Friday Random 10: Here Comes Santa Claus
'Tis the season for an all-Christmas edition of the Friday Random 10. Fasten your sleigh bells.
"God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen"/Kenny Burrell/Have Yourself a Soulful Little Christmas. From the swingingest Christmas album ever. Burrell mixes up traditional Christmas tunes with just enough improvisation to make them seem fresh even now--which is quite an accomplishment considering the album was recorded in 1966.
"Here Comes Santa Claus"/Elvis Presley/Time-Life Treasury of Christmas. Originally recorded by Gene Autry in 1947, this song is nothing less than an attempt to bridge the gap between religious and secular Christmas celebrations: "Santa knows we're all God's children/That makes everything right." Bill O'Reilly, are you listening?
"This Christmas"/Donny Hathaway/Jingle Bell Rock. Maybe the most beloved R&B holiday original to emerge since the 1950s, this first appeared, as best I can tell, in 1971. This one suffers more than most from overexposure, as it's been anthologized everywhere.
"Some Children See Him"/James Taylor/A Christmas Album. As a concept, James Taylor doing Christmas songs seems like a good one. After all, in 2002, he recorded a superlative version of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" on his October Road album. So last year, he released an entire Christmas album as a promotion for Hallmark--but it was a wasted opportunity. It didn't include "Have Yourself . . .," or much else that's memorable.
"O Come All Ye Faithful"/Martha's Trouble/Christmas Lights (EP). Tip of the Santa hat to Paste magazine for pointing me to this, a brand-new recording for 2005. Martha's Trouble is a husband-and-wife folk duo, and once you get used to the sound of Jen Slocumb's voice (some call it "vulnerable," I call it "thin"), this version of the old hymn is hauntingly beautiful.
"Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree"/Brenda Lee/Jingle Bell Rock. First appearing in 1960, this song has been covered by almost everybody: Jessica Simpson, Amy Grant, LeAnn Rimes, Hanson, and even Cyndi Lauper. Lee's original is one of a handful of rock 'n' roll classics you can't imagine the season without.
"Sleigh Ride"/Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops/Time-Life Treasury of Christmas Volume 2. There are two essential instrumental versions of this tune, the 1948 original by Leroy Anderson's orchestra, which I always think of as the "wall of sound" version, and this one (recorded 1959), which has a somewhat lighter feeling. Either one will do you fine--either one stomps every vocal version, except the one by the Ronettes.
"Christmas Blues"/Willie Nelson/Pretty Paper. This album is as close to a living, breathing, organic whole as any Christmas album is likely to be, and "Christmas Blues," even though it's an original instrumental and not a holiday standard, fits perfectly. It captures a complicated emotion most of us rarely experience outside of Christmas Day--how it feels, in a time of celebration, to be mindful of the passage of time and to remember loved ones we've lost.
"The Little Drummer Boy"/Liona Boyd/A Guitar for Christmas. Here's one from another irreplaceable Christmas album at my house. Boyd, a Canadian classical guitarist who's had a long and distinguished career, originally released this album in 1983. She's probably as famous, in Canada at least, for having carried on a secret, eight-year affair with Pierre Trudeau while he was prime minister. (Hey, if you want trivia, we've got it.)
"Christmas Is Coming"/Vince Guaraldi Trio/A Charlie Brown Christmas. If I could keep only one of my many Christmas CDs, there's no doubt that this would be the one. "Christmas Is Coming" is the song Charlie Brown hears as he arrives at school to direct the Christmas play, and, next to "Linus and Lucy," it's the hardest-swinging tune on the soundtrack.
Recommended Listening: I have been meaning to mention this for a couple of weeks and keep forgetting--the rarest and most interesting of all Beatles' memorabilia are the Christmas recordings they made each year for members of their international fan club. You can read about them, see the cover art, and hear them--an interesting experience indeed--here.
And now, on with the holiday. This blog will be on hiatus until sometime next week. Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night/day/weekend/whatever.