Category: Cool Christmas Tunes 2016

Day 24: Johnny Cash – Cool Christmas Tunes 2016

Day 24

Johnny Cash –
Silent Night

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“Sleep in heavenly peace…”

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From the beginning of this series, I knew where I was starting (with The Ramones) and where I was ending. There’s no better way to greet Christmas Eve than with the inimitable Johnny Cash.

This version of “Silent Night” is pure and understated. When the second verse introduces June Carter’s soaring harmonies… No words.

Merry Christmas, friends. May you be surrounded by peace and love.

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Thank you!

I’m so thankful for everyone who followed along during the last 24 days. I hope you enjoyed the songs as much as I have.

This post concludes this year’s Advent Calendar. But…

Coming Tomorrow: Bonus Tracks!

Additional songs from the artists that I featured, alternate versions, and maybe a few other surprises.

Thanks again for listening!

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Day 23: Andrew Bird – Cool Christmas Tunes 2016

Day 23

Andrew Bird –
Auld Lang Syne

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“For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.”

andrew-bird

While I have you here listening to Christmas songs… How about the best version ever of “Auld Lang Syne” to get you ready for New Year’s Eve?

Confession time: I’ve never been a fan of “Auld Lang Syne”. But then I heard this version from Andrew Bird. The spirit of this, the instrumentation, the killer violin work… I love everything about this. This is not your sentimental “Auld Lang Syne” from It’s A Wonderful Life. This is a party song.

Your instructions are as follows: crank this up, drink a cup of kindness, and dance the year away. All the best, friends.

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Day 22: Willie Nelson – Cool Christmas Tunes 2016

Day 22

Willie Nelson –
Please Come Home for Christmas

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“Bells will be ringing the glad glad news.
Oh, what a Christmas to have the blues.
My baby’s gone. I have no friends
To wish me greetings once again.”

willie-nelson

Throughout this whole series, I’ve held myself to a pretty high standard: no cover songs. Everything had to be originals. (“Green Grows the Holly” by Calexico was grey area and was too good not to include.) Everyone and their brother has done covers of traditional Christmas songs. But that wasn’t going to cut it for this project. I required originality — sometimes off-beat, sometimes sweet, and sometimes instantly classic. Often all three.

That said, and setting those standards aside, I’ve known all along that the last two songs (coming tomorrow w/ #23 and the next day w/ #24) would be covers. This one today was supposed to be something different. However… Literally every day for the past 21 days, I’ve found myself humming or singing this song. And specifically this version.

Willie Nelson is a national treasure, full stop. And I would go as far as to say that any “traditional” song in Willie’s hands becomes something different. Something singular. Something his own. Willie’s behind-the-beat groove, his distinctive guitar style, and his gravitas, is transformative and revelatory.

“Please Come Home for Christmas” was written and originally performed by the blues singer Charles Brown back in 1960. Many a version have come and gone. In 2004, Willie claimed it as his own. The guitar solo around the 2:10 mark. The languid vocals. The warmth. All within the context of a song that is inherently sad — but yet Willie imbues it with hope and drive and purpose.

This thing has broken me down and built me up and took its place on this list by sheer force of will. And I’m happy to buckle. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.

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Day 21: Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – Cool Christmas Tunes 2016

Day 21

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers –
Christmas All Over Again

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“And all over town little kids gonna get down /
And Christmas is a rockin’ time, put your body next to mine /
Underneath the mistletoe we go, we go”

tom-petty

I’ve been trying to avoid “popular” / “common” / “well known” songs — but c’mon. This song is just too good to not include. And, of course, I’m a giant Tom Petty fan.

This is another Christmas song that is just plain delightful. You can hear how much fun the band is having here. The drums and horns ooze Christmas. The lyrics and Petty’s vocal delivery are joyful and whimsical. (You can hear him channeling Roy Orbison all through this.)

And you’ve gotta love his post-song Christmas list: “Now let’s see… I want a new Rickenbacker guitar… two Fender Bassmans… a Chuck Berry song book… xylophone…”

I’ll take those same things!

BONUS: Live at the White House, December 2000

I love that you can see Petty really hamming it up!


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Day 20: The Band – Cool Christmas Tunes 2016

Day 20

The Band –
Christmas Must Be Tonight

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“How a little baby boy bring the people so much joy
Son of a carpenter, Mary carried the light
This must be Christmas, must be tonight”

theband

This is such a gorgeous song and has quickly become one of my favorites. It’s also a rare example of a pop / rock group writing a Christmas song that’s religious in nature — and very overtly so.

This version — the most popular — is actually the second of (at least) four versions that Robbie Robertson recorded (two with The Band, two solo) and features the great Rick Danko on lead vocals (with a healthy dose of Levon in there too).

I love Garth Hudson’s organ fills on this. And Levon’s drums. And… damn, really the whole thing. So good.

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Day 19: Chuck Berry – Cool Christmas Tunes 2016

Day 19

Chuck Berry –
Merry Christmas Baby

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“Well I’m feelin’ mighty fine, I’ve got good music on my radio /
Well I feel so fine, got good music on my radio /
Yes I wanna hug and kiss you baby, while you standin’ ‘neath the mistletoe.”

chuckberry

There have been many, many versions of this song through the years, but for me, it gets no better than Chuck Berry from way back in 1958.

Here, Berry sets aside his usual bombast and turns in a nuanced vocal and tasteful guitar licks that turn the sultry-ness (is that a word?) up to 11. But the secret weapon — as with most Chuck Berry work — is Johnnie Johnson’s piano work. A master class.

Sorry to everyone who’s recorded this since 1958. You were dead in the water before you even started because Chuck and Johnnie slayed it.

