2015 Musical Advent Calendar (Dec. 7): White Wine in the Sun

One of the great things about this exercise is how it’s introduced me to so many new holiday songs, and I hope you, the handful of people reading this, have had the same experience. Almost every one of my posts thus far has come recommended from someone in my feed, and the result has been a musical pastiche of what people I know think of when they think of Christmas music.

Today’s is one of those, from my friend Brian. “White Wine in the Sun” (2009) by Tim Minchin is a lovely, funny, quiet song. It’s not going to be come a caroling staple, but the repeated refrain of “I … really like Christmas” is one of those lines I wind up repeating over and over again, then mumbling off because I don’t know any of the other words.

I don’t know anything about Tim Minchin, but according to one friend “A lot of people don’t like him because he thinks he’s smarter than everyone, but sometimes he is.” Raised in Australia, Minchin says he wrote this song because hot weather reminds him of the holiday season Down Under. It’s a really pretty song.

And our standards?

  1. Does it mention Christmas by name? Yes, it’s very much the point of the song.
  2. Are there bells in it? No, just a piano.
  3. Is it jolly? Does “soulful” count as jolly? No? Then no.

Not a song you’ll be singing, necessarily, but one you’re likely to find yourself humming. Especially if you, well, really like Christmas.

That’s seven entries – just shy of a temple menorah! As always, you can check out the full list here, and feel free to hit me up with your suggestions in the comments or on Twitter at @thebobthe.

 

2015 Musical Advent Calendar (Dec. 6): All I Want for Christmas

Today’s song, All I Want for Christmas, comes from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. No recommender for this one – it just came up on autoplay after yesterday’s Julian Casablancas tune.

It’s an original song that came out in 2008, so it fits the rules for my list (Yeah Yeah Yeahs actually released it free that year). I’m a fan of the group, but I haven’t heard this one.

But how does it do against the criteria?

  1. Does it mention Christmas by name? Yes. Also “elves,” so there’s that.
  2. Are there bells in it? Yes, they’re pretty central to the background.
  3. Is it jolly? No, this is a fairly low-key affair, as you’d expect of the band.

As a side note, I’m kind of intrigued by how many entirely different songs include “All I Want for Christmas” in the title. There’s Mariah Carey’s excellent “All I Want for Christmas is You” (1994), which I’ve mentioned before in this series …

… and also Leann Rimes’ “All I Want for Christmas is You.”

(Which is a great song released in 2004, but it’s actually a cover of an original by Vince Vance and the Valiants in 1989, so it’s not eligible. Here’s Vince.)

Six songs in now. As always, you can check out the full list here, and feel free to hit me up with your suggestions in the comments or on Twitter at @thebobthe.

2015 Musical Advent Calendar (Dec. 5): I Wish It Was Christmas Today

Today’s entry is a two-fer, a song born on a television comedy show and then covered by a real musician. “I Wish It Was Christmas Today” was a recurring Saturday Night Live Christmas bit with Jimmy Fallon, Horatio Sanz, Chris Kattan and Tracy Morgan (I’m reading that it was written by Fallon and Sanz, but I can’t find verification). The first one aired in 2000, so it just squeezes into eligibility for this list.

The song/sketch is an intentionally lo-fi mess that’s pretty funny, and although it saw several iterations, it didn’t suffer much from diminishing returns over the years (Slate has a nice writeup of its history). Once it became popular, the song was performed all over the place, but I’ve actually found it pretty difficult to find the 2000 original. Here’s what I think is the original version – it’s a recording of a TV playing the song, so it’s not the best.

Again, there are a TON of amateur versions of this song. Search “I wish it was Christmas today” on YouTube and see for yourself. Maybe it’s the song’s faux amateur nature that attracts imitators. Regardless, the alternate version I’ll focus on isn’t one of these, but a cover by non-amateur Julian Casablancas of the Strokes.

Casablancas also would perform the song on Saturday Night Live with the original group. I’m not sure of the chronology here – both Casablancas versions were in 2009 – but his cover is listed before the SNL performance in every source I’ve seen, so I’ll go with that.

Here’s the collaborative effort:

Let’s see how both versions (2000/2009) fare against my Christmas Criteria.

  1. Does it mention Christmas by name? Immediately and often (lyrics are mostly the same for each version)
  2. Are there bells in it? Sleigh bells in the background throughout / Sleigh bells at the start, then (synthesized?) church bells, then more sleigh bells around the middle
  3. Is it jolly? More “quirky” / Pretty damn close, but definitely inducing of a joyful spirit

And that’s fiiiiive goooollllden … sonnnnngs! As always, you can check out the full list here, and feel free to hit me up with your suggestions in the comments or on Twitter at @thebobthe.

2015 Musical Advent Calendar (Dec. 4): Mistletoe

Okay. Fine. Whatever. I am aware Justin Bieber has a Christmas song.

After MULTIPLE comments from people who are just HILARIOUS, I am putting up the Bieb’s holiday offering, “Mistletoe.” An original song released in 2011, it fits my rules, so FINE, here, have it.

Fair warning: As a 2011 song, this is pre-(allegedly)-decent Justin Bieber. It’s the song that answers the question “Hey, what if that one Jason Mraz song was about Christmas?” It essentially has one lyric: “Kiss me underneath the mistletoe,” although I think a caught a “shawty” in there as well. It is well-scrubbed, unoffensive, and fleeting, and that’s as much as you’re getting out of me.

Here it is.

PUT IT TO THE TEST!

  1. Does it mention Christmas by name? Yes, once. These lyrics are like a checklist: “Reindeer,” “Santa,” “Wise Men,” and even “Chestnuts” also receive a mention. Justin Bieber loves chestnuts.
  2. Are there bells in it? Yes, fairly incessantly.
  3. Is it jolly? I think I’m being objective when I say no. I’ll grant it’s catchy, but I don’t think it’s any more merry than a typical Bieber tune.

Just to be fair, I actually kinda DO like Bieber’s “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” which autoplayed after this on YouTube, but it might just be because it’s got a breakdancing Santa and Bieber’s in full Dickensian Steampunk garb.

Number four is down! As always, you can check out the full list here, and feel free to hit me up with your suggestions in the comments or on Twitter at @thebobthe.

2015 Musical Advent Calendar (Dec. 3): Sometimes You Have to Work on Christmas

Busy day today, so this one almost got by me, but have no fear – it’s Christmas Music Time!

I’m putting up another recommendation, this one from my college pal Jordan: “Sometimes you have to work on Christmas” (2004) by Harvey Danger. I’d never heard this one, but it’s a great story and captures the experience of working on Christmas pretty accurately. I’ve done stints at newspapers and Walmart, and this captures the Suck pretty well. It’s not a downer, just resigned.

Wikipedia tells me this was written for a 1998 release, but it didn’t come out until 2004, so it fits the “original song of the 21st century” rule.

(also, Jordan points out it could be taken as mildly NSFW, but nothing to get worked up about)

And now we run the numbers!

  • Does it mention Christmas by name? Yep, very specific on that one.
  • Are there bells in it? I thought so, but it’s just the cymbals. Good cymbals though.
  • Is it jolly? I would not say so, but things pick up at the end.

Not exactly a song you’ll be singing door-to-door, but a nice take on the holiday. I’ll keep it on my list.

That’s three. As always, you can check out the full list here, and feel free to hit me up with your suggestions in the comments or on Twitter at @thebobthe.

2015 Musical Advent Calendar (December 2): Joseph, Who Understood

Today’s post comes from a recommendation by Ralph Hanson. The song is “Joseph, Who Understood,” by Vancouver’s New Pornographers (the band, not the occupation). This is a song you might not realize is a Christmas song without listening to the lyrics, but what kind of animal doesn’t listen to the lyrics?

It’s a fit for this list because it’s an original song, and it came out in 2007, part of the New Pornographers’ holiday EP “The Spirit of Giving.” The band has released six albums since 2000.

Have a listen.

Now let’s run the numbers:

  • Does it mention Christmas by name? No, but the lyrics are explicitly about the Nativity, which is a bit Christmassy.
  • Are there bells in it? Almost immediately, although not of the sleigh variety.
  • Is it jolly? Not especially, but it is fairly hopeful, so that’s something.

That’s two songs in! You can check out the growing list here, and, as always, keep hitting me up with your suggestions in the comments or on Twitter at @thebobthe.

2015 Musical Advent Calendar (December 1): The Cowboy’s Christmas Ball

(Hey, that’s right, I DO have a blog!)

Man do I love Christmas. I look forward to it from the day after Halloween, to the point where the month of November is just an annoying inconvenience. Although I don’t put up lights or actively turn on stations until after turkey day, I am jazzed the moment I see the first decoration or hear the first song.

I am Pro-Ho-Ho.

The thing is, we suffer from a dearth of new Christmas music. Probably the last great original Christmas song was Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You,” and it is as festive as a damn reindeer drinking hot chocolate out of a stocking (your definition of “festive” may vary). Let’s listen to it right now.


That’s some good Christmas. But you know when that song came out?

1994.

Twenty-one years ago.

That is a LONG drought.

This got me to thinking: Why have no original songs been added to the Christmas canon this century? Sure, you’ve got covers, but those don’t count – to paraphrase my college English teacher, covers are like wearing someone else’s underwear. And there are the usual perfunctory offerings from the Biebers and Perrys and what have you, but you rarely hear them the following year. I’m talking about the canon, the stuff that comes back again and again, driving into your brain like a sharpened candy cane.

So I decided to look around. And ask some friends. And Google some stuff.

First, some ground rules. Obviously they’ve got to come from the 21st century (you’d be amazed how many people suggested stuff from as far back as the 1970s). In addition, no covers. I don’t care how well you sing somebody else’s stuff, that thing would have existed without you. These conditions MUST be met.

Next, some criteria. These are more subjective – entirely subjective in one case – but they only serve to help quantify the Christmasness of a given song. For inclusion, a song should meet at least one (more is better):

  • Does it mention Christmas by name? It helps to underline the point, and this also helps to clearly identify the author’s intention (although accidental Christmas songs are a possibility)
  • Are there bells in it? The bell is the preferred musical instrument of Christmas, beating out even the tuba-with-a-wreath-on-it. Also this.
  • Is it jolly? Not all Christmas music is jolly. It can also be wistful, sappy, or (and this is a tricky one) festive. Jolliness, however, is the mood that defines a song as Christmassy regardless of the presence of other factors.

To test these factors out, I’ll run them against a newer Christmas song, The Killers’ “The Cowboy’s Christmas Ball” (2011). I didn’t base my list on this song, but it IS one of my favorites, and one of the songs that prompted this exercise, so let’s try it out.

Good stuff, and fits both the 21st century and originality requirements. Let’s check the rubric.

  • Does it mention Christmas by name? Most definitely. It’s right in the name as well as the narrative.
  • Are there bells in it? Sure are!
  • Is it jolly? Jolly as a drunken mall Santa.

So not only does the song make the list, it’s a strong contender, hitting all three marks. That explains, I suppose, why I like it so much this time of year. And yet I’ve never heard it on the radio!

For the next 24 days, I’ll be posting original songs from the 21st century and checking them (twice!) against my list. These aren’t all going to be great, so don’t treat them all as recommendations, but they ARE going to be different. That’s all I can hope for.

Got suggestions? Post ’em as a comment, or you can shout them at me on Twitter: @thebobthe