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Wednesday, 24 December 2014


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The original holiday music from the band Over The Rhine is pretty wonderful. They have three records of it so far - Snow Angels, The Darkest Night Of The Year, and the newest, Blood Oranges In The Snow. Great stuff from a great band.

I tend to like the less well known Christmas songs. I think this is my favorite: http://youtu.be/P37xPiRz1sg
Robert Earl Keene's Merry Christmas from the Family

On the other hand, I haven't heard it (and I'll try to continue to be able to say that), but a friend says she heard Taylor Swift's version of "Santa Baby." I almost threw up on the keyboard just typing that.

You didn't ask for suggestions but here's one anyway
Nick Lowe - "Christmas At The Airport"

Merry Christmas!

Burl Ives lives on as my earliest musical memory('Blue tail fly' et al) and I believe that was on a 78rpm disc. It is not his fault that 'Holly Jolly' became a cult classic; it is ours in the aggregate for playing it to death to the point there is a collective throw up when the tune comes around yet another time.

BTW, seems to me you are looking to the wrong Beatle if you want a good Christmas song. John Lennon did a much better job.

I'm so glad it almost over. After a month of this stuff, I want to tear my hair out too. Next supermarket trip should feature regular Muzak. What a relief that will be.

Have a good one, Mike! Cheers to you.

We sang this as children, so that's about 45-50 years ago:
Jingle bells,
Batman smells,
Robin flew away,
the Batmobile,
has lost its wheel,
and landed in the hay"

Talking of altered lyrics, there must be room for a song called 'The Twelve Cameras of Christmas'. One verse being, 'Five gold Leicas!" and another,"And a rusty old Zenit B" : ]

Well, since the presents each day are in addition to repeats of the prior days gifts it amounts to more like 140 humans whom we will assume were hired rather than bought although I can't quite picture lords hiring themselves out to leap. The rest is all fowl (Collie birds are black hens and the golden rings refer to pheasants) for a grand total of 224 birds and of course 12 pear trees.

OK, my favorite Christmas song is Father Christmas by the Kinks. It starts "Father Christmas, give us some money, we've got no time for your silly toys" and still ends up with a pretty conventional Christmas wish.

"I hate being force-fed the same bad ones for an entire month in the service of mindless commerce."

Perhaps you get out too much? {;~)>

They don't play music on line.

Is there mindful commerce? I don't think the catalogs full of over hip, over priced meditation oriented stuff counts.

Sorry, I cheated, and listened today. Nope, bored almost immediately. Stuck it out, hoping for more musical interest or better lyrics ... No brain damage, but I don't need to hear it again.

Happy snark. And all your lovely wishes reflected back at'cha.

Mike, I'm with you. I'd add another song to that infamous list: 'Last Christmas', by George Michael. (Or by Wham!... whatever.) It is incessantly played in stores and public places this time of year. It depresses me and makes me wish bloody Christmas is over soon.
That George Michael guy should be impaled in a high-voltage mast.

I do not endorse this list, but the Telegraph has come up with 100....

We have one of those 400 disc carousel players and I made a category for Christmas music and there are probably a couple dozen CDs on that list. I have no idea how we ended up with so many. Some are better than others, much better. A few may come out in the event I ever take up skeet shooting again.
Louis Armstrong, Oscar Peterson and Ella all can be found in there somewhere and when they pop up it's a real pleasure. I also can recommend the Christmas album by Brave Combo if you can find it. As I am typing this BB King is doing "Backdoor Santa" and it's sublime. Happy Holidays to all. Time to pull the last sheet of peppernuts out of the oven.

Hope you have a Silent Night, Ebeneezer.

You're a mean one, mr grinch. The open carry American way of assassinating the being of Burl Ives. The rest of the world would rather boil him in treacle for his festive tunes.
I screamed with laughter at today's missive, it so deservably disembowls the current essence of commercial Christmas that it should be mandatory reading for all of us Bah Bumbug Scrooge wannabes.

I rather like this one from The Waitresses: http://youtu.be/2SzjDOk_u9I ... the first few times I hear it each holiday season, anyway. All bets are off after that!

