You fool. You bloody fool.
You’re too smug, too naïve! You think you have all the time in the world to deal with Christmas music. Or worse, maybe you haven’t even thought about acquiring any Christmas music at all!
It’s because I love you and want the best for you that I say I’m disappointed in you.
Don’t wait until the last second to figure out what you’re going to play for your Christmas party, Christmas Eve dinner, or Christmas morning, gift-giving orgy. (Incidentally, I found out what you’re getting this year, and frankly, most of it’s disappointing, but there’s at least one thing I think you’ll really like.)
Amoeba Music puts up their Christmas music section promptly after Thanksgiving. I understand if you’re too doped-up on tryptophan to shop it immediately (those vegetarians who opted for a Tofurky instead have an excuse – they’ll be suffering from indigestion until mid-February) but time is of the essence.
Learn from my mistake two years ago and buy USED Christmas albums early, before the hipsters pick-over the selection and leave only this:
"Eeeeeekkk...! Is it Halloween?!"
Here’s a few gems I recommend:
Swingle Singers “Noëls Sans Passeport”
Also released, in the States, under the title “Christmastime”, this album is jazzy and lighthearted, but the vocal harmonies are ornate and require deft singing. You may think you’ve never heard of these guys, but by now you’ve almost certainly heard their music; they are often featured on film and TV. And once your holiday guests have had a few cups of egg nog, they will inevitably try to sing along, sounding like stray cats in heat – and isn’t that what Christmas is all about?
Aimee Mann “One More Drifter in the Snow”
Harkening to a time when even the coolest pop stars cut Christmas albums, the pithy Ms. Mann came out with this smooth croon in 2006. Influenced as she is by Bacharach and country’s golden age, this album is a rare, modern addition to my collection. Her dry delivery and razor wit may not be at the forefront lyrically (she is singing mostly standards, after all) even so, knowing that she’s the brains behind the outfit will allow those of you who are “too cool for Christmas music” to relax for a second and enjoy the tunes without compromising your cultivated cynicism.
Bing Crosby (w/Andrews Sisters only, please) “Merry Christmas”
Let me make this absolutely clear: I fully resent this album. Bing Crosby is perhaps just as famous for physically abusing his children in alcoholic fits of rage as he is for performing scripted flirtations with a (much younger) Judy Garland. For myself, I have difficulty separating this knowledge from my enjoyment of his work, and if he sings a lyric that could be made into a double entendre for violence, inevitably my imagination will spin so.
That being said, this album is so deeply ingrained in me as the sound of Christmastime, that I can’t help but bring it out from the storage box. But ONLY for the songs with the Andrews Sisters. Their charming presence is enough to counteract the “Swinging Bing”*.
Ramsey Lewis Trio “Sound of Christmas”
For those of you who need respite from Christmas singers, or would like your Christmas music to enhance but not dominate the room, try this album on for size. It’s jazz, charismatic and smart. I recommend it for those of you who ONLY like the Vince Guaraldi “Charlie Brown Christmas” record but would maybe like another option.
Ella Fitzgerald “Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas”
Traditionally, I hanker for musicians with some kind of edge to them; I’ll play Shostakovich before Mozart, and in jazz, Ella is (to me) the vocal equivalent to Wolfgang Amadeus. Buoyant and adroit, the virtuosity of Fitzgerald is undeniable, even if I’d rather hear Billie Holiday nod her way through a number.
But at Christmastime, when the living room is perfumed with the crisp scent of pine, and I’m flying high on a sugar-rush from the umpteenth cookie, and people congregate all gezellig, this is the perfect album. Her voice is like one more tinkling, silver bell, lush with cheer and charm. Afraid your party is going to be awkward? Give this a spin, and the temperature will gravitate to “cozy”.
Christmas music I like is undoubtedly in the minority. If this is true for you, too, I hope this brief, but not complete, list of suggestions provides some Inspiration.
Merry Christmas, and send me some g**damn cookies.
*That’s “swinging” as in “I swing a sock full of soap at you for not finishing your glass of Ovaltine”.