I doubt I’m the first person to tackle this subject but it occurred to me recently that most of my students who tell me they dislike Christmas, haven’t actually looked beyond the obvious choices. And no matter who you are, by the time Christmas actually arrives many tracks have worn out there welcome, especially if you’ve ever worked in retail. I once worked in shop that looped an hours worth of music for a whole month, it hurt my soul a little but. So I thought I’d pick a few tracks that may not initially spring to mind and a justification of their inclusion. Enjoy
1. Tom Waits – Christmas Card from Hooker in Minneapolis (taken from ‘Blue Valentine’)(1978)
I was introduced to Tom Waits about five years ago and this track always comes out this time of year. I absolutely adore the piano playing which seems to morph between solemn gospel hymns and a blues/jazz approach that touches on Bill Evans ballad styles. The vocal performance is that classic gritty story telling that is so intoxicating about Tom Waits music. A perfect track for drinking away those Christmas blues.
2. The Killers – Christmas in LA ft Dawes (2013)
The Killers have made a habit of releasing a Christmas song each year now and many will know of my undying love for ‘Don’t Shoot Me Santa Claus’. That said I wanted to choose a song that sums how I’ve been feeling lately. The music is surprisingly delicate and earnest and the vocal exchanges between Brandon Flowers and Dawes are beautiful. I also really like the exchange between Owen Wilson and Harry Dean which opens the track, I think it speaks to anyone struggling to pursue a creative career. The lyric “another casting call on Thursday, for a job that doesn’t pay” never fails to gives me the blues.
3. Albert King – Santa Claus Want Some Lovin’ (1974)
That’s enough depressing angles on Christmas for a while, time for something funky. I’m ashamed to say I didn’t know this track until I recently heard the cover by Bill Murray and George Clooney in ‘A Very Murray Christmas’ (Netflix!). The groove laid down by the drums and bass is irresistible and leaves plenty of room for Albert’s tasteful blues guitar playing. The lyrics have a great humor too them and they are delivered perfectly with an almost sleazy sexuality that brings to mind Clarence Carter’s hit ‘Back Door Santa’.
4. RUN-DMC – Christmas in Hollis (1987)
I know I’m going to get some stick over this one. It is without a doubt the silliest track on this list with the worst video. But once you get past the 80’s fashion, and the shoehorned Christmas songs it is redeemed by that classic hip-hop feel. I love those tasty horns and I have to say that those vocal performances that have a great energy to them that feels like a party was going on during the recording. I’ve digressed slightly.
5. Joni Mitchell -‘River’ (taken from the album ‘Blue’)(1971)
To close this list I thought I’d return to the slightly depressing theme I started on simply because this track is stunning. I discovered Joni Mitchell during my first year at university and the album ‘Blue’ is perfect. The juxtaposition of ‘Jingle Bells’ with Joni’s lyrics filled with longing to get away and heartache is sublime. The way she twists her vocals from having hints hope to despair draws me in every time. Favorite line has to be “I wish I had a river I could skate away on, I made my baby say goodbye”. Perfect.
What do you think of the tracks, any others you feel should have been included? Are they a little too blue? Let me know in the comments below.
Next week: 23rd December 2015 – Solo Guitar #2 – ‘Joy To The World’, stay tuned!