I retain fond memories of 1984 -- when a surprising number of the stores I went into were playing the Mannheim STeamroller Christmas album (at least, it should have been 1984 -- that's the year the album came out). First, it's instrumental only, no lyrics. Second, it has a better selection of songs. (My memory tells me "every" store was playing it with one exception, but that seems unlikely.)

Great post for a curmudgeon's Christmas! (And as a curmudgeon, I mean that in a good way...)

Side note: I heard an item on CBC Radio a few days ago about the never-ending re-supply of Christmas music, with various artists re-hashing them every year. It turns out it's a cash cow. Christmas recordings always sell like hotcakes, so artists do it for the oldest reason ever: cold, hard cash, and lots of it.

Studies show that Christmas music still sells abundantly in CD format, and is hardly ever downloaded illegally. So as an industry it's stuck in 1993, and that means lots of tangible goods sold and lots of money made. I suppose it's because a lot of older people (who aren't savvy to iTunes and bit torrents) buy them, plus a lot of people buy them as gifts.

If I ever submit a comment criticizing Mike, it will include the phrase, "This from a man who once ordered a steak at Denny's."

John Lennon's "So This Is Christmas" must be on your "good list." I never tire of hearing it (the original) this time of year, though it has been butchered many times over by the Burl Ives wannabees.


I hope you'll have a chance to listen to this version of "Walking in the Air" by the New Standards from their Holiday show of 2010:


Start at the 20:30 mark.


They won't fix "grandma got run over by a raindeer" but their renditions of a variety of rather higher quality more classic tunes is wonderful.

Forever more in my head shall be entwined the concepts of "Denny's steak" and "Christmas music." I do not know if such an entanglement was your explicit intent, but I do not imagine that it would seem improper to you.

I was delighted to hear that somebody else loathed (modern) Christmas songs, but then you had to ruin it by putting up that "Just Like Christmas." Believe me, there are only two good Christmas songs -- Oh, Holy Night and Silent Night. You should listen to each of them, once a year.

How about this. Your UPS plane crashes in the Pacific, you swim to a desert island, where, for no reason you can discern, a palm tree has a working outlet. A package washes up: inside, you find a complete high-end stereo system, complete with a beautiful turntable. Another package washes up. Inside, you find a vinyl recording of John Denver doing "The Little Drummer Boy." What do you do?

I think Sir Christopher Lee may agree with you
How can you not love this man?
This years version is quite wonderful

This year, for various reasons, I've managed to avoid all but one of the awful songs dragged-out at this time of year. (Damn that blasted supermarket!)

I can't say I miss them, either.

My problem is the pop noises have got old. Lennon's been erroneously denying the demise of war and wishing people no fear (demonstrating the difference between two negatives and a positive) for 43 years - posthumously for 34. Slade's and Wizzard's offerings are older than I am.

Where's the innovation?!

Have a good one too.


I agree that listening to the same old Christmas songs every year is boring. But it doesn't seem worth complaining about. Just expand your horizons a little. There are thousands upon thousands of Christmas songs out there, many of which are quite entertaining and rarely heard on the radio. The recent documentary Jingle Bell Rocks explores some of them, but that's really only the tip of the iceberg. Countless treasures await your attention. Ignore the Christmas standards. Dig around for the good stuff. It's not too hard to find, and you'll be well rewarded.

Thanks Michael. And the same to you. Hope you and the pups have a great christmas!

Please DO write your post about terrible songs! It would be hilarious and entertaining, and then I'd be able to write this comment in reply. Which I can't now because you don't write it.

You ordered... a what, at- Denny's!? Honestly, a what? My god- you poor, wretched man! Whatever induced you, seduced you into such a diabolical state of abhorrent self abuse? My prayers will be with you this holiday season and into the coming new year...

PS- I'm sure there must be support groups out there for such behavior.

I think researching the world's worst Christmas songs is quite simple. Just go to any Starbucks---yes, even overseas in non-Christian countries like Japan---and listen to Starbucks' selection of Christmas tunes. Let's say you already have a list of what you consider the world's worst Christmas music. Starbucks will prove to you that your list is inaccurate because they will have even worse covers of said world's worst Christmas music. You might think this to be impossible, but that would be because you have not spent enough time at a Starbucks during Christmas season (Halloween through forever).

