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WWPV’s Guide to Christmas Music

December 23, 2009

If you’ve listened to WWPV at all recently you’ve likely heard a few Christmas tunes mixed in with our usual rotation.  This year we made it our quest to find good Christmas music–not the kind that takes over retail stores and mainstream radio stations this time of year, but instead, music that captures holiday cheer without making you want to gouge your ears out.  This is what we came up with:

If there’s one Christmas album that everyone in the world can agree on, it’s the soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas by the Vince Guaraldi Trio.  If these mellow piano jazz classics don’t put you in a festive mood, you might be heartless.

Another Christmas classic is the 1963 compilation album A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector.  40 years before he was a convicted murderer, Spector was a successful producer and arguably the most influential figure in 1960’s pop music, the driving force behind artists like The Crystals, The Ronettes, and Darlene Love. (He also, of course, produced Let It Be and All Things Must Pass a few years later.)  His Christmas Gift album features all of these artists on shamelessly bombastic holiday tunes.  Every pop Christmas song since then pales in comparison.

For a slightly more modern take on Christmas classics, there’s the complation album Verve Remixed: Christmas.  The Verve Remixed series is a series of albums featuring contemporary electronic and hip-hop producers and DJs remixing classic songs from the Verve Records archives.  The Christmas installment features Christmas standards from legends like Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Nina Simone, and Count Basie being remixed by the likes of Brazilian Girls, The Orb, Oh No, and Fink (the English DJ, not the St. Mike’s band).

Do you like Christmas, but prefer warmer climates?  Christmas Greetings from Studio One is an album consisting of classic reggae and dub renditions of Christmas songs, from Studio One Records, the powerhouse of reggae music during its 1970s heydey.  On this album you’ll hear Bob Marley and the Wailers do “White Christmas,” alongside Christmas songs by Toots and the Maytals, and the Silvertones.

If there’s anyone in modern music who we can trust to make honest, heartfelt, non-tacky Christmas songs, it’s banjo-picking indie-folk heartthrob/noted state enthusiast Sufjan Stevens. His Songs for Christmas album includes 42 (!) Christmas songs he wrote and gave to friends and family over the years before releasing publicly.  It includes his take on classic carols like “Away in a Manger” and “O Come O Come Emmanuel,” as well as Stevens-penned originals with enthusiastic titles like “It’s Christmas! Let’s Be Glad!” and “Come On! Let’s Boogie to the Elf Dance!”

Sufjan’s not the only indie rocker to get in on the Christmas action, even if he is the most prolific.  My Morning Jacket‘s Christmas EP consists of a few rocking and reverb-drenched covers and originals.  An EP by Yo La Tengo encapsulates the band’s famous sonic diversity in just 3 Christmas songs.  (And yes, the band is Jewish, but lots of Christmas songs were written by Jewish composers, so why complain?)

If you’d prefer something a bit more silly, you’ll be pleased to hear that the Adult Swim show Aqua Teen Hunger Force just released an album of holiday tunes called Have Yourself a Meaty Little Christmas.  If you’re not an Aqua Teen fan you should be warned that the album consists is really more about typical ATHF surrealist tomfoolery than it is about music.  However, there is one gem of a song, a duet between Meatwad and Vermont’s own alt-country genius Neko Case titled “Santa Left a Booger in My Stocking”.  It’s about exactly what it sounds like, and Ms. Case’s beautiful voice singing about boogers is a moment of inspired brilliance.

Similarly weird is an old-school single by Beck called “The Little Drum Machine Boy.”  It’s one of Beck’s usual mid-90’s lo-fi hip-hip jams, except that this one’s about Hannukah (we love all holidays of the season here at PV), and it’s even got a beat consisting of a robot chanting a traditional Hebrew prayer hymn.

Also on our playlist is newly-solo Strokes frontman Julian Casablancas delivering a straightfaced cover of the great Saturday Night Live carol “I Wish It Was Christmas Today”, and Swedish singer-songwriter Jens Lekman‘s song “A Higher Power,” which isn’t really a Christmas song but it’s about making out in the back of church and getting drunk and puking at a Christmas party, so we’ll take it.

So there’s a little (or, a long) rundown of some of the holiday music you’ll hear on WWPV.  We fully support throwing away your parents’ Amy Grant and Kenny Rogers Christmas albums and replacing them with Sufjan Stevens.  It’s the spirit of the season.

