The Christmas Shuffle
Where have I been for the past two months? Long story, with more doctors involved than I'd like to admit. But I'm back, and now that Thanksgiving is in the rearview mirror, I'm happy to plunge into my favorite musical season of the year. I've got 73 tunes in my fastidiously curated Christmas playlist -- which ten tunes will show up next on the random shuffle?
1. Santa Bring My Baby Back -- Marshall Crenshaw
Sorry I can't give you a link for this retro charmer -- I only have it only a bootlegged disc called MC Rarities, wheedled out of a fellow Crenshaw fanatic. As you'd expect, Marshall swings beautifully on this cover of this oft-covered 1957 Elvis Presley Christmas tune. Where it came from, I don't know, but Marshall does it more than justice. Love this guy.
2. Remember (Christmas) -- Harry Nilsson
Oh, I was hoping this one would cycle up. Over the summer I had a rather intense -- dare I say transformational -- Harry Nilsson period, and if you're a Nilsson fan you'll know that never wears off. I'm not sure this is really a Christmas song, but I'll take it. The upward surging key changes, the yearning vocals -- "Remember, life is never as it seems / Dreams...." Well, it's all about heartbreak and longing and disappointment and hope, and if that isn't Christmas I don't know what is.
3. Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) -- Death Cab for Cutie
I don't care if he did break up with Zooey Deschanel -- I still love Ben Gibbard, our alt-indie troubadour of depression and loss. Here he moons all over the 1963 Darlene Love classic -- "I remember when you were here / And all the fun we had last year" -- oooh, what can I do to make it better, Ben?
4. Run Run Rudolph -- Chuck Berry
Enough with the covers -- here's the original version of a rock & roll Christmas classic, in which Chuck Berry repurposes "Johnny B. Goode" for the holiday market. Dig that snaky guitar solo, which was probably the whole reason for this track's existence.
5. Waking On Christmas -- The Smithereens
Gotta love these guys, with their psychedelic garage-y crunch. Why should I be surprised that they released a 2007 Christmas album, Christmas With the Smithereens? They've always been about defying expectations and doing what they damn well please. "Watching the snowmelt into the ground / While the sun shines..." That's a Christmas morning scenario well observed.
6. Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) -- Darlene Love
Now here's the original that Ben Gibbard covered, a prime cut from Phil Spector's Christmas album, which under various titles has been a staple of my holiday listening since 1973. That famous Wall of Sound needed a brassy voice like Darlene's to cut through, and oh, how she sashays center stage to claim her due.
7. Ain't Nothing Like Christmas -- Shelby Lynne
"I bring the nog, you put on the log / It's a Christmas party"-- Shelby's country-twanged paeon to the holidays gets me where I live. I love that Shelby released an entire album of Dusty Springfield covers; I love that she's Steve Earle's sister-in-law; but most of all I just love Shelby for bucking the Nashville norm and finding her own idiosyncratic C&W groove.
8. Christmas Time Is Here -- Diana Krall
Diana Krall -- who to me, I'm sorry I can't help it, will always be Mrs. Elvis Costello -- earns her stars by reimagining Vince Guaraldi's instant-classic theme song from A Charlie Brown Christmas. Breathy, evocative, and so on point. Sweet spot duly hit.
9. Lousiana Christmas Day -- Aaron Neville
Throw a little Cajun shuffle into the holiday cheer. I love it when Aaron Neville rocks out; even Jimmy Fallon parodies can't touch this exuberant celebration of the season.
10. Christmas at the Airport -- Nick Lowe
Seasonal serendipity indeed. A new holiday original from Nick Lowe, whom you all know I love to death. Check out the adorable animated video here. This year Nick actually released that most cliched of products, a Christmas album (Quality Street), and I was all prepared to cringe. Mea culpa, Nick. I should have known you'd pull it off with not one whiff of cheesy sleigh bells.