Scene’s Selections: Holiday Favorites
Be wary — some people in this world nurse an inexplicable obsession with figgy pudding. Their demands for the elusive substance tear through the holiday season’s bitter cold, subjecting the innocents to aural torture. Don’t give in to their cries. Find comfort in Scene’s list of wonderful, figgy pudding–free Holiday tracks.
“Christmas Wrapping” — The Waitresses
By Adam Ramos, Scene Editor
Holiday music is a really tough genre. For one, breaking into the holiday canon with an original song is next to impossible. Part of the reason is that many listeners appreciate the continuity of hearing the same holiday song every year. Unfortunately, this charade inevitably gets boring.
Enter The Waitresses’ 1981 original, “Christmas Wrapping.” Teetering between being a classic holiday song while never attaining the mainstay status of its festive contemporaries, “Christmas Wrapping” upholds a familiar yet refreshing air holiday season after holiday season.
Opening with an always-entertaining bell and guitar shredding duet, the track quickly ups the funk with a groovy bassline accompanied by sputtering guitar. Soon, horns begin to dip in and out. But these aren’t your typical schmaltzy holiday horns. Instead, The Waitresses provide a frenetic brass party. Lyrically, the track opens with the unforgettable line “Bah Humbug; now that’s too strong!” and then goes on to poignantly capture the stress of the holiday season before to simply resigning to have “Christmas by myself this year.”
While it may not convey the normal message of hope and cheer, “Christmas Wrapping” will forever remain an enigmatic staple to any not-so-traditional holiday mix.
“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” — Frank Sinatra
By Brian Boylen, Scene Writer
As someone who is typically a fan of innovative music that pushes the envelope, I find myself taking a completely different approach to holiday music. The holidays are such a nostalgic time, and hearing certain Christmas songs from my childhood has a way of transporting me back to the time when I was just a kid shaking his presents underneath the tree. The old Christmas classics, in particular, have an intrinsic nostalgic quality to them. And, to me, Sinatra is the king of the classics.
It is really hard to choose just one song, but I would have to go with “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” It has the perfect blend of joy and melancholy. Lyrics like “Someday soon we will all be together / If the fates align / Until then we’ll have to muddle through,” captures the feeling of hoping to be able to see the ones you truly care about. There is something warm and comforting about Sinatra’s voice that makes him perfect for the season. I can’t say I am an avid listener of Sinatra beyond the holiday season, but maybe that is for the better — his voice is inextricably linked to the wonders of Christmas in my mind and heart.
“Minha Historia (Gesubambino)” — Chico Buarque
By Adrian Mark Lore, Associate Scene Editor
You don’t really think about “A Boy Named Sue” when it comes time to queue up those Christmas playlists. But that’s because Christmas isn’t about Sue — it’s about Jesus, you iconoclast. Brazilian guitarist Chico Buarque’s “Minha Historia (Gesubambino),” though, is quite the applicable equivalent: the brief life story of a poor woman’s bastard child (think Fantine and Cozette), whose mother “resolveu me chamar com o nome do Nosso Senhor,” unsure “se por ironia ou se por amor” given their precarious socioeconomic status and indeed the child’s “sinful” conception. Of course, more boys are named Jesus than Sue, but there’s a touching irony in the narrator’s concluding words: “Quando vou bar em bar, viro a mesa, berro, bebo e brigo / Os ladrões e as amantes, meus colegas de copo e de cruz / Me conhecem só pelo meu nome de menino Jesus.” They stress his sinfulness, but the narrator forgets the greatest sinners are sometimes the most exalted; perhaps, then, the name Jesus is appropriate after all.
Fine, “Minha Historia” isn’t really about Christmas — at all. But something about the track’s fusion of organ, caroling chorus and “novena de aguinaldos” percussion track unexpectedly captures the spirit of the holiday.
“Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)”— Cassie Ramone
By Mike Donovan, Scene Writer
Cassie Ramone’s rendition of this Darlene Love classic greets the listener during a blizzard after one too many spiked eggnogs. It whisks him or her into the ephemeral throws of a Christmas eve–fever dream.
The song descends the listener’s chimney (or front door or air duct) quietly — winter’s windy hum made imminent. Her vocals follow close behind, not so carefully balancing childlike curiosity and maturity’s soul-rending nostalgia.
The choral “Christmas!” mantra, so prevalent in the original record, hides deep in the background of Ramone’s wistful cut. Melancholic verses take their place, with each “Baby please don’t go” pushed to its cathartic limits in the reverberated vortex of Ramone’s slacker strumming and endless vocal harmony layers.
In this dreamscape, listeners won’t find a trace of sugar plums, nor will there be any dancing. Just tears. And some laughter, but it’s the kind of laughter that emanates from acceptance. The lover in question isn’t coming back. To make matters worse, love might not even exist.
But it’s Christmas. The song must go on — even if emotional health can’t keep up.
“Father Christmas” — The Kinks
By Owen Lane, Scene Writer
I love classic Christmas songs. Bing and Frank croon the songs that come to mind when I hear the phrase “Christmas Music.” Their songs are warm and gentle, and they really capture the comfort we aspire to give and enjoy at Christmas time. However, one of my favorite holiday tunes of all time is not only untraditional but also abrasive and antagonistic. On their 1977 single “Father Christmas,” The Kinks sing about poor working-class children shaking down a department store Santa Claus impersonator.
The track begins with gentle piano and sleigh bells suddenly giving way to an up-tempo hard rock guitar riff and machine gun drumming. Ray Davies shouts a chorus that has gone down as one of the most infectious in The Kinks’s discography. As impressive as the music is, Ray Davies’s lyrical prowess makes “Father Christmas” a master class in holiday songwriting. “Father Christmas” easily could have been cheap holiday drivel set to the increasingly popular aesthetic of punk rock. Indeed, at first, the song sounds like nothing more than a Christmas carol with attitude, sung by the worst kids on the block.
“Father Christmas” teems with the British class resentment that fueled the explosion of punk rock in 1977. A gang of children disregarding the joy of receiving presents when their families need money is a truly heartbreaking image. In fact, the song would be pretty upsetting if the music were not so fun and upbeat. However, near the end of the song, Davies pulls off some fantastic lyrical sleight of hand and transforms “Father Christmas” into a meaningful song about generosity and gratitude during the holiday season.