Saturday, December 10, 2011

Offbeat Holiday Music: Santa Claus Got Stuck in My Chimney

Ella Fitzgerald: Santa Claus Got Stuck in My Chimney


All week long, the picture above has been sitting on the sidebar, and you probably never suspected that anyone had a song for it. In fact, not just anyone, but the great Ella Fitzgerald herself. The song had acquired legendary status at one time. Fitzgerald sings it with the innocence of a child, but someone in record company land had a filthy mind, and decided the song was too risqué to release. In fact, it only came out after Fitzgerald’s death in 1966. Personally, I think you have to work pretty hard to get something naughty out of this, but you be the judge.

Offbeat Holiday Music: How to Make Gravy

Paul Kelly: How to Make Gravy


While this song isn't necessarily "offbeat," it's one that you won't
normally hear during the North American version of holidays. Paul
Kelly is an Australian singer/songwriter who I think is massively
underrated in the northern hemisphere. In this song the narrator, Joe,
is in prison, and is making a phone call to his friend Dan. Joe is
genuinely regretting and lamenting whatever he did to get himself in
trouble, and is asking Dan to kiss his kids on Christmas, to look
after his girlfriend, to give his best to a number of other friends,
and to not screw up the gravy for the roast. As one of my friends from
down-under pointed out, Australians celebrate Christmas just as the
English do, but it is summer during that time of year so after
Christmas dinner everyone hits the beach. Except for those who are
incarcerated, of course.

Guest post by Rock Star Aimz

Friday, December 9, 2011

Offbeat Holiday Music: Santa Claus On a Helicopter

Wing: Santa Claus on a Helicopter


I wasn't going to post another song this week, but I accidently scrolled through this section of my database and…well…

I learned about Wing from a few years ago. Wikipedia tells us "Wing is a New Zealand singer of Hong Kong origin. She is known for her unique, offbeat singing style." See? Fits the theme!

Wing has released 19 albums to date. After listening to this sample, you too will find this fact amazing.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Offbeat Holiday Music: A J-Rock Christmas

DBSK: Silent Night


B'z: Itsuka No Merry Christmas


GLAY : Karera no HOLY X'MAS


Kiyoharu: Christmas


Tell me you're surprised that I'm posting J-Rock Christmas songs. I've got lo-o-o-ots! Clearly, being a Buddhist/Shinto nation doesn't preclude embracing the Christmas spirit. I can personally attest that in early November, the Starbucks in Kanazawa, Japan, was cheerily blasting out Dean Martin's Let It Snow! despite the warm fall weather.

Japanese musicians seem to crank out just as much Christmas music as their western counterparts (probably for the same reasons). The quality is comparable as well, but I've spared you the truly horrific stuff, like the cover of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer by the metal band Nightmare.

The first selection isn't actually J-Rock, though, it's K-Pop. DBSK was a highly popular Korean boy band who made it big in Japan about 6 years ago, but recently broke up. Everyone's holiday collection needs a German carol sung in Japanese by a Korean boy band, right? You'd be the only one on your block playing it, that's for sure.

The next two are pretty straightforward, original Christmas-themed songs by big-name J-Rock bands. Every now and then, the seasonal English words shine through: dah dah dah dah dah Merry Christmas!

That last one, by one of my fav singers, Kiyoharu, sounds like the kind of Christmas song you'd play just before deciding to top yourself. I mean, I do actually like it, but it's awfully grim going for what's supposed to be an uplifting season. Apparently some of the lyrics translate to: I made a wish and touched my rosary; let's kiss. I smiled at the transparent blue orchid. You are my Christmas, running along my frozen skin. Er, yeah, well it does have the requisite (English) holiday words in it:

Merry Christmas!

Offbeat Holiday Music: A Christmas Duel

The Hives and Cyndi Lauper: A Christmas Duel


Yes, the 2008 release date makes this post a rule-breaker. But it was a single, and too explicit to play on the radio; it got no reception whatsoever, as far as I can tell, and thus, it meets the general spirit of obscurity here - i.e., most folks have never heard it. As such, in the spirit of the season, and of punk in general, I'm sharing anyway, just this once.

