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Thursday, December 17, 2015

Mr. G's Top Ten Christmas Songs

So we are fast approaching Christmas and we have been assaulted by the repetitious holiday soundtrack for the past eight weeks.  The trouble is not necessarily the songs, which are often well-constructed pieces.  It is generally the "dumbed-down" versions of the songs that are pumped through the loudspeakers at the mall that drive us all crazy.  The good news - so many marvelous artists have cranked out Christmas songs that you can find some truly outstanding versions of holiday favorites. So here is what I think we should all be listening to this season as we swig the eggnog and hang out under the mistletoe - my Top Ten list:

10.   Blind Boys of Alabama with Taj Mahal - Silent Night:  This is from the "Talkin' Christmas" album.  The vocal harmonies of the BB of A always sends chills down my spine, and Silent Night is a great vehicle to display the rich sound of this gospel singing group.

9.    Elvis Presley - Santa Claus is Back in Town:  Elvis is shoutin' them Christmas blues.  Great pelvis-shakin' double entendres in this tune ("Put out your milk and cookies, baby. Hang your pretty stockings just right. Santa's gonna come slidin' down your chimney tonight!"). Dat;'s whut I'm talkin' 'bout!

8.     Alice Cooper - Santa Claus is Coming To Town:  Alice just tears up this little kid's Christmas song and brings out its creepy, terrifying aspects.  Love it!

7.    Canadian Brass - Bring a Torch, Jeanette Isabella:  This is from the first Canadian Brass Christmas album, which came out in 1990, I think.  I love the solo French horn opening, and this sound grabs me since I am an old trombone player.

6.  Stevie Wonder - That's What Christmas Means to Me:  Stevie Wonder!!!! He could sing the phone book and I would love it.  This is a wonderful old-school Motown rave-up with chick background singers and Stevie's chromatic harmonica! Yezzzz!!

5.  Bing Crosby - Mele Kalikimaka:  We have to go into the way-back machine for this old chestnut.  This is the corny Hawaiian Christmas song with the Andrews Sisters singing backup. Good clean fun, folks.
4.  Ramon F. Veloz -  Paz en La Tierra (Joy to the World): This great Cuban artist turns this old carol into a dance tune.  It is joyous as hell, man.

3.  Albert King - Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin':  A hot and mildly dirty blues from one of the "Three Kings" (Albert, Freddie and BB - all gone now, dammit).  Albert could sang it and his blues guitar chops were killer!

2.  Eva Cassidy and Chuck Brown - The Christmas Song:  To be honest, the Christmas Song has never been my favorite holiday tune, but it is a good song for singers to show off their chops.  Eva Cassidy had chops to burn.  I still shed tears over her early death, and her voice is without peer. Chuck Brown is great, too, but he is overshadowed by Eva, IMHO.

1.  Dexter Gordon - Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas:  This is my favorite Christmas song done by the my favorite tenor saxophonist.  The ease and beauty of Dexter's tone and improvisations are without peer. He never overplayed, he always was lyrical, his heart came out in every phrase.  God, I miss that guy.

That's it - enjoy these tunes, and look for more.  There are a million wonderful Christmas songs that break out of the Musak and pop schlock mode.  And Merry Christmas/Happy Hanukkah/Joyous Kwanzaa/Merry Festivus and a Happy New Year to us all!!

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