It's that time of year where I like to search out some seasonal tunes for you. I like to go for the obscure tracks as there are so many of the others out there. It's always hard to just whittle it down to ten, but here are the ones I selected for this year. I also wanted it to be a week early so you could get the ones you liked and play them at your party or dinner or just around the house a week or so before Christmas. They all have their fine points. Have a great holiday week!
Below is a jukebox containing all the songs I picked this week. After you read about them below, go back and listen to whatever you like by just clicking on that title in the jukebox, or stream the whole playlist by clicking on the "play" icon at the top. It's free and it's the entire song. We're not selling anything. We're just in the business of hopefully making your days better by listening to great music.
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1. "That's What Christmas Means to Me" — Michael McDonald (2:39)
Old Dependable could sing the phone book and touch some part of the charts, so the suits had him do an Xmas album at some point. It gets aired annually about this time of year. I chose this track for the groove and also one can understand more of the lyric than usual in this particular MM track. I also get a kick outta the dialogue in the fade: “Merry Christmas, baby / You know what I mean ... nothing...”
2. "Go Tell It On the Mountain" — Kirk Hamilton Family (2:58)
One of the headliners of modern gospel music, Kirk, like his main inspiration Andrae Crouch, is afraid of NOTHING musically. This re-telling of the ancient spiritual certainly displays that, without betraying the original source. The lead vocal is only credited to Stephanie, but Lord, what a wonderful, inspiring performance by an obviously gifted, semi-anonymous choir participant. To me, that's one of the wonderful things that can happen during this holiday season. So forgive me for telling it on this elongated mmm... hill that I pray will be a mountain one day.
3. "Tinsel Town" — SHEdaisy (3:09)
The Osborn sisters bring to mind the Kardashians with their names of Kristyn, Kelsi and Kassidy. In the photo I’m staring at, they are a redhead, a brunette and a blond as well. They came out of Magna, Utah and worked their way around Nashville for quite a few years until they finally got signed. From the jump, they made hit records and turned country music upside down. I like this track a lot and never thought of it as country music. And by the way, I don’t think the Kardashians could compete with these sisters in the talent department.
4. "Christmas in Suburbia" — Martin Newell (2:58)
An English eccentric best known for being produced by XTC’s Andy Partridge in 1993, Martin has a go here at what he knows best, as the title announces. Newell is regarded as a pioneer in home recordings, but this track may have been taken out of the house at some point.
5. "Last Month of the Year" — The Staple Singers (2:22)
One of my favorite tracks from their early Vee Jay Records period where Roebuck “Pops” Staples displays his amazing voice amid the strong harmonies of his well-taught progeny. His original catchy guitar playing is always something to behold as well.
6. "The Christmas Song" — Victor Wooten (2:53)
The first week I moved to Nashville, someone took me to dinner right in the downtown tourist area about 1990. It was a comparatively upscale establishment and after we ordered, a musician sat down on the side of the room and began tuning up. I was quite surprised as he began playing that no other musicians joined him during his entire set as he was a BASS PLAYER. But my ears told me differently — it sounded like a trio of amazingly tasteful musos. There were no Flecktones at this time and so I would attend weekly gigs of The Wooten Brothers who played clubs and drew nice crowds. This is a good example of what I heard that first night. It puts Victor right up there with the best of the bass bombastics and will scare a few guitarists as well.
7. "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" — Chrissie Hynde (1:34)
Just a li'l something from a compilation album, but you just gotta love that voice — she brings her artistry to this seasonal standard in less than two minutes!
8. "Three Ships" — Universal Honey (2:00)
In the mid-'90s, Johnny Sinclair and Leslie Stanwyck played bass and guitar respectively in the band The Pursuit of Happiness. In spite of Todd Rundgren producing their first two albums, the two opted to start their own group and departed. Their work became background staples for TV shows, especially Dawson’s Creek, and they traipsed across the world touring nonetheless. After five albums, they took on the daunting task of a Christmas album in 2003, filled with all original tunes. In the past ten years, it rears its lovely head each winter and here it is again. This is a great band that you should research and enjoy.
9. "Silent Night" — Booker T & The MG’s (3:07)
Vocally, these silent knights have more than aspired to the heights of kings in the instrumental hierarchy and here is a good example why. To take a song probably covered a million times before and make it more than listenable and also easily identifiable as their own — a small crusade for these Knights of The Sound Table. God bless Jones, Cropper, Dunn and Jackson EVERY day of the year.
10. "Chanukah in Santa Monica" — Tom Lehrer (2:52)
Tom Lehrer had the first 10-inch LP back in the '50s. It sold quite well. A humorist with dark leanings, he reached a great many people in that time period. I have traditionally made the tenth tune in this holiday column a nod to my fellow Jewish jingle-bellers and THEIR December tradition. This year, I have tucked in on the end of Tom Lehrer a closing thought by Eddie Lawrence, known worldwide as The Old Philosopher. He had his views on this season as well. I hope you enjoy ALL these tracks as an alternative to what everybody else plays and the racket coming through your living room windows. Ho, ho, ho!