And you just gotta hear this one. Because how's this for holiday cheer: a drunken punk rocker duet which cites both sincere death threats and sexual encounters with two generations of in-laws, and - though it starts as a raggedly tender ballad - goes on to combine a crashing parody of the Phil Spector-era holiday popsingle sound and language rich enough to need a warning label. The narrative premise is, essentially, that Christmas offers forgiveness, or at least, that the snow and celebration drown out the filth for a while. It's like a Sid and Nancy Christmas special, albeit more melodic.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Offbeat Holiday Music: Feed the World (Do They Know It’s Christmas Time?)

Far (feat. Chino Moreno): Feed the World (Do They Know It‘s Christmas Time?)


Though significantly less grandiose than the execution and process of the original, charity is still charity, no matter how brief a studio session may accompany it. The early aughts saw an explosion of trans-genre and cover albums in the worlds of punk, metal, alternative, emo, and pop, and one recurring instance of that was the holiday album. In 2003, Immortal records released A Santa Cause: It’s a Punk Rock Christmas, on which some pretty big swingers contributed their rock sensibilities to the spirit of Christmas by raising money to alleviate HIV and AIDS suffering in children. This type of album can, at more times than not, resemble suffering through a friend’s endeavor for his sake, especially when the singers open wide with heart--and reveal a severe lack of tone. Far and Moreno (of Deftones fame) team up in this famous 1984 charity song to bring back just as much awkward melody and sincere intention as the original.

Guest post by Andrew

Offbeat Holiday Music: Merry Christmas, Maggie Thatcher

Elton John: Merry Christmas, Maggie Thatcher


Here's a no-brainer for Songs Banned At The Mall, because we all know that politics is the third rail when it comes to Christmas themes. And this song's particularly nasty at that—nasty for a reason, though. It's from Billy Elliott, the Musical, sung by the striking British union miners, and you can read the historical details in relationship to the play in this (non-Wikipedia!) article. Thatcher, the Conservative Party prime minister at the time, waged and won a battle to break the political power of British trade unions by closing most of England's coal mines. Sir Elton John and Lee Hall, the lyricist for the 2005 musical, pull no punches in expressing exactly what the miners (and their children) thought of her.

Sir EJ's version was added to the rerelease of his own album, Peachtree Road.

Offbeat Holiday Music: Macy's Window and Sleigh Ride

Paul Revere & The Raiders: Macy's Window


The Ventures: Sleigh Ride


Two Northwest rock'n'roll legends leave their mark on the holiday season. The Raiders' cut comes from one of the most bizarre Christmas albums of all time, 1967's A Christmas Present...And Past. While the kids are enchanted by the window decorations, Dad is getting hot and bothered by the elves in mini-skirts.

On what just may be the greatest rock n roll Christmas album of all time, The Ventures blended guitar riffs from mid-60's hits with well known holiday tunes. So you get the "Walk Don't Run" riff and a bit of the "Perfida" riff weaving in and out of "Sleigh Ride", the most played ( overplayed?) holiday song on US radios.

Offbeat Holiday Music: Blue Dreidel No 9

Brigid Kaelin: Blue Dreidel No 9


I hope everyone has been enjoying our sideways glance at Christmas this week, and I know that I am looking forward to seeing what happens next. But I do want to take a moment to recognize another winter holiday: Hanukkah. Rather than travel to the Middle East, however, let’s journey to the American southwest. Get ready to kick up your kosher cowboy boots to the tune of Blue Dreidel No 9.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Offbeat Holiday Music: The Blizzard and The Christmas Song

Camera Obscura: The Blizzard


Raveonettes: The Christmas Song


One of my longest playlists is my Christmas list. If it's a Christmas song, I want it. I don't care if it's good, bad or someplace in between. I simply enjoy the music of the season. I don't remember hearing either of these two in a mall but I did learn of them both on TV in commercials so if either tune got played too much it likely was on TV rather than in a mall. But I wouldn't know that. All I know is I like both of them. They're Christmas songs! I might be pushing the envelope a bit here in that Camera Obscura's cover of Jim Reeves' The Blizzard isn't five years old just yet. The original line 'You can bet we're on her mind for it's nearly suppertime' was changed to 'Christmastime' in the C O version therby making my playlist. I'm not sure that it was originally intended to be a Christmas song. It's quite a sad song really. So to balance that we've included a happier one by the Raveonettes. This is always the first song we play when we turn on the Christmas lights for the first time each year.

