By: Caine O Rear
One of my most vivid memories of Christmas is of my father butchering "Greensleeves" on the piano after my brothers and I had torn open every present that sat under the tree. It was the only time of year he sat down at that old piano bench, and it clearly showed. But he had been moved by the spirit of the holiday and felt compelled to share that with the rest of the family.
After a few runs through the song, he would give up the ghost, realizing he had no audience and that it took more than spirit to make adequate music. So he turned his attention to the stereo. Inevitably, he'd put on his favorite Christmas piece, Handel's Messiah, which also happened to be dear to his father.
The triumphant sounds of the oratorio filled the house as the turkey sizzled in the fryer outside on our lawn. The "Hallelujah" chorus even elicited a response from my mother's Shih tzu, who normally maintained a vegetative state. But once the piece had ended, my brothers and I commandeered the stereo, taking turns spinning the more contemporary sounds that had found their way into our stockings that morning.
This time of year brings out the best and worst in all of us. The same is true for music. Some of the most beautiful stuff ever composed is associated with Christmas: Handel, Tchaikovsky, the list goes on. But where rock 'n' roll is concerned, some of the genre's worst offerings have been inspired by Saint Nick and the birth of the child.
Even the great ones seem to come up woefully short. Bruce Springsteen's "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" still sees regular rotation on rock radio around Christmas. Unfortunately, it is meant to be stomached once, maybe twice, in a lifetime.
Sir Paul McCartney's "Wonderful Christmas Time" is anything but that. But, to his credit, the former Beatle has admitted to being embarrassed by the track. (For the younger readers, the song was recently redone by Hilary Duff on her Yuletide album.)
Another Beatle, John Lennon, contributed "Happy 'Xmas (War is Over)" to the holiday catalog. Released in 1971, it's not your typical Christmas song, but was in fact written as a political statement against the Vietnam War. With its chorus, "And so this is Christmas/ What have you done?", it also reminds us of the goals we've failed to meet during the past year.
Lennon easily wins the prize for best Christmas song by a former Beatle. It's worth noting, though, that he did have the help of the immensely talented Yoko in composing it.
Speaking of talent, and Beatles, we can't forget our good friend Ringo, who has also released a complete album of Christmas tunes. The most interesting track of that effort is the psychedelic Pax Um Biscum (Peace Be With You), which sounds like it was recorded after the drummer had been sipping eggnog left over from the Revolver sessions.
In the holiday humor genre, Elmo and Patsy's "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" seems to be dying out, thankfully. Bob Rivers's spin-off of the song, "Osama Got Run Over by a Reindeer," could potentially see more airplay, if and when bin Laden's actually captured.
The BBC reported years back that "Mr. Blobby" had been voted the most annoying holiday song of all time. Though not really about Christmas, it was released during the holidays and is thus associated with the season in the U.K. You can view the music video for "Mr. Blobby" and decide how annoying it is at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=h37KQu64RY4
Some of the better songs include The Pogues's "Fairytale of New York." By far the best Christmas drinking song, it may also qualify as the best rock song ever written for the season. Singer Shane MacGowan, fallen angel that he is, still manages to find redemption in its exultant chorus: "And the boys from the NYPD choir were singing Galway Bay/And the bells were ringing out for Christmas Day."
For the trailer-park set, it doesn't get any better than Robert Earl Keen's "Merry Christmas from the Family." And who can beat these lines?: "Little Sister brought her new boyfriend/ He was a Mexican/ We didn't know what to think of him/ Until he sang 'Feliz Navidad, Feliz Navidad.'" Indeed.
And "Blue Christmas" by Elvis has stood the test of time. It's been recorded by a score of artists, including Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and Sheryl Crow, even the great Jon Bon Jovi. It was first done by bluegrass musician Ernest Tubb in 1948, but it was the King who made it the holiday classic that it is today.
All in all, a lot to listen to this Christmas season.