Wednesday, December 16, 2015

My Musical Advent Calendar

"Run Rudolph Run" /
Chuck Berry
I don't remember hearing this as a kid, but I must have. In 1958, when Chuck Berry first released this, I don't think rock 'n' rollers were expected to do Christmas songs. Thirteen-year-old Brenda Lee released "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" that same December, but that's really more of a country tune than a rocker. It would be another 5 years or so before Phil Spector pulled out all the stops on his girl-group Christmas album (another of my holiday must-haves). 
"Run Rudolph Run," though, is a full-on 12-bar blues; it's practically "Johnny B. Goode but with different lyrics. Gotta love it.


Apparently writing holiday songs was a specialty niche in Tin Pan Alley; this was written by Marvin Brodie and Johnny Marks, Marks being the same tunesmith who cranked out "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree," and "Have a Holly Jolly Christmas." Not bad for a Jewish guy from Mount Vernon, New York.
But for Chuck Berry, Marks must have known that sentimental sap wasn't going to work.  Instead he gives us a cool-cat Rudolph zipping around the suburban sprawl  ("Santa make him hurry, / Tell him he can take the freeway down.") with a workaholic Santa urging him on.
Santa's doing his usual gig, asking kids what they want for Christmas. The little girl wants a Betsy Wetsy doll -- every girl in the 1950s had to have a Betsy Wetsy doll -- but the little boy is awfully specific: "All I want for Christmas is a rock and roll electric guitar." Ahead of his time, that kid, and Berry sings that line with special glee.
That chugging guitar, the lagging beat, and that guitar solo in the middle eight -- it's nothing like "Have a Holly Jolly Christmas," nothing at all.  It's bona fide rock and roll, with just enough tinsel to make a few extra dollars for Christmas.  But Chuck Berry's having so much fun here, why not jump into the sleigh with him?   

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