 2014. Both are still streaming from Soundcloud, but click the cover to buy this one from Amazon, and click here to get the previous edition. Jessi Slater & Wuki kick things off with "Rock Them Bells," a heavy-bass version of "Deck the Halls" with the title chanted repeatedly over it. Diplo & Alvaro featuring Kstylis offer "6th Gear (Bethlehem Edition)," a holiday remake of the artists' existing song. Snappy Jit goes to the dancefloor with "Lil Drumma Boy," Aquadrop offers to "Troll the Halls," another deconstruction of "Deck the Halls," and Splurt Christmases up his "#OMW25YG" with a taste of "Frosty the Snowman."  DJ Fire's "Twerkith On These Bells" is a fairly minimalist performance, 4B offers yet another clattery "Deck the Halls" take on "Drop It Again (Xmas Version)," Wiwek's "Totem Night" drops the beat on "Silent Night," Alizzz offers a deconstructed slow jam over "Jingle Bells" on "What If (Jingle Edit)," and Davoodi's "The Nutcracka" needs very little elaboration from the likes of me, in that it's the hip-hop take on the Tchaikovsky classic. Though I'm far from a hip-hop expert, this stuff is pretty listenable to me.
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The Brooklyn-born, Venice Beach-based hip-hop collective offers this fine holiday jam on its Holiday in the Sun Sampler at Noisetrade for 2014. It's a rap tune with a solid musical background, relaxed but danceable, and it'll bring a fine change of pace to your playlists. The other songs on the sampler aren't holiday tunes, but don't sweat it, if you like the hit, you'll probably like the other tunes.

"Christmas Magic," The National (unreleased)

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I've never really been much of a fan of "Bob's Burgers," but when the dark lords of angst from Ohio contribute to the soundtrack, we must give a nod. This is actually The National's third contribution to the show, but their first Christmas song. This aired a couple of weeks ago during the 2014 holiday season.

"Christmas Song II (Grinch)," Grimes (YouTube)

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Don't know much about Grimes except that she's an established performer with albums out on 4AD records. She dropped this a few days ago, after Christmas, stating it's not any kind of an official release and that she only did it with her stepbrother Jay to get out of Christmas dinner. There are a few dropped expletives, but generally it's a bit of loose mucking around and you'll probably get a giggle out of it.

"New Year's Eve," MØ (YouTube)

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No, I can't pronounce the artist's name, and I don't care. This 2014 year-ender is pretty neat, certainly up-to-the-minute in terms of production and instrumentation. And the lyric, emphasizing hope and anticipation, manages to be melancholy and upbeat at the same time. Haven't found any independent audio so far, but I'll update if I do. UPDATE: Grab it from Soundcloud. Thanks again, Stubby.

Festivus 2, various artists (Highline)

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The Highline label previously had a very good holiday compilation with the first Festivus, and in 2013 they took another crack at the holiday with this 16-song collection, which I've had for a while but has slipped through my fingers until now. Piney Gir is here with the poppy "It's Christmas," Dodgy tugs at the heart strings with "Christmas at the Foodbank," Red Pony Clock puts "Ho Ho Hos Before Hos" and Anthony Elvin offers the acoustic ballad "My Heart Is As Pure As the Snow." Glam Chops asserts that "Baby Jesus Was the First Glam Rocker," and Ulysses rocks out in a similar genre on "I Wish You a Merry Christmas." Left With Pictures has a suspenseful take on "The Coldest Night" and Mi Mye has a midtempo rocker with the unlikely title "Don't Freak Out On Me." Darling BOY's bouncy "Thank God It's Christmas" is an original, not the Queen tune, and "One Christmas Wish" by The Priscillas is a driving female-voice-led rocker. Best band name on this collection is Dennis Hopper Choppers, who do "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," Lilys goes kind of 70s power pop with "Good King Wenceslas," Western Low have a spacey take on "Silent Night," Francis Macdonald and Anna Sheard offer the chant-oriented original "Silver Bells Sing Their Chime," and Alexander's Festival Hall offer an original take on the acoustic rocker "Three Kings." Another great collection from Highline.
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The Christmas Jug Band is composed of Dan Hicks, he of the Hot Licks, and musicians culled from his immediate Bay Area musical orbit and a bunch of guests including such folks as Maria Muldaur, Norton Buffalo and Angela Strehli. They have had five albums of parody Christmas songs since approximately 1986, and this 2014 anthology is 17 of the songs from those albums plus two bonus cuts, "Santa Claus Is My Main Man" and "I'm Dreaming of a Wet Christmas." If folk-blues-swing with a bit of rock mixed in is your thing, then so is the Christmas Jug Band. Among the past titles featured here are "Somebody Stole My Santa Claus Suit," "Santa Lost a Ho," "I Want a Hippopotamus For Christmas," "Boogie Woogie Santa Claus" and "Santa Claus Want Some Lovin'." More has been said about their past work on this very site.

