Christmas Music Overload? 10 Twisted Classics to Keep Your Yule Cool
Tired of the same old Christmas music? Even cool stuff, like the classic instrumental holiday albums by The Ventures and Booker T. & the MG’s? Try these severely twisted alternatives – 10 tunes that take merry and bright to a whole ’nother planet.
“Bebop Santa,” Babs Gonzales
Dig this crazy opening: “Twas the blight before Christmas/And all through the dawn/The scene was quiet except pops and mom/They sat hung in their big easy chair/Goofed on egg nog, sherry and beer.” Thus begins the bebop era jazz vocalist’s jive talking take on the Clement Clarke Moore holiday classic. It’s a hip trip and you gotta fly it.
“I’m a Christmas Tree,” Wildman Fischer
As far as unconventional odes to the Jolly Fat Man go, this tune by Frank Zappa protégée and certifiably insane Los Angeles performer Fischer, in collaboration with famed curator of the musically bent Dr. Demento, is a precursor to the outsider songwriters’ craft as practiced more recently by Wesley Willis and Daniel Johnston. But he knows the score: “Oh Santa Claus/He breaks all the laws/He trespasses/He breaks and enters/He travels all around the world without a valid passport.”
“Santa’s Messin’ With the Kid,” Eddie C. Campbell
Chicago harmonica giant Junior Wells recorded his classic Afro-Cuban influenced shuffle “Messin’ With the Kid” at the United Records studio in 1960. Seventeen years later, hard-core Windy City bluesman Eddie C. Campbell flipped the tune into a Christmas ditty, but with a twist: Santa’s not sneaking into the house for cookies; he’s slippin’ in for nookie. And it’s up to Campbell to run him off.
“Is Zat You Santa Claus,” Louis Armstrong
This king of protean swing cut two Christmas classics: “Is Zat You Santa Claus” and “Christmastime in Harlem.” “Zat You” translates to all ages thanks to Armstrong’s zesty vocal, the band’s straight-up chug and the tune’s clever, playful lyrics: “Sure is dark out/Ain’t the slightest spark out/’Pon my slackened jaw/Who’s there, who is it/Stopping for a visit/’Zat you Santa Claus?”
“Jingle Bells,” Singing Dogs
This song is a marvel of early ’50s recording technology and the first tune to make extensive use of tape splicing to create an entirely new piece of music. Carl Weismann, the Danish musique concrete composer who created the piece, made field recordings of his own dog and varied their pitch to achieve the effect of multiple hounds. Nearly 60 years later it’s still a staple of the holiday – a truly weird staple of the holiday.
“Santa Claus & His Old Lady,” Cheech and Chong
Christmas collides with San Francisco doper street life and Chicano culture in this 1971 radio hit by one of America’s greatest comedy teams. “On, Donner! On, Blitzen! On, Tavo! C’mon, Bento!”
“Christmas Dragnet,” Stan Freberg
Better known to generations of children as Spike the Bulldog, Beaky Buzzard, Cage E. Coyote (Wile E.’s dad) and a host of other supporting characters in classic Warner Brothers cartoons, this Los Angeles voice artist tackled nearly all the roles in his holiday record lampooning the famed TV detective drama in a story about the un-Scrooging of a curmudgeon named Grudge.
“Green Christmas,” Stan Freberg
Here satirist Freberg took on the rampant consumer culture of the prosperous late 1950s, which pales compared to the rampant consumer culture of today’s recessionary times. Freberg’s monolog ends on a sober note, with a version of “Jingle Bells” accompanied by the sound of ringing cash registers.
“Christmas at Ground Zero,” “Weird Al” Yankovic
This is a surprisingly dark entry from the modern king of the parody song. A Cold War satire from 1986, the tune uses an impending nuclear holocaust as a backdrop to the holiday. But it’s not as hopeless as it sounds. Yankovic ends on a potential upbeat: “Oh, it’s Christmas at Ground Zero/And if the radiation level’s okay/I’ll go out with you and see the all new/Mutations on New Year’s Day.”
“Jingle Bells,” Etta James
Somehow 1930s comedienne Fanny Brice, a backside tumble in the snow, a bay horse clocking in at “240” and a few other oddities appear in this somewhat extemporaneous version of the Christmas classic as performed by the great blues singer on her 12 Songs of Christmas album. Hey, as long as James sings “jingle” and “Christmas” in her timeless, soul-soaked way, it’s all good.