Top 5: Comin' on Christmas
We're getting an old-fashioned December snowstorm out my window today--so before I headed out for some errands, I grabbed a cassette labeled "Christmas Hits" for the ride. Here are the top five tunes on the tape:
5. "Christmas Is"/Percy Faith, His Orchestra and Chorus. (1966) Christmas is a time when we reconnect with our childhood, and this song takes me vividly back, not just to a hazy, generalized Christmas season, but to a specific moment on Christmas morning. It's after we've found Santa's loot and before we've realized we're hungry and want some breakfast. Stuff is strewn everywhere, and amidst the chaos, my mother would tune in our local radio station, and before long, they would inevitably play "Christmas Is," along with others from the album of the same name--many of which you would recognize.
4. "A Christmas Song"/Jethro Tull. (1972) Originally appearing on Living in the Past, this song was also included on Tull's 2003 Christmas album. A Christmas album is a give-up move for a lot of artists, but Tull's was praised by many critics. On "A Christmas Song," Ian Anderson comes across like a Puritan scold ("the Christmas spirit is not what you drink"), but what he says needed hearing in 1972, and still does.
3. "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)"/John Lennon and Yoko Ono. (1971) This is probably the single most popular and enduring rock-and-roll Christmas record, and one about which there's not much left to say. Did it seem quite so heartbreakingly earnest before Lennon was murdered? It's been too long for me to tell.
2. "River"/Joni Mitchell. (1971) The instrumental lick "River" cops from "Jingle Bells" and the verses that are directly about the jolly season ("it's comin' on Christmas/they're cuttin' down trees") are really just framing devices for a song about loss, loneliness, and the desire to escape--feelings that the Christmas season often multiplies. Gains bonus points for the most erotic lines you'll ever hear in a holiday song: "He loved me so naughty/made me weak in the knees."
1. "Seven O'Clock News-Silent Night"/Simon and Garfunkel. (1966) The eeriest Christmas record ever made. Simon and Garfunkel harmonize on the most beautiful of carols, but soon you become aware of something else fading up in one speaker--a radio newscast, describing civil rights marches, the arraignment of mass murderer Richard Speck, the death of Lenny Bruce, and ending like this:
Former Vice-President Richard Nixon says that unless there is a substantial increase in the present war effort in Vietnam, the U.S. should look forward to five more years of war. In a speech before the Convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in New York, Nixon also said opposition to the war in this country is the greatest single weapon working against the U.S.Almost 40 years later, although the news is dated, the effect is not. Somebody should record a contemporary version of it--although few radio stations would have the stones to play it.