You can hear a full 4-hour playlist of holiday tunes on Christmas Eve at 6:00 pm, and a few times throughout the day on Christmas Day (assuming I correctly set up our computer before I left).  And, of course, they’ll be sprinkled in our regular music rotation, too.  Tune into 88.7 FM on your radio if you’re in the Burlington area, or listen to our webcast at wwpv.org.  Here’s the full playlist:

  1. Aqua Teen Hunger Force & Neko Case – Santa Left a Booger in My Stocking
  2. Aqua Teen Hunger Force – The Little Drum Machine Boy
  3. Beck – The Little Drum Machine Boy
  4. Blitzen Trapper – Christmas is Coming Soon
  5. Bob Marley and the Wailers – White Christmas
  6. Death Cab for Cutie – Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)
  7. Eek A Mouse – The Night Before Christmas
  8. Feist – Lo, How a Rose E’re Blooming
  9. Jacob Miller – We Wish You an Irie Christmas
  10. Jens Lekman – A Higher Power
  11. Johnny Cash – The Little Drummer Boy
  12. Julian Casablancas – I Wish It Was Christmas Today
  13. The Kinks – Father Christmas
  14. Los Straitjackets – Deck The Halls
  15. Los Straitjackets – We Three Kings
  16. Los Straitjackets – Que Verdes Son
  17. Low – Just Like Christmas
  18. My Morning Jacket – I Just Wanted To Say
  19. My Morning Jacket – Xmas Time is Here Again
  20. My Morning Jacket – Santa Claus is Back in Town
  21. Phantom Planet – Winter Wonderland
  22. The Ramones – Merry Christmas (I Don’t Wanna Fight Tonight)
  23. The Ravonettes – Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)
  24. Rilo Kiley – Xmas Cake
  25. Silvertones – Bling Bling Christmas
  26. Sufjan Stevens – O Come O Come Emmanuel
  27. Sufjan Stevens – It’s Christmas! Let’s Be Glad!
  28. Sufjan Stevens – Put The Lights on the Tree
  29. Sufjan Stevens – Come On!  Let’s Boogie to the Elf Dance!
  30. Sufjan Stevens – O Holy Night
  31. Sufjan Stevens – That Was the Worst Christmas Ever!
  32. Sufjan Stevens – Away in a Manger
  33. Sufjan Stevens – Get Behind Me, Santa!
  34. Sufjan Stevens – Holy, Holy, Holy
  35. Toots and the Maytals – Christmas Feeling Ska
  36. Darlene Love – White Christmas
  37. The Ronettes – Frosty the Snowman
  38. Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans – The Bells of St. Mary’s
  39. The Crystals – Santa Claus is Coming to Town
  40. The Ronettes – Sleigh Ride
  41. Darlene Love – Marshmallow World
  42. The Ronettes – I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus
  43. The Crystals – Rudolph the Red Nosed-Reindeer
  44. Darlene Love – Winter Wonderland
  45. The Crystals – Parade of the Wooden Soldiers
  46. Darlene Love – Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)
  47. Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans – Here Comes Santa Claus
  48. Count Basie – Good Morning Blues (The Real Tuesday Clerkenwell Remix)
  49. Louis Armstrong – Zat You, Santa Claus? (The Heavy Remix)
  50. Ella Fitzgerald – What Are You Doing New Years Eve? (Mangini vs. Pallin Mix)
  51. Billie Holiday – I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm (Yesking Remix)
  52. Louis Armstrong – What a Wonderful World (The ORd Remix)
  53. Shirley Horn – Winter Wonderland (Christian Prommer Remix)
  54. Nina Simone – I Am Blessed (Wax Tailor Remix)
  55. Dinah Washington – Silent Night (Brazilian Girls Remix)
  56. Mel Torme – The Christmas Song (Sonny J Remix)
  57. Nina Simone – (Fink Remix)
  58. Vince Guaraldi Trio – O Tannenbaum
  59. Vince Guaraldi Trio – What Child is This
  60. Vince Guaraldi Trio – My Little Drum
  61. Vince Guaraldi Trio – Linus and Lucy
  62. Vince Guaraldi Trio – Christmas Time is Here
  63. Vince Guaraldi Trio – Skating
  64. Vince Guaraldi Trio – Hark the Herald Angels Sing
  65. Vince Guaraldi Trio – The Christmas Song
  66. The Waitresses – Christmas Wrapping
  67. The White Stripes – Candy Cane Children
  68. Yo La Tengo – Rock N Roll Santa
  69. Yo La Tengo – It’s Christmas Time
  70. Yo La Tengo – Santa Claus Goes Modern

What are your favorite holiday tunes?  We’ll add them to the playlist next year.

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