But I should not pick on Starbucks for their Christmas music. Their normal, everyday music usually consists of covers of well-known songs. One listen to one of these atrocious covers of a favorites song will ruin that song for you forever.

I assume that the purpose of Starbucks music is to ensure that people do not linger long in the shop or else to induce them to drown themselves in overpriced roasted-to-a-uniform-burnt-flavor coffee.

You ordered steak at Denny's?? Try the cheeseburger......Or maybe the 24 hour breakfast. Anybody that want's steak, and determines Denny's is the place........What were you thinking when you made that choice,? "I think I will splurge tonight"?

I nominate Jose Feliciano's Felice Navidad as my worst. The same four lines, endlessly repeated, over and over, worming their way into my ear and into my brain and not letting go. Ugh ugh ugh! I hesitate to even write about that song.

I heard of a study that found that stores play irritating Christmas music because irritated shoppers are energized, and energized shoppers buy more than relaxed ones. I can't find a reference to that study now (I may have heard it on NPR) but it's the most likely explanation I've heard.

This post is a great example of why I keep reading TOP. It's not just the justifiable rant, but the authorial voice (yours)that is so satisfying.

Stay away from those sweets.

Yup, Christmas songs are often dreadful, and get too much airplay. If you want to hear better Christmas songs, you'll probably have to write some - and then make sure they get tons of airplay. By the way, I, for one, would like to hear how Burl Ives would perform Charles Ives, who was pretty uncommercial (and definitely not easy listening!) Or how Charles Ives might set "Holly Jolly Christmas". What a thought... You might want to find a more worthy target for your hatred, though.

"Twenty-seven to be exact—eight maids a-milking, nine ladies dancing, and ten lords a-leaping."

Taking the words of the song literally, there are a total of twelve partridges in pear trees, as each preceding gift is repeated in all subsequent giftings.

40 Maids
36 Ladies
30 Lords

That's 106 people - and 40 dairy cows. Holy Sh**!

I count 50 Christmas slaves, including the musicians... Speaking of which: is this where the tradition of giving drum sets to the children of your least favorite relatives comes from?

The Low Christmas EP is phenomenal and part of our family ALT.XMAS mix. That EP was something of a revelation, led to purchasing the entire Low discography, and subscribing to their band website.

Consider checking out Sufjan Stevens idiosyncratic 10 volume recording of Christmas songs (100 total over two releases). Several traditional but most are original compositions. I recommend the first release "Songs for Christmas". Over-the-Rhine released a very nice Christmas album that mixes traditional with original compositions. Two other alt Xmas EPs by Blondfire and The Polyphonic Spree merit consideration.

Seasons greetings from Portland, OR!

Good? Really? Ugh...no.

How about:
Merry Christmas from the Family
by Montgomery Gentry

At least you'll get a smile and a chuckle - that will be Just Like Christmas

Ooooh! I'd really love to read your take on Lennon's "Happy Xmas (War is Over)", especially with the 2003 video. I have a strong love/hate relationship with this one.
And of course you can't miss Cliff Richard's "Christmas Time, Mistletoe and Wine". Cheesy factor overload.

Amen, brother.
I look forward to shortly after Christmas; no force-fed, never-ending Christmas songs. I mean, it starts in mid-November.
Soon, I can "Get Back" to Mozart,Beatles et al.

For the list of infamy, surely there is a spot for the muzak rendition of "Deck the Halls" that came at the end of the old TV ads for Ronc@ products. (Not that the original was really any better.)

For roster of merit, I always thought old carols like "The Holly and the Ivy" (English, 18th cent.) or "Un flambeau, Jeannette, Isabelle" (16th cent. French) conveyed a sense of Christmas' sublimity without being maudlin.

Since you are not living in England, you get to miss out the most wretched assortment of Christmas songs ever: Greg Lake, Jona Lewie, Wizzard,... the list goes on.

