O Christmas Song, O Christmas Song
Slampo's Place has finally gotten into the swing of the season with a discussion of the greatest Christmas songs ever, so it's time we did over here at HouStoned too. Slampo stole some of our thunder, as we agree that Charles Brown's "Please Come Home for Christmas," Robert Earl Keen's "Merry Christmas from the Family," Kirsty MacColl and the Pogues "Fairy Tale of New York," and Run-DMC's "Christmas in Hollis" belong on Volume 1 of any first-class Yuletide box set. On to our sugesstions. -- John Nova Lomax
Fans of the Texas City-bred, Prairie View grad Charles Brown will also dig Amos Milburn, his close friend and fellow piano man and Houston-area product. Milburn's 1949 recording "Let's Make Christmas Merry, Baby" is in the same mellow Houston / West Coast groove as Brown's "Merry Christmas Baby," all sad saxes, tinkling ivories, and drawled, melismatic vocals. (This was the style Ray Charles adopted lock stock and barrel in his earliest recordings.) The Milburn tune also features a sanctified piano solo and some racy lyrics — "Let's make Christmas merry baby / I wanta be your Sa-aa-aaa-aaaaanta Claus / I want to slide down you chimney / fill your stockings fuu-uuu-uuuuuuull of toys."
Amos Milburn, a forgotten giant:
Speaking of "sanctified," music doesn't get much more exalted than sacred steel, the newly-discovered subgenre made somewhat famous by Robert Randolph. His major-label efforts, good as they are, are somewhat watered-down compared to those of the Campbell Brothers, whose 2001 Arhoolie Records album Sacred Steel for the Holidays is an instrumental classic and worthy counterbalance to John Fahey's chilled-out Christmas Guitar. The utterly ecstatic Campbell Brothers boast two steel guitarists and a regular six-stringer — the steel players wail in tandem as the guitarist scratches out a raspy rhythm, and their Pentecostal fervor reaches fever pitch on their version of "Hark the Herald Angels Sing." Imagine Jimi Hendrix at a Christmas snake-handler's meeting and you're getting close...(Make sure you check out the YouTube video below and this one, too.)
Some sacred steel from the Brothers Campbell:
Slampo sent Mott the Hoople some backhanded props for their non-Christmas Christmas song "Death May be your Santa Claus," but we favor another ragtag assortment of British glam rockers. Namely Slade, whose "Merry Xmas Everybody" is rapidly approaching our top ten of holiday songs ever. We were first exposed hardcore to the song in 2000, the first and only time we ever spent a Christmas in England. Over there, the song is as much a part of the ambient noise of the season as Bing, Johnny Mathis and Herb Alpert are here. Over a shuffling beat and growling guitars, heavily-side-whiskered vocalist Noddy Holder leads his proto-metal band through the Madness-like verses of English domestic life toward the immortal, singalong chorus: "So here it is Merry Christmas / Everybody's having fun / look to the future now / it's only just begu-uu-unnnn." As the song ends, Holder closes with a screamed, Daltrey-esque flourish: "IT'S CHRIST-MAASSS!" (Note: Quiet Riot stole everything from this band.)
Merry X-mas, from Slade:
And finally, as a companion piece to Keen's "Merry Christmas from the Family," we recommend John Denver's "Please Daddy (Don't Get Drunk this Christmas)". Denver's is a schizo tune -- the jaunty, happy-clappy pop country backing, complete with childrens' chorus, does not fit the lyrics, in which a child implores his no good daddy to stay sober so his mama won't cry. (Denver says in the intro to the live version that it was born as a comedy song, but that it had taken a more serious tone over the years. If you know much about Denver's life, you'll know why.) If you're a devotee of Lifetime Movie Network movies, you'll recognize scenes like these: "Just last year when I was only seven / now I'm almost eight as you can see / last night you came home at quarter past eleven / fell down underneath our Christ-mas treeeeee."
Why, it's a John Denver Christmas: