There are few things better than Bruce Springsteen’s banter early in this live version of the classic Christmas song. The ultimate New Jersey-an, he begins with setting the scene, “It’s all cold down along the beach, the wind’s whipping down the boardwalk.” It’s not the typical “White Christmas” snow in the air type stuff. No, Bruce turns the classic into his own thing. He later asks if the band has been good and practicing “real hard.” He’s embracing his moniker right before ripping into a truly great cover. He’s The Boss indeed, maybe even a jolly one with a bowl full of jelly. The rest of the song proceeds as you’d expect. It’s half Christmas, half Bruce, and all awesome.
I’m still not super sure how weekends will go with this project. In the past two days I was pretty busy and didn’t have some posts banked so today you’ll get a dual post plus an extra bonus one tomorrow morning. Stay tuned!
But first it’s Christmas time in Hollis, Queens. Though my mom never cooked chicken and collared greens for Christmas, this song is still super fun to listen to. Run DMC is pretty much the only early rap that I like (commence with the throwing of vegetables) and the humor with which they treat the Christmas holiday really works for me. Towards the end of the song there are some horn blasts between verses that ape classic Christmas songs but the record scratches that accompany them show that the two of these guys (plus Jam Master Jay, of course) know what they’re doing when it comes to melding the Christmas spirit with their own holiday experiences.
And that it’s used as one of the two biggest Christmas-y parts of the best non-Christmas-y Christmas movie doesn’t hurt either. Other than the “Now I have a machine gun, ho ho ho” declaration that John McClane makes halfway through the film, the only real sign that Die Hard is is Christmas movie is Argyle’s music selection on the way to the Nakatomi Plaza, namely “Christmas in Hollis”. Argyle is the super cool limo driver chauffeuring McClane to his reunion with his estranged wife. There’s a bit of holiday reconciliation stuff that weaves its way into the film but mostly it’s just shooting and some Christmas tunes. And that’s what you want sometimes. Ok, often. Ok, most of the time. “Ho ho ho
I first knew Eartha Kitt as Catwoman from the 60’s Batman tv show reruns I would watch after school in 4th or 5th grade. She was pretty alluring, even to young Alex, with the hair and the eyes and the outfit. Not bad. Later, I heard her version of “Santa Baby”, the first to be recorded and fell in love with the sultry but not overly sexy voice she sang one of the most commercial songs of the season with. It’s easy for singers of this song to go too far, to stray into Marilyn Monroe territory with it and lose the dry wit of the whole thing in a sea of barely whispered lyrics. No, she did it just right. She escalates from wanting a sable coat under her Christmas tree to asking her lover to buy her a platinum mine and a duplex before ramping back down to “one little thing, a ring”. And she’s not talking about phone, Santa baby. Before she gets there, though, she also brags about “all the fellas that [she hasn’t] kissed.” I believe it, both that she’s desirable enough to have a bunch of guys lusting after her and that she’d keep them at bay for the sake of the guy she’s with. It’s that little element that gets lost when people like Madonna get a hold of the song and pout their way through it. Don’t even get me started on Michael Bublé (whose Christmas album is generally pretty good) and his dumb version of the holiday classic. Give me Eartha Kitt or give me death!
Yup, I’m going to go on a Christmas run this year. I’m feeling merry. So tune in every day for a new song or movie scene or book or video or whatever, plus my expert commentary in written form. Get into the Christmas spirit!
Ok, so the video has very little to do with Christmas other than that it features some ladies and gentlemen walking around a grocery store dressed up as Santa. It feels a little low rent for a song that seems like a bad idea on the surface but turns out to be a truly great rendition of a classic song. For the 24 years I was alive before this version came out, I’d have argued that nobody should try to top the original Thurl Ravenscroft song from the seminal animated movie based on Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas. I mean, first let’s just look at the name. Thurl Ravenscroft sounds like the man Benedict Cumberbatch wants to grow up to be. His deep voice is perfect for the silly evil the Grinch has in store for all the Whos down in Whoville. Cee Lo Green, riding the success of his excellent “Fuck You” earlier in the year, put out a Christmas album in 2012 featuring a whole bunch of classic Christmas songs done in the way only he can do, with a lot of pizzazz and wonderful singing. Listening to his version of “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch” was a surprise on that album, as he gets the talky parts just as well as he does the theatrical singing bits. If you’re a Grinch to this whole Christmas thing, I give you permission to tune out for the next month. If you’re not a mean one, stick around and visit every day for a new wonderful Christmas thing!
The year is half over and that means it’s time to check in with how its doing in the media world. First up is the top 5 albums of the first half of the year.
5. Jack White – Blunderbuss
I have, for some reason, not listened to this album very much since it came out a few months ago. I can’t really tell you why. It’s Jack White doing his Jack White thing, which means a lot of different kinds of songs that still somehow manage to sound of a piece. I guess you get pretty good at being yourself when you have a bunch of bands and side-projects going on. I’ve never loved anything White did as much as I love his work as half of The White Stripes, but this album gets pretty close. It’s got some great piano work for a guy known as a guitarist. This is to be expected, I suppose, with the excellence of Get Behind Me Satan, but it was nice to see anyways. Keep it up, Jack.
4. Electric Guest – Mondo
If we’re going to have to wait for a new Gnarls Barkley album it’s not a bad consolation prize to get this little gem. Electro-soul is one of my favorite genres and Asa Taccone (brother of the Lonely Island’s Jorma) is surprisingly quite great at it, even if his appearance wouldn’t suggest it as much as Cee-Lo’s would. It’s poppy and soul-y and the music is solid. It makes you want to dance, but only a little. Fun stuff. Also of note: all but two of the songs on the album are under 4 minutes, the two exceptions being the 5:01 “Awake” and 8:49 “Troubleman”. That’s all.
3. Fun. – Some Nights
I guess I caught this wave just as it was about to crash. Oh well, I still really like the bigness of this album. Its first song has an introduction that seems more like the beginning of a Broadway musical than a first track on an album. The band then goes on to craft large, varying songs of pop bombast. The runaway hit single, “We Are Young,” is one of the lesser songs on the album, and it’s a shame if it is what keeps people away from discovering a great pop band.
2. The Shins – Port of Morrow
After taking some time off and doing his own thing, it would seem like James Mercer was returning to his roots and the band that made him famous. That is, until you see that he’s the only returning member of The Shins for this album. Somehow it still feels a lot like other Shins stuff, a testament to the artistic power Mercer holds. This album came out in the spring, but it feels like a perfect autumn listen, probably because of songs like “September” and “Fall of ’82”. Maybe it’ll move up later in the year as it settles into its own time.
1. The Tallest Man on Earth – There’s No Leaving Now
You’re lucky if you get an album a year where every song works. This is that album. Fantastic folk. It’s not necessarily a happy listen but there’s a certain joy to be taken in such well made music. There’s not an off note as Kristian Matsson expands his sound to include a little electric guitar to go along with his usual acoustic selection. While songs like “Call Me Maybe” dominate the airwaves The Tallest Man on Earth provides a wonderful counterbalance with songs full of meaning and emotion. The obvious comparison to Bob Dylan is obvious for a reason, this guy is really good at writing and performing deep and poetic music.
Now you’ve seen my list, what would you put on yours? What did I miss? Share your picks in the comments.