December 18, 2013: Needless to say, I’ve been neglecting my Christmas duty (which is not to be confused with my Hanukkah duty, which is completely different and involves greasy potato pancakes). Year after year, you lovable fools depend on me to offer my holiday assessments, and being that the big X is a mere week away, I thought I’d better get my tired and curvaceous bottom to it and offer these latest words of cheer.
I know many of you have enjoyed previous Blah-ugh! postings involving Christmas iconography – pieces on Johnny Mathis, Patrick Stewart’s Christmas Carol, and of course Johnny Mathis. This year I’ve decided to again focus on the music, which is of course what Christmas is all about (along with the presents and Lactose-Free egg nog), so I thought it might be of equal—if not inferior—value to share what I believe are some of the definitive Christmas song versions accessible on our burgeoning airwaves (and through telepathy if you’re really, really good).
For me it’s easy to start with Michael Buble (or is it Bubble? None of us are ever really sure) and his incomparable version of “Let It Snow.” (Please don’t make me write that three times!) I was so happy the first time I heard it, and I thought it was Bobby Darin, and it may have been Bobby Darin, or still be, for that matter, but it’s a really great jazzy version and he just sounds so happy singing it … the fool. I especially like that it climbs up a step, or half a step; there’s climbing involved. Just peachy stuff!
I’d be hard pressed to find a better version of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” than that sung by the great Jimmy Dean (whoever he is. I just remember he had a sausage commercial when I was growing up). It’s a very good version and has that unsettling overly serious quality so particular to good seasonal music. And as my real fans know, I simply can’t resist anything with the word “ye” in it!
Probably my most favorite holiday performance comes from Celine Dion doing “O Holy Night,” which just floors me. She holds those last monster notes forever and simply doesn’t sound human. I even went out and bought her album after hearing it, but it kind of sucks, to be honest, so I don’t ever put it on, except when I want to hear that song, which I don’t do often now because I’ve become really good at impersonating her in the shower, and when I want to hear the song it motivates me to bathe.
“Sleigh Ride” is one of my very favorites, and of course the best version would have to be The Ronettes. There’s just nothing like it, nor like Ronnie Whateverthehellhernameis’s wonderful churlish lisping voice. But I must say I also love the terrific instrumental Leroy Anderson version, which many of you will recognize from those bizarre old WNEW station identification commercials, where some weird melonhead family members of some WNEW employee would come on and give a video Xmas greeting with a Bronx accent. (It may have been channel 9, but I think anyone growing up in the 1970’s in the tri-state area knows full-well what I’m talking about.)
Tammy Wynette clearly does the best version of “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear,” and it’s such a cold, icy version it just puts me right there outside, like I’m lurking in a pine clearing on a full-moon snow night, watching some Jesus star causing all sorts of trouble. I just love that.
Mitch Miller gets the vote for Silver Bells, as does Moe the Bartender, but that’s another random tangent I can’t get into now.
There’d be no Christmas were it not for the Andrew Sisters, so I have to give them both “Jingle Bells” and “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” Both brilliant hopping versions make subtle cameos in the great movie “A Christmas Story,” both feature that awesome Big Band orchestration so near to my heart and intestinal tract, and while we have to suffer a bit of Bing Crosby in each, it’s worth it to enjoy Laverne, Maxine and Patti at the top of their games.
The Chipmunks probably do the best “Rudolph” version, and feature Rudolph himself singing. But I have nothing that funny to say about it, so I’ll move on.
While I intended to leave him out, as in my mind he is Mr. Christmas, Johnny Mathis’s “Marshmallow World” is beyond compare. But so many of his versions trump others too, I don’t want to go down that road right now, in part because I’m getting really tired and want to get back to watching “Die Hard 2” for the 23rd time.
And what would Xmas be without mentioning old Nat King Cole, that merry old soul, and his quintessential “Christmas Song” version. But he also has other great versions, such as “Caroling, Caroling” and “Hark! the Herald, etc.” so I wish you people wouldn’t pigeon hole him just because he’s black.
Finally, what song list would be complete without the mealy acknowledgement of Vince Guaraldi and his piano’ed stuff, including “O Christmas Tree,” which has come to represent so much Christmas paste to us all who thrive on the magic of Linus Van Pelt and “5” … (I’m betting that less than five of you will understand that reference, but trust me, it’s a vividly clever one!)
There are many other holiday favorites too, but some are not officially standards owing to the singular recording. Great examples include Paul’s “Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time,” John’s “So This is Xmas (or whatever the hell it’s called)” and of course the Beach Boys’ “The Man with All the Toys.”
Of course, this wouldn’t be the Blah-ugh! if I didn’t focus on the negative, so it’s important to note some of the awfulest Christmas songs and albums as well, which include Madonna’s “Santa Baby” and that “Donde Est Santa Claus” debacle. Other surprising disappointments have been several albums I’ve bought and either returned, destroyed or given away to book sales, from artists I would have otherwise had faith in for holiday fulfillment who failed me miserably – Barbra Streisand, Barry Manilow and John Denver among them.
Anyway, I’m tired of all this nonsense and need to get back to filling my sleigh with nougat and my ears with wax. Please have a safe and happy holiday and if you’re a Jew, I’ll see you over at Chiu Fai Gardens on Christmas Eve …