A little something for you "Orange Is the New Black" fans out there. Once again, Merry Christmas.

 

A few Christmas stragglers

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  • JoeXmas14.jpgJoe Bonemassa dropped a cover of "Santa Claus Is Back In Town" that's free to download from his site. (It'll cost you your e-mail address.) While retracing my steps to provide the link, I discovered there's also another one, "Lonesome Christmas." There was a free download last year as well.
  • Will Butler from Arcade Fire put an original Christmas song, "Christmas 2014," up on Soundcloud for streaming. It's a basic vocal over piano, but there's enough of a song there for a full band treatment, in my humble opinion (nudge, nudge).
  • Harry Shearer and Judith Owen visited The Onion's A.V. Club to do a jazzy take on the Spinal Tap classic, "Christmas With the Devil." Love Harry's bass ukelele, by the way.
  • Landlady is what Paste Magazine calls "a Brooklyn collective" that plays music and recently did a benefit holiday concert for the Bushwick School of Music, from which is derived this stream of their version of "Please Come Home For Christmas." Amelia Meath of Sylvan Esso is among the backing vocalists.
  • WXPN-FM in Philadelphia dug up a couple of Christmas gems from the Dead Milkmen. You can download "All I Want For Christmas Is a Job," but you'll have to settle for the video of "Christmas Party," which was apparently only on a cassette-only album from the 80s.


"Christmas Is Awesome," The Aquabats (YouTube)

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I had no idea this show even existed, let alone that it's by the creators of "Yo Gabba Gabba" or that it's on Discovery Family. (The only Discovery channel I bother with ever since they went all-reality all the time is Velocity, because I like cars.) Nevertheless, awesome is the right word for this rocked-out possible new Christmas classic, and any reservations about kid-rock are punted into the cheap seats by simply skipping the video portion. It appears to have dropped yesterday, according to the YouTube page. No separate audio, at this time anyway.

 
Oh heck, one more for the road:

Once again it's time to wish everybody a merry Christmas as the blog hits the season climax. There will be posts going forward, but with the holidays being the holidays the rate of posting will start tapering off. Not too quickly; don't want to get the bends. Anyway, I appreciate hearing from listeners, readers, band members, everybody who responds to the little bit of scholarship I place in this tiny corner of the Inter-Tubes, and best wishes and a great new year to you all. At this point, I will give my nod to this viral sensation featuring an 11-year-old Bjork at Christmas time, and for a little something extra, Frank Sidebottom's Christmas video. Frank was actually the late Chris Sievey, minus the plaster head, who passed on in the year 2010, and before creating Frank was in a band called The Freshies, known mainly in England for such singles as "I Can't Get Bouncing Babies (By the Teardrop Explodes)" and "I'm In Love With The Girl On The Manchester Virgin Megastore Check-out Desk." His story inspired a recent movie starring Michael Fassbender, who actually portrayed Frank while playing in a band with Maggie Gyllenhaal on "The Colbert Report." Oh, I've gone on too long, here's the video.

 
grandaddy.jpgJason Lytle of Grandaddy is producing Band of Horses' next album, and while they're wrapping that up, the two bands collaborated on this 2014 single, which is a slow acoustic song with a bit of orchestral backing. Lyrically there's not much going on here, the singer asking someone to hang an ornament on their tree, the rest is all mood. Still, it's an effectively emotional performance that fans of both bands will want and is worth the time of listeners everywhere.

Naughty & Nice, Killer Bangs (self-issued)

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Glam-rock is back, says this young Philadelphia band, at least judging by "Christmas Kiss," the leadoff track of this 2014 holiday EP, in which they declare their intentions to be "a rock 'n roll Santa" bringing a Christmas of that exact variety. "Peace & Joy" has a bit of a Slade shout-along feel, and "My Tree" is more of a mid-70s fast hard rock rhythm, in which I think they're saying "I smoke my Christmas tree" in the second verse. Is that what the kids are doing nowadays? Whatever, this EP is exactly 10 minutes worth of solid rock 'n roll holiday fun. Buy it from Bandcamp.
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