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Day 18: Folk Uke – Cool Christmas Tunes 2016

Day 18

Folk Uke –
All I Want For Christmas

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“I saw you with your ho… ho… ho… underneath the mistletoe. /
It’s time for you to go, make footprints in the snow. /
We never had a silent night, all we do is fuss and fight. /
But mostly we just fight, and that can end tonight.

I don’t want your kisses on New Year’s Eve. /
All I want for Christmas is you to leave.”

folk-uke-photo

When I started this project, it was going to be so simple. I had a playlist of 35 (or so) songs that I play on repeat this time of year. I would pick the “best” 24, and boom. Done.

A funny thing happened though: once this became a thing, I became ever more aware of oddball holiday songs. I started hearing the everywhere. Friends sent me links. I swear the songs were finding me.

That’s how Folk Uke came into my life — and I’m so glad they did.

Folk Uke, if you’re new to them like I was, is a duo made up of Cathy Guthrie and Amy Nelson. If you think those last names sound familiar, they do. (Cathy and Amy are the daughters of Arlo Guthrie and Willie Nelson respectively.) Folk Uke are at once lovely, funny, edgy, and decidedly vulgar. (This song is “safe for work”, so to speak. Much of the rest of their catalog, not so much.)

As with others on this list, in different hands this song would be a gimmick. Guthrie and Nelson are so far inside the joke that it’s achieved a positively alluring level of shit-eating-grin sincerity. Trust me, it makes sense.

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Day 17: Hayes Carll – Cool Christmas Tunes 2016

Day 17

Hayes Carll –
Grateful for Christmas

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“Well, this year, we’re in Houston, let’s all get together
Man, I almost saw snow, can you believe this weather?
Who’s gonna be here? Uncle Frank can’t make it
Since Grandpa died, I don’t know if Nana can take it
Well, this present’s a sweater and the pie don’t taste right
And Dad, and the TV, are startin’ to fight
I wish I had a drink or maybe a dozen
Lord, what I’d give for one good lookin’ cousin”

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Man, I love this song so much. I’m a sentimental guy and this song hits me straight in the feels.

Hayes Carll is a terrific songwriter and storyteller and this is one of his best — full of detail, but yet letting the emotional punches sneak up on you.

I’m lucky enough to know these large family gatherings where stories unfold over a number of years. Kids grow up, jokes grow tired, and loved ones pass away. For those of us left to carry on, over time these holiday gatherings become a mix of sweet anticipation, grudging duty, and melancholy remembrance.

I’m not ashamed to say that this third verse gets me every time.

Sigh… I owe some people some hugs. :)

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Day 16: MxPx – Cool Christmas Tunes 2016

Day 16

MxPx –
Christmas Day

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“The snow outside covers the ground /
And as a watch it falling down /
I think of her, so far away /
And how much I like to be with her on Christmas day”

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This is another one that’s more about the vibe than the lyrics. It’s fun and upbeat and a great tune to wrap presents to. Not deep at all, just really fun.

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Day 15: Jonathan Coulton & John Roderick – Cool Christmas Tunes 2016

Day 15

Jonathan Coulton & John Roderick –
One Christmas At A Time

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“Look, I couldn’t find a single Teddy Ruxpin anywhere /
But they’ll still be just as popular next year /
And when I find a stash, I’ll buy ten.”

coulton-roderickBack in the year of our Lord two thousand and twelve, indie music raconteur John Roderick (of the Seattle band The Long Winters) and internet music darling Jonathan Coulton recorded a collaborative Christmas album that is just start to finish delightful.

This song, the title track, is a comedic ear worm that provides a great summary of the spirit of the album. It’s catchy, funny, and oddly warm and sweet. This kind of song could easily come off as hacky and gimmicky, but Roderick and Coulton lean into it with a sincerity and sense of joy that is infectious.

Check out the rest of the album, too!

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Day 14: Matt Arthur & The Bratlanders – Cool Christmas Tunes 2016

Day 14

Matt Arthur & The Bratlanders –
I Won’t Have A Merry Christmas This Year

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“I’ll drink a bottle of whiskey, and slam a case of beer /
Oh, I sure miss my baby, it’s so cold without her here /
Why did she leave on Christmas?, She could’ve waited ’til New Year /
Oh, I won’t have a Merry Christmas this year.”

bratlanders

Who doesn’t love a good honky-tonk, my-baby-left-me, drinkin’ song? Thanks to Matt Arthur & The Bratlanders, we have a great one to play at Christmas time.

Musically and lyrically, this ticks all the boxes: a story of a woman who left at exactly the wrong time told by a blind country-folk singer from rural Minnesota, a honky tonk groove that would be right at home along side “Swinging Doors” and “Set ‘Em Up Joe”, and some pedal steel licks that’ll put a tear in your beer for sure.

It’s a special achievement to produce classic, throwback music without sounding like an imitation, or worse, a knock-off. This band and this song, however, ooze authenticity.

What’re you drinkin? This one’s on me.

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Day 13: Clarence Carter – Cool Christmas Tunes 2016

Day 13

Clarence Carter –
Back Door Santa

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clarencecarter_pic“I keep some change in my pocket, in case the children are home,
I give ’em a few pennies so that we can be alone,
I leave the back door open so if anybody smells a mouse,
And wouldn’t old Santa be in trouble if there ain’t no chimney in the house”

Today, Clarence Carter delivers a perfect gift basket of killer Muscle Shoals grooves, risqué lyrics, and big ol’ sly grin.

If you’re a man who has a woman, you definitely don’t want Back Door Santa making a run to your house. But if you’re looking for a fun song to crank up in the car, look no further. Love this one!

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