Kwanzaa Party!, various artists (Rounder)
Most people don't understand Kwanzaa, an observance unique to African-Americans that takes place during the Christmas season. It's not related in any way to Christmas, but it does share in celebrating some of the same things everyone celebrates in Thanksgiving and Christmas, with an emphasis on the African experience. The word means "first fruits of the harvest" in Swahili. Since it does take place in the days between Christmas and New Year's, however, it's worthwhile to take a moment to consider the music of Kwanzaa. As it happens, there's no unique music to the observance, as Kwanzaa Party!'s liner notes point out, although Teddy Pendergrass does does perform the holiday-specific "Happy Kwanzaa" on his album This Christmas I'd Rather Have Love. Beyond that, any music with African roots can be used to accompany the celebration. As it happens, that was my first reaction upon looking over the track listing for this album. The liner notes suggest celebrants consider what is appropriate; if you serve a Creole meal, play Creole music or New Orleans jazz, for example. This album features a wide variety of music with African roots, from the Staples Singers and Johnny Copeland to soca, modern and classic Cuban sounds, Afropop musics like soukous, Caribbean sounds from Haiti and South America. And since it's not holiday-specific music, you world music fans can listen -- and dance -- to this all year round. Rounder also offers Kwanzaa Music, with Baha Men, Oumou Sangare, Aretha Franklin and James Brown, among others.
More than 30 years after the animated Dr. Seuss classic, "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas," hit TV, the signature tune from the show is a breakout Christmas hit. The new-for-2000 movie with Jim Carrey no doubt helps; soundtrack reviewed elsewhere here. But over the past several years, there have been cover versions from Mojo Nixon, The Useless Playboys, Labrea Stompers, Caveman Shoestore, D.I. and the Whirlees, Rockapella, Vast, even Sixpence None the Richer. The original, by Thurl Ravenscroft, is available on a soundtrack album that includes "Horton Hears a Who," an EP with just the Grinch show songs, and Nick At Nite's Cartoon Christmas Classics CD.
"Obsession," Fem 2 Fem (Critique/Avenue Koch)
This group of five women whose claim to fame was lipstick lesbianism had several dance hits including this one, from their 1993 Woman to Woman album. (They had a song on the now out-of-print Lesbian Favorites: Women Like Us compilation from Rhino.) What brings it here is the "Xmas Mix" of the hit, which aside from a Christmasy intro and lots of jingly bells on the percussion track has nothing to do with the holiday, just so you know. Incidentally, singer Michelle Crispin notes on her website that she was the token hetero girl in the group; she's now solo.
Brief Christmas music notes
Grace Jones is on record with "Little Drummer Boy," which she performed on the "Pee Wee's Playhouse" Christmas special in the late '80s. I've yet to encounter a recording of it, but not to worry, this is why God made YouTube.
Japanese dance/lounge/electronica band Pizzicato Five has two Christmas songs in their repertoire, "Snowflakes," original release not known by me as yet, and "24 December," from the 24 December EP in 2001.
My Chemical Romance joined the growing crowd of folks who thought more rock-oriented versions of Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas" were called for. I think this is from 2006, not sure, and I haven't tracked down any CD or download of the song, but once again YouTube comes to the rescue.
Rosanne Cash did Joni Mitchell's "River" on Spirit of '73: Rock For Choice, a compilation of female artists from 1995.
Peter Masica lets us know that Stone Temple Pilots did a version of "the Charlie Brown Christmas song." Not sure what he means there exactly, whether it's a version of "Christmas Time Is Here" or the piano theme "Linus and Lucy." Either way, we'd be interested in knowing more. Update: Thanks to David Markland and Ken Kessler for letting us know that it was indeed "Christmas Time Is Here" and it was on one of the Kevin and Bean KROQ comps.
We came across a reference to a Stiff Little Fingers single of "At the Edge" that had a double live B-side of "White Christmas" and "Running Bear." No idea when or where. More info would be nice.
Someone named Debbie tells us that in the late 70's or early 80's, Mike Oldfield, the Tubular Bells guy, recorded a version of "Silent Night" on guitar for the CD single "Tattoo." No trace of it anywhere since then, except possibly on file-sharing networks.
Kimberly Moon of Royal Oak, Mich. tells us about a local (to her) gem called A Christmas Eve Get-Together by Goober and the Peas" (released by Detroit Municipal Recordings) that has the songs "My Love for Her", "Tell the Lord (What Santa's Done)" and a version of "Snoopy's Christmas" with a cameo by Detroit Tigers announcer Ernie Harwell. Apparently Jack White of the White Stripes played drums in Goober and the Peas at one time, according to a concert review in the Chicago Sun-Times that describes G'n the P's as a "country-schtick" band. Some copies of their non-Christmas albums turn up as used on Amazon. Update: Hank Clement hooks us up to mp3s of Goober and the Peas here.
