Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Holiday Blues: Blue Christmas

It's a bit bloody obvious, I know, and I can't even be arsed to see if it has been done before, but it seems so apposite in so many ways, covering any number of the bases I enjoy covering, even, in this case, if that veneer is of and with a thick, snowy schmalz. It's possible I may have previously mentioned my love of cover versions and this song, almost to my shock and awe, is one I have way more versions of than I ought. Or anyone ought. Who knew so many folk woke up one day and felt that this and only this was the song to cover. But then, Christmas, for all it's peace to the world and joy to all people can be a pretty godawful time of year for many, anticipatedly or contrived, through the foibles of massed family and friends. The main problem with the compulsory good cheer of Christmas is that it emphasizes the family, it expects partnership, it insists on conviviality, with that very pressure often enough to burst asunder through any too great expectation based upon. Been there, done that, and, hells teeth, alone at Xmas is the pits, the more so if you are clutched to the bosom of what loved ones you still have, rendering the essence of gooseberry to it's quintessential. I feel that Billy Hayes and/or Jay W. Johnson, who wrote the song back in the 40s knew this, the lyrics extolling the pain of lost love at Yuletime. (Having added my own existing knowledge to the 37 and counting pages of youtube vids, the repeated hearing of this song can itself render one near suicidal, alone or otherwise, but that's another story.)

Elvis is clearly the template most are aware of, originally appearing on his 1957 LP, Elvis' Christmas Album, later as a 1964 single, each doing well in their own formats, either side of the Atlantic. But it had been well-covered ahead of that, as early as 1948, by Ernest Tubb, a lot less ornately, and hence, to my ears, a lot more attractively. Since then the list has been extensive and extraordinary, largely within the canon of country (+/- western), encasing such disparates as Willie Nelson and Billy IdolWynton Marsalis and the Partridge Family and many, many more, sadly more distinguished by their bland similarities than any novel differences. Particularly galling examples I cannot even begin myself to link are by latter day "Great American Songbook" destroyer Rod Stewart and the appalling Mickey Bubbles. And even a live Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi, separately (unless you know better) have managed to savage it to an ignoble death. There is also the horror of Lou Reed, together with the unlikely collaboration of, God help us, the McGarrigles, so truly bad I have to offer it, pleading then your forgiveness. But there are a few that can proudly stand above the parapet, if only by the quality of the production or the quirkiness quotient. So let me present odd UK Led Zep reggae tribute band Dread Zeppelin, Scotland's finest, the Proclaimers, credible mainly for their heavily accented diction, and recently deceased reggae legend John Holt.

There are many more. If you seek yet more malaise still, the versions by Jerry Lee Lewis, Leon Redbone, Sheryl Crow, Nicole Atkins, Low, Jimmy Martin (quite good actually), Tammy Wynette, Jewel, the Ventures (likewise), Brian Wilson with the Beach Boys, Fats Domino, Bright Eyes, Johnny Mathis, Robert Gordon, Dean Martin, the Platters and Leann Rimes, they are all but a click away, in all their varieties of awfulness.

I need to leave you with some imagery though, to break up this wall of prose, so here are 2 final personal favourites: Porky Pig.....

........and Kermit the Frog:

Happier New Year!!

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