As a sometime DJ I have compiled any number of Christmas tapes. To go with Low, I suggest Big Star, Velvet Underground, Mazzy Star, Momus, Rheostatics, Squeeze... full track listing on request.

Somehow, I have managed to avoid having to listen to Mariah Carey this Xmas, so things are looking up :)

This classic from Francis Albert remains my all-time favourite Xmas song https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nZ6yQgBvuoI&feature=youtu.be

Merry Xmas one and all.

I second the Sufjan Stevens Christmas songs.
is a great way to start.

A good one, and one of my favorites is John McCutheon's, "Christmas in the Trenches," based on the true story of the Christmas Truce between British and German troops that took place exactly 100 years ago.

Of the traditional carols, "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear," is one of the few that focuses on the message of peace and brotherhood and not a miracle birth. It was also written by a Unitarian.

wait…what? Christmas? is that today?

I love all Christmas songs, save that damn one about the donkey.


Another reason we love you Mike Johnson. I feel the same about Christmas songs. There are no good ones. Do you believe that even Bob Dylan made a Christmas album! Jeez!

I don't object to artists recording Christmas music so much as I object to the utter lack of originality in the genre. No, we don't need another version of "Little Drummer Boy" when we already have 783 covers of it.


Perhaps the worst for me is the cover of "A Fairytale of New York" by one of the members of an Irish boy band and some female singer whose name eludes me now. The whole POINT of that song being removed when performed by the Most Refined Sounding Couple Ever. Thankfully not something which will ever be on the local radio station's Christmas iPod playlist...

You sound like an old fart Mike. My advice, go to Denny's for dinner today, order a steak and enjoy their lovely selection of Christmas music:)

I have not heard "Christmas Shoes" and have no desire to, but this is worth a listen:


Happy End of Year and Start of New!

Oh, and John Camp? Probably lick my finger and stick it into that working palm tree outlet....

A better focussed, accurate (potentially), and yet fun posting from you I don't recall. Keep it up.

P.S. "I Believe in Father Christmas" by Greg Lake still works for me, in large part due to the production qualities of ELP.

I heard a choir singing a lovely take on the 12 days of Christmas - it was 12 days after Christmas and the gifts were being returned one by one, with the usual difficulties about where they had been purchased,receipts, etc; all except one lord-a-leaping, to whom the wife had taken a fancy; she kept him.

James Brown's "Funky Christmas" wins. Every year. Unbeatable.

Dear Mike,

I'm sorry**, but your list is worthless, as it is not topped by Little Drummer Boy. A song that makes me want to scream, ala old Tarzan movies,"The drums! The drums! Their incessant pounding; it's driving me mad!"

Convincing proof that you only give percussion instruments to the children of people you truly hate.

The trick to enjoyable Holiday Listening is to go off the main road. There's some good stuff from Frankie at his peak. She and Him's Xmas album does a pretty fine job, and their role reversal on "Baby It's Cold Outside" makes that song a lot less creepy and more fun than it otherwise sounds today.(Which yeah, I know is an anachronistic artifact -- not only have sensibilities changed but so have some verbal conventions -- but still, it hits the modern creep button).

And Michael Franks'"Watching the Snow" album still has to be the best and most original holiday album ever. Good list'nin' any time of year.

pax / Ctein

(**no, not really not one bit)

Hilarious! I kept thinking of horrible Christmas songs to mention ("Hippopotamus", "Shoes") and then you'd get to them. "The Christmas Shoes" really is the worst of them all, but you need the video to get the full effect of its wretchedness.

As far as the steak is concerned, you really got what you deserved. You've got no one to blame but yourself. Everything about Denny's, from the decor to the lighting to the staff screams "we can make a great grilled cheese and can get eggs right any way you order them, but we'll destroy a steak if given the chance."

Finally, apart from the regressive giving increasing the total of human beings given in "Twelve Days of Christmas," you've forgotten the pipers and drummers at eleven and twelve. It is birds, then people, with the last bunch being musicians.

I look forward to the songs you like, and imagine my two favorites might just be on their way. I hope you do the photo books, in honor of the year-delayed copy of Early Color I got today.