Offbeat Holiday Music: I Want A Casting Couch For Christmas

Kay Martin and her Bodyguards : I Want A Casting Couch For Christmas

[Out Of Print]

One imagines Roger Sterling from Mad Men putting on this record at Christmas, to the delight of his chums. Ex-Playboy model Kay Martin and her Bodyguards (Jess Hotchkiss and Bill Elliot) had a thriving casino live act in the 1950s and early ’60s that was predicated on risqué lyrics of a sophisticated bent, performed with musical credibility. This lounge act was not cheesy, so the urbane man and his good lady hostess could enjoy it in good conscience.

And they could play it in company; Kay Martin’s records were popular party records, and of those the Christmas-themed I Know What He Wants For Christmas... But I Don’t Know How To Wrap It! LP from 1962 was the most successful. And how could it not be with such titles as “Hang Your Balls On The Xmas Tree” and “Santa’s Doing The Horizontal Twist”. Side 2 is a furiously double-entrendezing live recording of the stage act.

On “I Want A Casting Couch For Christmas”, Martin sings such pun-tastic lines like “Girls should be obscene, not heard”, and tells us of her manager’s soundproof apartment in which scripts are projected on the ceiling. Ah yes, Roger Sterling certainly would play that record…

Alas, it is not Kay Martin on the cover above, but a random model. Ms Martin is the nice lady on the right.

Offbeat Holiday Music: I Want Elvis For Christmas

The Holly Twins (with Eddie Cochran): I Want Elvis For Christmas


The 1950s were a great time for novelty records. This one, a Christmas-themed cash-in on Elvis Presley’s recent superstardom was released in 1956. Co-written by Bob Darin, who’d soon become a star with “Splish Splash”, and future super-producer and promoter Don Kirshner, it was performed by The Holly Sisters, whose real names were Jonell and Glenell McQuaig. The twins reference Elvis songs by way of nonsense such “You aint’-a nuthin’ but a reindeer”, and the painfully artless “don’t be cruel and love me tender.”

Apart from being written Darin and Kushner, “I Want Elvis For Christmas” is of interest for another noteworthy reason: playing guitar on the track and providing faux-Elvis vocals is future rock & roll legend Eddie Cochran.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Offbeat Holiday Music: Christmas in Hollis

Run D.M.C.: Christmas in Hollis


Sometimes it's hard to predict what malls will or will not play at this time of year. I know I've heard some musical detritus that I thought was utterly devoid of redeeming value (carol porn?). In fact, I finally had to shift my dental cleanings from December to January just to avoid yet another listening of Burl Ives' Holly Jolly Christmas, and I'd rather have that drill cranked up to drown out Elvis's Blue Christmas. Maybe these songs weren't terrible once upon a time, but they've worn out their welcome with me.

But this song may be a safe bet for this week's theme: No mall I shop at would likely play Run D.M.C. or any other hip-hop artist for that matter. Doesn't matter that this song is clean, cheery, and full of the requisite spirit. Not only that, it was released for charity, appearing on the first A Very Special Christmas in 1987.

Okay, I bet they play it in malls in Queens.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Offbeat Holiday Music: Chiron Beta Prime

Jonathan Coulton: Chiron Beta Prime


Every year at this time, my blood sugar soars as I am subjected, er treated, to the holiday music of the mall. So, I have built up a collection of what I call my antidotes. These are holiday songs with a twist. Jonathan Coulton provides a perfect example with Chiron Beta Prime. Maybe you have a friend who sends out an annual holiday letter, updating you about what he and his family have been doing over the course of the last year. In the song, Coulton imagines the Anderson family sending such a letter from a distant asteroid. The song has a deceptive pop sheen, masking a tale of dystopian science fiction. It’s all delivered with a considerable wink, and it has helped me through the holiday season for five years now.