Jayna (no last name or town) wrote me about the Gigolo Aunts' version of "Father Christmas," the Kinks classic. I've never encountered it, myself, but Phil Hurley of the band is on a 1998 EP by The Tycoons, Is It Christmas Yet, with four original holiday tunes. Fred Eltringham, another Aunts member, played with Stepladder on "Someday at Christmas" from the Q Division Viva Noel CD.
Tim Theisen calls attention to a Pearl Jam fan club single, a cover of the Sonics' "Don't Believe in Christmas" (appropriate, as they're both Seattle bands). They apparently do this a lot, although I'm only aware of this one being a holiday song. Update: David Markland calls attention to Pearl Jam's "It's Christmas Time (Now Let Me Sleep)," although he doesn't mention much more about it other than it turned up on a Kevin and Bean compilation.
R.E.M. had a version of "Deck the Halls" on a Warner Bros. promo record (2-disc vinyl) called Warner Wonderland, circa 1989 or so, when they first switched over from IRS to Warners. Like Pearl Jam, they have over the years offered exclusives to their fan club, and there may be others that were Christmas songs.
No doubt Grateful Dead fans (see, didn't call 'em Deadheads) are way ahead of me, but Tim Theisen notes their live version of "Run Rudolph Run" with Pigpen on lead vocals from 1971. Don't know if there was a legal release, though enough of their archives have landed on the legitimate market that it must be available somewhere.
The Honeydrippers, that big-band blues conglomeration featuring Robert Plant on vocals and Brian Setzer on guitar, among other notables, did "Santa Claus is Back In Town" on "Saturday Night Live" back in 1985. Again, thanks to Tim Theisen.
Numerous folks have written in about "Christmas Party" or "Come To the Christmas Party" by The Snowballs, aka J. Geils Band. I haven't ever run across this item, so anybody with more info is invited to write in. Update: folks did write in. See here.
Dave from Illinois points us to an interview from the French magazine Rocksounds with Doug Clifford of Creedence Clearwater Revival in which it is revealed the band may have seven or eight Christmas songs in the vault recorded back in 1969. The interview may have also appeared in the band's fan club newsletter. Anybody want to add anything more to this? As far as we know, nothing Christmas-oriented has ever been put out by this popular band.
We note the Smithereens performed a rockin' version of " Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer" that has turned up on some compilations mentioned here, like 2007's Alternative Rock Xmas as well as their own Attack of the Smithereens and Razor And Tie's Rockin' Christmas from 1993. But they also appear on an RCA promo CD from 1994 called December Songs, performing "Waking Up On Christmas Morning" and "Blue Christmas."
Keb 'Mo did a performance of "Let It Snow" for AT&T when they were promoting the a2b music player. That initiative has given up the ghost, and I don't know where you can find it anymore.
Xmas Marks the Spot on Rykodisc is a 1997 sampler of Ryko's existing Christmas recordings. Most are not particularly rock oriented, although some rockers, like Big Star, Kristin Hersh and Roxy Music's Phil Manzanera and Andy MacKay, are included.
Virgin released a charity compilation in 1997 called Superstar Christmas, but all the cuts on it are previously released tunes, unlike the Special Olympics and Phoenix House albums. If you're a fan of Christmas rock, you probably have most of that stuff already; if not, check it out.
Customers of Borders Books and Music had the opportunity to buy Christmas compilation CDs that cost $6 each several years ago. Of them, Have Yourself a Funky Little Holiday has a couple of things I haven't seen elsewhere: "Frosty the Snowman" by Cocteau Twins (Update: "Frosty" was a single) and "Deck the Halls" by Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Simon and Garfunkel apparently planned to release a Christmas single for 1967 -- pretty accommodating for a couple of Jewish guys -- but the double-sided holiday record was dropped off the release list at the last minute. The two songs, "Comfort and Joy" and "Star Carol," have been unearthed after 30 years and appear only on the duo's 1997 box set, Old Friends. According to Goldmine's Christmas Record Price Guide, "Star Carol" apparently snuck out on a Columbia Christmas compilation in 1967, and the duo had already done "Silent Night" superimposed over a newscast of gruesome news as a social commentary piece on Parsley Sage Rosemary Thyme. Garfunkel went on to cut a duet of "Carol of the Birds" with Amy Grant in 1986 as part of a choral album written by Jimmy Webb, The Animals' Christmas.
Joe Clifford Faust notes, "Billy Joel's 'She's Right On Time' gets a lot of Christmas airplay largely due to the opening lines, something about putting up all the Christmas lights. The video, which recurs during the season, shows him falling over a Christmas tree. It's about as much about Christmas as 'It's A Wonderful Life' really is (if you look at it deep down).
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