Yes, the Low Christmas EP comes out every year, and it's great -- along with a whole lot of their catalog.

I used to feel a bit like you, I imagine (except for the Denny's part) -- I just didn't like the Christmas music treacle. But over the years my wife has converted me with Esquivel!, the Roaches, plenty of Louis ("Zat you, Santa Claus?") and classic suggestions mixed with the Church of Johnny Cash. And the Low EP goes on heavy rotation.

Yep, I used to loath Christmas music ... but now I actually look forward to those playlists.

The NPR podcast All Songs Considered had an interesting discussion about the worst songs of all time. http://www.npr.org/blogs/allsongs/2014/02/06/272457460/the-worst-songs-of-all-time

Best Christmas song ever? - 'Fairytale of New York', by the Pogues with Kirsty McColl.

Springsteen's cover of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" is a fave of mine, maybe because I was there at Winterland where the most played bootleg was recorded. Magical.

But this year's musical Christmas present is a ticket to see the reunited Sleater-Kinney, the best rock band since the Clash (arguably best ever). I'm sooooo excited!

Michael, Michael, Michael .... Murder? Deer rifle? Please, a little sense of proportion. It's a song. It may even have been one that his record company insisted he do. (See this NPR story on The Waitresses "Christmas Wrapping" http://www.npr.org/2014/12/24/372662676/couldnt-miss-this-one-behind-christmas-wrapping )

Couldn't the crafting of an "earworm" be considered an art form? Beyond Paul McCartney's mastery of the "hook" and that Disney song-that-must-not-be-named-lest-it-infest-your-brain-all-day, perhaps there are practical uses for a well-crafted "pepsi?" Even after 50+ years, "Tenser said the Tensor" still lives in my brain. Alfred Bester's principal character used it to foil those would would eavesdrop on his thoughts.

One more thought: I don't think it's prudent to speak lightly of "bloody violent death." Just two weeks ago, in the area where I live, a man in a custody battle with his wife systematically "eliminated" her, her parents, and her sister's family, going to three houses in three towns, causing a shelter-in-place in a fourth town, before finally ending his own life.

There are worse things in life than songs that bug you.

[I wasn't being serious. --Mike]

Do yourself a BIG favour and buy this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Bells_of_Dublin, you'll thank me.

The BBC has written up an antidote to Xmas muzak.
In Ireland, there is now a '12 pubs of Christmas' movement. A drink in each pub. That should erase the aural insult of the muzak.

One thing which annoys me more than Christmas songs (just) is the use of # for No. or number!

"December: the atmosphere of a one-party state. On all media and in all newspapers, endless invocations of the same repetitive theme. In all public places, from train stations to department stores, an insistent din of identical propaganda and identical music. The collectivization of gaiety and the compulsory infliction of joy." - Christopher Hitchens

Hear, hear.

Hang an ear to Grandaddy's "Alan Parsons in a Winter Wonderland": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tMmuZjsrRtY

My first thought for a good Christmas song was 2000 Miles, by the Pretenders.

But, then I remembered this one by Tracey Thorn. It was featured in the (highly recommended) 2013 film All Is Bright.

I agree with you completely about Christmas music. This year, however, I was okay with it. I spent 5 weeks in South East Asia ending on December 15, so by the time I was exposed to Christmas music, it was almost Christmas! What a blessing!

As for the worst songs ever, I have to nominate "Wonderful Christmas time" by Sir Paul, and "Last Christmas" by Wham!. I can't stand either one. Generally, Paul McCartney's music is good, generally speaking, but that one is just terrible. Wham!?, well, I didn't like anything they did.

During Xmas, for people who like Jazz guitar and good music, I recommend Kenny Burrell's Have Yourself a Soulful Little Christmas: http://grooveshark.com/#!/album/Have+Yourself+A+Soulful+Little+Christmas/7313037

The lampshade photo reminds me of Magritte's painting The Son of Man.

Here's the connection between Denny's steak and bad Xmas carols: Farmer plays 'Jingle Bells' on trombone, Cows come Dashing

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